Day mileage: 14.4
AT total mileage: 1,836.8
Time: 6 hours
Service has been horrible. I promise I have turned off airplane mode at the top of every peak to try and post the blog, but there isn't much by way of cell reception up here. Also, while we're in the realm of disclaimers, please don't judge my mediocre mileage through the Whites. Aside the terrain being more consistently difficult than any other region on the trail, I'm also choosing less miles to stay with the group I've spent almost a month with now. They have no interest in long mileage days, so Pneumo will always hold the 2014 record in my book for his 33 mile day through the Whites last week. Alas, I'll be leaving the group soon enough to push on for my July 26th finish atop Katahdin, so I'd like to spend as much time as possible with them before parting ways. I'm hoping Dorothy and Rocket will catch up, though I don't see it realistically happening.
We had a delayed departure from the shelter, not for any particular reason other than laziness and the late arrival the night before. Hitting the trail around 9:30, we briefly passed by Bangarang before continuing on. The first mile of trail was exceptionally challenging, enough so to limit us to a pace of one mile an hour. The rain in days before had turned the steep and exceptionally rocky section of trail into a literal waterfall, and as we navigated northbound it was a tricky game of foot placement to not slip and fall or soak footwear. Cautiously we made the full descent from the shelter's location atop Mt. Garfield, the trail leveling off for a short while before beginning the climb up to South Twin Mountain. A half mile or so into the climb we came across the AMC's Galehead hut where we stopped for a quick bite to eat, sitting in the sun on the front porch alongside a half dozen weekend hikers. The climb from the hut was exactly 0.8 miles to South Twin's peak, with an elevation gain of 1,000'. It would again be a case of hand over hand rock climbing to ascend the mountain, but we were able to do it quickly, passing another half dozen hikers as we went along. The views looking back from South Twin's summit were unbelievable, and the sense of accomplishment in turning around and seeing Lincoln, Lafayette, and Garfield massively standing in the distance is a feeling no other section of trail has provided. We hiked on, beginning a very long descent to the Zeland Falls hut where we would ultimately have lunch. Some 6 and a half miles away, the descent was a combination of steep rocky sections, and smooth level terrain. Again passing many day and weekend hikers, we had short conversations with all of them about the thru-hike before carrying on.
We pulled into Zeland Falls around 1530hrs, eating lunch on the front porch and filling our water in their kitchen sinks. The huts are a huge source of income for the AMC, charging upwards of $140 a night per person to be fed and sleep on a nice bunk. They're light-years beyond a shelter, and the caretakers will cook each meal for you. We have the opportunity to do work-for-stays, cleaning or aiding with chores around the hut in order to stay for free and be fed. They typically limit it to 2 people, so with the three of us we'll likely stay in shelters or tent for the rest of the trip. Snacking and moving on, we continued the descent to a level area of trail that was a welcome change in my rocky and steep day. We cruised along at 3 miles an hour through this flat section of trail, reaching the Ethan Pond shelter shortly after 1800hrs. Ideally we were aiming for more than the miles we did, but after a horrible night of sleep Santa was practically falling asleep while hiking so we called it a day. Talking with the shelter caretaker, Em-bear, we set up shop and cooked dinner.
One of the exceptionally cool things about this point in the trip is that we are starting to come across southbound hikers. While 93% of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers begin their hike in Georgia, a brave 7% begin in Maine. Facing Katahdin and the White Mountains first, it takes a stronger hiker who is more comfortable with isolation to attempt a SOBO hike. They usually begin in early June to mid July, finishing in Georgia between November and January of the next year. Regardless, we've started seeing SOBO hikers, and it's quite interesting to hear their perspective. Most we've run into started in the first week of June, and are now 350 or so miles into the hike. Most of them are wonderful and excited to be hiking, but the woman in the shelter this evening hiking SOBO drove me up a wall. I don't mind input from hikers who have traversed sections I haven't done... But this woman asked when I planned to be done, and upon hearing the fact that I'll summit on July 26th she proceeded to inform me that 'There's no way you can hike Maine in 14 days. No way. Not Maine. Maine's different. You won't be able to do it.' It bothered me to no end. I'm a goal-oriented, come-hell-or-high-water kind of person. I've hiked this far in 96 days. To be told by someone who has completed only one state of the Appalachian Trail, some 11% of the total trail, who only has the ability to say 'I've been through Maine'... Blood pressure built. It took some serious tongue biting to refrain from getting exceptionally frustrated towards her, but Santa (equally frustrated) distracted me with conversation.
We'll spend the night here, hopefully staying dry from the pending storms. I'm hoping that we have a decent day tomorrow to complete the Presidential traverse, including Mt. Washington where weather is known to change on a dime. The long term plan is to be in Gorham, NH on Friday to then facilitate getting Naila back from my folks down in Boston. From there my goal turns to Katahdin and a summit of the final mountain of the Appalachian Trail. 17 days to go.