11.1 miles, 1850 overall (Lakes of the Clouds hut)
In the morning I sleep in until 7. I have a short day planned and with the little sleep I got yesterday I figure sleeping in is a good idea. By the time I get out of my tent Gumpy and All-Smiles are packed and gone. I’m sure they want to get a head start up the morning’s climb. Wiffleball is also up and packing. As I eat my breakfast he heads out and I see Blues Clues packing up too. When I finally leave Blues leaves with me while Peeper and Hawk are just stirring.
I hike just ahead of Blues this morning. He says he is slow in the mornings but he seems to keep up with me well enough. The trail immediately goes up the ridge and it quickly becomes a tough climb requiring pulling ourselves up by trees and throwing our trekking poles up rocks ahead of us as we pull ourselves up after them. Soon though we reach Webster Cliffs which would certainly be rewarding if it weren’t for the fog this morning obstructing our views. I see great stealth camp spots right next to the cliffs and briefly wish I had continued on yesterday to camp there, however then I wouldn’t have been able to hang out with the other hikers and I decide the lack of a view was worth it for the extra time spent getting to know them.
As we hike along Webster Cliffs Wiffle spots us from ahead on the trail where he has a view down to us. He warns us of the vertical climb ahead and asks if we brought our climbing ropes. I figure this is another of his jokes until I actually see the climb. It is almost as vertical as he would have had us believe. In fact over the next mile or so we catch up to Wiffle and together we all reach several spots like this where we have to spend a few seconds contemplating how to get up before actually attempting it.
Eventually the trail levels off and I hike ahead of Wiffle and Blues. I want to get to the hut up ahead to get some food and then I want to get moving again. I think I have figured this hut thing out and I am aiming for a work-for-stay at Lakes of the Clouds hut tonight. I arrive at Mizpah hut around 12 to find Gumpy and All-Smiles already there. I inquire with the hutsmen about soup and soon they are warming up some black bean soup for me to buy. Along with a cookie and a slice of pumpkin pie I’m able to get a decent lunch for only $5.
My stomach adequately full, I leave the hut just before 1. On the way out I pass Peeper who says nothing as I start heading south on the trail. I don’t realize my mistake until I’ve gone just over a quarter mile in the wrong direction. When I turn around and return Peeper is helpful in showing me the correct path to take. I hope the error doesn’t turn out to injure me as much as the last one did by slowing me down enough to miss work-for-stay.
Leaving Mizpah I climb Mt Pierce and reach the Crawford Path trail. Instantly I’m inundated with dayhikers. Every few minutes I seem to pass another group of them. When I comment to one of them on how busy this trail seems to be they inform me that I’m on the Crawford Path, the oldest and busiest trail in NH. I come to learn that this makes sense because over the next few miles I pass a couple of the 4000 footers. First is Eisenhower and then Monroe. The AT skirts each of them but side trails take aspiring hikers to the summits. This entire time the trail is above treeline and I have great views since the fog broke just as I reached the top of Mt Pierce. As I pass Mt Franklin on my way to Monroe I worry that the fog is returning as it rolls in from my left but 10 minutes later it is gone again. As they say, the weather in the Whites is very unpredictable.
My goal is to reach Lakes of the Clouds hut around 4:30, the time I expect to be optimum for obtaining work-for-stay. As I approach Mt Monroe I am less than a mile from the hut but it is only 3:30. I sit and have a snack while I wait. If I arrive too early they could tell me it is too early for work-for-stay and to keep hiking. As I wait I look back and see Wiffle approaching. When he catches up to me we spend a few minutes chatting and discussing how to approach the hut before we get moving again just before 4. Twenty minutes later we are at the hut. We walk in and inquire about work-for-stay and are almost immediately put to work washing dishes.
I wash dishes while Wiffle rinses, sanitizes, and stacks them to dry. We work for probably half an hour during which time a few other hikers show up, including Peeper who, as a former hutsman for 2 summers, is able to talk her way into getting a place for all 6 of her group to stay. Once she gets settled she comes to help with dishes. This turns out to be fortuitous because, as a former hutsman, she is incredibly fast. She takes over washing and does it about 3 times faster than I did. I shift to prepping dishes for her to wash (removing trash, pre-rinsing to remove hot cocoa, etc). In no time we are done and I get to spend the rest of the evening hanging out with other thru-hikers as the crew cooks dinner.
As the evening passes more and more hikers arrive and none seem to be turned away today. In addition to myself and the 6 in Peeper’s group there are several southbounders. By the end of the night I count at least 13 thru-hikers staying at the hut.
The dinner is amazing. As a non-paying thru-hiker I have to wait until the guests and crew are done eating before I can start on the leftovers, but there is plenty left of the peas, chicken enchiladas, salad, and gingerbread. I have to stuff it down quickly because I volunteered to give a hiker talk with Peeper where we explain to the guests what thru-hiking is and answer questions about it. I’m able to eat two full plates of food in 20 minutes to be ready in time to talk.
The talk goes well. Somewhere between a third and half of the guests come to hear what we have to say. They have some good questions about how we resupply, how safe/dangerous the trail is, our reasons for hiking, and others. The talk ends up lasting for a whole hour and by the end I’m ready for bed. I lay out my sleeping pad on the floor, unpack my sleeping bag, change into my pajamas, and in a few minutes I am ready to go to sleep. It takes a while since some people are staying up talking but eventually I fall asleep, happy with my first work-for-stay on the Appalachian Trail.