Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
So, here we sit in Gorham. It is raining all day today and over breakfast Zen, Thinker and I made the executive decision to spend another night here in town. Later tonight and tomorrow will be clearing and we'll push hard this week to make up the miles. Rest is needed too. The rocky and steep trails of the Whites have beaten my body up. I've had no knee problems this whole trip until the Whites and my feet are meaty stumps at this point. It won't stop me, but it is kinda fun to watch them swell up overnight. The next bit of trail looks difficult too - someone asked a southbounder how the transition into Maine will go, and she replied "seamless."
It does feel great to be entering the final state of the AT. Autumn has already started in the boreal forest of the higher elevations - birches are turning yellow and dropping their leaves across the trail. Down the mountains a bit, in the mixed hardwood forest and some of the early maples are already turning red-orange. Of course way down in valleys like the one Gorham sits in, its still summery green. But the cold nights are giving us the signal that autumn is arriving even here, and pretty soon we'll be pushed out of the woods whether we are done the hike or not. Baxter State Park closes its trails to hikers on October 15th, but we should be done by the first week in October.So, some chores and errands, but a mostly lazy day of sitting around and watching television. Its hiker Saturday!
Monday, September 08, 2008
Hello from Gorham, NH, mile 1880ish - under 300 miles are left. Most of these will be in Maine which I will enter in 2 or 3 days. For now, rest. Traversing the Whites was the toughest part of the AT and easily some of the toughest hiking I've ever done. The trails are steep and often require climbing sharply sloped rock faces, which can be slow-going - especially in rain. There are few flat areas, and climany ascents and descents along the ridges. Five major gaps, called notches here, mean huge drops and climbs of several thousand feet in short distances. We tended to average 1.5 miles per hour, about 10 miles per day. Here is a little more detail about the past week:
The weather started out iffy as we went over Moosilauke and the Kinsmans, which may be the toughest climb on the trail. We spent a night doing work-for-stay at the Lonesome Lake Hut and slept in their dining room. Then we spent a half-day and night resting in Lincoln, NH at a house whose owner invites hikers to stay. Chet is a former hiker who suffered massive burns in a cookstove accident and after a recovery that took years of surgeries and drugs (and millions of dollars), he now hosts hikers at his home. Very cool guy. My cousin Robert paid a visit and acted as trail angel for us thruers - thank you for the fun time and we'll get together for a hike at some point.
The weather cleared and was beautiful as we climbed Franconia Ridge, which peaks at the 5,200 ft Lafayette. The sun was great for warmth, but the wind was gusting up to 50mph along the exposed ridge. This was our first distance run above treeline and the views were outstanding. Lots of dayhikers were out on this Labor Day, and as tourist attractions, we got to answer many questions about our trips. The trail turns right onto Garfield Ridge, and after watering up, we spent the night on the lee side of Mt. Garfield's summit. Cowboy camped and watched the sunset and then the sunrise with an amazing array of stars between them.
The next two days continued the good weather and at the end of the second day we climbed onto the exposed Presidential Ridge. This is an alpine zone that is essentially tundra - you'd have to go a thousand miles north to find similar environments. We camped on Mt. Eisenhower, enjoying the sunset and the purple glow of Mt Washington, just 2 miles ahead of us. At this point the clear weather ended and clouds came in and dropped overnight, first covering Washington and the highest peaks and then lowering to our peak next. When we woke in the morning, we were in a dense fog and the wind had picked up to 25-30mph. No one wanted to leave their bags but they were getting soaked, as we had cowboyed sans tent here too. So, up and march through the clouds with 50ft visibility, looking for the manmade rockpiles called cairns ahead, since there are no trees to blaze and the path on bare rocks is easy to lose. Warmed at Lakes of the Clouds Hut and lunched at the cafeteria atop Mt Washington after the last grueling climb. On the way along the next ridge, the trail crosses the cog railway which takes tourists to the top. As per tradition, the shorts came down, and the full moon came early for some of the passengers.
The rest of the Presidential Range is exposed as well, making for over 12 miles above treeline that we covered that day. We spent the night at a very very crowded Madison Springs Hut and the next morning we decended back into the trees on a very windy and exposed ridgline that was above the clouds. Rested at M&M's house and then tackled another 3 days of big peaks, rain, and cold evenings.
Friday, September 05, 2008
Hi everyone - The Thinker, Zen, and I are resting here in North Conway, New Hampshire at the vacation home of a former thru-hiker named M&M. I met M&M and her boyfriend Pootz in Georgia on March 31, my very first day, while going up the approach trail to Springer Mountain. They had thru-hiked the AT last year (in fact they met on the trail) and were back to do the approach trail and provide some trail magic. I spent most of the hike talking to them, asking them questions, and was the first to benefit from their trail magic - two beers to end my first day with! M&M had mentioned a place I could stay once I got to the Whites, but of course I had forgotten all about it until she emailed me last week. So, here we are enjoying delicious home-cooked beef stew, beers, and ice cream and watching movies. Trail magic is a fabulous gift and I can't wait to pass on my good fortune to next year's hikers.
So this afternoon is a perfect time-off from hiking the Whites. The Whites are tough. Easily the most challenging terrain of the AT thus far, possibly of the entire trail. But the most rewarding too. We just spent 5 days going over Franconia Ridge and the Presidential Range, doing about 10-13 miles per day - the lowest mileage since the beginning. We were fortunate to have some incredible weather for most of those five days - the weather was so benign that we actually spent nights on Garfield and Eisenhower peaks, above treeline. I should warn any kids out there that it is not only technically illegal to camp above treeline, but its very dangerous given the changeable weather the Whites are famous for. Best to leave it to the professionals like us. I can't describe the incredible sunset and sunrise from Garfield but I can say that we received some comeuppance while on Eisenhower - the night started warm and clear with a fantastic view of Mount Washington, but we woke up deep in a cloud with 30mph winds. The mountains were clearly angry about our presence at night, because the bad weather continued all day, socking us in for our climb up Mount Washington (which is really rather typical - its cloudy there 80% of the time.) The weather broke this last night and this morning's climb over Madison had some stunning views once again.
The AMC, which runs the huts and campsites and maintains the trails in the Whites, does an excellent job with everything. Its amazing the Whites aren't a national park, given their beauty and history and natural importance. But the non-profit AMC and the Forest Service run the area as effectively as the National Park Service, and so it provides an interesting alternative in the world of recreation management. My only complaint is that the Appalachian Trail, admitedly a newcomer to the AMC and other entities in the Whites, is clearly of secondary importance. The trail is barely blazed and uses existing trails (and keeps their names), and there are few free campsites or shelters for thruhikers, who are unused to paying for nights in the woods. A few more facilities for us would've been helpful. We've stayed at two AMC huts - Lonesome Lake and Madison Springs - doing work-for-stay at both, which requires minor duties in return for sleeping on the floor. Both huts were very relaxed, albeit crowded, places. The "croos" who operate the huts and carry up supplies via trails are amazing to watch - they really are great teams and reminded me of the crews I've seen work on tall ships.
So, we will enjoy a rest here today and get back on-trail tomorrow morning to complete the Whites. Just a few more days left in New Hampshire and then the wilderness of Maine!
We have a map on the wall here at the office that I've been marking each time I talk to Shawn, or get an update on his location. From the picture here you can see the green thumbtack I marked on Monday, after I talked to Shawn over the weekend- they are almost through the White Mountains, and you can see very clearly how little of the trail he has left. Its only about 300 miles from where he is now, to the end.Today's update: They are near Pinkham's Notch (a bit north of the green thumbtack), and got to spend two of the last 5 nights on top of mountains! A trail friend he met at the very beginning of his journey has offered he and his buddies a place to stay (and shower) tonight, and then its maybe 2 more days or less into Gorham, NH. And, he’s still right on schedule!!
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Hello from Philadelphia - From what I hear, things are going well on the trail. The weather has improved, and with it, so are spirits. Shawn is somewhere between Lincoln and Gorham, NH, which leaves him with only about 4 weeks left. I spoke with him this weekend; he had the opportunity to have dinner with his cousin Rob on Saturday night, and they had a great time.
A BIG thanks to everyone for the continued letters and treats … as Shawn has been receiving them, he mails them home to me for safe keeping (the letters, not the treats unfortunately), and its been wonderful to read all the words of encouragement he's been receiving. So thanks, from the trail manager, for your help in keeping him on track!
These days Keychain is very close to his original schedule... putting him at the end of the trail on Mt. Katahdin on or near the 4th of October. So, if you're thinking of sending a last package or card to his mail drop in Monson, Maine, I'd make sure it was there by the 21st or so of September.