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Stalking Tortoise & Smoking Sox Section Hike #34 - Franconia Notch to Crawford Notch

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    • Stalking Tortoise & Smoking Sox Section Hike #34 - Franconia Notch to Crawford Notch

      The Plan

      Sox and his family were spending the week at their lake house in New Hampshire, so this section would require little effort from a logistical standpoint. Mrs. Sox agreed to follow Sox and his youngest son Adam to Crawford Notch to leave a vehicle then ferry then south to Franconia Notch for the start of their hike. My logistics were a little more complex. I would drive up from PA on Tuesday August 7th and spend a night with my friend Sue in Vermont before hitting the trailhead early on the morning of the 8th. I reserved a bunk in the Galehead Hut for Thursday the 9th and a bunk in the Zealand Falls Hut for Friday the 10th. Sox and Adam figured they would start a day behind me and catch up sometime on Friday, so they also reserved bunks in the Zealand Falls Hut for Friday but would tent at the Garfield Ridge campsite on Thursday.

      Spoiler alert - the plan went to hell. My 91 year old father-in-law came down with an infection on the Sunday before the hike which required my wife to take off work to care for him. I came up with the following backup plans:

      Plan B - depart at 00:30 Wednesday morning and head straight to the Liberty Springs trailhead.
      Plan C - depart at 11:00 Wednesday morning and spend the night with Sue in VT. Skip the first part of the hike and ascend to the AT via the Gale River Trail.
      Plan D - depart at 00:30 Thursday morning, skip the first part of the hike and ascend to the AT via the Gale River Trail.
      Plan E - ditch the hike, lose the Hut reservation payments and move on.

      Plan D was the winner. My father-in-law was sufficiently recovered by Wednesday morning and my wife came home that afternoon. Another spoiler alert - getting old sucks!
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.

      The post was edited 1 time, last by StalkingTortoise ().

    • Wednesday August 8th

      While I was working a half-day, Sox and Adam started their hike up the Liberty Springs Trail. They camped at the Liberty Springs tent site and scrambled up to the summit of Liberty to catch some views before dinner. I went to bed at 20:00 in preparation for my red-eye drive to New Hampshire.

      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.
    • Thursday August 9th

      I jumped out of bed with my midnight alarm and was pulling out of the driveway by 00:15. It rained from New Jersey to Massachusetts, but a large coffee and two Pepsi MAX sodas kept me focused. That, and the 18-wheeler that tried to compact my compact SUV into the concrete median on the Tappan Zee bridge. :cursing:

      I made a quick stop for breakfast in Lincoln NH then pulled into the Gale River Trailhead parking lot by 08:45. Changed into hiking clothes, adjusted my poles and pack, then hit the trail by 09:00.



      The forecast was for a chance of thunderstorms through the day with clearing towards the evening. The humidity was close to 100% and it didn't take long for the sweat to start dripping from my forehead. The Gale River Trail starts out very gently but gains most of the 2234' of elevation in the last mile. I was thrilled when the AT appeared in front of me. It took me 2:45 to finish the 4.1 mile trail.



      What I forgot is that there was still more climbing to finish before reaching the Galehead Hut. The last 0.6 miles were a struggle, even with light pack. I was even more thrilled when the Hut sign came into view.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.

      The post was edited 1 time, last by StalkingTortoise ().

    • If you stop by the Galehead Hut, I recommend taking the 0.5 mile spur trail to the summit of Galehead Mountain. There is an overlook near the summit that provides views like this:


      And the view from the front porch of the Hut isn't too shabby.


      Just before dinner, the skies cleared and the views into the Pemigewasset Wilderness actually improved.


      I enjoyed a bowl of hot soup on the porch mid-afternoon then sipped on some Crown Royal Apple until it was time for dinner. The meal consisted of soup, bread, salad, lasagna, ginger cake and coffee. Add in running potable water and LED lighting in the bunks and it's easy to see why I'm a new fan of the AMC Huts. I popped some Z-Quil at 20:30 and laid down in my bunk for a restful night's sleep. For reference, I used my Big Agnes pad and a cotton sleep sack. The Hut supplies a thin mattress and pillow along with three wool blankets. I can't speak for anyone else in my bunkroom, but I slept great!
      Images
      • RIMG0800.JPG

        162.95 kB, 450×600, viewed 47 times
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.
    • So...what about Sox and Adam? They made it over Little Haystack, Lincoln, Lafayette and Garfield without a single view. Nothing.


