Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Day 135: A tough, tough trail!

July 20: I took my time getting ready for the trail today. Amanda was leaving and I only had a measly 13 miles to the shelter ahead. I remembered the trail immediately out of Pinkham Notch climbing Wildcat Mountain being particularly steep and strenuous, but after that.... no sweat!

So that was the plan, but because it was such a short day of hiking, I took my time getting ready. Created a couple of last-minutes posts for this blog. We stopped for a quick lunch at Burger King then Amanda threw me out on the trail.

At the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, there's a scale for hikers to weigh their packs. I went ahead and weighed mine--which came in at a whopping and excruciating 50 pounds. But then, I was carrying 9 days of food to take me all of the way into Rangeley. The pack would get lighter day by day!

The Pinkham Notch Visitor Center--today, the weather was much improved over when I left it yesterday!

Amanda drove off into the sunset, and I started hiking. I had walked for all of about five minutes when I heard a SNAP! and one of my shoulder pads suddenly flew up. $#!^!!!!

I stopped to check out the problem and the buckle-thingamajig on my strap had broken. Fortunately, I actually carried a spare one. This particular piece on my pack seems to have a bad habit of breaking and it was the second time just on this hike it had snapped. When the first one broke, I finally replaced it with a new buckle from the EMS store Amanda and I hit a few days earlier. It came as a two-pack, though, so I still had the second buckle. I spent a few minutes replacing the buckle and kept hiking. It was a specially designed buckle that I could slip on and off without having to rip out any of my stitching or have to re-stitch it by hand which probably saved me a good half hour or more of time. Whoever invented that slip-on buckle has my eternal gratitude!

I replaced the broken buckle with the new one in just a few minutes!

climbing up Wildcat Mountain which was just as steep as I remembered it. A little way into it, a day hiker caught up with me who introduced herself as Mattie. She seemed pretty excited to meet a real-life thru-hiker and asked me all sorts of questions about it, the tone of which suggested that she might like to try such a hike someday if it ever became possible.

I made some sort of joke about that, that we could switch packs for awhile to know what it feels like, and she was totally excited about the idea. She was quite serious about it too, but I didn't have the heart to let her carry my 50-pound pack. It's an awful weight, and she was not at all conditioned for it!

We hiked the rest of the way up to the first peak of Wildcat Mountain together at which point she turned around to hike back down. I suggested to go down the gondola which was running at the time. It would be fun! But she wanted to hike back down.

The log near this pond had hundreds of tiny little frogs! Most of them jumped off this log by the time I got close enough to take this photo, but you've never seen so many tiny little frogs so jammed-packed together!

I plowed onward. I remembered the trail becoming easier after the gondola--not easy, but easier. I'm not sure what happened in the last 12 years, however, because it didn't get easier. It was steep, treacherous and slow going. Much slower than I had anticipated.

By 4:30, I had reached the Carter Notch Hut. I had completed a measly 5.9 miles--barely better than 1 mph. My goal for the day was another 8 miles ahead at the shelter, but at the pace I was going, there was no way I'd make it before dark. It was much earlier in the day than I wanted to stop, but there was nowhere else to camp between here and the shelter so I asked to do a work-for-stay.

Ironically, I remembered staying at this hut during my first thru-hike, and that also was unplanned. During my 2003 thru-hike, the weather had turned absolutely brutal. Bone-chilling cold, wind and rain and I stumbled into the shelter glad to finally be out of the elements. The elements today weren't so bad. In fact, most of the day was positively hot outside. But yet again, I stumbled into the shelter feeling like a tiny, broken man who had bitten off more than he could chew.

The croo working this hut was here for one day only. They were a temporary croo while the normal croo from all of the huts got together for a croo party of some sort, so temporary staff was used to man the huts tonight. They were all former croo from previous years so they had done this sort of thing before, but they were coming out of retirement for one-night only.

This croo group was a family affair. The leader was a young woman, and her croo helpers included her dad and her boyfriend. For some bizarre reason, I forgot to write their names down in my journal and I've long since forgotten them, so I'll just refer to them as the girl, the dad and the boyfriend.

The dad was kind of funny, pretending like his daughter was really cracking the whip on them. They cooked dinner, which since I was doing a work-for-stay, I figured I'd help out with, but the girl kept pushing me off saying that they didn't need help at the moment, but later.

The only other thru-hiker at the hut was Fireman. He was hiking southbound so this was the first time I'd met him and would be the last time I'd see him. That's how it goes with thru-hikers going in the opposite direction as you! When I introduced myself as Green Tortuga, he jumped up and said he had heard about me. "You're the one that was looking for the dead body in the middle of the night, right?!"

