18.8 miles, 1825.1 overall (Stealth camp just past South Twin Mountain)
In the morning I’m up before 6. It is cold outside and there is still a gusty wind blowing in across the pond. As I pack up I’m glad to have my down jacket back. The temperature is below 50 and the wind chill must be close to 40 – strange having just come from the beach where it was about 85. I pack my stuff quickly and head to the shelter to retrieve my food for breakfast. I eat outside the shelter as everyone prepares to leave, making the inside of the shelter a bustle of gear and bodies. By 7:00 I hit the trail.
My goal is to make it to Galehead Hut. This is an ambitious goal as the hut is almost 18 miles away. Still I have some recon info from hikers ahead of me and I know that Franconia ridge should be pretty quick and with an early start I can average 2 miles an hour and be at the hut safely by 5:00, the opportune time to arrive and get a work for stay arrangement.
The first couple miles go quickly as they are downhill to the first hut of the Whites, Lonesome Lake hut. As I approach I recognize Chicken Feathers and say hi. He is still with the Lionkillers who are inside. I head in to get my first view of one of these infamous structures. On one side of the room is a kitchen and on the other are tables with benches for eating. Whipporway informs me of the faucet on the other side of the room that provides potable water for hikers. It seems each hut has a drilled well so water is readily available. I was hoping for some leftovers from breakfast that the huts often give to hikers but it is too early and the staff still hasn’t finished eating. I help myself to some water, talk to the Lionkillers a bit more and then head out, not wanting to waste too much time.
On the way out the path is confusing as it passes by the lake but I soon find my way. I follow the trail down to Cascade Brook where a bridge has been washed out leaving a formidable stream crossing. It takes a minute to get across but I’m able to accomplish the feat and remain dry. On the other side though the path again becomes confusing. As I’m reading the signs trying to determine the correct way forward I see a blaze and follow it. Soon though I’m wondering if I made the right choice. The blazes as I continue are no longer pure white blazes but look like blue blazes with white painted over them. I wonder if the trail was rerouted and some former blue blazes were simply painted over. I travel about 3/4 of a mile down this trail before I run into a hiker and ask him if I’m on the AT. He informs me that I’m not and, as I figured, I took a wrong turn at the stream crossing. 15 minutes later I am back at the stream crossing and quickly realize what I did. The stream crossing is upstream of where the bridge washed out, as is the trail junction. I saw a blaze that was originally meant for southbounders to lead them to the bridge. With the bridge no longer being there the blaze should have been removed but it remains, ready to confuse any hikers who dare to follow it.
Back on track I soon pass the Lionkillers who also took the wrong path but their mistake occurred at the lake. I take solace that I’m not the only one to get confused today, but now I’m a good 30 minutes behind where I should be. I try to make up some time on the downhill.
At the bottom is Franconia Notch where we pass under I-93 and then head back uphill to Franconia Ridge. I stop for a quick snack break. As I get going again 2 hikers catch up to me. They look familiar and I finally recognize them as I let them pass. It is Hawk and Wiffleball who I met in VT with Gumpy and Peeper. They set a good pace up the climb and I fall in behind them. It is 3000 feet to the top and it feels every bit of it. As we get higher the trail becomes gradually steeper until I have to stop for a break. Luckily there is a campsite on the way up and I catch up to Hawk there. He makes the astute observation that this site has the last water for 7 miles, making it prudent that I fill up here. I grab an extra liter before continuing up the last 500 feet.
At the top there is a brief walk along a ridge that is still covered with small trees before we enter the part of the ridge that is truly above treeline. For the next 3 miles we hike across the ridge with amazing views to either side. This is the great part of this section. The downside to this section is that it is extremely windy today and we are completely exposed. The gusts remind me of the few tropical storms that I have experienced. As I hike I have to lean into the wind, and both my trekking poles and my feet are blown away from where I want them to land. Just as I adjust to the wind, finding the proper amount to lean into it, the speed changes and I stumble to the side at the lack of counter-force.
There are 3 summits on the ridge. At the first a side trail empties day hikers onto the top of Little Haystack Mountain. As I stop to put an extra shirt on I notice Thunderstorm sitting in a windbreak eating lunch. I stop to join him for a few minutes to catch up while I eat a snack of my own. Then, knowing that I still need to hurry to get to the hut, I move on quickly. The next summit is Mt Lincoln, followed by Mt Lafayette. The crowds of thru-hikers get successively thinner the further I hike along this ridge until, as I come down off of Mt Lafayette and return to the forest, the crowds subside.
At this point it is about 2:00 and I still have just over 6 miles left to get to the hut. It is mostly downhill and I try to pick up the pace but the terrain continues to be technically demanding with plenty of boulder-hopping and scooting down rock faces. At 3 miles left to the hut I pass a shelter and, although I’m running late and should probably stop here, I push on thinking that I still have a good chance for work for stay. The rest of the trail seems easy enough in terms of elevation and it is not quite 4:00 yet.
This proves to be my biggest error of the day. I predict that I will hike a 2 mph pace but I’m truly hiking slower than that. Instead of arriving at the hut at 5:00 I don’t arrive until 5:30. It has been an 18 mile day not counting the 1.5 mile detour I took down the wrong trail. I’m exhausted, I’ve just run out of water, and I’m starting to bonk. As I walk up I see some thru-hikers already sitting outside and figure I’m too late. When I go inside and ask the staff they confirm my suspicion. I have miscalculated and now I will have to hike on. Luckily the staff are incredibly nice. The one who tells me there is no more room for work-for-stay (they’re only supposed to take 2 hikers and they already have 4) gives me a bucket with bread in it and tells me I can finish it for them. She also tells me where I can find a stealth campsite for the night. I chow down on the bread, sharing it with some of the other hikers, and I fill my water in the hut. Before I leave I try to “camel up” a bit, drinking as much water as I can before leaving.
Continuing my bad luck for the day, the hut is at the base of another large climb, this time up South Twin Mountain. To get to the stealth campsite I have to go up 1000 feet, then down a couple hundred. It is only a mile but, already exhausted from the day, it takes me almost an hour. By the time I find the spot it is 7:00. I figure it is late enough and nobody but other thru-hikers will come by at this point so I set up my tent. I hang my bear line, cook dinner quickly, and crawl into my tent at 8:30. While I’m doing all this nobody passes by, not even another hiker.
It was a long day but I learned a good lesson about the Whites: always have a plan B and be prepared to execute it. My biggest mistake was not planning for what would happen if I didn’t get a work-for-stay. If I had done some planning I would have realized that arriving late would have meant a strenuous extra mile or more. Knowing that I probably would have stopped at the last campsite rather than pushing on. I have learned the lesson the hard way. In the morning I will have to pack up early and get going so I don’t get caught in my stealth spot only a few feet from the Appalachian Trail.