Appalachian Trail journal

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Week Twenty one: The "Moose", my idiocy, and a rendezvous with my sweety

Sunday August 28th, 1983
Last night it rained very hard, but the shelter only had one leak although it looked like it would leak all over. Luckily the leak was not in my area.

Got atop Mount Cube early in the morning only to see the valley shrouded in fog. The taller peaks projected up over the fog creating a surreal scene. From the summit, we trucked on down to the Sugar House and each pigged out on a stack of five pancakes, and of course maple syrup, milk, coffee, homemade apple pie and ice cream. It was (and still is) extremely rare that I drink coffee, but since my cup was instantly filled by the server each time it became empty I went with it. The Sugar House was owned and operated by the ex-governor of New Hampshire, Meldrim Thomson Jr., who came in with a dower look on his face as he proceeded to check to make sure we had removed our hiking boots. The type of soles on the boots of the '80s were notorious for caking up with mud and spreading it all over their clean floors. However, we had already complied with the sign indicating removal before entering. The server, cook and chief bottle washer was his wife.

Tonight, Al, Paul and I are camped out just down the street from the post office in Glencliff, New Hamphire. Unfortunately we did not arrive in time to retrieve our mail after an easy seventeen mile hike - this post office closes at two in the afternoon!

Just talked to Dia on the phone and she seems to be in great spirits. Hopefully I will see her Saturday on Mount Washington with my folks. Tomorrow I will pick up my post office drop, and hit "The Moose" (Mount Moosilauke) - my first "White" mountain of the trip.

(Early morning views from Mt. Cube) (Paul Nichols and Alan Savage on Mt. Cube)

Monday August 29th, 1983

Talked to mom and dad early this morning on the nearby payphone. Got a great post office drop consisting of three packages from two different people, and many letters. One of the packages was a package that followed me from PO to PO. What do I do with all this stuff? Eat, share, and carry the rest. I once again had my overalls and flannel shirt. I knew that the higher elevations would bring colder weather so it was prudent to be prepared for that. I did not read Dia's letter at that moment, but wanted to savor it at a more meaningful location. That location was to be at the top of Mount Moosilauke which I would be climbing within just a few miles.

This will be the first time that I hiked "The Moose" from the south side. The climb proved quite long, but not a problem. Once I got to the summit, I read Dia's letter I had received. I just love being above treeline with the essentials of life on my back. That feeling of self-sufficiency is the ultimate freedom for me. Being disconnected physically from civilization, yet communing with the spirit of someone I loved at the same time was almost transcendental. This feeling can't be acquired by driving up a mountain, but can only be had after months of walking with your home on your back, and eventually reaching a precipice both physically and mentally. As I read, I pigged out on half a package of malted milk balls which had arrived in one of the packages.

Now that I was officially in the white mountains, I decided that I would crow like a Rhode Island Red Rooster on each peak summitted in the Whites. That was my trail name after all. I may called myself Rhode Island Red, but most hikers shortened Rhode Island Red to just Rhode Island. But some of my friends, like Paul, called me by my first name, Marcel.

The mist climbed slowly in places, with the exception of wind funnels between peaks. Wind funnels occurring between peaks compress the air and increase its velocity, bringing along with it the mist that it carries. It wasn't long before a storm came in forcing us to bail out, and descend down to Beaver Brook. I had slept in a wind funnel on previous trips and it shook the tent violently all night. You pay a hefty price if you don't know the mountains and their idiosyncrasies. The sensation I felt when I watched the mist climbing the North Slope toward the summit is still somewhat of a religious experience. The sight is so amazing! Soon we were engulfed by the storm. As we hiked down the already steep and difficult trail, it began to pour buckets and then began to hail. The cold rains were torrential in nature, and I was completely soaked within minutes. What was once a path soon became a drainage ditch, and the force of the water was sufficient to push me forward and down the mountainside. Here began the dichotomy of speed versus safety. At this point the water was rushing past up to mid-calf height, so my footfalls were obscured from my vision - and both the air and water temperatures were dropping. I knew that safety could be had below tree line, and ultimately in the trail shelter at the base. The temptation was to move with reckless abandon to lower elevation, but I knew this could be deadly. With one false step I might find myself lunging forward onto jagged stone, potentially fracturing bones and ending my trip - or my life. Rescue here would be a matter of many hours. The other side of the coin was that with rapid movement comes a quick descent to the safety of tree line, and an end to the rapid fire assault from the stinging hail that now began to pummel me. I chose to endure the hail and hypothermic conditions -to move with brisk but deliberate intent, winding down the newly formed river of ice cold water on its way to the bottom. Regardless of the weather, the trail down was intensely beautiful.

