Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
After 169 days of hiking (5 months and 15 days), we reached the end of the Appalachian Trail! At 10:00am on Wednesday, September 28, we climbed to the top of Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin - screaming, giggling, and not believing our eyes.
After leaving Monson, Maine, we completed the "100-mile wilderness," which brought us many broken bog bridges and a few rainy days, but overall we had a wonderful time, and unseasonably warm weather. The nine-day stretch without civilization (or a shower!) was an appropriate and epic way to end our long trek. The wilderness plopped us into Baxter State Park, where the infamous Mt. Katahdin awaited us, looming in the distance.
Our summit day was gorgeous and clear - a "Class 1" day in Baxter-speak - and we made the ascent with old friends. It was a pure rush of joy and confusion, which we're still in the midst of processing...and probably will be for a while to come.
The climb up Katahdin is no picnic; it's commonly referred to as the hardest climb on the whole trail, and it's certainly the longest. But, the adrenaline rush that we felt going up made the rock-climbing and gymnastic aspects of it seem enjoyable. Coming down, on the other hand, was not quite as fun, but we were still grateful for good weather and incredible 360-degree views.
We're now resting up in Millinocket, Maine before traveling around the Northeast for a week or so. Lots and lots to think about and to be thankful for. We're thrilled to have finished, and are curious to see what happens next.
Thanks for following us and sending us encouragement along the way. Stay tuned for one final blog post, which we have decided to call "Our Hike, By the Numbers," an exciting statistical analysis of our trip. Ooo!
Love to all, and happy trails!
Lara and Zack
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
We last wrote from Gorham, NH. Since that time we've traversed some of the most strenuous miles on the trail. On one particularly rough day we made it only 12.5 miles in nearly 11 hours of walking. Tomorrow we'll cross over the Bigelow range, our last "big" mountains until the end of the trail. Doing our best to retain focus and good spirits in this last stretch, despite the first inklings of cold weather (flurries and ice this morning at 4,000 ft. before Stratton).
See you soon,
Zack (and Lara)
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Glencliff to Gorham, NH
Thrilled, we got a late start after sleeping in, and headed up Mount Moosilauke - our first real White Mountain, and our first hike above treeline. The trail was flooded and swampy at parts, but it was a beautiful day, and we didn't seem to mind. It wasn't until we had to hike down the infamous backside of Mt. Moosilauke that we had a bit of a wake-up call as to how hard the upcoming sections would be. (We had been warned, but somehow it's hard to believe all of the hype until you're there.) Crawling down the mountain, alongside a waterfall, I took a tremendous spill - a sign of many more to come. We got into camp very late that night, and realizing how slow our pace had become on these strenuous miles, we reassessed our schedule for the upcoming section.
Thru-hikers often have a "love-hate" relationship with the White Mountains. First of all, the "love:" they are stunningly beautiful, and much of the hiking is above treeline and over 4,000 feet, which is unlike anything we've encountered on the trail thus far. On a clear day, you can see for miles, over mountains and into the valleys below. For the "not-so-much-love" part, the terrain becomes incredibly difficult (more climbing and crawling than hiking) and at times treacherous, your pace slows (from 2-3mph to 1-2), the weather can change at any minute and become dangerous (Mt. Washington notoriously has "the worst weather in the world"), and because of the mountains' popularity, the places to stay are limited to expensive huts and pay campsites (thru-hikers are a thrifty bunch, so this is a particularly rough adjustment). Overall, we'll lean towards the "love" side of things, but many bruises and rain storms later, we certainly can see both sides of the coin.
Our first days in the Whites, we had excellent weather. Our views as we hiked along Franconia Ridge and up Mt. Lafayette were spectacular. We were on an hiking high, until we went up Garfield Mountain, where dreams go to die. Somewhere up the steep climb and down its vertical waterfall descent, my quad began to hurt very badly, and we stopped for the night at Galehead Hut after a slow and painful afternoon. If you're lucky, the huts offer a few hikers the opportunity to work for stay and food each night. We were able to stay at three different huts, and ate lunch at most of the others, making it possible for us to make it through eight days of hiking while only carrying four days of food (also a good thing because the road where we had planned to get out to resupply had been washed out in the hurricane and was closed).
