The Notches of the Whites lived up well to their reputation as a major difficulty spike, but the ridges in particular slowed me down a lot. Not due to their being difficult but rather they’re rather striking, and fairly unique within the context of the AT. Franconia Ridge in particular struck me, with the trail laid out with lines of stones at either side like parapets giving you the impression that you’re a sentry on patrol of an ancient border, looking for invaders from the fog below. Maybe I’ve just been reading too much Lord of the Rings, you decide:
I had surprisingly good weather through the whites, only a couple of rainstorms. One of thee storms seemed to be lower than the ridge-line, and as I ascended to the pass it was obvious the rain droplets getting smaller and smaller, until they disappeared entirely and broke through the cloud tops to find clear skies above. Descending the other side yielded the opposite effect confirming to my mind that I was not in the midst of a sort of waking dream.
The huts treated me well, I was able to get work for stay at both Greenleaf, (Which is far enough off trail that they seldom get thru-hikers, and even more seldom do they turn them away.) and Mizpah. Got turned away to minor disaster at Madison, they’d taken double their daily allotment of thru-hikers on work for stay so you can hardly blame them. (Although it seems plenty of thru-hikers harbor a bit of angst towards the AMC huts, despite there being plenty of stealth sites that they’re happy to point you to.) After I got turned at Madison I kept going, planning to push my luck a bit and cowboy camp just below treeline on the other side of Mount Madison, so I could get up for a summit sunrise. As things go when you push your luck; clouds roll in, rain starts a’falling, and I wonder how I could be so foolish as to not see this coming, as I frantically pack up. Not content with one series of bad decisions, I took it upon myself to hike through the night, rather than simply move to the campsite a ways down the hill. Part fury, part sleepwalking, I found myself stumbling thru the Great Gulf Wilderness at night, one of few places on the AT that is totally un-blazed. I don’t know how long I spent there, but it seemed to swallow the hours whole as if I was unable to wake from a dream. Then the sunrise came, early as it does near the beginning of July, dispelling the illusions in which I seemed to tread, and just in time for me to find my way out to the road at Pinkham notch. I recovered and dried my gear atop Wildcat Mountain’s observation platform, the aid of the warm sun and a strong dry wind made quick work of even my damp sleeping bag. Of minor note, I broke the tip off one of my trekking poles coming down from Mt. Jefferson, but it was a quick fix at the hostel a couple days later.
The difficulty wasn’t quite over, the Whites seems to get the press on the trail as the hardest section, but immediately following them is the dark horse candidate, the Mahoosucs. Maybe it was just that they were unexpected, but coming into ME was much more of an ordeal than anticipated. They feature easily the hardest (but also the most fun) single mile on the AT, the Mahoosuc Notch, a deep boulder field where the trail disappears under over and around the many large rocks, into and around small caves still filled with the snow of winters previous.