The White Mountains of New Hampshire are home to some of the most
difficult terrain on the Appalachian Trail. That combined with "the
worst weather in America", you can understand why I was feeling a
little nervous going in.
The weather turned out to be perfectly clear and sunny the whole way
through. All the heavy and bulky winter gear I lugged around was
mostly unused, but I am grateful for staying dry and having daily
Moosilauki was first, known for its steep and slippery north side.
Kooper and I had no problems. Going down is much easier for Kooper
because he has no fear of jumping or sliding down the rocks. I, on
the other hand, take my sweet time to avoid any knee injuries.
We stayed at Chet's hostel in Lincoln, then got back on the trail
carrying 5 days of food. Chet is an avid outdoorsman that opened the
hostel (which runs on donations) after he was wheelchair bound due to
a fuel canister explosion.
Soon after I began my hike out of Kinsman Notch, I realized I left my
denatured alcohol (cooking fuel) at the Glencliff hostel. So I
hunkered down and commited to hiking the full 17 miles to the next
roadcrossing back to Lincoln. Turns out the climb up south Kinsman
Mountain was the hardest climb yet. Every 10 feet was like a puzzle,
trying to figure out how to get Kooper and myself up the cliffs of
rock. Without a pack it would be fun, with a fully loaded pack it was
As I neared the Franconia Notch roadcrossing late in the evening, I
came across the first AMC Hut, Lonesome Lake. The huts are large bunk
houses that provide a bunk, dinner, and breakfast to guests (for about
$90 a night). They function totally "off the grid", so aren't as
nature-destroying as you might think. So I asked if they had
denatured alcohol and they did! They also asked if I wanted to
work-for-stay, where I would clean out their fridge and they would
give me dinner, breakfast, and a secret tent spot behind the building
(you are not allowed to tent near a hut, in fact you are only supposed
to tent in designated places in the Whites that charge $8). So I
didn't have to go back to town afterall!
Next up was Franconia Ridge which is a thin above-treeline ridge
providing amazing views all the way up to the top of Mount Lafayette.
Lots of scrambling up rocks, but you don't care because of the views
and cool strong winds. Even though it was a relatively short day
(12ish miles?) I was happy to pay 8 bucks to collapse at the Garfield
The next day was more alpine hiking amongst short pine trees,
waterfalls, and a nice flat stretch to a stealth camp spot (avoiding
the $8 fee at the offical spot a few miles back). The next day I
originally wanted to stay at Lakes of the Clouds hut, but from what I
was hearing from various caretakers, forcing them to take in Kooper
(dogs are not allowed in huts) would not be good. So I took a short
day, hung out at the Willey House, and stopped at the Mitzpah
Hut/campsite along with 12 other through-hikers and all of us got WFS.
Up next was the Presidential Range, an entire day above tree-line.
The views were once again amazing, especially of the Great Gulf
valley, Grand Canyonish in its vastness. As I passed Lakes of the
Clouds Hut, the top of Mount Washington (second highest peak on the
AT) was engulfed by a dark cloud. I hiked up anyways and the skies
cleared just as I reached the top. Not much of a view up there due to
all the touristy buildings (you can drive or ride a train to the top).
Interesting that candy bars are cheaper at the Huts than on Mt.
Washington, even though the Hut croo have to carry everything on their
backs over miles of rocky terrain.
Speaking of rocky terrain, the trail from Washington to Madison was a
brutal field of rough rocks. We got to the hut but were denied WFS,
so we went down a very steep side trail to a stealth camp spot (right
next to a no camping sign >_> ). Another exhausting day down. In the
morning we went down the Pine Link side-trail (there are hundreds of
trails in the Whites) that goes straight into Gorham, NH. Spits you
out convieniently next to Burger King :)
To finish out the Whites, I left my gear at the White Birches
Campground hostel and attacked Wildcat, Carter, and other peaks
carrying only water and food for the day. Without a 35-40 lb pack,
steep climbs can actually be fun! Even still, the rough terrain can
wear you down. Kooper plopped down a few times, forcing me to take a
quick break. We took another side trail to get back to the road
before it got dark and rainy (I forgot to bring my headlamp). 18
miles of hiking through the Whites takes a long time, even without a
So, I made it out of The Whites alive and well. I will miss the
scenery, huts, and abnormally sunny weather. In a few days I'll be in
Maine, which is as rugged but probably won't have quite the views (and
a cold front is coming). The desire to reach the finish line may be
all that keeps me going from here on out.
I am partnered with a service dog, so I can also relate to the aspect of the canine-human bond, and was especially drawn to your accomplishment with your canine friend, Kooper; what a GREAT trail dog! My service dog, Nadja loves to go hiking with my daughter and I when I am blessed enough with the good health to do it, but I can't imagine taking her to the heights (literally) that you did with Kooper---wow!!
I can also relate to learning how to live simply and finding out what's really important. Although, this lesson wasn't taught to me through getting back to nature, but by losing my home with my little girl after a brutal home invasion caused us to lose our entire family/home in one horrible night. I learned that living with so much less frees you up to discover new pathways in life---ones that are usually covered up in clutter (mental and physical).
Thank you for sharing your journey with the world---and for folks like me, whose bodies can not handle the rigors of the trail, but whose spirit desire it. ;-)
God bless you and Kooper----please tell him that K-9 Nadja sends him a great, big doggie shout out ;-)
i'm not a religious person but there is something spiritual about hiking in the woods with your dog. there is a bond i have with Tiger that i could never have with a human. my wife even gets jealous sometimes. since i got Tiger he has missed only one 5 mile hike due to a minor leg injury and i had to confine him to keep him in. he would have done the hike with a bum leg.
if anyone else needs motivation to get out hiking more, may i recommend a dog. any dog will do too. the shelters are full of them. it took me a few months to train Tiger but between obedience and agility classes we created a lifetime bond. i use to smoke 15-20 cigars a week and drink lots of bourbon. i still enjoy an occasional smoke and drink but lets just say the local cigar shops and liquor stores have seen a major decrease in income thanks to the Tiger Dog. when i do stop by them i usually have Tiger with me and they laugh about it and comment on the weight loss. my day used to revolve around getting done at work and heading to a bar or poker game (aka the smoke filled rooms) and now it revolves around my afternoon hikes with the dogs. every afternoon they are waiting for me to put on the hiking boots and get on the trails behind my house. if i'm not on the deck they start barking letting me know its time to go. on weekends i can't even get to the van without them jumping in because they are worried i might leave without them.
so again, if you need motivation just go rescue a dog. they never say no to a hike in the woods.