12.8 miles, 1771.5 overall (Stealth camp on the way up Mount Cube)
I sleep so deeply that in the morning I have a hard time getting up. When I finally do force myself to get moving it is almost 7 already but I don’t feel well-rested. I have the feeling of having gotten too much sleep. When I get out of my tent both the Mules and Five Pair are already gone. I wonder if I’ll see them again today. When I finally leave it is 8:30.
I head down the back side of yesterday’s mountain and reach a road. Just up the road there is a house where a man invites hikers to rest, fill their water, and play a game of croquet. I am fascinated by the randomness of the croquet piece of this offer and decide I should stop since I have a short day planned anyway. When I arrive I see a sign which also advertises free ice cream. However when I take the short side trail I find that the man isn’t home. I’m disappointed but it is still relatively early so I’m not put out on the day. I hike on knowing there is a fire tower up ahead that promises a good view.
I don’t see as many Sobo’s today. I’m sure the draw of town must have contributed to the large number yesterday. I head up the mountain toward the fire tower but I don’t climb as well as yesterday. I wonder about the cause and determine it must be because I know the mileage today is short. This always causes me to hike slower and, as a result, often the short mileage days are just as hard as the longer mileage days. I listen to the audiobook on the way up.
At the top I run into some sobo’s who have just arrived from the opposite direction and are about to head up the tower for lunch. I grab a snack and head up with them. Their names are Donatello, Blue Man, and Pinky. They tell me they are part of a large group of about 12 hikers who went through the Whites together, some of whom I passed on the way up the mountain. Now that they are out of the Whites some of them are eager to do bigger mileage days while others are content with taking their time. It is a familiar story and I think back to the early parts of my hike when I had those same conversations with fellow hikers.
I end up passing about an hour eating in the tower with the hikers. Blue Man is carrying a video camera and working on a documentary. I ask Donatello if his name is due to the purple bandana around his head and he says yes but says he also looks like a ninja turtle. I’m puzzled by this until he looks at me and smiles. I burst out laughing, finally seeing the resemblance. Apparently this is a nickname that has plagued him all his life at home. On the trail he thought he might get away from it until one day another hiker, unprompted, noticed the similarity as well. He still held out hope that he could avoid the nickname until he, without doing it on purpose, bought a purple bandana and his trail name was sealed.
For some time I contemplate stopping for the day and staying overnight in the fire tower. It is something I’ve thought would be cool to try but haven’t done yet on my hike. This may be one of my last chances since there aren’t too many more fire towers in the last 400 miles of trail. When I finally realize that I don’t have a lot of water and there isn’t a good source near the top of the mountain the decision is made for me. I make a note to be on the lookout for opportunities in the future but I won’t be too sad if it doesn’t happen. There are lots of fire towers and I’ll have plenty of time to sleep in one after my hike. I don’t need to do everything on the way from Georgia to Maine. As I’m preparing to leave the fire tower Frenchy arrives followed by a new NoBo named Nutter Butter. I talk briefly with them before moving on down the mountain.
The big question now is where to sleep tonight. I had originally planned a 12 mile day to the next shelter. That would leave me a 16 to the shelter at the base of Mt Moosilauke, the entry to the Whites, and then 10 miles the day after to Kinsman Notch where Christy will pick me up. However if I go further today it could set me up to get to the shelter at the top of Moosilauke tomorrow leaving only a few miles the next day. A nero sounds nice, especially when it can be achieved by only hiking a few miles more today. I postpone the decision until I see the upcoming shelter.
On the way to the shelter I fill my water thinking there won’t be any there. However when I arrive I find out I was wrong and I’ve carried more than I needed. Oh well. The shelter itself is 0.3 up a steep side trail. The name, Hexacuba, has intrigued me. Other hikers have told me it was designed by Dartmouth students so I expect something strange. When I arrive though it isn’t so strange. It is a large hexagon with two of the sides open to facilitate entry and exit. It is a neat design and I spend a few minutes thinking about the advantages and disadvantages. I try to imagine the most efficient ways to pack hikers in and where their gear could go. Not being a shelter user myself I find the exercise a bit hard and don’t spend too long on it. More interesting to me are the tent sites, or rather lack thereof. The designated sites are not very flat and I’m not excited about staying. It is only 4:30 so I decide to hike on. The only downside to my plan is that I have already filled up on water and now must climb Mount Cube. The data book lists a view at the top though so I hope for a mountaintop campsite.
Onward I march and soon I’m fascinated by the mountain. It has all kinds of exposed rock that I have to hike up. The rocky ascent affords views behind me and I stop often to rest and admire them. At one point I get a view of the summit and realize my plan may not work. The summit looks rocky and, while I may be able to find a tent spot, I may not be able to find a suitable tree to hang my food from. While others would be ok with this, loyal readers will remember that if I don’t hang my food properly that I won’t sleep well. I can either find a good campsite on the way up or I’ll have to continue past the summit to find a spot.
As luck would have it I find a nearly perfect spot just a few minutes later. It is tucked several yards off the trail, far enough that when I hear a trail runner coming down the trail I stay still so as not to make any noise and he doesn’t notice me.
I find a good bear line tree and go to work throwing my line. The first toss doesn’t hit it’s mark and instead gets lodged on another branch. No big deal, happens all the time. At least it’s no big deal until I realize it won’t come down. I struggle for several minutes with it, alternately flicking the rope and pulling on it until I finally coax gravity to do her job on the rock I threw. Once I get the rock down I pull the rope down and, soon after doing so, I wonder why I did it. Although I missed my target the branch I caught would have done nicely. I go back to work aiming for the original branch. One miss. Two misses. On the third I miss again but it catches yet another wrong branch. This time I plan to use the branch but quickly find that I can’t get the rock to fall this time either. This time it is even more stubbornly lodged than the first time. I try flicking, pulling, pulling quickly and releasing, and although I can get the rock to move a bit it doesn’t fall further than a few inches before stopping. While working on it I consider my options if I can’t get the rock to fall. I don’t like any of them. I stubbornly continue to work on the rope, convinced that it won’t work but unwilling to give up. Finally, after what must have been 10 minutes of work, I get the rock to slide down further than before. It gives me hope and, two minutes later, I have the rock in hand and my bear line is properly hung.
The rest of the evening is uneventful. I set up my tent, cook dinner, and head to bed early. From this campsite I still have about 23 miles to go to reach my pickup point in two days. I can either go 20 tomorrow, including the climb up Mt Moosilauke, to leave myself with a nero the next or I can hike 15 tomorrow to leave myself 8 miles up and over Mt Moosilauke the day after. I go to sleep not sure which I will end up doing but leaning toward the 20 and nero. It all depends how things go tomorrow on the Appalachian Trail!