      They ended up camping about 2 miles south of the Galehead Hut. When it cleared later that evening, they were down below treeline and didn't get to see anything other than the immediate forest views. Timing is everything...
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.
    • Friday, August 10th

      The Croo gently roused me from my slumber at 06:30 with an accordion serenade. 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep... just what I needed. Breakfast consisted of oatmeal, eggs, bacon, pancakes and coffee. I ate my fill then finished packing up. The weather forecast for today was promising - cloudy in the morning followed by clear skies and 112-mile visibility. Like I said, timing is everything. As I waited for Sox and Adam to arrive, I zipped on my pants legs and dug out my rain jacket. Temps were in the upper 40's and the gusts had the rooftop wind generator humming right along. With zero views, there was no point in rushing into the 1100' ascent of South Twin Mountain.


      When Sox and Adam strolled in, I showed them pictures from yesterday afternoon and empathized with their own visual disappointment. They tanked up at the tap and we set out at 09:00 for the climb into the clouds. 1100' climbs are never fun, but this one wasn't as bad as I imagined. And a few glimpses of blue sky made the last bit pretty tolerable.


      The views from the summit of South Twin were fleeting, but they did provide optimism for those 112-mile views later in the day.


      There was a short descent from South Twin before the gentle ascent to Mt. Guyot. I enjoyed some brief views of the Pemi Wilderness before the climb into the alpine zone.


      I have three words for the summit of Mount Guyot: Wow...just wow.


      The trail between Guyot and Zealand Mountain provided some views and some entertainment. A mama ruffed grouse clucked and bobbed her way in front of me in an attempt to distract me as I passed her chicks. Then it was a short ascent to the top of Zealand.


      The descent from Zealand brought me to a quick peek at Mount Washington then the often-photographed ladder descending to the Zeacliff Pond spur trail.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.
    • Nothing prepared me for the stunning views from the overlook just north of the Zeacliff Trail. Oh. My. Gawd.

      [IMG:https://photos.smugmug.com/Hiking/AT-Section-Hike-34/i-NS6Ffcb/0/cc5882d2/5K/20180810_144818-5K.jpg]



      Today had to be one of the best days of the year to be standing on this mountain looking north towards the Presidential range. I reluctantly picked up my pack after gawking for 5 minutes and finished the descent down to the Zealand Falls Hut.


      Before dinner, I shuffled over to the adjacent Whitewall Brook and rinsed off my head before soaking my feet in the cool water. Then I laid down on the rock and took a brief nap in the sunshine. What a day to be hiking the AT.


      Dinner was a Thai coconut soup followed by bread, salad, sesame broccoli and chicken & pasta. After my dessert brownie and coffee, I retired to the front porch for the twilight view of Carriage Notch. I even shared the rest of my Crown Apple with the Croo. Into the bunk by 21:00
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.

      The post was edited 1 time, last by StalkingTortoise ().

    • Saturday August 10th

      The Zealand Falls Hut is a little different from the Galehead Hut. First, the bathrooms are in a separate building connected to the hut by a covered walkway. Next, they don't assign genders to the two bathrooms. There are two stalls in each bathroom and you might just be pooping next to someone from the opposite sex. The trick is to get in and out without being witnessed. ;)

      The Croo announced the 06:30 wake-up time with a gentle ukulele serenade. Unlike yesterday, the skies were already bright and the hut was filled with natural light. I packed up my belongings and prepared for a quick departure after breakfast. Speaking of breakfast, today's menu included oatmeal, scrambled eggs, sausage patties and coffee. And speaking of menus, the AMC volunteer manning the hut for the weekend explained that each hut has the same menu for each day of the week. That prevents hikers from getting the same items two days in a row as they move from hut to hut. For example, Friday is chicken night, but each Croo can decide on a specific recipe. The more you know...

      After breakfast, the Croo performs a skit with two important messages: Fold your blankets properly and don't forget to tip the Croo. At Galehead, there was no mention of an expected gratuity amount. At the Zealand Falls Hut, the skit's song lyrics went "Tip the Croo, tip the Croo. They cook your meals and clean the 'loo. Fives are good but twenties are better." At least they didn't go table to table with the tip box.

