The Perfect Day

It’s not often on the trail when you get a perfect day. More often than not it’s too hot, cold, wet, dry, whatever. Yesterday was just right.

The Little Rabbit (she’s back!) dropped me off at the trail head around 6 am. I had a lot of climbing to do and wanted an early start. The sun was out, the temps were great, the trail was dry. Hog heaven for a hiker.

I prearranged to stay at the Lake of the Clouds Hut located just a mile before the summit of Mt Washington. It’s only 11 miles to the hut but with the amount of climbing I have to do I don’t know when I will get there. With the perfect conditions today, and deteriorating conditions tomorrow I would really like to go past the hut, summit Mt Washington, then return to the hut for the night. Then I can bypass the mountain when conditions are poor tomorrow.

The first climb up Mt Webster was the warm up for the day. Rising from 1200′ at the road to 3900′ over 4 miles there were rewarding views at several ledges on the way up. At the top I get my first glimpse of the day’s stretch goal.

Up next, Mt Jackson is the beginning of the Presidential Range of mountains. Climbing to 4052′ I get an even better view of Mt Washington.

Previously on the AT, planners seemed to go out of their way to make the trail more difficult. I remember often in MD and PA that the trail would go up and down the side if a hill rather than following the easiest path. So it is surprising that here in the Whites that the AT is actually routed around some mountain summits. The white blazed AT skirts the edge of the mountain while there is a blue blazed trail over the summit.

Around 11 I made it to the Mizpah Hut. I was ahead of schedule so I took a break and had a great lunch. The Little Rabbit and I had gone to a Mexican restaurant the night before and I brought the remainder of my burrito. A little heavy to carry but oh so tasty! And now it’s out of my pack.

Normally I avoid getting off the AT to take a blue blazed trail. It’s considered cheating by some to skip parts of the AT this way and to date I have avoided doing so. Today’s blue blazed trail over Mt Eisenhower was too tempting. Longer and harder than the part of the AT that I missed it wouldn’t weigh on my conscience. And the view was fabulous.

By the time I reached Mt Monroe I was feeling the effort of the day. I didn’t want to over-do it and risk not getting to do Mt Washington today. So I continued on the AT and skirted around this mountain.

I made it to the Lake of the Clouds Hut around 2 pm. I checked in and dropped off my pack. I grabbed my extra shirt and down puffy jacket. I figured it would be cooler at the top and coming back down.

It’s almost a mile and a half and another 1000′ of climbing to the top. It felt strange not having my pack or hiking poles.

At the top the view is awe inspiring. No way to describe it, the pictures below don’t don’t do it justice. On a clear day it seems you can see forever. It would be a peaceful place except for the motorcycles. Wait, What? Yes, motorcycles. Dozens of them all over the mountain. Rumbling up, rumbling down, loudly idling in the parking lot. A little ways south of here a small town is having a ‘bike week’. It’s one of the biggest motorcycle gatherings in the country. And today the Mt Washington auto road is closed to traffic except for motorcycles. Oh well, it may not be peaceful, but the view is to die for!

I had a hot dog at the cafe and toured the small museum. Got my picture at the summit sign. And decided it was time to head back to the hut. Dinner is at 6 pm and I don’t want to miss that!

The hut croo served a pumpkin and mushroom curry soup, homemade bread, salad, and lasagna. All served family style. This was followed by a raspberry chocolate cake for desert.

At 7:30 One of the croo took a few of us on a guided tour of a few of the alpine flowers. Then it was off to bed at 8:30… The end of a perfect day.

Onward and northward,

Rabbit

Day number: 64

Miles hiked today: 0

AT miles completed: 954

AT miles to go: 1235

Average miles per day: 14.9

Trapped in the clouds

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday was the perfect day (more on that in another post). Today I am huddled with half a dozen people I’ve never met before in a hut at the top of a mountain avoiding even thinking of venturing outside.

