Quite frankly, I can't remember any day during any job I've ever held where I
felt as miserable as I did today on the AT!
Without a doubt, this was my worst day out here. I had an emotional meltdown
in the afternoon that brought Jim out in the pouring rain to find me on the
Trail and escort me several miles to the truck.
Now that's love!
This section on the Kinsman Ridge in the White Mountains is the roughest
trail I've encountered in twenty-six years of trail running. It is doubly worse
in the rain. The climbs and descents weren't the problem. I can handle major
elevation changes just fine. It was the trail surface, extremely rugged and
considered by some to be the worst on the entire AT.
Thank goodness I didn't do it the same day as Moosilauke, as originally
planned! This 16.3-mile section took me a little over twelve hours to
hike today. There was no running. The only possible place I could have done
anything resembling running was the first mile, but since it was up the
direction I was going (south-bound again), I couldn't run it.
In retrospect, I would have done better going northbound, but road access on
US 3 (which is really I-93 at the point the AT crosses underneath) is nil and
Jim couldn't wait for me there as he could in the large parking lot on NH 112.
I also would have done several hours better if it hadn't been raining all
Wanna know the kicker? It was mostly sunny in the valley where Jim was (N.
Woodstock and Lincoln, NH area)! I couldn't believe it was sunny down there, and
Jim couldn't believe it was raining all day up in the nearby mountains. From the
valley you can see clouds hanging over the mountain tops. And guess what? There
is often rain inside.
But I swear the only blue sky I saw was for one brief moment on top of the
south peak of Kinsman. The rest of the time it was raining and foggy. This is
common in the Whites, I think. The ground is so soggy and the foliage so lush
that it looks like the mountains must have a very high annual rainfall/snowfall.
The morning didn't start out so badly. I enjoyed the first mile or two of
trail up through pretty woods and along two cascading creeks, Whitehouse and
Cascade brooks, both with lots of shoals and boulders. I had to wade through the
first creek (common in the Whites), but the second had a sturdy new bridge
across it. Thank you!
Even though it was raining lightly, I thought, "This is nice."
But if you've been following along in this journal for several weeks or
months, you know that nice (read: runnable) sections on the AT
usually don't last long!
As I gradually ascended 1,300 feet to the Lonesome Lake hut (like a lodge),
the trail gradually got more and more gnarly with mossy, jumbled rocks and
thick, tangled, jungle-like roots that stuck up several inches from the muddy
I didn't dare enter the nice, warm hut where a young couple with two
school-age children were just leaving for a hike. They said to go on in and get
some hot chocolate. No way! That'd be like going into Bill's Barn in the wee
morning hours at the Vermont 100 or the Brighton Lodge at seventy-five miles
during Wasatch - I'd get sucked into the warmth and comfort and never leave!
This is a photo of Lonesome Lake in the misty rain:
Shortly after Lonesome Lake the Trail turned worse. Not only were there the
mossy rocks and slick roots but the climb also turned much steeper (1,600 feet in a
mile and a half), with vertical walls to climb with and without wet wooden steps.
It was tough going up and would have been tougher for me coming down that way
had I gone northbound as usual.
It wasn't long before I decided that this trail was designed by the devil
himself! No humans could be that diabolic. Could they?
No wonder the AT guide describes this section as "extremely strenuous .
. . The
footway is often wet and rugged."
Kinsman has two ridges, North and South. South is a little higher (elevation
4,358 feet) and is just about at the tree line with shrubs and short pine trees
called "krummholtz." Until I reached that point six miles into the hike, I couldn't see
more than two or three hundred feet from the Trail on either side.
I met six NOBO thru-hikers near the north peak (which I reached first) who
Jim and I saw on Moosilauke yesterday, including Hareball and Buzz. They weren't
very happy either, and all warned me about the steep, exposed rock descent from
the south peak that I'd be facing in a little while.
Suddenly, just before I reached the south peak, the dramatic clouds parted
and I could see some blue sky to the east. The other directions were still
obscured by the clouds hanging over the Kinsman peaks. The valley below me
became partially visible for a few minutes and I took this photo:
On the summit was a group of about six teenagers (coed) with a young man.
Thru-hiker "EM" was happily yogi-ing their food, and we talked for a
I took my pack off to get a food bar but the wind kicked up and I decided it
wasn't a good time to sit there. I had a tough descent that scared the heck out
of me, and I'd better get going before it started raining again.
THE BOTTOM DROPS OUT
It didn't really matter. That descent would've been scary even on a sunny day.
In fact, if the valley had still been obscured by fog it would have been
easier. Just seeing how far I could fall made it all the worse.
