August 16, 2014.
After leaving Peaches and Cream last Sunday night in Gorham they made their way across the Carters and Wildcats in one shot. A true testament to their drive and determination with a total trip of over 20 miles. The unfortunate part was that it was pouring out and after talking to them I offered to pick them up at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and show them a little Northern hospitality, something they have been sorely missing since coming to New England. So up north I headed and brought them back home to a nice warm and dry environment for them to re-energize. They were more than willing to wait to head back up on Saturday as they wanted me to go up to Washington with them. So for the fourth time in five weeks I am heading back up to Old George. Their plan was to hike up out of PNVC and over Madison to Washington then make it down to Mizpah Hut on Saturday and then we would hike down to Route 302 the next day to my waiting vehicle. Andy had agreed to move it from Pinkham down to Ethan Pond TH where the AT crosses Route 302. I told them this was quite ambitious with a hike of about 20 miles on Saturday. But he was convinced they could do it because of the previous traverse they just did a few days ago. Knowing the terrain I knew it was going to be a long day as this is probably one of the toughest stretches of the AT. That and the weather can be so unpredictable. So with all the cards on the table we met Andy and after the introductions and handing over the spare keys we were off at 7:15.
It was great being back on the AT with some friends I met down south and we set off on a pretty good pace. So fast that they are blurred in the picture below just a half hour into our hike.
We reach the two mile mark of the Auto Road in just 55 minutes. An hour later and we have reached the suspension bridge over the West Branch of Peabody River. Not bad for a bit over four miles but the worst is up ahead as we have only gained 1200 feet of the almost 4300 feet just to get to Madison.
Across the Osgood Cutoff Trail and this is all new territory for me as I have not been on this part of the trail. A left at the junction with Osgood Trail and I know this is going to be a long day for me as the trail starts the steep climb up to Osgood Ridge.
Unfortunately this is one of those days that I do not have it. I get gassed as I head up the trail and start to feel bad because I might be holding them back. I keep reminding myself that they are way ahead of me in strength and stamina as they have been on the trail for four to five months and I have returned to being a weekend hiker. Reaching a short respite at about 4200 feet and they get the first views from the trail of Washington and it looks like it may be a good day up here.
The temps are OK as it was in the low 50's down at the base when we left. Up here it is dropping but comfortable for hiking and the wind isn't that bad by Washington's standards, hanging around in the 30's for the morning. Although Brandon will tell you it was blowing much higher than that but everyone thinks that when they first get exposed to the Presidential winds. At 4450 feet we reach another plateau on the ridge and that is Madison behind them.
Note the blue skies as that would drastically change before the day is over. Thirty minutes later and we are at the junction with Parapet Trail. Since I have been on Madison three times already I asked if they would mind if I take the Parapet Trail and meet them at the hut as I needed it for my red-lining.
Off we go in separate directions and it is not long before I regret this decision. The first part of the trail is a rampart field below Madison. After that it is just an annoying little trail. In and out of the scrub. Up and over boulders. There is no way to keep up any type of decent pace as it is slow going. It takes almost an hour to make it over to Star Lake. What a pain that section was and I am glad I will never have to take that trail again.
Finally I arrive at the hut at 12:30 and that great pace we were on is not doing so well. Five hours and fifteen minutes to go 7.25 miles with still 13 miles left to Mizpah. We stop at the hut for some food and enjoy their soup of the day as the temps up here are in the high 30's. Forty minutes later and we are off again still determined to make but in the back of my mind it is a tough goal as the way over is nothing but uneven craggy rocks. It seems so easy on paper but once you are up here you realize how tough this terrain is and how quickly it can beat you down. I remember my Jefferson and Adams out and back and how the first half went pretty good but the return was a long hard slog out. We set off and Gulfside Trail up out of the hut is always a killer as it is steep until it lets up by the Airline Trail. The next section isn't so bad as the rocks seem to have been set flat for the pathway. Up around Thunderstorm Junction it becomes a jumbled pile of rocks and makes traversing slow and tedious. A look down into King Ravine as we pass by.
We make it to Thunderstorm Junction in a half hour and the weather is starting to change as it is now 1:40. We are back on our 30 minute per mile pace which leaves some hope. Onward we press as the next "milestone" is Edmands Col which sits below Mt Jefferson. With the change in terrain it takes longer, 50 minutes, for this next mile. A look down into Castle Ravine and the sky is all clouds now.
Climbing up out of Edmands Col and reaching Sphinx Col takes another hour. But the worse is we can now see the weather coming in from the west and it looks bad. The cloud deck is low and dark which only means one thing, RAIN! Coming up out of Sphinx Col and I am reminded of this is exactly where I tanked over two years ago doing Jefferson and Adams. I stop to put on my rain coat as it has started to spit rain and slowly make my way up and just before the junction with Jewell Trail I take this picture as it continues to worsen.
That is Rachel in the clouds fifteen feet ahead of me. From the junction it is only 1.4 miles to the summit of Washington. Only problem is it is now four in the afternoon with winds and rain. Passing the edge of the Great Gulf and you can not see anything to the left. We stop and I ask them if they want to continue on to Mizpah or if I can get a hold of Andy and if he is still in the area that hopefully he will pick us up. I try calling him and the service up here is spotty but luckily we connect after a couple of tries. Thankfully they are still in the area coming down off a Tom, Field and Willey trip. We trudge up the last half mile and reach the summit at five.
Putting this in perspective we just did 13.7 miles and it took us nine hours and forty minutes. A long tough day in deteriorating conditions. The consolation was we were going home to a warm bed tonight instead of hiking another six miles in crappy conditions and sleeping outside in a tent and hammock. They only issue now was whether Andy could make it up to the summit in time as the Auto Road closes at six to upcoming traffic. Instead we head for some hot food and a dry environment. Andy and Nancy made the gate with five minutes to spare and three very tired and thankful hikers piled into his car for the ride down. A huge and very grateful Thank You brother for coming through. I still owe you that dinner!
A huge shout out also to Peaches and Cream for letting me hike with them on the AT. It brought back a lot of good memories and a better ending to the last time I was with them that disastrous day in Hot Springs at the restaurant when I discovered I needed my gall bladder removed.
A final comment is while I was going through these pictures I took a double take at this photo and how funny it looks now. The guy taking the picture of the summit sign looks like he is standing on "Paul Bunyan Hiker's" shoulder taking a picture of his head. Gulliver Lives!
Final numbers: 13.7 miles, 9 hours and 40 minutes.
Redline Miles: 3.4, Total to Date: 543.3