Read Time: 5 minutes
Between family vacations and summer coursework this past June, I found a block of time to hike the New Hampshire section of the AT. This was approximately 140 miles of trail that I completed in 12 days, starting on the summer solstice in Hanover and ending just before the 4th of July in Gorham. I started this hike less than two weeks after hiking over half of the Long Trail southbound, so I wasn’t exactly going in cold the way most section hikers do. I took my time nonetheless and enjoyed a few luxurious days off in the granite state.
What compelled me to do this hike was hearing from other hikers that this was not only the hardest part of the AT, but also the most beautiful. Not every hiker agrees with this of course, but I figured that it would be one hell of a ride. I also had to see for myself if it was really harder than the LT.
My sister left me at the trailhead behind one of the many co-ops in Hanover late in the afternoon and I hiked up to the first northbound shelter in New Hampshire. On that first night, I met Deja, Christmas Tree, Bonnie and Clyde, Fence and Uncareful as well as some random dude I never saw again. Deja had brought up a pizza, I had brought up rum and all of us had brought supplies for safety meetings so we had a good time on that first night.
The first 40-50 miles were suspiciously flat and easy. It was as if someone had kicked all the rocks out of the way. This is the kind of trail REI goes to for a photoshoot because you can walk side-by-side talking and giggling without breaking a sweat. It was a nice warm up for the Whites. Then things suddenly went straight up, starting with Mt. Moosilauke, which was a very nice mountain with very nice dogs on top. The trail maintained an impressive amount of elevation change every day from there.
I crossed paths with my friends from my first night on trail a few times, but didn’t get to spend any more quality time with anyone besides Fence and Uncareful, who soon became my trail parents. I hiked quite a bit with Newton from Newton Illinois, who goes by Newton not because he is from Newton, but because “You can be anyone you want out here, so why not Newton?” The two of us enjoyed the wonders of Hexacuba Shelter with its Pentaprivy, as well as the false summits of the lower whites and the rants and raves of Forest Service workers fixing a firetower.
I really enjoyed the area between Kinsmen and Franconia Notch; being in Franconia Notch was a little weird due to the completely-perplexing and out-of-place highway through the middle, but then Franconia Ridge was W-I-L-D. The hike up is crazy steep; I thought I was gonna cowboy camp on LaFayette but I totally gave up at Liberty Springs Campsite where I met a very nice caretaker who let me do a “work” for stay (the work was just chillin with her in her tent since she was lonely). The next morning I woke up early and was on the ridge just after sunrise. The experience was life changing and I could have stayed up there forever, but the prediction of afternoon thunderstorms kept me moving. That day I was in the zone so hard I accidentally hiked 18 miles when I had planned on hiking 13; the last few were above treeline outrunning a storm which caused me to miss the turnoff for Guyot Shelter which I didn’t notice until I was almost at Zealand Falls.
The next morning I slept in till 7 and sauntered down to Crawford Notch, an old Syracuse University Outing Club (SUOC) stomping ground. Despite the claims that you can’t get a hitch there and that it’s a terrible resupply spot, I was picked up within minutes and had a ride to Lincoln (the town where I got my first tattoo) and spent a day with a few true New Hampshirites—both boasting “Live Free or Die” tattoos—who had recently lost their jobs and had nothing better to do. We went for a drive down the Kangamangus Highway (a legendary road every New Englander goes out of their way to drive down if they’re in the area) just for shits and giggles.
I was dropped off at a campground run by a fellow Vermonter who let me stay for free and use their shower. That night, the most insane thunderstorm I have ever experienced rolled through, and I had the pleasure of experiencing it from my tent in the middle of the ball field. The next morning, I hiked up Webster Cliffs and met a few hikers who had spent the night up there in their tents during the storm, which had lead to them waking up in deep puddles with snapped tent poles. They were completely rattled and deserved to be, but hiked that day anyway.
The next couple days were the best of my trip; I was finally in the Prezis. I was blessed with the most amazing weather I could have asked for. The first day there was spooky, misty fog as I hiked up to Mizpah Hut, which was where I met Slipknot, another Vermonter, who lied to the hut workers saying I was a through-hiker and forced me to do the work-for-stay with him. When the hutties found out that I was a section hiker they were less than pleased, and the word even got back to a friend of mine in the Berkshires, all because I confessed (I’m a terrible liar). In my defense, though, there were no other through-hikers there that night anyway.
The next day was one of my best hiking days ever; I hiked all the way over to Madison Hut and hit every presidential peak on the way over. At the beginning of the day, it was misty and cloudy, and in true White Mountain fashion, very windy. I met a father and son coming down from Lakes of the Clouds Hut without going up to Washington because “we aren’t gonna see anything up there anyway.” I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe that this wonderland of clouds and eerie alpine landscapes of mosses and lichens wasn’t a paradise to them like it was to me. Jokes on them, though, because just as I reached Lakes of the Clouds Hut the clouds suddenly broke open and beams of sunshine revealed the range in it’s entirety. It felt as if some higher power was welcoming me, like the sun was just waiting for me to get there.
I took a break in Lakes Hut and was invited into the kitchen, where the caretakers made me fresh egg whites and tea after they heard my story about the way I was treated at Mizpah. I left the hut feeling like a princess and looked up towards Washington. There were clouds, but in general the giant pile of rubble that is New England’s tallest peak was basking in sunlight, waiting for me to make its acquaintance.