AT Update: 9 – White Mountain Hype Machine

For nearly 800 miles, I got to hear about the White Mountains. Everyone had something to say, and at times it could be difficult to separate informed opinion from rumor, hyperbole, or plain old lies.

“The Whites are the hardest part of the trail.” – That one vet who did the trail a few years back.

“I heard that the Whites are like Pennsylvania, except straight up.” – Some hiker in a shelter somewhere.

“The Whites killed my family while searching for the riddle of steel, and now I live only to summit Mt. Washington.” – That one guy wearing jeans, cowboy boots and four bear bells.

“There are no real mountains out here.” – That one hiker who never stops talking about the west coast. (She was later found dead in her tent. There wasn’t a mark on her, but for a faint dusting of quartzite. The locals just break eye contact and mutter about outsiders.)

“I liked the Whites.” – That one southbounder whose eyes never seem to focus.

*sob* *whimper* *shudder* – That other southbounder’s hiking partner.

Occasionally someone might sound like they actually knew a thing, but the information would be buried in such a spray of word barf that I’d just tune them out. I’m not interested in memorizing every twist and bump in the trail, even if I was capable of doing so.

Well I’m almost to Maine now, and yeah, the trail here is tough. Really tough in some places. It might even be the hardest section so far (though I hear it’s got nothing on Maine, hoo boy, just you wait). What all the gossips and trolls fail to mention is that as hard as they are, the Whites are. Absolutely. Amazing.

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The White Mountains are some of the largest on the trail, and the tallest in the northern half. The trail is rugged everywhere, and there are several alpine zones above the timber line that offer a welcome change from the usual green tunnel of the rest of the trail.

Mt. Moosilauke has the second steepest section of trail after Katahdin. I had to delay my climb for a day because of a storm, and when I got to the top it was still cloudy.

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Further along, the alpine zones weren’t limited to the peaks.
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Another challenge in the Whites is finding cheap places to stay. Because of the popularity of some of these areas, and because of the fragility of the environment, there are a series of campgrounds and lodges operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club. The AMC (Appalachian Money Club, according to thru hikers) charges a fee to use their campgrounds, and the prices at the lodges are way, waaay out of hiker budget. Fortunately, it’s possible to trade chores for a spot on the floor at most of the huts. It’s still a pain, especially since we’ve never had to pay to pitch a tent or hang a hammock before, but the hut workers do tend to be very generous with their leftovers. They have to carry everything out themselves after all, and thru-hikers are basically walking garbage disposals. The culture clash between thru-hikers and the folks who will pay upwards of a hundred dollars for a bunk is pretty amusing as well.
Speaking of culture clash, one of our resupply packages was sent to the Mt. Washington hotel by mistake.

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I got to walk into one of the fanciest places I’ve ever seen with two other hikers, looking (and smelling) like hobos. Maybe I’ve been in the woods too long, but some of the looks we got cracked me up. Hitching back to the trail turned out to be a challenge.

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Mt. Washington itself, as well as the Presidential range after it was one of the most intense days I’ve had. Between the Lake of the Clouds hut and the treeline is eight miles of unbroken boulder fields, and while there is no trail to speak of, I could see forever.

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The rocks around Lake of the Clouds have a rusty color to them, so when I was approaching the hut at sunset, the light turned them a deep red. After the sunset, the sky was as clear as I’ve ever seen, and I sat outside watching the end of the meteor shower that has been going on the last few days. Of course my phone couldn’t photograph any of it, but trust me, it was really cool.

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At the moment, I’m only a day away from Maine. I’ve spent a few days in Gorham, and am feeling a little less chewed up. I hear Maine is beautiful, but I also hear that it will knock me down and take my lunch money.

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Total milage: 901

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