Maybe partly because of the weather, once we got down to Beaver Brook Shelter we decided to hitch into North Woodstock, New Hampshire. The shelter is very close to the highway making easy access. An easy hike to the highway and we were off to town. In North Woodstock we found Ernie's restaurant, and pigged out. Once satiated, we returned to the trail and backtracked the few tenths of a mile back to Beaver Brook shelter for the night. This old battered shelter with little life left in her still was able to provide a home and comfort after such an eventful descent. I ate the rest of the package of milk balls once bedded down inside the shelter.

Tomorrow is a big day. I had done this part of the trail years ago and knew it had some rugged terrain. The topo's really do not do justice to the exertion needed to traverse this particular section. The climb up to Kinsman Mountain is not graded at all, and in fact each step up stretched my muscles beyond their accustomed range. It was like walking up a staircase three steps at a time. Those many years ago it proved very tiring and it drained the strength from my quads; however, on those previous hikes I had done the section from North to South, and had noted this feature as being tiring, and at that time I was going down rather than up. We will see what difference it makes to go South to North this year. It does get easier once you get to the Fishin' Jimmy Trail at Kinsman pond.

(Moosilauke from Carriage Path) (Crowing like a Rhode Island Red Rooster on Moosilauke summit)

(Waterfall on descent off Moosilauke)

Tuesday August 30th, 1983
Today was a rough day. Partly because of my own idiocy, and partly because of bad luck.

It was cloudy most of the day, but the weather forecast called for clearing skies. I had seen horsetails in the sky earlier that morning indicating to me impending bad weather, and in the whites the weather can change very quickly. First I hiked from Beaver Brook Shelter to Kinsman Pond Shelter. Noting the skies to be clearing, I decided to go on and tent at Franconia Notch rather than stay at Kinsman Pond. Halfway between Kinsman Pond Shelter and Lonesome Lake the skies darkened and began to rain. When we got to the Lonesome Lake Hut we got confirmation from the hut-master of an upcoming storm. We tried to talk the hut-master into letting us crash on the floor, but no dice. Damn AMC, if they don't get their bucks they don't give a shit about you. No way am I going to pay $26.00/night at any damn hut, so we continued on to Franconia Notch arriving there at about 7:00 pm. We set up an illegal camp just before darkness crept in. Paul and I and both camped illegally by the side of US Route 3 just out of sight. I knew of this place and used its flat spot on many expeditions in the past. I'm glad we are here, but it feels like we are in for a hell of a rain storm.

(Kinsman Pond from Kinsman Mountain) (Lonesome Lake from Kinsman Mountain)

Wednesday August 31st, 1983
It rained like hell all last night, and this morning I woke to a raging downpour outside my rain-soaked tent. The rainfly managed to stave off the onslaught for most of the night, but alas, the rain continued its onslaught and water had just begun to come in as I awoke. At least I stayed dry all night. My sleeping bag is now wet along with most of my other gear so the wise decision is to go into North Woodstock to dry everything off and crash at Gene's place. Paul went on so he will not see the splendor of Franconia Ridge in descent weather. Gene was a friend of mine that owned and cooked at the Scottish Inn located in North Woodstock. He had worked as a chef in several five star hotels and had saved enough money to buy his own place in NH. The food was great there. Beside the restaurant he rented several small cabins situated in his back lot between his house and the river.
Gene agreed to let me camp in the back of his truck for the night, and had me work off a meal by cutting grass. The sun peaked out just enough in the afternoon to allow me to cut the grass.

I discovered that yesterday I did two idiot things (that I am aware of)
1. I forgot my pack cover at Beaver Brook Shelter
2. I forgot my guidebook at Lonesome Lake Hut
I had to backtrack two extra miles in the pouring rain this morning to retrieve my guidebook. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb.

Tomorrow is supposed to be nice. It would be great to see the ridge on a nice day.

