On the evening of September 6th, I left Hanover, NH. It had been a nice breather, especially knowing the White Mountains were waiting for me. My first full day of hiking, after departing Hanover, I wandered upon Bill Ackerly’s house who has been deemed “The Ice Cream Man.” Bill is extremely hospitable and offers his yard to hikers for camping. He provides electrical outlets and water, as well. But the cherry on top, so to speak, is the creamsicle that Bill greets you with. Hence, his nickname.
When I arrived, it was late afternoon so I went ahead and cooked dinner on his porch. Other hikers had set up to camp for the night. We all sat around socializing and the topic of Hank Williams arose. Bill was excited to hear another country and bluegrass music fan was present. He insisted on playing some of the old tunes and even asked me to dance. We twirled around and everyone laughed–it was a good ol’ time! Sometimes I compare the trail to the story of Alice In Wonderland. There are many characters encountered within the woods. All unique in their own right, they each add something special to the experience as a whole.
After leaving Bill’s house, I hiked into the night. I ascended about half of Smarts Mountain and decided to cowboy camp on a ledge. The stars were absolutely stunning! The next morning, I witnessed my first New Hampshire sunrise.The climb to the top of Smarts Mountain foreshadowed what was to come. I had heard the White Mountains would contain rebar and various footholds, but I thought..”Psh. How bad could it be?” After climbing Smarts Mountain, the remaining terrain that day wasn’t too bad. But, I knew the next day I would officially begin hiking in the White Mountains.
The following morning, I drank my coffee while staring wide eyed at the elevation profile for the first climb in the White Mountains. I was going to traverse Mt. Moosilauke. Gulp.I had been training for this for 5 months. No problem-o. Right?
Well, I must admit. The climb up Moosilauke wasn’t that bad. I actually kind of enjoyed it! The ascent was challenging, but not overly difficult and the view from the summit was more than rewarding.I basked in the glory of climbing my first mountain in the White Mountains Range. A few of us gathered up top and peered out wondering what challenges might be faced within the mountains that rolled on as far as we could see. Only time would tell, but for now victory was sweet. As the sun sank lower, I began to descend the mountain. I remember hoping the dark blue in the distance was simply nightfall creeping in rather than a brewing storm. Unfortunately, the latter was soon to approach. But, I told myself regardless of if it rained or not, I was going to town from the road on the other side of Moosilauke. That meant all the rain in the world could come down, but I was going to be in a dry bed later.
Less than a mile into the hike down, torrential rain set in. I was considerably thankful there were no lightning strikes. The terrain, however, was treacherous. I climbed boulder after boulder and slowly inched down the steep slope. Darkness had completely fallen when I reached the shelter which was only 1.5 miles from the road. Less than two miles stood between me and the opportunity to hitchhike to town. I quickly stopped by the shelter to change into some dry clothes since the rain had subsided. Looking at the elevation profile, the smart decision would’ve been to wait until morning to continue down the mountain. But, in my stubbornness, I was determined to stay in town. Once a hiker has town (a warm bed, real food, hot shower, etc.) on the mind, come hell or high water, town must be reached.
Despite my better judgement, I left the shelter and began hiking the remaining 1.5 miles. I can honestly say this was the roughest terrain I traversed at this point in my hike. There were places where basically a river was the trail. I slowly scrambled over one slick boulder after the next. At one spot, I reached a ledge and was sure I was lost. I searched for a white blaze re-walking a portion of the trail again. I kept being led to the ledge. I finally shined my headlamp down the ravine, and saw a series of slippery wooden wedges that were attached to the enormous rock face. I remember asking out loud, “Is this real life?” If there had been a sliver of non-rocky piece of ground I could have put my tent on, I would have. But, that choice no longer existed…and turning back did not seem to be a viable option. So, my shaky legs stepped down off the ledge and I prayed out loud as I took every daunting step down the perpendicular rock face.
The picture below is an example of the wooden wedges implemented to assist hikers. Keep in mind, however, the wedges on Mt. Moosilauke were much steeper, slippery, and it was dark.
My typical average hiking pace is 2 miles per hour. When going to town, especially downhill, I can easily push 3 miles per hour. Going down Moosilauke, though, I completed the last 1.5 miles in 3 hours. That’s a whopping half mile per hour! When I finally reached the road, I didn’t even care that there was no traffic. I was elated to simply see the road. I sat there on the gaurd rail shivering for a moment and let the events of the night sink in. I was lucky to be okay, really. After calling a taxi and arriving at a local motel, I finally got that warm bed and hot shower. I vowed to myself that night that I would never night hike in the White Mountains again.
I had planned on doing a 17 mile stretch the next day, but when I woke up and to the sound of rain hammering the motel roof…I decided a zero day sounded better.
Below are some pictures I snapped from this stretch of trail: