This was one of my most fun days on the Trail so far, mostly because I got to
share part of it with Jim.
So many times this summer I've wished he were with me when I'm in a
particularly beautiful or interesting place on the Trail. One reason I take so
many photos each day is for him to see what I've seen.
Of course, it's never the same as being there. Photos just don't show
scale and heights and depth of field - like the waterfall in the photo above
left. The AT follows the Beaver Brook Cascades for about half a mile on the
northern side of Mt. Moosilauke at a very steep pitch. The series of falls is
delightful to see and hear. A photo can't capture that, so I was glad Jim was
there to see and hear for himself today.
Same thing with the Trail itself. There is no way I could have adequately
described how hard it was to Jim - or to the people reading this journal. Horton
described it as the "toughest descent yet" as he proceeded south to north during
his speed record in 1991. Of course, he was doing mega-mileage with other tough
mountains the same day, but this nine-mile stretch was quite enough for me on an
I decided to go north-to-south ("backwards") to avoid coming down this
part of the Trail. The AT guide and hikers' journals indicated it was a
knee-killer, with a 2,600-foot drop in about two miles from Mt. Blue, which is adjacent
to Mt. Moosilauke (a total of 2,900 feet in 3.8 miles from the summit of Moosilauke).
[A bit of history: "Moosilauke" is the Pemigewasset Indian word for
"high bald place." This is the first mountain NOBO thru-hikers reach whose
summit is above tree line. Southern balds don't count because they are mowed or
grazed to keep them bald. Here, trees simply don't grow at this altitude.]
I made the right choice to go up instead of down this side. The south side
was hard enough on me going down; the north side would have put me over
the edge, at least figuratively. Jim went out and back, so he got to experience
the treacherous descent. He won't soon forget it!
You wouldn't want to do this section on a rainy day. It was treacherous even
today. I thought the rocks
would be exposed but they weren't. Most of the trail on the mountain is under
trees. So even though it was a sunny day, some of the rocks and roots were wet
anyway. It rains a lot on Moosilauke. There are numerous creeks and wet areas
along the Trail.
I did fine going up, although it took us nearly three hours to go 3.8 miles
to the summit. Part of that time we talked to descending hikers and I took about
twenty photos. But mostly it was because of the steep pitch and difficult
This is the first time I've seen rebar hand-holds along the side of a trail
to help facilitate climbing or descending. I've seen it used as a foot-hold
(like on Dragon's Tooth in Virginia). I read there were ladders to negotiate the
rocks but we saw no ladders here. There were some precarious wooden steps that were
somehow attached to the smooth rock slabs; we couldn't see bolts, however.
How did they do that?? I would have had great difficulty on those
little wedges if I'd come down that way.
I didn't take either of my trekking poles today, and I missed them. Recently
I've been using two to help me with pulling myself uphill, taking the stress off
my knees downhill, and balancing through creeks and over rocks and logs in other
wet areas. I thought with the tough ascent I'd need both hands to climb and the
poles would be a bother. But I really missed them, both up and down.
TREELESS IN NEW HAMPSHIRE
Jim and I both love running and hiking in the mountains out West,
particularly in Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. Out there, you often don't get
above tree line until about 10,000 or 11,000 feet. That "alpine zone" is
fascinating to both of us. We love the plants, the marshy wetness, and the
Today we found out we don't have to drive 2,000 miles to get that same
experience. And we weren't in oxygen deprivation, either!
You see, in New Hampshire you reach that alpine zone somewhere over 4,200
feet, depending on how far north you are in the state. On Moosilauke we hit
(quite abruptly, in fact) the alpine treeless zone at about 4,600 feet, pretty
close to the 4,802-foot summit.
Unfortunately, we were clouded in the whole time over about 4,000 feet and
were deprived of the great views the guidebook describes. Visibility was maybe
200 feet, plenty to see the tall rock cairns guiding our way but not enough to
see the Presidential Range to the northeast - or even the next mountain. (The two
closest are Mt. Blue and Mt. Jim. I think Jim should have taken the side trail
to Mt. Jim, don't you?)
