11.5 miles, 1806.3 overall (Kinsman Pond shelter)
I have trouble forcing myself out of the comfy hotel bed. It is warm and cozy, and I know I will miss that for the next month as I finish my hike. Still I need to get going in order to get back on the trail at a good time. Christy and I eat breakfast at the hotel and then load the car. She drops me off at 10:45 and after our goodbyes I’m heading out of Kinsman Notch toward Kinsman Mountain.
The initial climb is steep, serving as a great reminder of what I’m getting into. However it soon flattens out and I am able to make some decent time. I catch several hikers on the way, including Dos the Birds. Dos fills me in on some of the hikers who are nearby, many of whom I don’t recognize. It sounds like I’ll be meeting some more people over the next few days.
I am soon climbing Mount Wolf, a relatively small mountain that serves as a warmup to Kinsman which lies ahead. Near the top is a side trail to an overlook and, not being in a hurry, I go for the view. It isn’t as good as Moosilauke, but it is still a great view. It is even decked out with an American flag tied to the top of a small tree at the overlook.
Back on the trail I head downhill to the first shelter. The downhill isn’t terrible like the downhill to meet Christy was but I’m learning that no elevation changes in the Whites are easy, either uphill or downhill, and that the trail maintainers obviously don’t believe in switchbacks. At the shelter I meet Magpie and Gorp, and also there is Achey Breaky. Achey Breaky plans to stay while Magpie moves on just before I do after a quick snack. Originally I had hoped to get to the first hut today but with the late start it isn’t going to happen. Instead I would like to get up and over Kinsman today. The climb begins immediately out of the shelter. As I climb I realize that rain is moving in. Apparently I won’t be long before I get to test my poncho! By the time I reach the top of the mountain I am surrounded by a dense fog and rain sprinkling intermittently. I’m disappointed that I won’t get to see the view from Kinsman but hope that this one day of bad weather means several more of good weather.
Let me pause for a few quick notes about the Whites. Most hikers see their average mileage drop when they reach this point due to the tough terrain. A good rule of thumb is to plan on about 2/3’s the miles you were getting on the way into the Whites. I’m planning on around 12-13 miles per day. Also in the Whites shelters are fewer and further between. You also have to pay to use the shelters. As a result many people try to “stealth camp” instead, finding their own spot along the trail. Hikers who do this have to either camp 200 feet from the trail or set up late enough and break down early enough that they don’t get caught. It is hard to spot a good spot to camp from 200 feet in the woods so most hikers wind up opting for the latter option. The final option for a place to stay is at the huts. You can pay around $85-100 to stay in one or, if you have good timing, you can try to get a work for stay at one of them. With a work for stay you do some chores like sweeping, cleaning, etc in exchange for leftover dinner and breakfast and the privilege to sleep on the floor. The catch here is that each hit only has a few work for stay positions each day. If you arrive too early the hut workers tell you to keep hiking. If you arrive too late then the positions will have been filled. So in summary, if you don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars then finding a place to sleep in the Whites can be a pain.
Tonight I opt for a shelter. If I tried to go to the hut I’m sure I would arrive too late to get a work for stay. The best time to arrive seems to be around 5:00 and I wouldn’t get there until 6:30-7:00. On my way to the shelter a northbounder passes me and introduces himself as Hambone. He is hiking faster than I am and tells me he is trying to get to the hut to get a work for stay. I warn him that it is getting late but he is set on it and hikes on.
As I reach the shelter I catch up to Instigator and Expeditor. It seems I can’t get away from these two, they are always around when I get back from some days off the trail. They stay in the shelter with a group of kids while I opt for tenting on one of the tent platforms. I have to use my bear line to secure my tent to the platform since stakes won’t work, so I’m glad that the shelter has a bear box that I can put my food in. The shelter itself is very well constructed with new logs hand-carved to fit seamlessly together. It is quite a change from the CCC-era shelters we have been used to in the south.
The water source for the shelter is Kinsman Pond. It is erie looking as I get my water because it is socked in with fog. I cook dinner in the shelter with the other hikers before I head to bed. The night is windy, wet, and cold. As I go to sleep I hope that those conditions don’t persist until morning on the Appalachian Trail.