Yesterday was a definite low point for me on the
Trail. Today was one of my very best days.
Why? I'm still tired and need a rest day. But it's sunny and I don't want to
waste a sunny day in the Whites.
So I'll keep going until another rainy day, then rest!
This is a beautiful section with marvelous views from Franconia Ridge, rivaling those in Colorado
or Montana. It is popular with day hikers and back-packers who are out for a few
days or a couple of weeks. There are numerous side trails in this and other
sections of the White Mountains
that connect to the AT, giving folks lots of options for loop hikes that include
the summits and ridges.
Franconia Ridge includes two miles of trail above the tree line as hikers
traverse the summits of Little Haystack, Lincoln, and Lafayette mountains. Mt.
Garfield is also above the trees for a little while.
"Notches" are the same as "gaps" farther south on the Appalachian Trail and
"passes" out West: low spots between mountains where rivers run and roads
and rail lines are built. In the White Mountains it is a long way between some
of these notches - not particularly long in the sense of miles, but long days on
the Trail to reach the next road.
I'm one of many hikers who completely underestimated the Whites, despite
reading many thru-hikers' accounts. It took one bad day (yesterday) in the southern Whites, where the terrain is easier than it will be farther north, for me
to realize that my mileage plans were totally unrealistic.
Remember my Rule #3 from the get-go? It's to be flexible and adaptable. This
week is an exercise in both.
In hindsight, I can tell you it wasn't as bad as I expected. The Trail will get
worse. In the rain, I probably would have hated it. In the sun, I loved it.
It truly is a long haul from Franconia Notch to the summit of Mt. Lafayette,
the highest point in this almost 28-mile section. I went from 1,450 feet to
5,249 feet in six miles. The toughest part is in the first three miles, with a
gain of 2,300 feet to get to the tree line. Then you keep going up, but more
gradually. (Tree line here is only 4,200 feet.)
Although the Trail was sometimes very rugged (particularly in what I call the
"spruce zone") on the way up with rock jumbles and tangled roots, it was
generally more civilized than yesterday's treadway on the Kinsman Ridge - and so
much easier to climb the smooth vertical rock walls because they were dry.
A little below tree line I came to the nice Liberty Springs tent area, which
has a caretaker to enforce the rules to protect the environment. There was a
register, the first I've signed in several days. Waddya know, "Hareball,"
"Linux," and "Longhaul" all signed it this morning! Maybe I can catch up to
I was already in RFM mode powering up the mountain. I had a dinner date at 6
PM and didn't want to be late! Knowing "Longhaul" was close was incentive to go
If you read my prep pages, you may remember the name "Longhaul." I started
reading his on-line trail journal before I began my own hike. He's about 60 and
also lives in Virginia. Retired now, he does search and rescue in the Shenandoah
Mountains. We corresponded some before I hit the Trail.
Longhaul started at Springer Mountain in March but had to stop at the beginning
of the Smokies for knee surgery and a stress fracture. Six weeks later he was
back out on the Trail. I didn't really have time to keep up with his progress
after I started my own little adventure on the Trail. I started seeing his trail
register entries a few days ago, and realized I was catching up to him.
And now I must be close; his entry was just before mine!
I continued on up the Trail and soon emerged above tree line. Oh, how
beautiful were the views north, south, east, and west! I live for days
Below is a one view on Franconia Ridge, looking to the east:
I encountered more and more day and section hikers as I
approached Little Haystack and Lincoln mountains. Many folks had their dogs,
often Labs. The Labs all looked so enthusiastic. Have you ever met a Lab that
wasn't? They have a zest for life that is unmatched in human-dom.
I was sorry I couldn't take Cody with me, but I never know what
insurmountable obstacles I might run into, like rock walls or ladders he can't
get up. But this part of the Trail wasn't bad.
I absolutely loved being on this ridge. The footing wasn't too
bad since it was dry, the weather was perfect, the views magnificent. I felt
like I was on top of the world. The scenery doesn't get much better in the
higher mountains in the West.
But I couldn't stay too long. I had a dinner date at 6, and I
didn't want to be late!
Approaching Mt. Lafayette, clouds came and went over its summit.
I was hoping it would be clear when I arrived. It didn't look like it was
raining, although from the photo below you can see there was some gray that
might be rain.
Fortunately, when I got there, it was clear and beautiful.
Just before the summit, I met "Tenacious E," a SOBO thru-hiker. He took his
name from the band, "Tenacious D," substituting the "E" for his real name,
Ethan. I told him that was a great name for someone thru-hiking the AT. Funny
thing is, he didn't know what "tenacious" meant until I told him!
I asked him if he had met Longhaul. He said yes, he was eating lunch on the
summit of Lafayette, about five minutes away. He told me to look for the bright
orange rain cover on his pack.
