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Stalking Tortoise & Smoking Sox Section Hike #36 - Pinkham Notch to Gorham

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    • Stalking Tortoise & Smoking Sox Section Hike #36 - Pinkham Notch to Gorham

      Heading to New Hampshire tomorrow. Looking back to 2019, I arrived in Pinkham Notch from the Madison Springs Hut on 9/4 and found out that my father-in-law was in the hospital. As a result, Smoking Sox and I abandoned our plan to hike into the Carter Notch Hut on 9/5 and to finish the section at Route 2 on 9/6.

      By coincidence, we will be headed back to Pinkham Notch on 9/5 and plan on finishing the section hike at Route 2 on 9/6.

      And if the first two days go well, I will head back to Franconia Notch to work on my orphan section next week. A one day hike would get me up the Liberty Springs Trail then over to Lafayette for the descent past the Greenleaf Hut on the Old Bridle Path. A two day hike would have me spending the night at the Greenleaf Hut and finishing the next afternoon at the Gale River Trail. Man... it would be nice to take advantage of being in the neighborhood to finish those miles!

      The temperatures will be a shock - the daily Cincinnati low temps have been the daily New Hampshire high temps. I can't remember the last time I saw 50's on the thermometer or slept with the window open.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, and Max Patch NC to Carter Notch NH
    • R&R day at the lake. Good day to hydrate and sort through the pack one more time looking for excess ounces. Heading out at 03:30 tomorrow to drop a vehicle at the Rattle River trailhead and then start out from Pinkham Notch at first light.
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      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, and Max Patch NC to Carter Notch NH
    • The Plan

      Sox and I looked at the 21.1 miles between Pinkham Notch and Route 2 in Gorham over and over. Even back in 2019 when these miles would be the last part of our Section #35 Presidential Traverse hike , we had concerns with trying to knock off big miles during the last day. So we came up with the following plan for a 2-day hike:

      1. Hit the trail at first light to give ourselves 13 hours of daylight.
      2. Shoot for a 1 mph pace
      3. Take an hour break at the Carter Notch Hut to rehydrate and eat a hot lunch.
      4. Tackle the Carter Dome climb by mid-afternoon.
      5. Find a campsite somewhere in the Middle Carter / North Carter Mountain area.
      6. Eat a cold dinner to avoid carrying excess water.
      7. Tank up and have a hot breakfast at the Imp Campsites.
      8. Finish the last ~8 miles by late afternoon and find a place to grab dinner in Gorham.

      What could go wrong?
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, and Max Patch NC to Carter Notch NH
    • Day 1 - Sunday, September 5th

      What could go wrong?

      We had an auspicious start. We left Belmont NH exactly at 03:30 and made good time up into the Whites. Dropped a vehicle at the Rattle River Trailhead, then turned south into Pinkham Notch. We were crossing Route 16 from the visitor's center at 05:50 with headlamps.

      Sox did his part. He was at the Wildcat D summit within two hours. It helps that he has been knocking off 4000 footers each weekend all summer long. Me? I had been briskly walking around 3 - 4 miles per day and did an extended training session on a set of 60 steps at a park near my house. Not quite the same as stepping up rock steps and prancing through root and rock covered trails. The first relatively flat mile took me 40 minutes. Then I turned onto the Wildcat Ridge Trail at 06:30 and began to suffer. Four mile walks and one stair-climbing workout didn't cut it.

      The climb up Wildcat Ridge to Wildcat E is a mix of rock steps, boulder climbing, and sheer rock face ascents with the occasional wooden step thrown in for good measure. The payoff for the effort is beautiful views back across Pinkham Notch at the Presidential Range.

      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, and Max Patch NC to Carter Notch NH
    • The various boulders that made up the trail reminded me of how the Incas tried fighting the Spanish Conquistadors by luring them into steep valleys then rolling boulders down onto them from the top of the cliffs. I was waiting to get to the point where all the boulders had been rolled, but it didn't happen.

      Wildcat E doesn't have a marker to show a hiker that the initial climb has been completed. The first recognizable landmark is the ski lift near the summit of Wildcat D. I could hear the lift being tested for its 10:00 opening time for tourist rides while I was still in the woods and was thrilled to see picnic tables in a clearing next to the lift. I dropped my pack, ate some snacks, and used my inReach to send my wife a quick note that I had made it this far.

      What could go wrong? Well... I have a number of pre-written messages stored in the inReach and decided to use one that started "All is good". I thought I would be able to edit the last part of the message that referenced making it to our intended shelter for the night but the pre-written messages get sent as-is. Oops. I immediately followed up with another message stating that I was at Wildcat D and figured my wife would understand. But somehow, I also sent a pre-written message stating that I had experienced a non-life-threatening injury and the hike was over. I have no idea how that one was sent, but the damage was done. A comedy of errors followed in rapid succession.

      Despite the fact that I was on a ridge polluted with peak baggers, NOBOs, SOBOs, ski lift employees and other nature lovers, my bride went into full panic mode. She kept messaging me to ask if I was OK and I didn't realize that I had sent her a message stating that I was injured. I was getting pissed off with her constant messages and she was getting pissed off that I wasn't telling her how badly I was injured. Sometimes it sucks being married to a nurse that fears I will die on the trail.

      So Mrs. Tortoise gets Mrs. Sox to text Smoking Sox and tell him that I'm in a dire situation. He's already at Wildcat A and starts asking the NOBOs and peak baggers if they saw me. All of them reply 'no' until one hiker said "Oh yeah... he was hiking and talking with me for a while around Wildcat C." That gave Sox some assurance that I was actually OK.

