We planned to leave at 5:45 today, but we did not actually manage to leave Chet's Place until 6:15. We made a quick stop at McDonald's for Papa Monkey and Rainbow (I had already eaten my pop tarts by then), only to find that they weren't open because of something wrong with their cash registers. So instead, we went to Dunkin Donuts.
Today begins a two day excursion from Franconia Notch to Crawford Notch, a span of nearly 28 miles, broken roughly in half with a stay at Galehead Hut. (There are no road crossings between these two notches, and the distance is far too long to even consider doing in one day.)
I didn't sleep well again last night (this time, it was definitely a terrible mattress I was sleeping on), so I started the day off lethargic. Since today may well have been one of my most difficult days on the trail, this was a pretty lousy start. My slowness turned out to be a minor boon, but I didn't know that at the time.
We got started at 6:45, and though I made good time on the trail and bike path from the parking lot to the AT, once I got to the AT and started climbing Liberty Mountain, I ran out of steam. While it wasn't the steepest or longest climb I've done, 2800 ft over three miles is still pretty difficult, especially when the rocks are wet. So, I kept hiking, slowly but steadily.
On the way up the mountain, it briefly rained. Not so much as to actually be a problem; just enough to warrant putting on my pack cover. During the rain, at some point, my watch died. My theory was that it got confused as to how much charge was in its battery and it shut off; this also previously happened while climbing up Clingmans Dome in the Smokies, also during lousy weather (wind, cold).
After a few hours of hiking, I reached the top of Little Haystack Mountain (an oxymoron, I think, since the mountain is neither little, nor made of anything that could remotely be confused with hay), and began a two mile walk across the exposed ridge, above the treeline.
On a day with clear skies, I'm told (by Rainbow) that this is an spectacular view, and you can see hikers from a great distance away. Today, though, was anything but clear. Below the treeline, the trees shielded the trail from the wind. Above the treeline, though, the wind blew quite strongly, enough to make using poles difficult, and making it easy to lose your balance of you didn't take the wind into account. Fortunately, it was generally blowing from one side of the mountain, and the fog being blown around provided a nice visualization of what the wind was doing.
The rain had stopped by the time I got to the ridge, so all I had was wind and fog blowing around. Papa Monkey and Rainbow weren't so lucky. Having passed me near the bottom of the mountain, they reached the treeline while it was still raining, so they got a cold stinging rain blowing near-horizontally. Not that it would have done any good anyway; the air was saturated with water (being fog and all), so thee was no rain to protect from.
It wasn't fun and games for me either. While I had generally figured out how to not fall over, it was still very slow going, and my pack cover, not having a fully-loaded pack to fill it, was prone to catching the wind, blowing off twice before I gave up and put it away. Not that it would have done any good anyway; the air was saturated with water (being fog and all), so there was no rain to protect from.
I took my first break in a little camping area on the ridge, protected by the wind by a small ring of pine trees. Becoming cold almost immediately from not moving (and only having a shirt and shorts on), I put on the rest of my clothing layers to properly dress for the weather: pants legs, rain pants, fleece, and rain jacket. Not moving while I ate my snack, I was still a little cold, but once I got moving, I'd be warm enough.
I never really fully appreciated stone cairns until today's hike. With the fog, visibility was pretty awful, ranging from ten to fifty feet along Garfield Ridge. While the trail was reasonably distinct, seeing blazes from a distance was pretty difficult. The cairns stood out even in the fog, and made it a lot easier to determine which direction to go in.
I took my second break at 3 pm, having gone just shy of ten miles (including the mile from the parking lot); this was a pretty poor pace, but the ruggedness of the trail combined with wet and wind made for a difficult, strenuous, and tiring hike. I would have liked to take off my boots, like I usually do during breaks, but with this weather, that might actually have been counterproductive.
I was worried I wasn't going to make it to Galehead at a reasonable hour, but there really wasn't too much I could do to move faster; at least not without compromising safety.
The trail summited (or came close) four different 4000-footers, with a total elevation gain of over 6,000 feet, and a drop of nearly that much. On the way down the last of today's mountains, Mt. Garfield, I ran into two locals going south on the trail, who were giving thru-hikers trail magic; I got a fig bar. (Thanks again!)
Much of the trail today was flooded or crossed by running water, but the waterfall down the north side of Mt. Garfield was the worst of the water hazards. Unlike yesterday, where the trail paralleled a waterfall on Mt. Moosilauke, the trail itself was a waterfall. This really made things slow going down Garfield.
Shortly before reaching the hut, I finally got one scenic view. I wish I could say the view was worth it after today's hike, but by that point, I was too tired to really appreciate it beyond finally, got something worthy of taking a picture.
I eventually made it to the hut around 6:30, already partly into dinner. I missed the soup, but the salad was good, and I pigged out on the pulled pork. They brought me a bowl of soup shortly before desert ("If we're going to do the Whites out of order, I may as well eat dinner out of order too.").
Following dinner, I retired to our bunk room, where I was stuck with a third level bunk. Apparently, I'm lucky; one of the other bunk rooms has four levels of bunks. Blog-writing and sleep soon followed.