I boogied on up to the summit, but alas, Longhaul had already gone. I caught
up to him in a few minutes, going down the other side. He was surprised when I
greeted him by name -- until I told him mine. He remembered "Runtrails" from our
I hiked with Longhaul for about fifteen minutes, catching up on his adventure
on the Trail. He has to be very careful of his knees, one or both of which need
replacement surgery when he's done. He travels slowly but has been doing up to
twenty miles a day until the Whites. Now he's limiting it to ten miles max, as
it's so difficult.
When "Hareball" caught up to us I took the photo at the top of the page.
I've seen her three times now. I wished I could just mosey along with them the
rest of the day, but I had to say goodbye and hurry on down the Trail.
I had a dinner date at six, and I absolutely couldn't be late!
While I'm on the subject of hikers, I also ran into another one of my favorite
thru-hikers near Lafayette: "Little John." Remember him? I first met
Little John at a boulder "river" before Harper's Ferry. He's a quiet, retired
fella with a sweet personality. I was impressed because he'd lost about fifty
pounds since beginning his hike.
At the time, he was slack-packing with two other men I'd met, "Charlie Brown"
and "Steady Eddy." They called themselves "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly."
They were using two vehicles and would camp or stay in motels along the way so
they didn't have to carry their heavy packs all day.
Turns out, the threesome has split up. Little John had trouble hiking as fast
as his compadres, so he teamed up with "Newhart," a fella from Pennsylvania that
I met just before Little John today, on top of Mt. Lincoln talking with "Navigator."
Little John and Newhart were slack-packing until the Whites. Now they're carrying
full packs because of the difficulty of the Trail and the distances between
notches (i.e., road access).
It was so great to see that Little John is still out here plugging along! He
is in fine shape and having a blast. Well, except for the new tick disease he
got (not Lyme, a newer one I can't remember). He's recovered from it now.
I wanted to spend more time with Little John but I had to hustle on up the
Trail. I had a dinner date at six, and couldn't be late!
GARFIELD AND GALEHEAD
Only one more mountain to go, Garfield, and about six miles to my
destination. Shouldn't take too long, eh?
You're not paying attention, are you? These mountains are rugged and the
concepts of time and distance aren't like the previous 1,800 miles already
covered. It took me 4:30 hours to cover that six miles.
I went from 5,249 feet on Lafayette down 1,600 feet to Garfield Pond on
boulders, over rock piles and slick bog boards and through mud. Then I went up
a very steep grade 800 feet to Mt. Garfield. There were great views all around,
as I was again well above tree line.
It was so cool to look back at Franconia Ridge and see where I'd been
earlier! That's been one of the more satisfying elements of hiking the AT:
seeing the mountains and ridges where I've been.
It was even steeper on the downside of Garfield, a drop of over 1,000 feet in
less than a mile. Of course, it was very rocky, too, with some challenging rock
slabs and walls. Thank goodness they were mostly dry!
At 5:25 PM I saw a sign at a trail intersection that said my day's
destination was still six-tenths of a mile away. Oh, dear. Could I do it? The
Trail here wasn't too steep up or down, but it was still slow going in the rocks
I had a dinner date at six. Would I make it?
Indeed, I did. Oh, happy day! I turned on the after-burners and had fifteen
minutes to spare.
You're thinking, "Is this woman completely crazy?" (Obviously, I am!)
Where was she headed for dinner in the wilderness??
Well, after yesterday's torrid pace on Kinsman Ridge in the rain, I knew I'd
more than met my match in the White Mountains. I'm no Horton or Traildog, able
to cover long distances even here. When I finished last night all I wanted to
do was get clean, eat dinner, and go to sleep. I wrote the journal entry days
later, when I finally had the time and energy to do it.
The weather forecast for today was for sunshine. I was tired and needed a
rest day. But I didn't want to take off on a sunny day. And I had to find a way
to break up this 27.7-mile section into manageable bites.
I knew there was a "hut" about the middle of this section, so I asked Jim
yesterday on Kinsman to call and get more information. But we lost the phone
connection and he didn't know whether to make a reservation, which is required if you
want to be certain of a bed. They had space for me on Thursday night if I
wanted to stay.
The AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) is a huge organization that maintains the
labyrinth of trails in this area, as well as a system of eight huts along the
AT. Their reservation line is open only from 9 AM to 5 PM. We got home too late
last night to make a reservation at Galehead. We knew they had space on Thursday
night, but we didn't know about Friday. My plan was to rest and regroup mentally
today and hike this section tomorrow (Friday) if they had space for me Friday
I'm usually on the Trail by 7 AM. I got all ready this morning to hike, not
knowing if I'd be going today or tomorrow. We called from the trailhead right at
9 AM. Yes, I could stay at Galehead tonight, but not Friday. They were filled
So I got a late start this morning (9:15) and had to cover these thirteen
rugged miles with over 5,000 feet of gain in under nine hours. Sounds easy, but
it wasn't. It took me 8:30 hours to do it, and I didn't waste much time with
stops (although I took over sixty photos and talked to several hikers).
Dinner is served promptly at six at the huts. Based on what I've read in
hikers' journals, the food goes fast. If you aren't sitting at the table when
the bowls are passed family-style, there may not be anything left when you get
Hence, the reason for my haste all day. I didn't want to miss dinner!
I will tell you more about the hut system in general and Galehead in
particular on my next rest day (which will be a rainy day). This was my
first experience with a hut, and it was a great one. I'd love to do it again! I
was a full-paying customer, a stiff $85 charge. But it was worth every penny for
the convenience, excellent food, and fun company.
Thru-hikers have two other options if they want to stay in a hut. They can
work for their stay, as Horton did in 1991, or pay $8 to sleep on the floor or a
bench (no food, no bunk).
If you "work for stay," you have to put in two hours of work and wait until
everyone else has finished eating. There might be only leftovers from another
day for you. And knowing I'd be getting there late, I didn't want to risk that
option. Only two hikers can do this per night, and it's the first two hikers
that request it.
As it turned out, that option might have worked. No other thrus were there
tonight. I think the food ran out, though!
WHAT'S FOR DINNER?
"So, Sue, was dinner worth it?"
Oh, yes. Considering Galehead is the most remote of the eight huts in the
Whites, and all the food is either packed in (fresh items) 4.6 miles up a
3,000-foot climb or helicoptered in at the beginning of the season, the staff
does a great job with meals.
This hut accommodates thirty-eight paying guests. Five staff members cater to
their needs (with limited supplies, but unlimited enthusiasm!). Not only were we
treated to a delicious dinner, we also had lively entertainment as the rules
were explained in skits after dinner and breakfast the next morning.
About thirty-five of us sat on benches at three long wooden tables and passed
each course around. We were encouraged to take all we wanted, but eat all we
take (sounds like home, right?).
Our first course was a delicious pumpkin-black bean soup. The creator of this
heady concoction was Jess, a young woman who is a science teacher for nine
months and an AMC hut naturalist during the summer. She has this recipe in her
head; I wrote down the ingredients and will include them in the hut entry later.
Most of us had two bowls of this soup. Yum!
Homemade honey wheat bread accompanied the soup.
(Are you getting hungry yet??)
Next was a beautifully presented mixed salad made with Romaine lettuce, not
that tasteless iceberg stuff. Fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers were added.
The dressing was delicious, too.
The main course was well-seasoned beef stroganoff over rotini pasta, with
roasted vegetables on the side. For those who still had room in their tummies
(which was everyone at my table!), there were chewy chocolate chip-oatmeal bars
Tonight's guests at Galehead ranged in age from three to about seventy-three,
all folks who hiked up to tree line from one of many ways to get to the hut.
Some people will hike the whole system of huts on the AT for their vacation,
from one end of the Whites to another. They are conveniently spaced about seven
or eight miles apart for manageable day hikes. Others make it a destination for
one or more nights, going out on loop or out-and-back hikes during the day.
Others like me rely on it to break up the long distances between roads.
I enjoyed meeting the variety of folks who were there. Several gave me very
good information about the Trail ahead, which is helpful although intimidating!
I really should have done more thorough homework about the Whites before getting
One of the evening's highlights was a "star presentation" given by Jess. You
cannot see lights in the valley from this hut. Since it was a clear, cold night,
it felt like we could reach up and touch the stars as Jess identified what
seemed like every star in the galaxy!
It reminded me of one of the most special times I've spent with Jim. We were
running the Bear 100 together in southern Utah. At dusk, we were on a ridge at
about 9,000 feet. Although below tree line, we had a great view of the setting
sun. It got dark very quickly, the same pitch-black dark as at Galehead. No city
lights marred the view. We saw the Milky Way that night and felt like we could
touch the stars.
I loved that feeling tonight. I just wish Jim had been there to enjoy it,
too. Some day I want to come back here and stay in one or more of these huts.
Some people think the AMC has gone too commercial, catering too much to
"destination" hikers. Since this is all new to me, I don't have any
opinion about that. It seems to me they do accommodate "serious" hikers
with their three options.
I'm so grateful I could stay at this hut. My only regret is that there aren't
ones where I'll need them in a few days to break up other long stretches!
(Photos from Galehead and other huts in special entry in a few days.).