      I found out about the entire SNAFU when one of the peak baggers was returning towards Wildcat D and told me that Sox was waiting for me to see if I was OK. I finally unclipped the inReach and scrolled back through all of the messages to understand what had happened. One damn courtesy message caused a ripple of concern across the entire Wildcat Ridge. Lesson learned - I'll keep my hands off the damn thing unless I'm laying in a ravine with a broken back.

      Sox had backtracked 0.4 miles from the view at Wildcat A and didn't seem to be too thrilled with me. We agreed to continue into Carter Notch and assess things at the Hut.

      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, and Max Patch NC to Carter Notch NH
    • The descent into Carter Notch wasn't as bad as I expected. Maybe it was because gravity was in my favor. Or maybe it was just having the opportunity to work out my quads instead of my calf muscles. I stopped to snap a couple of pictures of the ponds then staggered the last bit to a bench outside of the Carter Notch Hut.

      Before attempting any planning for the rest of the day, I filled my water bottle and guzzled close to a quart in one long sip. As my body recovered, I began to assess the options. The odds of climbing Carter Dome AND finding a campsite were stacked against me. Add in a 100% chance of evening rain and the odds got worse - somewhere in the slim to none range. And Slim took the ski lift down to Pinkham Notch...


      • It was now 14:00. Cooking lunch and rehydrating was going to take at least 30 minutes. That left 3.5 hours of daylight. Possibly less depending on when the rain arrived.
      • My informal polling of the NOBO hikers indicated that most of them had the same idea of camping past Carter Dome. Finding a spot was going to be a challenge.
      • We had two days of food, and Sox needed to be back to the lake house to work on Tuesday morning. Extending the hike by a half a day wasn't an option.
      • I was physically wiped out from those first 5.9 miles. There was no reserve left to pick up the pace and keep to the original schedule.
      • The vehicles were parked at the Pinkham Notch Visitor's Center and the Rattle River Trailhead. Moving forward moved us farther away from the closest vehicle.
      I inquired in the Hut to see if there were any bunks available for the night. There were a couple of available spots but the Hut was almost at full capacity. That wasn't a surprise for Labor Day weekend, but it wasn't welcome news with Covid cases still on the rise. That killed the idea of having Sox push to the finish and me choosing a bail-out trail for tomorrow afternoon. The focus turned to the best way to get off the trail and retrieve a vehicle today. We came up with a plan where Sox would immediately leave for Pinkham Notch via the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail and walk / hitch his way three miles south on Route 16 to retrieve my car. I would finish my recovery efforts and follow his footsteps down Nineteen Mile Brook Trail.

      Sox did his best to put on an understanding face but it was obvious that he was disappointed. Still, he grabbed my keys, gave me a fist-bump, and vowed to see me in a few hours at the trailhead. I boiled water and dug into my Beef Stroganoff, savoring each bite while my energy levels came back up from near-comatose levels. At 15:30, I was back at the junction of the Wildcat Ridge Trail and turned west for the 3.5-mile descent to Pinkham Notch.

      The Nineteen Mile Brook Trail is a pretty damn nice way to get to Carter Notch. The elevation gain from the trailhead is 1938' over those 3.5 miles, compared with the 1996' over 2.7 miles to reach Peak E on the Wildcat Ridge Trail. The only trail sign was at Mile 1.6 where the Carter Dome Trail merged in from the right. I won't be complaining too much when the time comes to ascend this trail back to Carter Notch. I arrived at the Route 16 trailhead at 17:42 and Sox pulled up within five minutes. Then it was back to the Rattle River Trailhead to retrieve his car and drive-thru at the Gorham McDonald's for the 2-hour drive back to the lake in a steady rain.

      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, and Max Patch NC to Carter Notch NH

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

    • What could go wrong?

      As we planned for this section, we were fully aware that knocking off 21.1 miles in the Whites over two days was going to be the most ambitious plan we had attempted. But with numerous bail-out options down to Route 16, the risks associated with failure were low. It was worth taking a shot to see if it was possible. For me, it was not. I was all but hobbled on Monday as my muscles tried to recover from the torture test they endured.

      If we had planned for a three-day hike with stops at the Carter Notch Hut and Imp Campsites, the section would have been manageable and dare I say 'fun'. But Sox didn't want to take an extra day and I didn't want to leave Mrs. Tortoise alone for an extra day on our New Hampshire vacation.

      Looking forward, it is going to be a challenge for the two of us to agree on our hiking plans. We may end up hiking the last 460 miles separately.

      A few closing pictures.

      I think I passed my stress test!

      79% Complete!
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, and Max Patch NC to Carter Notch NH
    • The inReach story was funny, at least on this end. But probably not to your wife.

      Looks like you will be climbing up the 19 mile Brook Trail sometime next year? Sounds a bit easier, and you will have a smaller chunk to cover to get to Rt. 2.

      Looking forward to hearing about the other part of your hike.
      “Of all sad words of tongue or pen,
      the saddest are these, 'It might have been.”

      John Greenleaf Whittier
    • Astro wrote:

      I guess you could blame me. I am the one who advised you to not have your wife climb the Wilcats and take the ski lift down. :/
      Your advice was spot-on. She would have turned back well before the first open rock face with wooden steps. :cursing: :cursing: :cursing:

      The suckiest part of this hike was watching the peak baggers fly by me with nothing but a bottle of water and a camera. I was stopping to wring the sweat out of my buff every 10 minutes. At least I ate all of the food and snacks I had brought along for Day 1.
      Trudgin' along the AT since 2003. Completed Sections: Springer Mountain to Winding Stair Gap NC, and Max Patch NC to Carter Notch NH