Saturday, August 18, 2018

Wildcat Mountain to Pinkham Notch and the AMC's Joe Dodge Lodge

We spent some time waiting for the weather to clear this morning. It was raining when we got up; just as it stopped and we were ready to get going the wind picked up. I finally made the call to head out at about 11 a.m. because we need to get to Pinkham Notch for my next resupply package before I run out of food for Forest. I'm hoping to pick up my package, repack quickly and get back on the Trail. A 12-mile stretch that is above treeline with no water sources and a heavy pack is coming up. We won't be able to stop in the middle of that section, so I want to get as close to the beginning of it as possible today.

We climbed the remaining peaks (there are 5 total—A/B, C and D/E) of Wildcat Mountain, crossing several bog bridges. At the summit, there was a wood platform, from which we could see Pinkham Notch and Mount Washington. As we crossed the summit, we came to Wildcat Ski Area, the site of the first enclosed gondola lift in North America. The hardest part of today's hike was the descent down the western slope to Pinkham Notch, which drops 2,000 feet in 2.1 miles. This section included steep, unprotected sections of open ledge and large wooden steps, so I had to slow Forest down and be very careful descending.

Once we got to the bottom, it was just a mile to Pinkham Notch and the AMC's Joe Dodge Lodge, where my resupply package was waiting. I recharged my battery pack while I ate and repacked, and then headed about a half-mile down the Trail in the dark to stealth camp.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Zeta Pass to Wildcat Mountain

We've been trying to outrun the rain all day. We left Zeta Pass and headed toward Mt. Hight, which is supposed to have some of the best views in the Whites. Even with the overcast weather we had today, the area was absolutely beautiful. Because of the wind and clouds and rock surface, the Trail over Mt. Hight (4,675 feet) was a little confusing, but we were able to figure it out using landmarks and our GPS tools.

Still ahead of the rain, we pushed on to Carter Dome (4,833 feet). Fortunately, this peak is not bald, so the trees provided shelter from the wind and wet clouds. We followed the Trail down the other side and stopped to have lunch at one of the vistas. The view of the notch and Wildcat Mountain was a little intimidating. We were going just about straight down and would then be climbing straight up a rockfall...steep down, steep up. I looked at Forest and, as usual, his tail was wagging wildly as if to say, "I'm ready; let's go!"

The rockfall we will have to climb on Wildcat Mountain

Down in the notch there is a hut managed by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). It's one of a series of huts and lodges in the White Mountains. They are available to members of the AMC for one price, and to nonmembers for another—in this case $94/$112 (granted, the money goes to maintain the Trail). That price includes breakfast and dinner, running water (cold only) and composting or waterless toilets. However, the huts are completely off the grid, so they have no heat, lighting, WiFi or electrical outlets. So, they are essentially glorified shelters with meals. No one is allowed to have a shelter of any other kind in the Whites, so thru-hikers are forced to carry larger than normal amounts of food if they can't afford the AMC prices (we are offered the member price, but that's far out of reach of most hikers who are already strapped). If there are leftovers after a meal, they are placed in a hiker box that we can access, and they do offer two work-for-stay positions per night (if work is available), but they go to the first two thru-hikers who want them; timing is everything. You can't count on either of those options being available, so you have to plan as if your only option is what you pack in. Now, water at this particular hut is blocked off for the hut, and hikers aren't allowed to camp within 200 yards of a hut. 200 yards of this particular hut puts us on the almost vertical side of Wildcat Mountain with no water. Are you starting to get the picture?

View of Carter Notch Hut (an AMC Property) before we climbed down
It's about 5:30, which is too late to be hiking up another vertical slope with rain and wind coming. We found another water source that will do and set up camp nearby. This puts us at about Mile Marker 314.5.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Birch View Motor Lodge to Zeta Pass

This adventure has tested Forest and me quite a bit. I am not used to handling stress without my wife being there to help, especially when my body and mind are both worn and battered. Tuesday night we stayed at the Birch View Motor Lodge in Shelburne, NH. I have to say that it was the most organized, put-together, hassle-free place I've stayed at so far. The owners, Carole and Dave, treated me like family. They have 3 dogs of their own, but out of respect for Forest as a service dog, they kept their dogs inside or leashed just for me. They picked us up at the trailhead Tuesday afternoon, picked up 2 of my 3 resupply packages (1 hadn't arrived yet, so I had to stop yesterday morning to pick it up) and had them waiting for me, gave us rides to and from town, and took us back to the trailhead yesterday morning. I can't thank them enough for their hospitality and support at a time when I really needed to be stress-free. If you ever happen to go through Shelburne, NH, be sure to stop at the Birch View Motor Lodge and tell them Forest Fisher sent you.