At least it didn't rain. Jim estimates the wind was about 30 MPH. It was in
the 60s F. in the valley and probably in the 40s at the summit. We had on our
Marmot Precip jackets but didn't bother with the hats, gloves, or pants we had
in our packs. When we both got numb fingers we decided to go our respective
ways down the mountain.
It wasn't a good day for lunch on Moosilauke!
But the clouds didn't dampen the spirits of anyone at the summit. There was
literally a crowd of hikers up there. We met "Tink" just as she was
leaving the summit and heading north. Sitting inside the stone foundation of a
former summit inn/hostel (it burned and wasn't replaced) were about fifteen
teen-aged girls. The rocks reminded us of the little alcove at the top of Mt.
Elbert, Colorado's highest peak.
Before long "Gypsy Lulu," "Touk," "Mouth" (in his kilt), and "Linux"
arrived. Jim took a photo of Touk on top of the summit sign, with Lulu below.
What a pair! I think they're practicing for their Katahdin photo in a few weeks.
"Captain Bacardi" and his hiking companion were right behind them; Bacardi is
a section hiker who does a two-week section of the AT each year. He's completed
all the miles from Georgia to here, and will stop in Gorham this weekend. He'll
finish in a couple years.
We also met several NOBO thru-hikers on the way up the mountain; they were
going down the really tough part: "Brother Buzz," a fellow our age from Cape
Cod; "Hareball," a middle-aged female (born under the sign of the hare);
"Lightning," "Navigator," Thrifty," "EM" ("Epistemological Megalomaniac"),
all young men.
This is "Thrifty," who I first met back in Virginia. Jim noticed he was
carrying a fly swatter on the outside of his pack. He also showed us a plastic
saber, seen below. He's a fella with a sense of humor, which is a real handy
thing to have out here.
Several of the hikers had spent the night at the Beaver Brook shelter a bit
up the Trail. It rained there yesterday afternoon and they were rewarded with a
beautiful double rainbow - one of the many memories they will cherish from the
On my way down the south side after Jim and I parted, four other thru-hikers
passed me near the top; I didn't get their names. Farther down, a group of eight
or nine college students with backpacks were headed up the mountain on a
five-day hike. Closer to the bottom I met red-bearded "Kokomo," a NOBO
thru-hiker about my age.
Jim also saw several SOBO hikers when he went back down to the truck.
Popular place on a Tuesday!
When I was done, I crossed NH 25 to the parking lot where I finished
yesterday and waited a few minutes for Jim to pick me up. "The Honeymooners"
arrived, heading north. They are "Birdie" and "Muskrat," pictured below:
When they mentioned they were going to the Glencliff post office to get their
box of warm clothes, etc., Jim drove up. They accepted our offer of a ride to
town. Jim has given hikers rides several times along the Trail.
The descent on the south side was longer (3,700 feet) but spread over five
miles from the summit. The first mile of drop was fairly steep and tedious on
slick rocks, roots, and mud, but not nearly as bad as the northern side would
have been to go down. I'm so glad I went SOBO today. I was able to run a little on the
Moosilauke ridge before descending (where the AT follows an old carriage road),
and off and on the last three miles.
I'm also glad I cut this section 'way short. I was scheduled to do over 25
miles today but after I saw how long 23 miles took yesterday, I knew I couldn't
do Moosilauke AND the Kinsmans in one day -- especially not with my sore toe.
My little toe felt better this morning but it was still very painful to put
on a shoe (either Hardrock or Vitesse). I was in tears, even wondering if I
should try to run and hike today. I don't know what's wrong with it (bursitis?
infected?) and don't want to make it worse. Jim came up with a workable solution
- cutting a slit in the side of my shoe. Well, duh! I've done that before but
not for a lot of years, so hadn't even thought of it.
That worked pretty well, although running and going downhill still caused
some pain. The worst was the searing pain when I'd accidentally hit it against a
rock or root. My word, that sent a jolt up my entire leg. Tonight I've been
icing it and soaking it in Epsom salts. Jim just cut a slit in another pair of
shoes for tomorrow . . .
Next up: the north and south peak of Kinsman, which I've read is the
toughest mountain on the entire Trail.
Nobody said this would be easy. Welcome to the Whites, Sue.