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Stuart "Tintin" Skinner
Begins: Mar 14, 2010
Date: Tue, Jul 27th, 2010
Start: Ethan Pond Shelter
End: Grafton Notch
Trip Distance: 1,787.1
Entry Visits: 1,950
Journal Visits: 10,759
Guestbook Views: 457
Guestbook Entrys: 8
Whilst I may have wanted to feel the furore of the weather in the White Mountains, I also wanted an opportunity to enjoy the spectacular surroundings that hiking above the treeline affords. It rained throughout the night and the skies remained ominously grey. I felt better for an early night and was excited to tackle the Presidential Range of the White Mountains. Crawford Notch stands at 1,277ft and the summit of Mt Washington stands at 6,888ft. Whilst we weren't hiking all the way to Washington, we still had one heck of a climb up to Mt Webster (3,910ft) and then on to the first of the Presidents, Mt Jackson. Whilst I was in no way feeling tip top, I was still in better shape then countless day hikers that I breezed on by on my way up. "Thru-hikers hey"? they'd offer as we made hiking up the steep incline comparatively effortless. We passed one lad who was puking his guts up whilst being comforted by his mother.
Megladon and Kashmir had gone into town, but I wanted to press on and give myself ample time to enjoy the hike rather than mess about in a store somewhere. We'd been joined by a section hiker called Cloud, another young lad from Pennsylvania. He was section-hiking from Port Clinton to Mt Washington and had joined our small band of merry men for the finale. I bumped into Apollo on my way up and we caught up as we made our way to the summit of Webster. It looked as though the weather was lifting and I was able to see why the White Mountains have the reputation of being thru-hikers favourite section of the trail. I also didn't feel pressed for time and so I indulged myself and would stand or sit awhile at every ledge up to the summit.
Even though my pace has slowed down a lot, I found myself ahead of Apollo and Cloud and hiking with a Polish woman who was hiking from Crawford Notch to Mt Washington. She was quite the character; bountiful with energy, slightly mad, very inquisitive about thru-hiking and outrageously fast for someone who doesn't hike a lot. "Have you met a person like Mr Katz", referring to Bill Bryson's unfit companion who'd jettison anything and everything at every given opportunity. I told her I'd met lots but that they were now far behind, but that we've all probably had our Katz moments on the trail. I no longer carry tea, something I rue on certain occasions. I enjoyed her company, feeding off her energy and using her as a pacesetter. It was cool to hike with someone from outside of the US for a change and compare outsider notes of the oddities of American culture.
I got into Mizpah hut a lot earlier than expected and was delighted to find that they had 'Yorkshire Gold" tea on offer. Whilst I was savouring the hot cup of tea and delightfully delectable piece of chocolate cake that the hutmaster had offered me, the clouds passed and out came a radiant sun and bright blue skies. I took a long break before setting off to Lake of the Clouds Hut on my own. Crawford Path is America's oldest continuously maintained footpath and it was the most spectacular hike of the trip so far. It's a ridge walk over or slightly around Mt Clinton, Eisenhower, Franklin and Monroe with excellent views of Washington off in the distance. I had views as far as the eye could see and the terrain very much reminded of my time hiking in Snowdonia National Park in Wales. I'm no Jack London, but even then, I doubt his words would be able to fully encapsulate the dramatic surroundings I found myself in. The weather was great, I was feeling better than I had been, the hiking was not too challenging and I was in constant awe everywhere I gazed.
I had wanted to get into Lake of the Clouds Hut early so that I could get the evening work for stay and then be able to leave early in the morning. The huts are big cabins with bunkrooms for paying guests. Lake of the Clouds charges 0 a night and can accommodate 94 people. Thru-hikers for the most part, cannot afford 0 yet the huts are the only shelters around in a reasonable hiking distance. Luckily for us, we can do a couple of hours work, get fed and sleep in the dining room for free. I had heard mixed reviews about this and was eager to find out for myself. Lake of the Clouds sits just below Mt Washington and is on the edge of the ridge. It is in a stunning location and well worth the 0 to many.
