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Returning to New England, and a first time in New Hampshire

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This summer I have reconciled myself to two facts:
1) the Phillies won't win the World Series in 2014.
2) I'm not yet ready to hike the White Mountains.
I arrived at both conclusions based on the lack of ability of specific people to do tasks required for these goals.

I'll spare everyone -- myself included -- the details on how I came to conclusion (1).

I reached conclusion (2) based on my lack of ability to handle significant elevations changes during the time I tried to do so earlier this year:
Plain and simple, going down 3000 feet at the end of one day, then going up 2700 feet at the start of the next day, just wore me out. To real backpackers, this won't result in breaking a sweat; for me, it left me out of sorts.
Which lead to the inescapable conclusion that my next major trek will have to be somewhere OTHER than the Whites. Thus, even though I've hiked (pretty much) all the miles from Blacksburg VA to Hanover NH, I won't be able to get far into the New Hampshire. No pun intended, but the Granite State is, at present, too hard for me.

I thus decided to do some of the miles between Hanover and Mount Moosilauke -- elevation changes I can handle. Once again, by being realistic of my capabilities, I enjoyed a few days of hiking that didn't result in major pain.

As usual, I drove my car from home to a parking place, rode a taxi to a trail head, and then hiked back to my car. No surprise that my parking place was Dartmouth College in Hanover. Although my original plan was to hike from NH Highway 25 (Glencliff) back to Hanover, responsibilities at home cut the time I could be away by one day. I thus began my hike at NH Highway 25A, near Wentworth.

Drove from Philly to White River Junction in just over eight hours, once again staying at the hiker section of the Hotel Coolidge.
From there it was a short drive to Hanover, and Dartmouth College's Parking Lot A, just east of campus. Note that, although the lot is huge, its entrance can be easy to miss, simply because (1) the large plot of asphalt is not visible from the street and (2) the sign for the lot is pretty nondescript.
A trail hiker can park there, for a long period of time AND free of charge, just by phoning 603-646-2204 and leaving a message (can do so 24-7-365) identifying the make, color, and license plate of the car, along with when you intend to get back to your car. Again, taking up spaces at a college parking lot FOR FREE is a MAJOR privilege being extended to us hikers, so let's not abuse this.
Page 4 of this invaluable pdf
makes note of Mark Shaw as a shuttle driver from Hanover to nearby trail heads. He charges $35 per hour, starting from when he leaves his home to when he drops you off, and stated that my choice -- Hanover to Highway 25A -- would be two hours. He arrived at Lot A slightly early, got me to the exact trail head quickly, and was an enjoyable talker about his move from North Carolina to New Hampshire.

As I have learned to do, my first day was planned to be easy: 10.3 miles from Highway 25A to the camp site at Smarts Mountain. Not a problem for real backpackers, but it could be a problem for me because:
1) On a bad day, I can average as little as a mile an hour.
2) Elevation changes can make for a bad day for me.
3) I was starting a few hours later than my preferred time of 6:30a.
What added to my problem was that the terrain over this first mountain was a bit more rugged than I expected.

However, it was not an unexpected blessing that I hiked up Mount Cube in almost perfect weather -- I carefully avoid hiking during a week with a lot of rain predicted. The view was so good that I actually stopped to take some photos -- something I almost never do on days like this. But a wide, unobstructed overlook and almost perfect viewing weather convinced me otherwise.

Based on warnings about lack of water from the Forest Service, I refilled at Jacob's Brook. Nice to know that my Katadyn filter is working fine, now that I did the maintenance that I should have done months ago.
And I should mention that the warnings are correct -- although this area isn't as dry as Central Virginia, sources listed as "unreliable" should be considered "dry" at this time.

I started up Smarts Mountain with the idea that I would see the fire tower as I got near to my stopping point, and that I would know I was near when the elevation change levelled off. This didn't work because (1) there are about three "false summits" (ie, you hike on level ground) as you go up the north side of this peak and (2) trees make it impossible to see the fire tower until you are almost right below it. I thus got my hopes up more than once, only to realize I would have to start climbing again. I began literally complaining to and cussing out this mountain, as if it had any choice in the matter. I ended up checking my newly acquired Guthook App several times, each time getting angrier at a mountain for not having a peak where I wanted it.