Mt Washington is well known for having the most extreme weather in the United States and the highest wind speed ever recorded by man (230 mph). The difference between yesterday and today shows how fast it can change. Things can go from really good to really bad in no time.

It started during dinner with the clouds moving in and with them the wind picked up and the temperature started to drop. It continued overnight and we woke this morning to rain, 75 feet visibility, 40 degrees, and winds blowing at 40, gusting to 50 mph. Plus a chance of thunder storms. And conditions are supposed to get worse before they get better. Winds to 60mph are a possibility.

Conditions are considerably better below tree line and in the valleys. But the next section of the AT for me is above tree line in the White Mountains for another 12 miles. No protection and the trail is rough and rocky. It is hard enough to keep my balance on the rough trail without being buffeted by high winds.

The good news is I am safe and comfortable. I stayed last night at Lake of the Clouds Hut next to Mt Washington. This is not your typical AT shelter. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) runs a dozen or so of these huts in New Hampshire and Maine. They are more of a lodge than a hut. Staying here includes dinner and breakfast. They have a small store with some snacks and gear items. Sleeping is in bunk rooms of 8-10 people and includes a mattress, pillow, and blankets.

It is an amazing service to offer so much in such remote locations. And they charge accordingly. $140 per night for very rustic conditions but very enthusiastic and dedicated work croo. I was happy to learn this morning that they have room for me here again tonight.

There were about 40 people staying here last night. The majority of them did leave this morning. Most of them heading straight down hill to safety. For them, in 20 minutes or so they will be below tree line and conditions will greatly improve for them. A few of today’s departures though were headed in the same direction I am going. One of them, "Hamp", who I first met in VT, just returned reporting on the conditions. He made it two miles up the trail but the winds were too much, regularly buffeting him 10 feet off the trail. And he lost his phone somewhere out there too. Glad he made it back safely.

Lake of the Clouds Hut on a nicer day.

Onward and northward,

Rabbit

Day number: 64

Miles hiked today: 0

AT miles completed: 954

AT miles to go: 1235

Average miles per day: 14.9

Progress report

Making good progress this week. Vermont started out extremely wet and muddy but the last couple days were much drier. More rain is in the forecast though so it might get sloppy again.

Yesterday I met up with dear friends Van and Lauren who live just north of Rutland, VT. They invited me to their beautiful home, made me shower, did my laundry, fed me an awesome dinner, sent me to bed, and fed me again for breakfast. Talk about a spoiled rabbit! Thank you!

Quickly approaching the 800 mile mark and I have 500 miles left to get to Katahdan.

Tonight I am at the Churchill Scott Shelter near Killington, VT. I usually set up my hammock away from the shelters but I am the only one here tonight so I set up inside the shelter. The shelter’s log book has a couple entries about porcupines coming at night. Should be interesting.

Onward and northward,

Rabbit

Day number: 51

Miles hiked today: 16

AT miles completed: 798

AT miles to go: 1391

Average miles per day: 15.9

No rain, no Maine!

It’s been a rainy week and it looks like more rain coming. But I’m still making good progress despite the muddy trail conditions.

Summited Mount Graylock, the highest peak (3491 ft) in Massachussets on Saturday. At the top is a monument dedicated to those that have given their lives in defense of our freedoms. Their unfathomable sacrifice, our immeasurable blessing.

Goodbye to Messychussetts;

Hello Vermud!

Onward and northward,

Rabbit

Day number: 45

Miles hiked today: 21

AT miles completed: 710

AT miles to go: 1479

Average miles per day: 15.7

New kicks!

I think I mentioned before that I bought a new pair of shoes when I was in Hamburg, PA a couple weeks ago. My old shoes, Altra’s Lone Peaks, have been awesomely comfy. I’ve had no blisters from then in all my training and my first six weeks on the AT. But they are designed to be a light weight trail-running shoe and the support and protection of my feet is lacking. And they were beyond worn out.