      We headed north on the AT right at 08:00. The first 0.2 miles were rock steps past the Zealand Falls and down to the Ethan Pond Trail. Then the treadway improved dramatically. It followed an old railroad grade for close to three miles. I had a hard time remembering a trail surface that was this nice! As I passed a rock slide, I looked behind me and could just make out the Zealand Falls Hut on the mountainside.


      Sox and Adam were just leaving the Thoreau Falls as I arrived. It was a good spot to drop the pack and enjoy the scenery.


      The AT eventually left the railroad grade and followed hundreds of feet of bog bridges before the start of the descent into Crawford Notch. I was actually surprised when I came to the intersection with the Kedron Flume Trail. 1.6 miles to go! After crossing the railroad tracks, it was only another 0.2 miles before I arrived at the Willey House parking area where Sox was waiting in his vehicle. I dropped my pack and poles into the back and grabbed a dry shirt before walking the last 0.3 paved miles down to Route 302.


      It was a quick drive from Crawford Notch down to the Gale River trailhead. Unlike Thursday morning, there were vehicles parked in every available patch of turf, Three of the Croo from Galehead Hut were there - looks like they make use of the hut re-supply runs to head into town. I offered them my parking spot and got changed into clean clothes before heading back to Route 3 and onto Lincoln for a post-hike meal. We wanted to hit the Pig's Ear BBQ but a craft fair had the main drag knotted with tourists. Plan B: McDonald's right off the exit ramp. Not quite as good as BBQ, but it sure hit the spot. We parted company and I headed west to Vermont, following the Kancamagus Highway to Route 118 - the same route we took shuttling vehicles for our Moosilauke day hike. Then it was onto Route 25C and across the AT where we had finished a previous section hike. Eventually, I crossed the Connecticut River and headed south of White River Junction to my friend Sue's place where I enjoyed a hot shower and many cold beers.

      Sox and Adam can rightfully claim to have finished this section hike. I will need to plan another trip to New Hampshire to complete the miles from Franconia Notch to the Gale River Trail. Maybe this fall, or maybe next summer. Was it worth it to drive 1071 miles over 17 hours to hike 15.3 miles of the AT? Absolutely!
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.

      The post was edited 2 times, last by StalkingTortoise ().

    • StalkingTortoise wrote:

      So...what about Sox and Adam? They made it over Little Haystack, Lincoln, Lafayette and Garfield without a single view. Nothing.


      They ended up camping about 2 miles south of the Galehead Hut. When it cleared later that evening, they were down below treeline and didn't get to see anything other than the immediate forest views. Timing is everything...
      That last line is so true, especially in NH and ME. I saw some great views, and others times nothing but fog/clouds/rain. :)
      The road to glory cannot be followed with much baggage.
      Richard Ewell, CSA General
    • Thanks for the great pictures and trip report. Great inspiration along with JimmyJam's as I rehab my knee and get ready to hike the rest of the White's next summer. :thumbup:
      The road to glory cannot be followed with much baggage.
      Richard Ewell, CSA General

      The post was edited 1 time, last by Astro ().

    • I'm considering a return in September if I can get a kitchen pass from Mrs. Tortoise. My plan would be to park at the Liberty Springs Trailhead lot, take the AMC shuttle north to the Gale River Trailhead and return to the Galehead Hut for the night. Day 2 would be the challenging 7.7 miles between Galehead and the Greenleaf Hut. Day 3 would finish with the 1.1 miles from Greenleaf Hut back to the summit of Lafayette then the remaining 6.4 miles of the section. And around 0.9 miles back to my vehicle. Pack would be light doing hut-to-hut and there's still plenty of daylight to finish each day.

      The nice part about this plan is I can wake up on a Saturday morning, check the weather forecast, and hit the road if it looks like I can get three days without horrible weather. No guarantees obviously, but the clear Friday I had on my hike was in the forecast for a few days. Much better than 2004 when months in advance, Sox and I picked a September weekend to finish NJ and ended up hiking through the Drowned Lands of NJ in the remnants of Hurricane Ivan. Spontaneity has its benefits. :thumbsup:
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, Max Patch to Franconia Notch NH and the Gale River Trail to Crawford Notch NH.