Despite my slowness, I made the fire tower well before dark, and found a pretty good site at the designated tenting area. Note that you can NOT camp or make a fire anywhere BUT such designated areas if you are within half a mile of a shelter -- this WAY over-used part of The Trail has been stomped upon to the point where such restrictions are necessary, at least until this area recovers.
In addition, the tower itself is closed to the public until long-overdue repairs are made.
Despite fellow tent campers making a fire much too large for any purpose other than a big fire, and then not putting it out despite the weather being windy and dry, the tent area was great. I got to see a beautiful sunset, had a glorious night for viewing stars, and slept quite well.
Did not do so well the next morning, when I realized that I had forgotten to bring alcohol for my cat stove. Fortunately, I've learned I only need it to make morning coffee, so I just skipped that pleasure this morning.

By getting off to an early start, I anticipated no problems in making Moose Mountain before dark. Indeed, I brightened my elevation changes with this ditty of mine, sung to the tune of the song that your parents used to bribe you just before Christmas:

Oh, there's no need to cuss,
There's no need to cry,
There's no need to fuss,
I'm telling you why--
I'll soon be at the mountain peak.

I've got a new app,
It's showing my height,
And a topo map
That's leading me right--
I'll soon be at the mountain peak.

Being a SOBO, I knew that I would reach the water source for Moose Mountain before I got to either the campground or the shelter. I thus planned to do a refill when I got to the water source, and felt pretty good when I got there at about 6pm
What I did NOT plan for was a thunderstorm that hit right in the middle of my filtering. I saw the clouds and I heard the thunder, but I hoped our area would get just a bit of rain -- so I just continued moving the piston to fill up my water bladder.
Then it started coming down in buckets. I knew the shelter was close, but I did not want to arrive with everything soaking wet. In a true blessing, a fellow camper was just then finishing up his hammock-tarp setup. Carrying my pack, I got underneath his tarp before I got completely soaked. This gave me time to properly put on my rain poncho, and wrap it over my pack. Thank you, tarp user!!
With rain falling everywhere, the trail to the shelter was a little obscure, but I found it within a couple minutes. I don't normally stay in shelters unless they are completely empty other than myself, but I decided tonight would have to be an exception.

Even after finding, at the Moose Mountain Shelter designed for eight people, twelve Dartmouth students, in a co-ed freshman group, already occupying it.
To my incredible relief, the offered to arrange their sleeping bags -- already pretty crowded -- to make room for me and another backpacker. That's fourteen people, a majority of whom have little or no shelter experience. Seeing as how they were doing me a HUGE favor by even allowing to spend the night, I was not about to complain about noise or crowding. I did manage to share a few backpacking tips ("The people with weak bladders -- like me -- should set up nearest the front of the shelter"), which I guess is like singing for your supper.

Although I didn't get the best sleep that night, I did get some, simply because this co-ed group DID manage to get quiet soon after dark. The leaders of this group, like me, woke up early; and they began to boil water for others to use. For one of the VERY rare times during my years on The Trail, I yogied something -- mainly, hot water for coffee. With that helping me to get going, I was easily ready for the 11 miles to Hanover.

With perfect weather and terrain almost devoid of major climbing, I got to Hanover by mid-afternoon. These decades-old blazes
didn't throw me, as I knew to expect them. I even had enough time to get the photos I had promised earlier this year, and use them for a visual guide through this town.

I was too tired to safely drive eight hours to get home this day, so I just spent the night in Brattleboro, and returned to Shuttle the next day.

Not sure HOW I'm going to get ready for the White Mountains, or how I'll tackle them next year (most likely), but I'll think of something.


  1. Tedinski's Avatar
    Thanks for the post!
    I've been dreading some of the northern areas of the AT. Like you, I can hike a fair distance UNLESS changes in altitude rear their ugly heads. I found I could out-pace my hiking partners (not that I did) on the flats earlier this month on the AT in Virginia. I could just keep going, without feeling fatigue or pain, and I had to be asked to stop for rests!
    As soon as any elevation would kick in, it was a whole 'nother ball game. I end up having to stop & rest & let my heart rate stabilize every 50 feet in elevation or so, and let my lungs "catch up". My speed drops from around 2.2 to less than 1 mph.

    If you figure out a great way to train for the mountains, drop us all a note! I've started jogging on treadmills (I travel for a living... lots of time in hotels) but I'm not sure that will be sufficient.

    Great post with some good info. Thanks again.