I'd arrived with my feet in a fair amount of pain. It felt as though they were burning. I took my socks off and was shocked at the state of my toes; they were red raw with orange blisters. I haven't had a problem with blisters at all and it didn't take me long to figure out that, what was clearly burns, was caused by the anti-biotics I was on. Doxycycline makes your skin more sensitive and prone to burning. I thought it was just to the sun, but my feet clearly showed otherwise and they immediately became quite the spectacle for the city slickers. A father told his son that "that's what real hikers feet look like right there". They didn't look anything more than a bloody mess. It wasn't too long before one woman came around with a bunch of ointments to help alleviate the pain. People just love helping out thru-hikers and I'm always happy to oblige.
It wasn't too long before the rest of the gang to showed up and the hutmaster accommodated us all. We had to wait for the paying guest to finish their dinner and then we were allowed to eat the leftovers on the basis we help clean up afterwards. We all ate like Kings, feasting on turkey, mash potato, salad, soup and homemade bread. I did about an hours washing up and it was well worth it. After dinner I went outside and fixed my eyes on the cloud shrouded summit of Mt Washington. It was really bizarre; the clouds would come in a southerly direction but rather than continue flowing south, they'd wrap around Washington. Every time I thought I'd be able to see the peak, a cloud would move up, over and then around. I may just find myself in the clouds tomorrow I thought and I did.
I awoke at five in the morning to the sound of howling wind and rain pattering of the window. I was going to get the summit. I wanted to have a taste of the "worst weather in the world" with temperatures that can plummet 1 degree (faranheit) per minute for more than 30 minutes; an average annual temperature of -3.3 degrees Celcius; hurricane force winds (75mph or faster) on more than 100 days in the average year. I couldn't wait to get out in it, though many did not share my sentiments. Fellow thru-hiker, Squeeze Cheese, walked round whilst saying "this is nuts, this is insanity", personifying the very words he was saying.
We hiked out together as a group and stayed as a group. The wind was battering us and we could barely see the person in front through the thick fog. It wasn't the wind that was treacherous, but the jagged, slippery rocks that we were hiking over. One slip could easily end our trip and it felt as thought that was a distinct possibility with every step; it was exciting. I was a happy chappy when we reached the summit and we all posed for a what turned out to be a great picture at the the wooden sign. The weather recorder showed that we'd been hiking in 70mph wind! Not something that I'd had to deal with so far on the trip. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far.
Coming down those rocks on a steep decline was as exhausting as it was exciting going up. It took every ounce of concentration to stay upright and not to slip or be blown onto the treacherous rocks. Everyone had sore knees by the end, even the whipper-snapper that is Megladon. We hitched into Gorham and found refuge in the really comfortable Barn Hostel. We celebrated the end of Cloud's hike with a decent meal and a few pitchers of beer.
The hike wiped me out and my physical health deteriorated after that. I don't think I should really be hiking with Lyme's Disease as my body is clearly screaming out for rest. But I'm almost there and I can do all the relaxing I want. It has been tough hiking out here in Southern Maine but I was able to go over the "hardest section of the AT", Mahoosuc Notch on my birthday. It's a mile of climbing, not hiking, over boulders. It was a great laugh though as there were a few of us hiking together. I enjoyed a radical change in scenery and the company of those I was hiking with.
We got off at Grafton Notch where Willy Wonka was waiting with a cold root beer. He's come up to see Megladon again and check out Maine. I'd hired two lean-to's at a nearby campground and 11 of us planned to celebrate my birthday. I bought 0 worth of food, including good sausages, ground turkey for my speciality Thai burgers and a whole bunch of other stuff to throw on a BBQ. Willy Wonka kindly provided the beer and I got some whiskey in. To quote Kashmir: "Tintin cooked burgers and chicken, Chewy made sausages, Beer was drunk, Whiskey was drunk, I carry Ipod Speakers, Dancing ensued, A Good Time was had by All" (http://joeatblog2010.blogspot.com/).
I had a great time. I really enjoyed hanging out with people who've become good friends as well as making a couple of new ones (Caboose and Spark). It seems like everyone has been so focused on Katahdin, that we've kind of forgotten how to have fun. We all let our hair down and really had an awesome time with each other. It was a great 30th birthday and I have no qualms about being 30. Kashmir had such a great time that I awoke to the sounds of him retching and howls of laughter from Megladon. Good ol' Kashmir.
The Real Adventures Of Tintin
Thru hiking to Maine whilst raising awareness of mental health issues.
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