After my three-day stay at The Notch Hostel, my feet were healed and I felt strong and ready to return to Crawford Notch and continue the final stretch through the Whites. The AMC shuttle stopped at a visitors center just a few miles short of the trail, so I had to hitchhike that section up to the trail. A lady who had been hiking in the area and had seen me in the visitors center stopped to pick me up. Within minutes I was back on the trail walking south. I had been tempted to stay at the hostel for one more night because of the threat of rain, but decided it was pointless to try to avoid it. I’d been rained on before and I’d be rained on again, so I took my chances and hiked on. It seemed I was rewarded for this perseverance because I was not affected by the rain at all, even though it was raining in areas all around me.
I hiked for the rest of the afternoon and found a small camping area just north of Zealand Falls Hut. The next morning I stopped for a quick break, but the guests were having breakfast so I didn’t go inside.
Zealand Falls Hut.
The trail continued up the usual rocky ledges that are characteristic of the Whites. There were a couple sections where ladders and rebar had been installed to assist hikers over the rock slabs.
The steep ascents continued throughout the day and the peaks and other huts started to slip by: Mt. Guyot, South Twin Mountain, Galehead Hut, Mt. Garfield. Now I was getting excited because one of my favorite sections of the trail, Franconia Ridge, was coming up. Even better, I was going to cross it in the evening.
Franconia Ridge is a two-mile stretch of the AT that is above treeline, with Mt. Lafayette at the north end. All the elements came together for a perfect trek across the ridge. The wind swept across the rock outcroppings, and the clouds, which looked threatening when I approached the top, shifted, allowing incredible sunset views which changed dramatically within a few minutes. I kept stopping, making 360-degree turns, trying to take it all in. I could not have asked for a better experience on one of the most beautiful parts of the AT.
Sunset view from Franconia.
View from Franconia Ridge.
Franconia Ridge looking south.
It was not lost on me that, for the second time in a week, I found myself above treeline as dusk was approaching and I didn’t know exactly where I was going to camp. And for the second time, I felt a little excited about the adventure of it. I was not worried, I just had to keep moving, be willing to settle for a small stealth site that might not be as comfortable as I’d like. The uncertainty was worth the time I spent on Franconia.
I ate a quick snack, tightened the straps on my pack, and focused on the task of getting down from the ridge. The wind started to pick up and darkness quickly settled around me as I entered the trees. The path was narrow, steep and rocky. Eventually it leveled off and I passed two other campers tucked away in a small site. I kept going hoping for a similar site. I intended to hike all the way to the next campsite, Liberty Springs, but realized that would require hiking in the dark for possibly another hour. I trip enough as it is and didn’t want to add another layer of opportunity for an unnecessary fall.
Again, it seemed my decision was confirmed, because just then I noticed a beautiful opening in the trees with fairly level ground. I made a beeline to the site, put on my headlamp and set up my tent.
The next morning, I boiled water (all that I had left) for coffee (because I’m civilized and have my priorities), packed up and hiked the rest of the way to Liberty Springs. There I filled up my water bottle, made breakfast and prepared for the long descent down to Franconia Ridge.
It wasn’t long before another happy reunion occurred. (The first being when my 2010 hiking buddy, Sly Jangles, met me in the Bigelows.) In 2010, I hiked for a time with a gentle, hiking machine named Eric the Red (now called Moonlover), who’s from New Jersey. In the years since we hiked together, Eric began dating a woman named Candra, who is now working on her own thru-hike. Eric was hiking a long section with her, but not doing the whole trail. I knew they would be on the northern part of the trail when I was, but didn’t know if we would actually cross paths. I left it up to the Trail.