By day four in the Whites, we planned to get off the trail to rest my leg, which didn't seem to improve. Yet, when we got to the road where we planned to get off, we changed our minds, I took some Advil, and we pushed on. At first, that seemed like a crazy thing to do, but ultimately, it was the right decision - we were able to get two more days of amazing weather because of it, and my leg seemed to heal with time.
We made it to Lakes of the Clouds Hut on Saturday night; located at the base of Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the northeast, it is the biggest and most popular hut in the Whites, packed every night of the week. We slept on the kitchen floor and headed out early for a clear morning on the summit. At 6,288 feet, Mt. Washington is something to behold, and is perhaps most famous for its high wind speeds (highest ever recorded) and horrible weather. Thankfully, we experienced neither, though once we descended, the mountain was once again shrouded by clouds.
It's hard to describe the beauty that we witnessed. We will post pictures when we can, and hopefully that will better convey it. The last two days have been on-and-off raining, causing many spills and slow miles, but we've persevered, met up with some old friends (Chimp, Domino, Whiskey and Holler!), made it to Gorham, New Hampshire, and found a cozy place to take a "near-o" at the White Mountain Hostel.
We have less than 300 miles left on the trail, and less than 20 until we reach Maine. We estimate - and hope - that we will reach Katahdin in just over three weeks. There are many variables, and the next 150 miles are considered to be very difficult and rugged, so we're not out of the woods yet, so to speak. But we're savoring our time with our fellow thru-hikers and trying to make the most of our last month.
Wish us good weather and less bruises!
Love to all,
Lara (and Zack)
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Ry and Vanessa dropped us back in Glencliff, NH, where our trail crossing is, but we had to take a roundabout way because so many roads had flooded. Now, we are at Hikers Welcome Hostel, and though it's a beautiful day today, the water levels everywhere are incredibly high, so there's no hiking today...or maybe even any time too soon. The USFS has closed the White Mountains - and all sections further north - until further notice. Apparently, that's never happened before. We're hoping that the USFS will be able to open the trail soon, and that our dream of finishing the trail this year will be a reality.
We're ready to get moving (feeling restless), but we don't have much of a choice. We also discovered that Zack's pack is broken, so he went on a journey back to Hanover, to get a new one. We're very grateful that things weren't worse, humbled by the news coverage of people, homes and towns (even ones we were in as recently as a few days ago) washed away. We're staying positive too, and as my Dad says: "You two just keep making memories!"
Here's what Zack wrote yesterday, pre-Irene:
PS - Check out our pictures! Click on the thumbnails above.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
In lieu of keeping things interesting, and not having to write a novel every time we do a blog entry, we are ditching the day-by-day format and going for a more free-form style. So, here's what has happened to us since we left the comfort of the Berkshires back in Massachusetts...
Great Barrington to Dalton, MA
After stuffing ourselves silly with Cousin Eddie and Mickey, we got back on the sunny trail with heavy packs and full stomachs. Massachusetts continued to impress us with some amazing vistas and wonderful shelters. We had heard about the wonders of Upper Goose Pond Cabin, an Appalachian Mountain Club facility, operated by a volunteer caretaker, and had planned our mileage around getting there with enough time to spend a leisurely afternoon on the pond. The picture-perfect pond atop the mountain made for an amazing time, indeed. We took a canoe out and paddled the perimeter of the pond, and cooked our dinner on a real stove. And, in the morning (this is the stuff of legends among thru-hikers), the caretaker makes all-you-can-eat pancakes! And coffee! Needless to say, this was one of our favorite places on the entire trail.
