Zeacliff Pond, New Hampshire. July 8, 2014. A week or so ago I took a walk. It was in the 50-plus mile range and it took seven days. My walk began with a bus ride from Boston’s South Station to Lincoln, New Hampshire. From there I caught a ride on an Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Hiker Shuttle to the Gale River Trail, on the edge of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. I then proceeded to walk alone from hut to hut, all the way to Carter Notch, on the opposite side of the White Mountain National Forest. However, it turned out I was rarely alone at all.
The trip came about with a plan to look at the old hiker logbooks at the AMC huts. I’ve worked for the club for many years as its Archivist and I decided that not only had I never done such a trip, but it would be good to see how the logbooks were faring. When they become too old and frail to remain in the hut they come to the club’s Boston Archives where they continue to be enjoyed by generations of hut-goers and their descendants.
The other reason behind the trip was that I simply love to hike, but I had never tested my ability to go solo beyond a single overnight camping trip and a handful of day hikes. I started out with fears of axe murderers, trampling by a moose, or injury on a remote mountain. What I found was peace, birds that were easily fooled, time to sketch and rest, unbelievably good luck with weather, and hilarious hiking companions.
Trees around Mizpah Spring Hut, New Hampshire. July 8, 2014. My brain has a hard time sustaining fear. It simply gets exhausted and under the physical exertion of hiking uphill I eventually find I’ve let things go. There were times when I would stumble or hear a moose pulling up and chewing vegetation somewhere in the trees (actually happened) to jerk me back into flight mode, but for the most part I was extremely relaxed and just grateful to be in the mountains.
I hiked for several hours each day, and I stopped a lot. One of my favorite activities was to stop and make a “psshhh psshh psshh” sound when I heard or saw birds along the trail. A lot of warblers and wrens were convinced I was a baby bird and flew right up to me. I even called a raven so convincingly that it landed about ten feet from me while I hiked above treeline.
I spent time keeping a journal, which I never consistently do in ‘real life.’ I sketched scenery along the trail and kept lists of ‘Great Things’ as they came along. I met wonderful, fun people hiking the same trails including a 90-year-old man retracing adventures reaching back to the 1940s who was hiking with his grandson.
At each hut I offered to give an evening talk on the history of the place. The building of huts in these mountains began in 1888. They hold great stories of adventure, tragedy, ingenuity, hauntings, and tradition. All along the trail I met people going on to the next hut, asking if I’d be talking about history there, too.
I talked with north-bound thru-hikers headed for Mount Katahdin on the Appalachian Trail. They were sometimes surprised and exhausted by the rougher terrain of the Whites, but still determined. I met south-bounders not yet out for more than a month or two, still excited to see the mountains ahead. They talked about food and readily leapt into ice-cold mountain streams. It was hard to leave the trails after only a week, seeing these long-distance hikers move on, but I’ll be back.