Thursday September 1st, 1983
Got a lift to the A.T. from North Woodstock, and began hiking by 9:00 am. On the ascent up to Franconia Ridge, I met a African-American (Winston Lumsdon) at Liberty Spring Campsite. The trail runs right at the edge of the campsite and directly on the trail is great spring, Cold and beautiful. We both stopped to draw water from the piped spring flowing from the bowels of the earth. While chatting with him I learned that he plans to be the first black man to hike the A.T. from north to south. He seems to be well educated, and a nice person. The spring was a great place to stop as the climb up to the ridge from the road is quite steep. I felt good today, because what had been a torturous climb for me in the past, littered with heavy breathing and many rest stops, was so effortless now. When I started up the trail to Liberty Spring, my mind was still fixed in the past, and I had steeled myself for an arduous day. Fortunately, that day never came. Instead it became a day of constant motion as I flew past other hikers as if they were statues guarding my path of ascension culminating in the reward of ice cold water and a romp over the mountain tops.

I hit the ridge on a perfect day. I had forgotten just how beautiful it was. These climbs seem so easy now. What would have killed me before is so easy for me now. I had worked so hard to get these views in the past, and today they just flowed into my consciousness with such ease.
I can remember only a few times that I have felt better about myself, and the world in general than I feel at this point. I sat on each peak of the ridge, contemplating the beauty, and took many pictures. I feel I have been repaid tenfold for the last few days of rain I suffered through. At this very moment I am sitting atop Mount Garfield. The sun is beginning to set here on top of the world, and for tonight I go no farther - I will sleep here.

Dawn should be spectacular, and in two days I will see Dia.

Views from Mt. Liberty:

(Mt. Liberty Summit) (View of Little Haystack from Mt. Liberty) (View back to North Woodstock from Franconia Ridge)

(Little Haystack from Mt.Liberty) (View of Cannon Mtn from Mt. Liberty) (Mt.Garfield from Mt. Liberty)

(Mt. Flume from Mt Liberty) (Mt. Lincoln from Mt Liberty)

View from Little Haystack:

(Mt. Cannon from Haystack)

Views from Mt. Lincoln:

(Lonesome Lake from Mt. Lincoln) (Greenleaf Hut from Mt. Lincoln) (Mt. Lafayette from Mt. Lincoln)

(Mt. Washington from Mt. Lincoln)

Views from Mt. Lafayette:

(Greenleaf Hut from Mt. Lafayette) (Route 3 from Mt. Lafayette) (Lonesome Lake from Mt. Lafayette)

(Galehead Hut from Mt. Lafayette)

Panoramic view from Mt. Garfield:

(White Mountains from Mt. Garfield)

Friday September 2nd, 1983
Another beautiful day for Rhode Island Red! I woke up early, packed my gear, then watched the sun rise in the east as I crowed once again. There is nothing more beautiful!!

Last night after I logged in, Robert Wagner and Janet Thigpen arrived at Mount Garfield Summit. I hadn't seen them since Harpers Ferry when we did the interview, and I was thrilled to see them again. All three of us hit Guyot and Zealand huts where we pigged out on some good leftover food for minimal bucks. Today I hiked with them to Ethan Pond Shelter where I chose stayed. They continued on because they are meeting someone in Crawford Notch. There is no reason for me to go farther since Dia won't be at the hostel until tomorrow around noon.

I had gotten to the shelter early in the day, and as a result there was nobody in the shelter. I knew that the next part of the trail would be packed with weekend warriors since it was Labor Day weekend. After Crawford Notch would be the the ascent up into the presidential range, and longest traverse above treeline. Because of this there are many that take this route for its unparalleled scenic beauty, and because the AMC has been able to position huts at a comfortable days hike apart for tourists. Added to that I was the busiest weekend of the year - Labor Day Weekend. I knew that I would be among that throng, and would be surrounded by souls for the next few days. I was hoping above all hope that I would be alone this evening, but as it happened, at dusk a pair of guys from New York City showed up. My first impression of the lead guy was poor at best. As he came bounding into camp he promptly announced the time it took him to get from the notch to this shelter. I remained unimpressed. Some time had passed before his friend pulled in, wheezing. Immediately upon getting into camp, he shed his pack by hurling it unto the ground, then promptly threw up into the fire pit. I could see agony on his face as he collapsed on the shelter floor. I knew right there that this would be his first and last backpacking trip. My second impression of the first guy grew even less favorable as I could see he was no leader, just a kid out to polish his image. Arrogant, self-centered and egotistical and of course boastful. As it got dark they settled into their spots and cooked dinner. I had already eaten so I read the shelter news to see where my friends ahead were, and how they were fairing. Once the boys finished we began to talk. The usual questions were bandied about. The "usual questions" begin with "where had I started this morning". I answered.... The first kid looked at his map, and once he located Mt. Garfield, I believe that it began to dawn on him that I was not an average hiker just out for a weekend jaunt. His face changed expression when he looked at the mileage that I had done. When he asked me how long I had been out I replied, "I wasn't sure, but it was around five or maybe six months". His jaw dropped, and he looked at his friend, who had been silent, and said, "This guy is doing the whole Appalachian Trail"!! From then on the questions flew at me, and they began to offer me food, which I took and ate. They were so interested in my journey I was up 'til 11:00 pm telling stories of my adventures.

