A couple of section hikers arrived late last night and woke everyone up so that we could make room for them in the shelter. By late I mean 9:30, but that is still past hiker midnight. I still do not understand why folks feel like it is so important to hike past sunset in an effort to make mileage and then inconvenience everyone at a shelter upon arrival, but I suppose they have their reasons. To make matters worse, they were the first to leave this morning so everyone was awakened by the sound of their gear being packed away. At least the morning dawned with clear blue skies and Ethan Pond looked gorgeous when I crossed the inlet stream to return to the trail.
Although it passed through some wet areas, the trail remained flat until it began to descend towards the parking area at the Crawford Notch trailhead. I mentioned in an earlier blog that there were three places on the A.T. where I was willing to wait for perfect weather, and I got my weather wish at one of them when I crossed the Franconia Ridge. The next place where the weather was important to me is the Presidential Range and Crawford Notch is the go/no-go point for committing to that section. Although the forecast was calling for a chance of thundershowers over the next several days, the weather was perfect when I arrived at Crawford Notch. My gut was telling me to heed the forecast and get off the trail for a few days, but when I looked up at the cloudless sky, my mind told me to continue hiking. I should have listened to my gut.
The climb from Crawford Notch to the 3,910-foot summit of Mt Webster is 2,700-feet over 3.3-miles. A significant climb by most standards, but compared to what I have recently been experiencing it really wasn’t that steep. After crossing US 302, I joined the Webster Cliff Trail, which crossed the Saco River over a very unique bridge, and started climbing. During the climb, I felt exhausted and rested often while trying to regain my energy. At one point, I even started to feel dizzy (not a good thing when rock climbing), so I sat down and ate an early lunch. Perhaps it was a blood sugar issue because I felt considerably better after ingesting a thousand calories and I soon continued my climb.
Around 1:00 pm, I reached the south end of the Webster Cliffs. The trail follows these cliffs for nearly a mile and provides spectacular views of Crawford Notch and the surrounding mountains. By this time, the clouds were starting to roll in and I could hear the ominous sound of thunder booming through the valley. I couldn’t see the storms because they were moving in from the other side of the mountain, and I hoped that the rain would pass me by. Suddenly, all hell broke loose and I was surrounded by lightning and driving rain. Being from Florida where summer thunderstorms are an everyday occurrence, I wasn’t terribly concerned about my situation, but I did have enough sense to understand that an exposed cliff was not where I needed to be standing. So, I headed quickly down the trail to the protection of the trees.
While seeking shelter from the storm, I caught up with Sasquatch and we stopped to put on raingear and wait for the lightning to subside. We could see the summit of Mt Webster from our vantage point and since the summit was fully exposed rock, we decided that it was not a good idea to make that crossing now. After a while, the rain started to let up and the frequency of the lightning strikes started to diminish, so we rushed ahead to make it to the safety of the other side of the summit.
We barely made it across the rocks at the summit before the next storm arrived. Through the drenching rain, we continued down the trail which had turned into a series of rock scrambles as we approached Mt Jackson. By now, I was thoroughly soaked and my phone/camera was inoperable. Finally, the rain volume began to decrease and we crossed the small rocky summit of Mt Jackson without incident.
My original plan of the day was to hike to the Lake of the Clouds Hut at the base of Mt Washington, but I was wet, cold, and mentally finished. In less than two miles, I arrived at the Mizpah Spring Hut and went inside to escape the drizzling rain. Once inside, I saw several familiar faces among the usual crowd of day and section hikers including Shiver and Peanut as well as Malt and Jukebox. While trying to decide what to do, I went over and talked to Malt and Jukebox and discovered that they had made earlier reservations and were staying at the hut as paid guests. As another option, there is a tent site next to the hut, but no one seemed anxious to camp there in the rain. Out of curiosity, I asked the Croo working the front desk if there were still any bunks available for the night, and you could have knocked me over with a feather when he said, “As a matter of fact, there are three available.” My hands were so wet and pruned that I had difficulty holding the pen to sign the credit card receipt.
Never in my life have I spent so much money for accommodations that did not include a hot shower, but the prospect of a dry bunk and a hot dinner at any cost was more than I could resist at this point. I found my bunkroom where I peeled off my soaked clothes, hung them to drip dry, slipped into my warm dry base layer, and climbed under the blanket on my bunk. It appeared that I was sharing this four-person space with one other guest and a while later, a woman came in and introduced herself. She told me that her name is Valeri, that she lives near Hanover, NH, and that she hiked up here to visit her daughter who is a member of the Croo. How cool is that?
It seemed like forever before it was dinnertime, but you can bet that I wasn’t late to the table. We ate freshly baked bread, soup, veggies, baked pasta, and brownies while enjoying the company and camaraderie of strangers at the table who shared a love of the outdoors. I was the only thru-hiker at my table and the others, understanding the struggle, kept passing their leftovers to me to finish off. I felt a small twinge of guilt for enjoying the benefits of being a guest while my fellow thru-hikers looked on, but it quickly passed. They had elected to remain at the hut as part of the thru-hiker work-for-stay program and I will elaborate on that in tomorrow’s post.
Date: August 3, 2017
Starting Location: Ethan Pond Shelter
Ending Location: Mizpah Spring Hut
AT Miles Today: 9.3
AT Miles To Date: 1,850.8