As I was hiking down from Liberty Springs, I passed several northbounders coming up. We exchanged hellos and information. As I looked down the trail, I noticed a familiar form, topped with wild curls and a commanding hiker beard, working his hiking poles, focused on the path in front of him and moving assertively in my direction. Here was my dear friend Eric the Red! I stopped, watched and waited for him to look up. When he did, the recognition was immediate. He smiled his fantastic smile, called out “Deja-thru!” (the name I went by in 2010) and hustled up even faster, closing the gap in a big reunion hug. Another hiker walking by said, “Oh, I love trail reunions!” It was only fitting that Eric and I met again on a rocky slope in the middle of New Hampshire on the trail that forged our friendship five years earlier.
Eric the Red!
A few minutes later another smiling face came up the trail, and I met Eric’s effervescent and charming fiance, Candra (trail name, Moonlight). She is having the time of her life on the trail and her enthusiasm for meeting others is another reason why I’m out here: to connect with people like Eric and Candra, who have found a purpose in sharing their love of the trail. As a southbounder, these kinds of relationships seem to be more rare than for northbounders. Nobo trail families are common, but for sobos, especially those at the end of the line, trail families are not as common and those that do form, might lack a strong sense of connectivity. Maybe sobos are more independent in general and adapt to a more solitary hike. These relationships (and likely many trail groups, regardless of direction) are more like taffy or a slinky, they separate and come back together. Visiting with Eric and Candra (sitting right on the trail for almost an hour) reminded me of the unique and special relationships nobos form. I had that in my past northbound hikes and many of those relationships are still very strong. They, like Eric and Candra, are my People of the Trail.
Eric the Red and Moonlight.
Life on the trail is about getting up and moving on. No thru-hiker can stay in one place very long. Eventually we said our goodbyes and headed in our respective directions, for them north and me south.
I continued down to Franconia Notch. I took an unintended detour at the visitors center which resulted in a three-hour delay before I righted my wrongs and got back on the trail. I hiked up out of the notch, past Lonesome Lake Hut and stopped for the night at a small site.
The next day I began the climb up North and South Kinsman. The wooden steps embedded in the wet rock made the ascent a little less dangerous and more interesting. (I’m fascinated by how the trail builders situated these steps into the rock. Can anyone offer ideas or answers?)
Wooden steps embedded into the rock, going up.
As I approached the summit of North Kinsman, I ran into Forger who had been off the trail for a few days to attend a family event. It was great to have a friend to hike with on the last official day in the White Mountains. As all the days before, there was nothing easy about our exit. The descent into Kinsman Notch seemed to go on forever. Finally, amazingly, it ended abruptly at a road crossing. Officially, the Whites were behind us, but as an exclamation point to all of our hard work, we still had to get up and over Mt. Moosilauke. This is the last big mountain in the northeast for southbounders. Once hikers are past this point, it’s safe to breathe a little easier. There will still be some big climbs, but they will not be the relentless, hand-over-hand climbing that has been so common since Mt. Katahdin. For northbounders, Mt. Moosilauke is the beginning of the party. It will be hard work, but good work, almost every day until they summit Katahdin in Baxter State Park.
As tired as Forger and I were, we wanted to get to the next shelter half-way up the mountain. The trail paralleled Beaver Brook and it was a slippery, wet rock scramble all the way to the shelter. We were happy to see that Saint was there too. We could only guess where Soynuts was, but we guessed he wasn’t too far away. (He was actually ahead of us, but we didn’t know it at the time.)
Beaver Brook Falls, going up Mt. Moosilauke.
The next day we all left the shelter at different times to begin the final push to the top of Mt. Moosilauke. It was foggy, windy and chilly, but I didn’t care. Reaching the summit meant that the hard work of the last five weeks was over. I knew the downhill route would be a tedious slog, but that didn’t bother me. I’d be going down to a road, then walking to a local hostel for an afternoon break and to prepare for the next section. The weather competed with the mountain in making the final miles as difficult as possible. On the way down it began to rain. Then it rained harder, and then it began to actually pour. Even with all my rain gear on, I was completely soaked by the time I arrived at the Hikers Welcome Hostel. I still didn’t care. I was done with Maine, with the White Mountains and the hardest part of New Hampshire.
No views from the top, but I was happy to know this was the end of the hardest section of the trail.