Day 143, Stealth Tent Site at Mile 1833.6 to Crawford Notch
But it's my destiny to be the king of pain
Hike with Gravity
The weather forecast has been increasingly foreboding. High winds and heavy rain are predicted, and might linger for a couple days.
Ralph and I decided to get off the trail today and find a place to hunker down. Crawford Notch would be a good place for that because it’s at a lower elevation. Also, a campground near there was said to have cabins.
We thought maybe this is where Samwise was talking of doing his spaghetti dinner. We decided to give that place a shot.
Clear and cool, then mostly cloudy with brief rain showers, high temperature in low 60s
One short ascent, then mostly gradual descent to the notch
I was able to walk off the pain in my ankle yesterday, but it was still swollen this morning. Mindful that any next step could sprain it again, I’m still taking each one carefully.
This is especially true on descents, when I have to land on each foot with greater force than when I walk along a flat path. Carrying 30 pounds on my back doesn’t help in this regard.
We had just under 11 miles to go to reach Crawford Notch and the trail profile looked favorable, so I was hopeful for a good day today.
The first thing I did this morning was remove an unexpected overnight guest from my tent, a large slug. I have no idea how slugs normally manage to survive at this elevation, particularly in winter, but this one was not going to hang out in my tent.
Once the slug had been evicted I continued to pack up, then Ralph and I returned to the trail.
Spruce trees grew close in on both side of the trail as we made a short climb over Zealand Mountain. Seeing that this morning made more remarkable Ralph’s discovery of a spot for two tents.
Our camp last night had no water source nearby, so the first thing we needed to do was find the next available water source. At 8:15 a.m. that came into view. It was Zeacliff Pond.
Getting to the pond took some effort, though. First we had to make a long descent from Zealand Mountain. When we reached a spot where the trail was closest to the pond, we still had our work cut out for us.
The Guthooks trail guide app warned this was a difficult spot to reach the water. That didn’t deter Ralph, though. He led the way as we bushwhacked through thick bushes and fallen trees to a spot near the shore. After searching around we found a spot where we could dip our water bottles without sinking into surrounding muck.
On the way to Zealand Falls Hut I saw something I hadn’t seen much of since entering the White Mountains. Steps had been constructed on the trail to make the descent easier.
This was unexpected, but made sense when I saw them. We were getting close to the hut, and I’ve begun to notice that the trail is nicer near huts. This is probably because greater attention is paid to the trail around huts. There is greater foot traffic near them.
A couple minutes later a sign confirmed I was near Zealand Falls Hut. A sign like this one appears a quarter mile away on each side of all huts and AMC-managed campsites. It warns that camping and fires are prohibited beyond that point.
Ralph and I went into the hut to buy some soup and a muffin. The croo member on duty, Galen, then offered us some free pancakes that were leftover from breakfast.
After finishing our lunch, we took advantage of the faucet to refill our water bottles without having to filter first. We then resumed our walk down to Crawford Notch.
Croo members like it when hikers eat leftover food. Otherwise, the croo members will have to haul out the food, along with all other trash, when they make their weekly resupply hike.
After walking a little more than an hour we got a surprise. The trail suddenly became flat and easy.
It probably shouldn’t have been a surprise, given that the White Mountains had once been a big logging area. Logging railroad lines were cut through all of these mountains in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The surprise was more that the trail actually went over one of these old rail beds. More often than not, the trail is going over mountains than taking a lower route favorable for railroads.
Of course, the flat trail didn’t last for long. Within 30 minutes we were back to picking our way over rocks and boulders.
Also of no surprise, I sprained my ankle again. This was starting to happen too regularly. Each time it has happened I’ve been able to walk off the initial pain, but it never completely leaves me. Now it seems to be happening more regularly.
I’ve begun taking ibuprofen a little more often to manage the inflammation and pain, but I’ve also tried to not overdo that.
This ankle trouble has started to go beyond annoying to worrisome.
The trail continued through the valley we’d be walking, then crossed the Pemigewasset River. Or more accurately, the trail crossed the North Fork of the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River.
That may be a long name, but it was a pretty river. The trail then followed the river for about a mile before separating.
I had noted yesterday that the weather was feeling Fall-like. Today I saw another sign of that when I spotted a few maple leaves that had turned red. Only a few random leaves had changed colors, but still, it was a hint Fall wasn’t far away.
We made a brief stop at Ethan Pond and the eponymous shelter located there, then continued the remaining three miles to Crawford Notch.
When Ralph and I reached a parking lot near the highway, we needed to figure out where to go next. We didn’t have a solid idea, but when we saw a map posted on an information kiosk we decided to go there and try to figure out our options.
As we were looking at the map, a friendly man walked up and asked if we knew a hiker named Minnie. He said he was there to pick her up.
We had not met anyone by that name, but the conversation continued we learned the man was a hiker who now shuttles hikers. He told us his trail name was Drifter. In a movie this would have been the kind of story that ended very badly for the two innocent hikers, but we didn’t think anything of it.
Drifter told us he’d be willing to take us to the campground with cabins, which was just a couple miles down the road, and we gladly accepted.
Drifter offered to take them as well, but didn’t have room for all three. They didn’t want to stay at the campground, but they were interested in picking up some drinks and cigarettes. Silk agreed to go with us and wrote a shopping list on her hand for the other two hikers’ items.
When we arrived at Crawford Notch Campground and General Store we wandered about first to see if we could find any signs of Frodo, Gimli or Samwise. Seeing none, we went to the campground office to inquire about renting a cabin. We also asked about Frodo, Gimli or Samwise, but were told no hikers like them were staying here.
Once we got in our cabin it was clear this was not what those guys had in mind. The cabin was spartan, with no plumbing and no way for Samwise to cook a spaghetti dinner. This must not have been the cabins Samwise spoke of, or he was serious over-estimating what they would be like.
At any rate, the cabin was clean, warm, and well protected if a storm came through. The camp store offered enough groceries, though very pricey, that we would be able to resupply here for the next section of our hike.
There was still no word from Stick on his whereabouts, but there also was no cellphone connection available here. All we could do was wait to see what happens with the approaching storm.
So far, only a light rain began to fall at nightfall.
I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running 'round my brain
I guess I always thought that you could end this reign
But it's my destiny to be the king of pain