The following morning as I left, they bade me farewell. I couldn't help thinking that the rookie was in for a hell-hike weekend at the hands of his friend. I did come away with this lesson though: If I wanted hiking partners to stay with me I would never treat them like that boy had treated his friend.

I will see Dia tomorrow.

(Sunrise and early morning view from Mt. Garfield)

(Janet Thigpen and Robert Wagner on Mt. Guyot Summit) (Franconia Ridge from Mt. Guyot) (Mt. Garfield from Mt. Guyot)

(Mt. Washington from Mt. Guyot) (Rock Talus from Zeacliff)

Saturday September 3rd, 1983
Even with such a late night storytelling, I was up and out by 7:30 am. I was unsuccessful at snagging a ride once I stepped out onto the pavement of the highway leading to the hostel, and ended up walking most of the way to where I'm supposed to meet Dia. About a mile before the hostel I was about to give up hitching, when just then a pickup stopped and offered me a ride. Franconia, Crawford and Pinkham notches have many trail heads so seeing trucks with backpacks is commonplace so I thought nothing about the packs already there. I threw the pack in the back with the rest of them, and just as I went to get in I spotted Robert and Janet in the cab of the pickup. It was their packs in the bed! I was very surprised to them, but they had spotted me along the road and insisted their friend (the driver) to give me a ride. That was my first surprise.

I reached the hostel sometime in the morning and waited for everybody.

To my surprise, my friend Sonny came up to canoe camp. Sonny knew that the family was going to meet me there so he said that he just happened to be there at the same time. In truth he takes an entirely different route to go to his favorite canoe camping spot, but I only found that out years later when he brought me canoe camping to that same spot. A second surprise.

Bill and Andrea brought Dia up to the hostel, and that was my third surprise! Bill is my best friend from high school, and Andrea is his wife. I had been dating Andrea's sister Linda years ago, and Bill liked Andrea so I hooked him up. We all enjoyed each other's company at the hostel, and I hated to see them go, but it was to be just a day visit because I wanted to continue on my schedule, and the cutoff date to Katahdin was looming. I was resolute that I would climb Katahdin with or without permission, and alone if necessary. I would rather have permission if at all possible. I really did not know what to expect once I reached Katahdin, but knew that the peak was prone to major ice storms, and Baxter was known for its heavy snowfall in fall. I had already instructed my parents that when they came to meet me in Baxter State Park they were to bring my snowshoes, crampons, 100 feet of Perlon rope and associated winter gear - should a winter ascent be necessary. I figured if I could handle Mount Washington in early February (which I had) then I could take Katahdin. Better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.

One of the first things out of Dia's mouth was that she worried about me losing so much weight. I guess it has begun to show. AS aresult, they took me through Crawford Notch to a Pizza Hut in North Conway where I was sure to get enough food.

Dia just finished reading my journal, and now knows my aspirations toward the Long Trail. Fortunately she says "go for it". I will if all seems right. Right now my biggest worry is where to sleep tomorrow. I didn't want to pay AMC fees nor did I want to rely on their destinations. I didn't know how much mileage that I could travel in one day, and counted on my gear to make my schedule flexible. This above treeline business can be dangerous, and I've been in a few hard blows in the past so I knew what could happen and how quickly it could happen. These peaks are in the confluence of several weather tracts and when the right conditions occur horrendous storms can blow up within twenty minutes from the time they are seen on the horizon. I can't stay above tree line, or can I?


Gonzo! Appalachian Trail Journals ©1983