After we picked up my third package (which contained the loaner tarp from Hammock Gear) yesterday, Carole and Dave dropped us off at the trailhead a little before noon. Ahead of us was the toughest 120 miles on the trail. Of course, as soon as we set out, we began to hear thunder. Per the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website, "New Hampshire features more miles above treeline than any other Trail state. This provides exposed ridges with amazing views when the sun is shining, as well as the worst weather in the world when storms hit. Special regulations govern the White Mountains due to the fragile nature of the alpine tundra as well as the danger that exposed areas pose to hikers. The mountains are very steep here, and you need to be in seriously good shape with strong knees before tackling them." In the 161 miles of Trail in New Hampshire, the elevation ranges from 400 feet to 6,288 feet.

We left the trailhead and walked south, parallel to the Rattle River, toward the Carter Moriah Range of the White Mountains. The Trail followed an old road bed, so it was just a nice walk in the woods. There were a couple of water crossings, but they weren't too bad. In 2 miles we passed the Rattle River Shelter. The Trail past the shelter was a mix of forest and and several more stream crossings, one that took us across large rocks. Nothing Forest and I couldn't handle. Then the Trail began to climb toward Mount Moriah, and we decided to set up camp for the night at the next water source.

This morning I felt a little stronger and in better spirits. The Trail continued its steep rise as we climbed up Middle Moriah Mountain, descended into the gap and then rose again. We climbed two long sections of rock stairs and walked across bog bridges toward the summit of Mount Moriah (elevation 4,049 feet). My first summit of the New Hampshire White Mountains. We took a break and then hiked back down Mount Moriah and past the Imp Shelter, where we stopped to collect water and take a short break. Then, we continued toward North Carter Mountain, with more bog bridges. Our goal for the day was to climb North Carter, Middle Carter and South Carter Mountains and camp for the night at Zeta Pass. North Carter was steep, but Middle Carter and South Carter would be easier. We'd be stealth camping at Zeta Pass, but at least there should be water there.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Gentian Pond Shelter to U.S. 2, Shelburne/Gorham

We woke up this morning to clouds and rain, but were motivated to get on the move to my next resupply point, which was about 10 miles away. When we left the shelter, we passed Gentian Pond, began a steep climb toward the west and then descended through more swampy woodland (yuck). Next, we crossed the inlet brook of Dream Lake and briefly followed a logging road. Then, we went up a small ridge and downhill again to cross the west branch of Peabody Brook and began to climb again. After we reached Wocket Ledge, the Trail descended steeply, and we crossed the Page Pond outlet beaver dam. Three minor peaks followed. After we descended from those, we climbed Cascade Mountain (2,631 feet) and descended into a valley where we took a quick break for lunch.

When we got moving again, we climbed Mt. Hayes, which included a series of open ledges. I imagine the view from those would have been pretty spectacular...on a sunny day. As we hiked away from Mt. Hayes, we crossed a logging road and a brook and then followed a series of roads down to the U.S. 2 trailhead (Mile Marker 298.3), which was my next resupply stop. We caught our shuttle and headed to the motel where my packages were waiting. After we got cleaned up, we headed into town to pick up a few things. Before we headed in, Forest and I practiced his retrieval skills a bit—it helps both of us to stay fresh on his commands.

After we got back from town, we grilled hamburgers for dinner. I have to tackle my resupply box and get reorganized, but I may have to leave that for morning. Right now, I'm feeling drained, sore and exhausted. We're socked in with heavy rain; maybe that will lull me to sleep if there's no thunder.

Monday, August 13, 2018

NH Border to Gentian Pond Shelter

See ya, Maine!

This morning we hit a lot of swampy woodland. It was very slow going, and every rock became an obstacle course. Our feet and trekking poles kept sinking in the swamp mud, and a couple of times we had to stop to pull Forest out of the quagmire. He didn't seem to care about the mud, though. LOL The temperatures today have been in the 50s. Normally, I love that temperature for hiking, but when it's wet and muddy, not so much.

We hiked from the New Hampshire border, climbing along an unnamed mountainside up the ridge of Mt. Success to the summit (3,565 feet), where we took a break. From there, we descended onto ledges, reentered the woods, crossed a brook and headed down into the gap (FYI: another word for a "gap" is a "col," the lowest point on a mountain ridge between two peaks). The Trail then led us over two humps too small to be called peaks, crossed a ridgetop, headed down the ridge and entered a spruce forest. At 2,166 feet we reached Gentian Pond Campsite/Shelter (Mile Marker 286.5). Water was available here from a small inlet brook, so we stopped to collect some and then set up camp for the night.

How It All Began

In August 2017 Canines for Service Inc. in Wilmington, NC, provided Service Dog Forest to me (U.S. Army Veteran "Fisher"). It was ...