Day mileage: 13.5
AT total mileage: 1,871.6
Time: 8 hours
I woke up to the sweetest voice in the world whispering 'good morning A.T. thru-hikers' as a lovely young woman, one of 5 AMC caretakers at Madison Springs hut, woke us. Having slept on the floor of the hut's dining hall, we had to be up and moved out of the way before the paying customers wandered out of their bunks for breakfast. Cleaning gear up and putting the dining table benches back on the floor, the group of thru-hikers I was in then occupied an out of the way table and waited for everyone else to eat breakfast. In exchange for some chores when the paying hikers leave for the day, we were able to secure a delicious breakfast of pancakes and oatmeal. Afterwords we cleared our dishes and swept the dining hall, made the beds in the bunk rooms and parted ways with the hut, thanking the caretakers and setting our sights on the summit of Mt. Madison.
Madison is the last peak in the presidential range, a jagged and rocky summit measuring in at 5,367 feet tall. The climb from the hut was steep and rocky, at some points requiring hand over hand climbing to reach the summit. We passed by many day hikers, surpassing them with a speed and agility that I suppose is only that of someone who hikes 7 days a week for months on end. Once reaching the windy summit we began the long descent, nearly 7 miles, down to the Pinkham Notch visitor's center in the valley below. From the peak the trail continued to be exceptionally rocky, enough so that the word 'trail' is really almost inappropriate to use. There were points where no clear path was visible, and it was merely a 'go with what you feel' type descent. The beauty of this descent was the incessant ability to turn and practically drool over the panoramic views of the presidential range looming behind us. It's quite the amazing feeling to be descending such a challenging peak and to know that you've hiked everything, these massive and rocky mountains, in the past day. Turning my sights downhill, our group eventually got back under tree cover for the first time in nearly 24 hours. The wind died as we exited the exposed alpine zone, continuing with rocky terrain that was now joined with the massive jutting roots of the vegetation growing around the trail. I slowed down a bit due to some pain in my knees from the harsh descent from the summit, and lost sight of Santa and Legs. As such I decided to stop and put on my headphones, hoping that doing so would keep me motivated to descend at a somewhat reasonable pace instead of becoming lazy and truly slowing down even more. Jamming out to the concert in my head I hiked on, passing a few weekenders and some more southbound hikers. I eventually caught up to my friends, and we spent quite a while hiking down the mountain. The terrain towards the summit truly cut into our average speed for the day, but we made it past a few confusing forks in the trail and down to the Pinkham visitor center. Open with a cafeteria, small gift shop, and lodge for hikers we were able to stop and have delicious hot sandwiches for lunch. As I could have guessed laziness set in and we ended up sitting at the visitor center for a few hours, then a while lying on a picnic bench outside soaking in the sun. The next part of the trail would include the climb and summit of Wildcat D, part of the Wildcat ski resort, an exceptionally difficult ascent of over 2,800 vertical feet. It was quite obvious why nobody wanted to leave the visitor center at Pinkham Notch.
Sometime around 1600hrs we finally gathered the courage to hike on. Myself, Santa, and Legs headed for the mountain after crossing VT 302 and skirting a gorgeously blue lake nestled in the woods. Much of Wildcat's first few miles of ascent would be rock scramble and difficult stepping, making it a challenge to maintain any kind of speed. Getting higher and higher left us with stunning rock ledge views of the state road below, as well as amazing vistas of the presidential range which we had climbed the day prior. Eventually reaching one of the multiple Wildcat summits, we passed by the ski mountain's gondola lift before continuing upwards. Due to the terrain, our 6 mile trek to the AMC's Carter Notch Hut took nearly 4.5 hours. We descended from Wildcat's final peak into a deep gap where the hut was located just as the sun began to set. Although our plan was to night hike another 7 miles, we cooked dinner at the hut and found a stealth campsite 1/4 mile or so away. Carter is a very neat place for me to be at as it was the destination of one of my very first Boy Scout backpacking trips many years ago.
As darkness settled over the Carter Notch area, the moon reflected off the lake and cast shadows with the pine trees surrounding our camp. Hopefully tomorrows hike into Gorham, NH will be fair and have decent weather. We'll get a hotel room in town before heading back out Saturday morning. For now, off to bed on a chilly summer night in the Whites.