So I wanted something stiffer and sturdier – a real hiking boot. The Cabelas in Hamburg is their flagship store. If I am going to find my shoe, they will have it. Evidently I have pretty strange feet, requiring a very wide toe box. I’ll let Steve tell the rest of the story…The Cruel Shoes

So I tried my new shoes for a day. They were everything my old shoes weren’t: sturdy, supportive, protective… and blistering.

I put my old shoes back on and dropped the new shoes in the nearest hiker box.

I tried for a week to find somewhere near the trail that sells Altras and finally ordered a pair from zappos.com, shipped General Delivery to the Salisbury, CT post office.

Today I went in to Salisbury and picked them up. I had lunch while I was there and picked up some groceries. Put my new shoes on and headed back to the trail. Nine more miles after lunch and no blisters.

I love you, Altra. I’m sorry I ever doubted you.

Up earlier than usual this morning hoping to pack up before the rain started. I was on the trail by 6:25. Didn’t start raining until almost 3:00 So I guess that worked.

Final descent of the day from Bear Mountain was brutal. Very steep and rocky. And slippery with the rain. I may have spoken French a few times.

Camped at Laurel Ridge Campsite for the night. Tomorrow I’ve got a hotel room in Great Barrington – time for a shower!

Onward and northward,

Rabbit

Day number: 39

Miles hiked today: 18

AT miles completed: 607

AT miles to go: 1582

Average miles per day: 15.6

Early starts

I’m usually up pretty early, often leaving camp before some hikers have even started to stir. Hikers have a name for people like me – the first ones on the trail: "Web Walker". We clear the path of the spider webs that have mysteriously formed overnight and shake the dew off the grass. It’s a service. I should be getting paid.

Got to ford my first river today. No stepping stones to get across. It wasn’t deep, just mid calf but enough to get my feet wet. Another hiker who came after me slipped on the rocks and fell in. A group of hikers I met going south were debating whether they wanted to Ford the river or take the alternate road route. They had kids with them so they opted for the roads.

Spending the night at Belters Campsite. Interesting thing here is the privy. Not so much an ‘Out House’, more just an ‘Out’.

Onward and northward,

Rabbit

Day number: 38

Miles hiked today: 15

AT miles completed: 589

AT miles to go: 1600

Average miles per day: 15.5

Detour ahead

I crossed into Connecticut today!

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) announced a couple days ago that an eight mile section of the trail in Connecticut was closed due to a wildfire in the area. This is a common occurrence – with a trail this long there are bound to be problems somewhere along the trail every year. With the fires in Tennessee last summer a large section of the trail was closed for several weeks.

When the trail is closed the ATC usually recommends an alternative route on other trails or roads. The alternate route then becomes the ‘official route’ of the AT until the regular trail is again available. Hikers can choose to take the alternate route or wait for the regular trail to reopen.

So today was my lucky day. The alternate path to get around the wildfire is only four miles long compared to the eight miles of trail. And it was easy walking on a dirt road following the Housatonic River.

Along the way I passed the Schaghticoke Indian Reservation and their burial grounds. One very interesting and beautiful headstone stood out.

Had lunch in Kent, CT and ended up at the Stewart Hollow Shelter.

Onward and northward,

Rabbit

Day number: 37

Miles hiked today: 16

AT miles completed: 573

AT miles to go: 1616

Average miles per day: 15.5

Simple Bear Necessities

Apologies for not blogging more. After hiking 18 to 22 miles every day I can hardly stay awake once I get to camp. So today I did a short day. In hiker parlance they call it a ‘Nero’. Not a ‘Zero’ day where you don’t hike at all, but a Nero, or nearly zero. No specific definition – it’s up to each hiker to define what that means to him or her.

It wasn’t a Nero day a few days ago however. It was a long and tiring day and I had hoped to go farther but the trail was tough and progress was slow. After climbing rocks all day and making it through the infamous ‘Lemon Squeezer’ and scaling an 8′ cliff, my final challenge of the day was an aptly named AGONY GRIND. A steep, rocky descent that seemed to go on forever. A real knee breaker. The whole way down all I could think of was "Tortuga is the smart one".