The next day, we stopped for lunch at a blueberry farm along the trail and picked ourselves a pound of fresh berries. Our guidebook referred to this farm as the residence of the "cookie lady," which seemed curious since clearly it is a blueberry farm. But then...they brought us a basket of freshly baked cookies, and we happily understood the nickname. Energized, we hiked a long day into Dalton, where we stayed with Tom Levardi, who, for 31 years, has welcomed hikers into his home for laundry, a shower and a cushy floor to sleep on. And we thought the cookies were as good as life could get!
Dalton to Adams, MA
After stopping at the local diner on the way out of Dalton (for "grilled" coffee cake - which means, coffee cake + more butter), we hiked a short day to the next town over, Cheshire, MA. There, we met up with Emily Hishta Cohen, one of our most favorite people. She had driven all the way from Boston to spend the day with us, and we were thrilled to be with her. First order of business, of course, was finding some place to eat second breakfast, so we made our way to the little town of Adams, and stuffed ourselves on the biggest blueberry pancakes you've ever seen. (At the end of this trip, I think blueberry pancakes will rank #1 on our list of "Items most ordered along the A.T.") After running some errands and checking into Mount Greylock Inn, a charming bed and breakfast, we went to the Berkshire Mall, where destiny called...
"Let's finish this the way we started it...TOGETHER!"We finally saw the final Harry Potter movie! Our viewing was followed by a delicious dinner of pizza and ice cream in the mall food court, featuring in-depth discussions of the series. (What does it mean for our generation that the series is now over? Does evil cease to exist in Harry's world now that Voldemort is vanquished? And, more importantly, why didn't they film Ron and Hermione's kiss from a better angle? Etc...)
(Harry and Voldemort - for no apparent reason, except that it looks awesomely cool, leap from the top of a tower at Hogwarts and engage in some free-falling, face-grabbing combat. Then, after some additional moments of light-saber-like light traveling between their wands, Harry is the victor! Brilliant.)
The next morning, we returned to Miss Adams Diner for more pancakes (I surprised Zack by sneakily ordering some for us while he had gone to the restroom), and then Emily dropped us back onto the trail and headed back to Boston.
Adams, MA to Manchester Center, VT
We hiked up Mount Greylock in a thick fog, and unfortunately, when we reached the top, we had no view at all. We've added the mountain to our list of sites to come back and see in better weather because we've heard it's a view not to be missed. We had only planned to do a 16-mile day to a campsite, but as we got closer, we ran into a friend who heard that big rain was on its way, and advised that we aim for the nearest shelter instead. That's how we ended up in Vermont a day early, and that's when the rain began...
Unfortunately, our first two days in Vermont featured a near-constant downpour and chilly temperatures. We were able to slog through it, and keep some of our clothes dry, but the infamous "Vermont mud" made hiking a bit slow and sloppy. The trail at times looked more like a river than a trail. By day three, the skies cleared and we got to see more of the Vermont we had been expecting - the Green Mountains finally emerged through the fog, and the bright sun began to dry out our drenched selves. We also crossed the 3/4-mark, and felt a sense of accomplishment in that.
This morning, we hiked a quick 2.8 miles into Manchester Center, where we spent the morning eating (more pancakes!) and running errands in the outlet-oriented town. Now, we're at Green Mountain House - a true home for hikers more than a hostel - with a computer, TV, beds, shower, laundry, kitchen and freezer (we get our own pint of Ben and Jerry's; this is Vermont, after all!).
It's hard to believe we've made it to our twelfth state. More than 500 miles remain, which feels simultaneously like a long way to go, and not much in comparison to what we've done. We're feeling grateful to still have our positive attitudes in tact (unfortunately, it's becoming rarer and rarer to see North-bounders with smiles on their faces) and looking forward to new boots on our feet!
Love to all,
Lara (and Z)
PS - Pictures are on our Flickr site; click on the thumbnails above to see them!