Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Whites

Written by: Brandon "Monkey" Imp

This entry is about my experience in the White Mountains.
When people ask which section of the AT has been my favorite, I say...the Grayson Highlands of Virginia. It is geographically small but has unique terrain for the east coast - sections of barren rock like that found in Arizona. Also, there are wild ponies to play with!

The Whites came close to being my favorite. Visually, they are stunning. Every mountain has a view and most have a few on the way up and down. Hiking in the Alpine Zone above treeline is so rewarding! The sweat and bruises endured on the way up are paid out by wonderful views found infrequently on the east coast.

But, the Whites have not been my favorite. The Whites brought about emotional turmoil and inconsiderate people.

Imagine a swing. It goes up and down and stabilizes in the middle. The middle is where I have been for most of the trip - stabilized. (This is not to say that I have not had super highs and super lows, they were just spread apart and controllable.) The Whites have been pushing me up and down; I swing so fast that the expressed emotions are either euphoric or horrifying. I couldn't control them and they, on top of people I have met in the park, have wrecked this part of the trip.

I will go into detail of two of these huge swings after explaining the people of the park (as they are part of the swings). Many of the people I have met in the Whites have been unkind and disappointing. Unfortunately for my case, only the excellent people will be reading this blog (the teenage crew from the huts, the couple from Garfield camp, the 2011 thru-hikers...). The disrespect I received from hut croo members and other vacationers stems from their lack of understanding of the AT, the path it takes, and the labor involved to get from GA to NH. Sure, the trail and huts may be a place for them to vacation with the family, but they are my home. I live there. I wouldn't walk into your house, throw a chair over, and stick out my tongue. Why? Common courtesy!

Deep breath. Calm down. I am getting flustered just thinking about it all.

Case 1: Franconia Ridge and Garfield

The morning started off perfect. I woke up on a bunk in a hostel, finished my Ben and Jerry's from the night before, and the sky was clear. Two Virginia friends we made on the trail, Christine and Adam (www.virginiatrailguide.com), were vacationing in the area, so we all went out for a filling pancake breakfast. Full of positive energy and good food, we hiked a few thousand feet up to get to Franconia Ridge. My expectations were high because EVERYBODY says this stretch is the best on the AT. We start along the ridge trail and there were...trees. And more trees. We took a side path to an overgrown view. HOW was this so great? I got pretty sad. Then, the trees cleared out, the wind picked up, and there were 360 degree views. For a ridge that takes 1.5 hours to get over, we spent 4. We took it all in, filmed it, and enjoyed it. The joy I was feeling was...inexpressible! For months we saw few views! We would climb mountains and there would be nothing at the top! But NOW THERE WAS. We had a perfect day for the ridge and even met some enthusiastic day hikers. The joy was contagious! Even the panting people were filled with glee!

Then we descended Lafayette, the terminus of the range. At the bottom I notice a croc was missing. End euphoria. Cue lingering disappointment. The climb was tough so I chose not to go back for it - it may have blown away anyway. Then we climbed and descended Garfield. Why. Why. Why. The descent was so vertical, so slick, so dangerous! The pace dropped to below one mile per hour. Disappointment escalated into hatred, shame, despair, and anger. My blood was boiling and I wanted to quit the Appalachian Trail. By the time Emily and I got to Garfield campsite, it was 2.7 more miles to our night's destination and it was 7 pm. Now, although we have never paid for a campsite along the entire AT, and even though the trail is maintained by volunteers, and even though all of the huts and shelters are owned by the non-profit AMC, there is a charge to camp at the site. $8 per person = $24 = .5 hotel room. The caretaker at the site, bless his heart, was doing his job. He told us we would not make it to the hut by dark and they only allow 2 hikers there per night. There is no stealth camping (camp on an unofficial site) between here and there, and his campsite was full.

