13.8 miles, 1838.9 overall (Stealth camp, Saco River at Crawford Notch)
In the morning I’m awake at 5:45. By 6:00 I have my gear packed sufficiently that I could believably claim, if necessary, that I had not stealth camped here but had simply stopped here to eat breakfast. At 6:15 I have finished breakfast but I’m still tired having gotten a short night’s sleep after a long day. I lay out my sleeping pad with the intention of taking a nap but just a few minutes after I do this I start to feel rain drops. The nap isn’t going to happen. I pack up and hit the trail at 6:30.
It is hard to get going as I feel the lingering effects from yesterday. Still there is another hut only 6 miles away. My new goal is to get there in time to get leftovers from breakfast. The terrain is milder today and mostly flat to downhill. I listen to some audiobooks while hiking and hope it doesn’t rain on me. Although several times it sprinkles and I feel threatened with a downpour it never comes. I hike over Mount Guyot and then down to the Zeacliff Ridge. Much of the hike this morning is through forests of the short trees found at treeline. I do pass 2 tents set up next to each other only a bit further off the trail than I was and at 8:00 I think they are pushing their luck. Perhaps they are less worried about getting caught stealth camping so close to the trail. Or perhaps I have an unfounded fear of getting caught.
Eventually I reach the steep downhill that signals that I’m close to the hut. It is just passing 9:00 so I’m hopeful for some food. As I arrive I see a bunch of packs outside and wonder if some other thru-hikers beat me here but it turns out to be a guided hiking group. I enter, find a hutsman, and ask about leftovers. Once he confirms I’m a thru-hiker he shows me to the kitchen where there is plenty of leftover oatmeal, eggs, and bread. I help myself to large helpings of each and start chowing down.
I end up staying at the hut for a while. As I finish the food Wiffle arrives with Smiles, Gumpy, Peeper, and Hawk not far behind. Blues Clues is the last to arrive. We sit around the hut and eat some of the bread that is available for a donation. While we hang out the hutsmen go about trying to hang an oar in the dining room. It turns out the huts have rivalries and part of the fun of working here is going on raids of other huts to obtain a variety of decorative items. Raids can either be stealth raids (self-explanatory) or power raids where the target hut is overpowered, hutsmen tied up, etc. Stories of epic raids persist through the years, including one where the hutsmen from all the other huts dressed up as Indians and power-raided Lakes of the Clouds hut. The prized possession is the oar which this hut obtained in a stealth raid of Lakes of the Clouds hut the other day. To hang the oar they have brought in a large ladder. As I’m talking to the other hikers the ladder slips and the guy on it falls. The ladder comes crashing down and comes terribly close to catching me. I realize quickly that this had the potential to be a hike ender but luckily everyone turns out to be ok, including the guy who fell from the ladder. As they continue to hang the oar they are more careful about safety.
A short time later I leave with the others in a light drizzle which soon lets up. The trail is incredibly easy for the next few miles and we make good time down to Crawford Notch. When we arrive there is a parking lot and we run into M&M and Hoots, two thru-hikers from 2007. They have beers, Gatorades, water, chips, and other food. They evidently ran into Hawk and Wiffle up on Franconia ridge yesterday so they recognize the group. After a break and some conversation we take beers for the road and head out.
The parking lot is at Crawford Notch where we cross a road. Just after the road is a stealth camping spot we’ve been told about. We cross a bridge over a stream that runs parallel to the road, head downstream a bit, and find a large camping area big enough for all 7 of us to fit. Hawk makes a campfire and we cook dinner around it. It is only 5:00 but everyone is ready for an early night after getting up early this morning. I head to bed feeling much better about today than yesterday on the Appalachian Trail.