How the heck did he know that?!

Turns out, he had spent an evening at a hostel with the Four Horsemen. I had e-mailed Superman the story of Milkshake getting lost, which he thought was interesting enough that he read it aloud to everyone else at the hostel including Fireman. Ah, well. That makes sense. =)

The trail up Wildcat Mountain is steep, difficult and slow!

Fireman also told me that the Four Horsemen were telling people that I was learning Polish--which was true. Previously during my long-distance hikes, I'd memorize long, epic poems to give my brain something to do. I didn't have a good poem to memorize this time around, though, and wound up deciding it might be fun to try learning a foreign language. I wanted to try something that I knew absolutely nothing about to see how much I could learn during a thru-hike and since I had a friend from Poland who spoke fluent Polish, I decided on Polish.

So it seemed that Fireman knew quite a bit about me, but of course I had known absolutely nothing about him until I ran into him at the hut. Fireman also told me that there was a girl on the trail (Lois, hiking with her boyfriend Clark) hiking southbound who actually does speak Polish and was excited about meeting me on the trail to talk Polish--I rather liked the idea of testing my pronunciation out on someone who knew Polish--but it turned out she slackpacked this section in the same direction I did. She started before I did and continued on past where I did, though, so I never crossed paths with her. She jump back to Pinkham Notch and continue hiking southbound, our paths never to have crossed. What a bummer. Perhaps the only Polish-speaking person on the entire trail, and I missed her!

Anyhow.... Later in the evening, the head croo girl told Fireman and myself that because they weren't the regular croo, they really weren't sure what we should do and that we could stay without doing any work at all. Sweet! I'm not complaining! She warned us, however, that if we stayed in any other huts not to expect the same no-work-for-stay system. The others would definitely put us to work! Not a problem for me--this was the last hut in the hut system I'd be passing. For Fireman, he'd likely be staying in more huts before he left the Whites.

Gorgeous views!

After dinner was served and cleaned up, the croo typically provides some sort of entertainment for the guests. A skit, or talk or whatever. In this case, the dad and daughter had a compare and contrast session of their time working as a croo memeber while the boyfriend played the role of a moderator asking questions. The dad had worked as a croo member back in the 70s or 80s or something while the daughter had worked it more recently--seemed like it was just a few years earlier.

When the dad worked it, there were no women croo members at all. Eventually, when the position opened up for women, they kept the women and men segregated in different huts so each hut had either an all-woman croo or an all-man croo. Nowdays, they're co-ed. The dad pointed out some fixtures that used to be used to light the huts using gas or oil or something, but now lights are solar-powered. (Except in the winter, they can still use the old lights.) They told stories of raiding other huts, how the huts were supplied, and so on.

It was fascinating and even more so to hear the comparisons between the daughter and dad's experiences working in the huts.

And eventually, everyone left to go to sleep. Including the croo. I made a nest with my sleeping bag on the floor of the dining room and studied a few Polish words before going to sleep myself. =)

This is Mattie... on one of the easier sections of the trail since they actually built these wooden steps into the rock!

Mattie would turn back at the gondola. I would continue onward, naively thinking that the worst of today's hiking was now behind me....
Wonderful views!

I think my exact words when I reached this point were, "WTF?!" (I didn't abbreviate it, though!)
See that lake down there at the bottom? That's where the Carter Notch Hut is located. So the trail goes a long way down, then immediately climbs back up to the top of the ridge behind it! My original goal was somewhere on the other side of that ridge, but it took me much longer to reach this point than I had planned on so I called it quits at the hut.

This is the lake you could see in that last photo.

The Carter Notch Hut. The guy sitting outside is the dad who had worked in the huts decades earlier and is back for one night while the regular croo was off at a croo party.


Lou Catozzi (PI Joe) said...

You mentioned stories of hut croos on raiding parties. I remember doing a hut-to-hut tranverse about 12-15 years ago with my dad. When we got to Mizpah Springs Hut there was a large airplane propeller chained up and hanging from the ceiling. The croo there told us that is was a prized possession and other croo's would hike thru the night to steal it from whatever hut had it. Apparently it had to be prominently displayed so Mizpah had it hanging over the tables in the common room, chained to an overhead beam or something, a good 10-12 feet off the floor. Did you see that there or somewhere else in another hut, perhaps?

PI Joe

Ryan said...

No, I never saw any giant propellers, but I did skip one of the huts that was off trail. Maybe they had it! =)

-- Ryan