However! We could go down into the woods off the site and camp! We went down in the woods, and then further, then I ran into a tree, then I fell down a drop, and finally arrive at a tiny clearing. Now I was scraped and bruised. Remember how fifteen minutes prior I was ready to quit? Well I was still off my rocker. I was emotionally distraught. I was exhausted! We went up to an overlook to cook dinner, hoping the nice view would cool us all down. A couple joined us on the rock. After talking and learning of their hiking background (she thru-hiked), we learned of the latest thru-hiker gossip - Pop Pop quit. Pop Pop! This man is elderly and determined. He made it 1800 miles, broke a trekking pole, had a few bad days, and quit while descending Garfield. The trail was getting too dangerous for him and he was satisfied with making it this far. Re-enter Brandon's slump. There are too few of us left! These mountains are not safe! Something is not right! We returned to our campsite and was soon followed by the caretaker - we owe $24. $24 for being nowhere near anybody and for not using the resources of the campsite. We tried to get out of the charge, but the caretaker favored his job over human compassion. Enter my dislike of the White Mountain people! I go to sleep angry.

Case 2: The Presidential Range and Lakes of the Clouds Hut

Again, a perfect morning. We were taken in out of the rain by strangers (thanks Seth and co.) and so I woke up in a bed. Our clothes were dry and we got out of the house by 7:30 a.m. We planned on a short 11 mile day to arrive early at Lakes of the Clouds hut, guaranteeing us spots for the night. The day was beautiful - weather and scenery. The hiking did not hurt as much as usual. I saw Mt. Washington looming in the distance all day and was excited to climb the landmark the next morning. Besides a hard fall Kate endured, we were good when we arrived at the hut in the early afternoon. Euphoric, actually.

We entered the hut and saw chaos. Everybody seemed to be screaming and stressed, yet this was "normal." Have I been in the woods that long? The first croo member we met, bless his heart, was doing his job - AMC says no thru-hikers could stay that night. HI NO. Sorry. This is our only hut experience. We are staying. The hutmaster gives the OK and we are sent to the dungeon. The dungeon is an emergency room kept open year-round. It holds six rotting bunks, smells of feces, and the walls ooze the blood of those who have died in the room. HELL NO. I have standards. This is below those standards. We did not want to risk being expelled from the hut (a storm was coming) so we stayed quiet about our discontent (complaining only to other hikers who came in, and some sympathetic guests.)

With a storm outside, all 115+ guests were in the dining hall, and we were asked to remain separate from the paying guests. I felt like a second class citizen. I was holding out though - our work for stay would be giving a talk on the AT and we would get a big meal afterwards. We sat around for the next few hours, unable to escape from the noise or relax. We watched as the guests gorged on hot food for over an hour. Finally, the Traveling Circus would talk. Excited to finally interact, we sat and gave a panel talk. Out of the 40 that decided to listen, about seven were engaged (yeah teenagers!) The blank faces, droopy eyes, and silence after jokes were disheartening. Then came dinner! We sat in the kitchen. For us, there was a slice of break, cold lasagna and veggies, soup, and chocolate cake. I ate as much soup and cake as I could, disappointed my promises of fresh, warm food was unfulfilled. While disappointment followed disappointment, the dungeon loomed in my thoughts. Little Brown, a thru-hiker we have known since Georgia, used his kind persona and 6'+ stature to persuade the hutmaster to let the Traveling Circus escape the dungeon and sleep in the dining room with the 25 teenage girls having a "slumber party." Whatever, screaming girls beats out the prisoners of war room.

Finally settling my nerves, I prepared for bed and checked my phone for reception. What luck! After 2 weeks of nothing, I had a single bar! First text was Mom: Call...Sunny. No. No! NO! Not good! Sunny is the family dog, is over 13, and knows my deepest secrets. When I am down, he pulls me up. Whispering in the back corner of the dining room, I talk with my dad. Sunny is dying. They are about to put him down. Choking back tears, I say goodbye to my dog. I tell him I love him. (My lord I am tearing up now!) Mom says he heard me and picked up his head. That a boy! Good puppy! Then I run out of the hut bawling. I cry and cry and cry. Others are outside laughing, and I am miserable. On an island of despair. Three more weeks and I could have hugged him goodbye. Instead, nada. I go to bed crying. Things haven't been the same since.

