Mothman Update: North Woodstock, NH, 25-Aug-2003

Editor’s note: This is a reprint (with Jim’s permission) of an email from Jim Heaney sent during his “through-hike” of the Appalachian Trail.

Um, was there an email virus or something while I’ve been away?

Howdy from the Live Free or Die state. (OK, it’s really the Granite State, but that’s so much less colorful-sounding.) The residents here are surviving despite the tough loss of their state emblem, the Old Man of the Mountain, about 10 miles west of here (wouldn’t have been visible from the Trail, which is about 5 miles west). In fact, the drive in from the Flume Visitor Center to here took me and Stripe through a heavily touristed section, with businesses falling somewhere in the middle of the Wall-Drug-to-South-Of-The-Border spectrum of kitsch.

That said, this is easily the most beautiful part of the AT so far. The walk from Killington to here took us 30 miles east to the New Hampshire border, then about another 20-30 miles east to the White Mountain National Forest, then straight up. Saturday morning saw me climbing a big hill. How big is big? Well, for those of you who live in Washington DC and have easy access to the National Mall, look at the Washington Monument. It’s 555 feet tall. Granted, we don’t go straight up, but over the course of six miles, the climb out of Glencliff NH to the summit of Mount Moosilauke involved a climb of 3,650 feet. It was our biggest climb maybe to date, certainly since the far south; the climbs through the mid-Atlantic typically didn’t exceed 1,000 feet.

However, the night before, the weather broke and a cold front from Canada swept in, so by the time I lunched at the top, it was beautiful, sunny, clear, windy, with low humidity and views of mountains over 50 miles away. The summit is “above treeline,” another way of saying alpine, and this was the first time we northbounders experienced this. The weather held yesterday, and the climb of Kinsman Ridge presented spectacular views of Moosilauke to the south and the Franconia Ridge to the north/east. That is today’s hike (unless I zero here), taking us up above 5,000 feet above sea level for the first time since Tennessee, and above tree line for something like 12 Trail miles.

It was a fortuitous time to receive my winter gear! Two nights ago, in a shelter, the temperature seems to have dipped below 40 (F), and it promises to get colder as we get higher. Mount Washington, the third highest peak on the east coast and the last time we’ll be above 6,000 feet above sea level, had recorded the highest wind speed on earth (231 mph) until two years ago, when Antarctica topped that.

The food situation in the Whites is something. One surely doesn’t want to lug too much food up these kinds of climbs, and the Huts provide dinners and breakfasts. The tradeoff is the price—$68/night is too steep for most hikers—so hikers are invited to “work for stay,” doing dishes or something for about an hour for free stay/meals. It’s competitive, as they only need a few hikers each night, yet they see hikers who show up before 3pm as being a little too eager and usually send these ones on their way.

I’m in a coffee house across the street from the “B&B” I’m staying in ($19.50/night, no breakfast, shared rooms… the kind of place that could be a really nice place if the owner, who is older than most of the trees we’ve walked past, wanted to fix it up; instead, a hiker place), and I’ve got CMo waiting for internet access, so I’ll sign off. Other than the views, and a mention that the Trail apparently gets HARDER in Maine, I’ll mention:

  • Because of the cold front, today’s water park visit is off. Bummer.
  • Still around the same crowd as before. Nobody I know has dropped off since last writing. I’m apparently at the front of a Tidal Wave of 60 or so hikers within three days south of here.
  • Radio reception got kind of spotty as the land became more remote. The only stations I was picking up were Clear Channel stations, who have worked out an arrangement with Congress to allow them to have a playlist of eight songs as long as they maintain a signal of a million megawatts. One day—this is a true story—I heard the new Liz Phair single “Why Can’t I Breath” start for the THIRD time that day, and I did the sensible thing: I started screaming as if my walkman had turned into Freddy Kruegger, turned it off, and ditched it in the next town.

Time to enjoy my coffee—have a good workday all!