But it finally did end and after 16 miles for the day I came to the Fingerboard Shelter on Fingerboard mountain. I’d heard from a passing hiker and seen comments online about a bear haunting this shelter. I would have gone on if I could but the next place to camp was five miles away and even if I’d had the energy I wouldn’t have made it before dark. I wouldn’t be alone here though – three other hikers were there: Frenchmen Stephan and his dad Jean Pierre (known as ‘The French Connection’) and ‘Juggles’, a local guy who thru hiked the AT a couple years ago and was just out for a day hike. Two more hikers would show up later. They all slept in the shelter, I set up my hammock about 150′ down the hill from the shelter.

After I set up the hammock I returned to the shelter to prepare my dinner (dehydrated scrambled eggs and sausage). As the water starts to boil I’m the first to see him about 50 feet away. He’s got one eye on us but he is making a beeline for my unoccupied campsite. The hammock and tarp were set up but I had brought my pack and food bag with me to the shelter. So he snooped around a little but didn’t find anything interesting there. We watched and took pictures.

He then headed for the shelter where we were. He was very wary of us but keenly interested also. You could tell others may have tossed him food and he was hoping for more. Or maybe the hikers had run off at his presence and left their food for him to rummage through. We held our ground, watching in awe of this great beast, and he stayed 30′ from us. He even laid down and took a nap behind the shelter. For a while. We watched and took pictures.

As my dinner was nearly ready I spied him again – he had come up next to the shelter about 15′ from me. Too close! I gave him my loudest and meanest sounding "Get out if here, bear!" And he scurried off into the woods. It was scary that he would be so brazen to get that close but was also a good sign that he would quickly back off if yelled at.

He didn’t go far though. Soon enough he was back at my campsite checking out what little stuff I had left there. My SPOT locator was there – he tasted it and punctured the plastic baggie it was in. He checked out my hiking poles, leaving nice tooth prints in the grips. He played with the strings of my rain fly and checked out the straps holding up my hammock but didn’t harm anything. Then he pooped and left. We watched and took pictures.

We all hung our food bags in the trees, according to protocol and went to bed. There were pieces of pipe around from a scaffold that must have been needed to replace the roof on the shelter. I grabbed a pipe on my way back to my campsite.

An hour or so later I hear the guys stirring up in the shelter. The bear had returned and they were yelling and making noise to scare him off. Then they shout to me that he is headed my way. I don’t see him at first and he is incredibly silent. I finally get my headlamp on him – he is 10′ away. I grab the pipe and bang it on a rock and again yell at him. Again he quickly scurries away.

He doesn’t return the rest of the night. That we know of.

Onward and northward,

Rabbit

Miles hiked today: 6

AT miles completed: 554

AT miles to go: 1635

Average miles per day: 15

Custom message from SPOT Joie De Vivre

Device Name: Joie De Vivre
Latitude: 41.63794
Longitude: -73.53210
GPS location Date/Time: 05/19/2017 18:50:59 EDT

Message: Checking in from my hike, all is going well.

Click the link below to see where I am located.
http://fms.ws/idKF9/41.63794N/73.53210W

If the above link does not work, try this link:

You have received this message because “Joie De Vivre” has attempted to contact you.

FindMeSPOT.com

400 miles and a new state

Sitting in a bar in…. umm… errr… well, someplace in New Jersey.

A quick note to brag – crossed the state line and put Pennsylvania (ROCKsylvania!) Behind me. Beautiful state, wonderful people, too many rocks.

Also hit 400 miles at the top of Racoon Ridge.

Four weeks into this hike. Things are going well, staying healthy and learning to eat a lot.

Onward and northward,

Rabbit

Miles hiked today: 21

AT miles completed: 415

AT miles to go: 1775