My emotions have swung this way and that so suddenly in these mountains. Please let this stop! I need three more weeks of strength! Get me out of this mess, legs!


  1. Well Brandon the White Mountains are probably the toughest part of the AT. And they appear to have nearly broken your spirit. But you DID SURVIVE!!! I hiked the Presidential Range with my family way back in the 1970's while attending an AT conference. We stayed at the huts and the treatment that thru hikers got was the same as what you guys experienced. Not sure what that is all about. And I'm sorry with your feeling appalled by having to PAY for a campsite. That's the way it is out there. It's the only way funding is generated to take care of those parks. That's just the reality of it. Us veteran outdoor folks don't like the escalation of primitive camping fees that has occurred nationwide but again realize that if we want to keep these places running, we have to pay to keep these treasures available for our enjoyment. My heart does go out to you for the passing of your family dog before you got a chance to see him in person. Perhaps you can dedicate your walk through Maine in his memory!!! I know all of you have expressed a desire to get home. But, MAKE SURE YOU CHERISH EVERY MOMENT of these last few weeks. This will truly be one of your biggest accomplishments in life!!! ROCK ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Mark (Emily's Uncle)

  2. I am crying for you! Such a heartbreaking post. Brandon - I am so sorry about Sunny. I can only imagine how sad and painful it was for you to have to say goodbye from afar. I remember the day I met you, you talked about Sunny numerous times. The love you felt was so clear and obvious. I hope you find some peace and happy memories as you walk across Maine.

  3. This is the most self-entitled overdramatic account of AT hiking I've read. Why are we entitled to free stays and food at all of these places just because we've hiked a lot? I found the Whites croos to be very welcoming as long as you showed some gratitude. It truly is a travesty that you had to eat cold food someone else made you in exchange for talking about your hike for 20 minutes.

  4. Ok so I disagree with your account of the LoTC hut - I stayed there with a thruhiker and though the food was cold, it was free, nutritious and... oh yeah, free. I agree with the poster above who spoke of the self-entitled attitude among some hikers that you seem to exhibit in this post. It's true - just because you walked there doesn't mean you deserve anything special. You chose to walk there. You got shelter from the storm and free food for basically being on your own personal quest/vacation.


    I almost cried when I read about your dog. I am so so so so so sorry. I have an old dog and will be soon moving away from home and my biggest fear is that he will pass when I'm not around to say goodbye. I can totally relate and if it were me, I would have been a blubbering mess.

    So in short... consider the possibility that you may be acting a tad (!) bit entitled and also please accept my condolences for you dog.

  5. To the last two anonymous posters... get of your high horses! We know the The Traveling Circus, and they most certainly do not act with an air of entitlement or melodrama. We've only known them to be kind, funny, generous - but most of all grateful for the opportunities and people they meet along the trail. Being tired, in pain and stressed, as many hikers are at this point along the trail, brings emotions to the surface more quickly and more keenly than they might occur other places.

    How nice it must be for both of you to go through life never feeling extreme lows and highs. Emotions and feelings can be so messy (and human).

  6. VTG, get off your own high horse. Just because someone is feeling tired and stressed doesn't mean they get to treat everyone around them however they feel like. The posters were just noting how entitled (yes, entitled- read the entry and try and tell me it doesn't come across that way) brandon seemed to feel/behave regarding AMC hut treatment. Chill out.

  7. heyyyy.

    found internet in pakistan.


    miss youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.


  8. I'm sorry that you guys had a negative experience in NH. I am a New Hampshirite & we are really very warm & welcoming people. Unless you asked every one of those people up in the Whites, I would bet that 90% of them weren't even from NH. I've been following your thru-hike & am really glad you guys got through OK. Best wishes!

  9. I stayed at LoTC that night with ya'll. I was that southbounder Skittles (still on trail btw, doing the 4 state challenge tomorrow night). That night sucked ass, and was the worst experience I had in the huts. The dungeon was the worst fucking place I have ever slept on the whole trail, but since I was dry I really could have cared less. I really wish there was other options in the Whites to stay though. Then we wouldn't be bitching so much about it.