Lakes of the Clouds Hut to Carter Notch Hut – 20.7 miles
I do not sleep well at all. Not what I expected being dry and presumably warm, inside the hut. The wind was howling so loud, even with earplugs I had difficulty sleeping peacefully. It was colder than I expected, probably 40s…inside! I do not hang around to eat leftover breakfast, but I don’t leave until 7 AM. Since I went to sleep after 10 PM (that’s late), I wanted to get some rest.
Immediately after leaving the shelter, there’s a sign warning of severe weather on Mt. Washington and in the White Mountains. (Seeing this sign yesterday would have certainly made me stop.)
As I approach the summit of Mt. Washington, the wind is crazy. It’s difficult to stand and I am blown down while taking a picture of the benchmark. Because of the lack of visibility and early hour, I do not explore the visitor shop, lookout, etc.
After descending one of the ridges, the Madison Spring Hut is near the trail, so I take the opportunity to refill my water, sit inside to eat a snack, and use the restroom. After I drop my pack at a table, I walk up to the kitchen counter, and before I can even open my mouth to ask if there is extra food that I could possibly have, the crew guy says, “Do you want this bowl of leftover pineapple?” “Of course.”
In a humorous way, I’m not sure how I feel about him noticing I am a thru-hiker. Do I look like hiker trash? Not that I have ever felt I do. Do I smell like a thru-hiker? Yes. Good or bad, I’m proud to be recognized as such. None of the other folks eating lunch is a thru-hiker, and the fact that he recognizes that and I’m sitting here eating free food, makes me feel like a superstar.
I notice he is making apple pie and I ask him what’s for dinner. He says, “Turkey dinner, full spread.” This makes me really want that for dinner, especially the apple pie. Every hut cooks the same meals on the same nights, so I ask him how far to the next hut and he says Carter Notch is 21 miles. That’s too much from here considering the terrain and the fact that it is already noon.
As I’m sitting at a table enjoying the fruit, the crew member brings over a half pitcher of some red juice. It looks like a lot, but I have no problem chugging it down.
I soon head out onto the trail. Not until the afternoon, does the trail drop below treeline. Having been above treeline for most of the day makes me feel even better for having made a wise decision to stop at the hut yesterday. Although it seemed early to stop when I did, the weather combined with the many miles and hours of exposure above treeline, could have been a problem yesterday evening.
I cross Pinkham Notch at about 4:30 PM. I stop at the visitor center to ask an employee where the trail crosses the road and he asks if I’m headed to Carter Notch. I hadn’t planned to; it’s too far at this point. He says it’s less than six miles and I look fast, so I can make it. His words lift me up, both the compliment and the short distance, so I take off!
After crossing the road, a sign shows Carter Notch Hut is 5.8 miles. I decide to push hard to get there for turkey dinner, hopefully before 8 PM too. I need to hike until 8 PM or 20+ miles anyway, so I’m happy that I can shoot for the hut and the precious food.
It’s a very tough stretch of terrain to the hut. Almost immediately after Pinkham Notch is Wildcat Mountain with several peaks. A portion is a steep, craggy climb, which I try to ascend more quickly than I have hiked all day. I am working hard: breathing hard, sweating hard, and my quads are burning. After Wildcat, I descend into Carter Notch just after 8 PM and I am completely exhausted. I pushed very hard the last three and a half hours.
I enter the hut, sit on a bench at a table, and prop up my leg. My knee is killing me from the fall the other day and from pushing the pace the last few hours. I ask for some ice and one of the crew guys brings me a large bag of frozen peas. And now I get to feast on turkey dinner.
The crew loves that I showed up. They are excited I’m their first thru-hiker and that I am here to eat the tons of extra food. There is only one family here and with the hut being recently opened for the season, they say they don’t have any work for me. Plenty of food and no work, so they tell me I just have to eat-for-stay. Deal. To my disappointment there is not apple pie (as at Madison Spring Hut), just cookies.
As I’m resting, the head crew girl, unprompted, kindly begins serving me a plate piled with food. The turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, bread, salad, cranberry sauce, and juice are fantastically delicious. These college kids sure know how to cook a good meal! I eat a large bowl of cranberry sauce and I don’t ever really eat cranberry sauce, but it is very good. Having different food from the norm makes it even better. After I finish eating, we clean up, and then I push a couple of benches together to sleep. They recommend I don’t sleep on the floor because there are mice.
I’m getting an early start tomorrow. I have to get my mail drop at a lodge along the trail and then I’ll pass the “300 miles to go” mark. I don’t think I’ve put together a complete day of hiking in New Hampshire. It’s frustrating. It’s hard to make up missed miles to get to Katahdin in 83 days.