Rock Climbing on the AT

Rock climbing

Julie rock climbing. The rain made the rocks slick and all the more difficult to maneuver, and hiking poles were useless.

We’re out of the Whites and now just a few miles from the Maine border so it’s time for a little reflection. As with all things, there are the good and the bad parts and I will share a few of those. There is also rock climbing as opposed to hiking in the woods and this we had plenty of over the past few days as we made our way through NH; I’ll share this experience as well.

The good: The White Mountains of NH were far and away the best scenery on the AT. We were told this our entire way north and they lived up to the hype. We were above treeline for many miles at a time with major views in all directions, rocky summits all around, and simply an overall awe inspiring environment to live in for four days. We had good weather for most of it, despite repeated forecasts for storms; we were very fortunate. We hiked the majority of the section with another hiker, Flying Squirrel. We rarely have anyone stick with us for over a day or two and to have the continuity of another hiker with us for so long was certainly enjoyable. We also had a very memorable camp spot on top of Mt. Jackson where we “cowboy camped” without a tent simply lying on the ground with our sleeping pads and bags. We couldn’t make it to one of the huts that evening and called it quits on top of a peak above treeline. There was a flat gravel spot to sleep so that we weren’t hurting the alpine environment and because we were up so high, we were treated to a pretty sunset and an amazing sunrise. Another positive was we were able to score free breakfast leftovers from the huts up in the mountains. The Whites are popular in the Northeast and get many visitors. The local mountain club caters to the affluent and has expensive bunkhouses up in the mountains for weekenders and short section hikers. They cook for them and we were able to pick up leftovers almost every day.

The bad: My knees are sore and my feet ache. The hiking was difficult and slow and we had to work for nearly every mile in this section. The climbs were steep but what made it so difficult was the trail tread and how many rocks we encountered. Many days were wet which made scaling the rocks more treacherous. We made it through but not without pains unlike what we’ve experienced thus far. Another downside is that logistically, the Whites make it difficult for thru hikers. We got rid of our tent back in NY and this added another element to the logistics of where to sleep each night. The normal shelters we stay in were $8 per person per night (normally free) and these were few and far between. The huts run around $100 per night for a bunk and space is never guaranteed due to reservations. We would have been able to work for stay if we’d wanted but the huts never fit with our schedule and we weren’t sure how this would eat into our hiking day. Coupling the logistics of where to sleep with uncertainty as to how far we could travel each night due to the difficulty of the terrain made it hard to plan for one day at a time, let alone our next food resupply. It all ended well with two nights in the pay shelters, one night in Gorham, NH for resupply and a motel, and one night stealth camping on Mt. Jackson.

And there was also rock climbing. When I say difficult climbs and descents, I am referring to the use-your-hands type of climbing very similar to my memories of climbing the walls in the climbing gyms back home. Julie would have to ditch her hiking poles in order to pull herself up to ledges or to slide down steep rocky slopes. Flying Squirrel actually gave up on her poles and is sending them home as a result. I have mixed emotions about the experience because on one hand, it was really quite fun to figure out how to get up and down these steep mountains. On the other hand, doing this all day for multiple days took its toll on my body and our overall mileage on our way to Katahdin. In fact, I have mixed emotions about the Whites as a whole. They were great and the best in some respects and they were the worst and most terrible in others. I am happy for the experience but I am also happy to have it behind me. Maine here we come!

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