And fall I did, right near the top of the first slippery rock slab. Fortunately,
I didn't go far (saved by some bushes). I pitched sideways and landed just short
of my nose. The force pushed my glasses up but didn't break them, thank
goodness. My knee was bleeding. I was completely shaken up. It was the first of
three falls I took today.
From the AT guide book again: "Begin a very rough, exposed descent,
requiring rock scrambling and considerable extra time."
No joke. I already told you how long it took me to do this section, and this
2,000-foot descent over two miles consumed an inordinate amount of that time. I
kept hoping it was a nightmare and I'd wake up on a bright, sunny day and find
myself actually running on a beautiful trail.
It didn't happen. It just kept on raining. I eventually made it down to the
turn-off to the Eliza Brook shelter (great creek!) without sliding off into
oblivion, but I was shaken and tired. I had to focus so intently on every
footstep for over twelve hours that even my brain was tired by the end of
You need to be Spiderman to get a grip on these rock slabs when they are wet.
I have no problem climbing up them, even at a 45-degree angle, when they are
dry. Or walking carefully down maybe a 30-degree angle when dry. But all
bets are off when they are wet.
In the last seven miles up and over Mt. Wolf I met about fifteen NOBO
thru-hikers, most of them the ones mentioned from yesterday on Mt. Moosilauke
(Gypsy Lulu, Touk, etc.). I warned them how difficult the Kinsman peaks
were in the rain, and I think they decided to stop at the Eliza Brook shelter. I
don't see how they could possibly have made it over the peaks before dark, and
the descent would have been almost as bad as the one I had going southbound.
I also met some new folks like "Eastie" and "Goosebump," the latter a young
woman who Jim had already met. Goosebump said she has fallen only three times
the entire 1,800 miles she's already hiked on the AT, but had three more falls
today in the rain. While I wouldn't wish bad luck like that on anyone, it
made me feel better about my own falls.
I also talked with a middle-aged thru-hiker (whose trail name escapes me)
that I've met before. I mentioned how careful I have to be through the rocks and
especially on descents, even when they are dry. He admitted being thoroughly
intimidated by the Whites and felt like he was the only hiker out here who's
afraid of getting badly hurt on some of the verticals and rock slabs.
I assured him he wasn't the only one! Again, it made me feel a little better
knowing someone else felt the same.
I finally got a phone signal about 4:15 PM. I'd told Jim to pick me up
between 4 and 5. I didn't want him worrying; I was still about five miles out,
and the footing was still rugged. When I heard his voice, I just started crying.
The connection was poor. I asked him to please come in with a light if I wasn't
down to the truck by 6 PM. On cloudy days in dense foliage, the trail is already
pretty dark by 6.
Jim was obviously concerned when he heard me crying. He decided to come in to
me immediately with Cody (Tater stayed in the truck). I was so happy to see him
about three miles from the end, earlier than I expected. We didn't get down
until 7:20, almost dark since it was still raining. Just having him there made
such a difference.
Part of the problem today was lack of calories and fluids. I lost my 28-ounce UD
bottle with the Perpetuem in it somewhere, probably the first fall coming down
from S. Kinsman. I still had about 2/3 of it left, meaning I was short by at
least 1,500 calories. In the rain I didn't want to take my pack off to get a
food bar and eat it. Another 250 calories lost. The three flasks of Hammergel
weren't sufficient for the last six hours. I was so focused on forward movement
that I didn't even drink enough water (I had plenty left).
In short, I was bonking badly by the end.
It was a total relief to finish, but not the relief of overcoming my fears
and accomplishing something big. I was so tired mentally and physically that I
was just relieved to sit down, get cleaned up, and get warm and dry. At
that moment, I hated the Whites.
Bottom line: I don't think I would have liked this section much better on a
dry, sunny day or if I'd been going northbound instead of southbound. The
footing is atrocious and I don't know how anyone can run 90% of it. I
could hardly walk it!!
I can't recommend this section of the AT for anyone to do for any reason.
There. That ought to guarantee at least a dozen testosterone-crazed young men
will immediately put this on their electronic calendar of things to do!!
One of the fellas I met who regularly hikes in the White Mountains put it
pretty succinctly: "On a sunny day, you can't beat the Whites. On a rainy
day, they're terrible."
Up next: Franconia Notch to Crawford Notch, a tough 27.7-mile section
of the Whites that includes Mts. Lincoln, Layfayette, and Guyot. If 16.3 miles
took me over twelve hours to do, how many hours will this section take??? Do the
there is no road access in this 27.7 miles.)