APPALACHIAN TRAIL ADVENTURE RUN

   
       
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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
 
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DAY 118:  THURSDAY, AUGUST 25
 
Start: Franconia Notch/US 3  (NH)                       
End:  Galehead Hut
Today's Miles:                      13.0
Cumulative Miles:          1,815.2
Miles to go:                       359.7
   
 
"You have many of the same reactions to things that I did.  The highs are very high and the lows are pretty low, unlike modern life in suburbia which is contrived to avoid either and instead we are guaranteed continuous mediocrity.  This is why it's so good to run ultras (or thru-hike), to break out of the daily malaise!  It's difficult to explain this to people who have never experienced the high highs and low lows."

- relevant insight from a journal reader who has thru-hiked the AT

 


Blue ridges in the distance on climb to Little Haystack and Franconia Ridge in the Whites.  8-25-05

 "Hareball" and "Longhaul," NOBO thru-hikers

You've got this right, Jeff!

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.

This is one of those sections I can highly recommend for hiking; there isn't much easy running on it. If you ran it, you'd miss some great views! I hope to return someday with Jim so he can see it, too.

FRANCONIA NOTCH AND RIDGE

"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.

Today's weather was diametrically opposite yesterday's: sunny, virtually no clouds in the sky over the White Mountains (from what we could see in the valley near Franconia Notch), in the mid-50s at our campground in the national forest. The weather was perfect all day, to my relief and delight. The Whites are truly gorgeous in good weather!

The AT guide describes hiking the 27.7-mile section from Franconia Ridge to Crawford Ridge as "extremely strenuous."  Franconia Ridge is called "narrow and precipitous . . . exposed to the full force of storms, which rise rapidly and violently, producing winds of hurricane force and freezing conditions, even in summer . . . Many steep ascents and descents are encountered at the section ends and on a number of peaks."

Yikes!

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.

LONG HAUL

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 them!

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 even faster.

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 like this!!

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 earlier correspondence.

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!

LITTLE JOHN

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 and roots.

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??

HALF-WAY HOUSE

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 night.

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 all weekend.

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 there.

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 for dessert.

STAR-GAZING

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 here.

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.).

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil