I’m up by 7 and begin packing everything up before breakfast. The guys shuffle to and fro moving slowly about the cabin. At 8:30 we walk back up to Route 302 to stick out our thumbs. 10 minutes later we have 2 cars stop for us. I’m heading back to the Highland Center to check the weather and maybe eat more breakfast. The guys are headed to the trailhead to start walking south again. At the trailhead I see a big folding tent with folks cooking. Trail Magic. I knew I would get that on my way back to I skipped breakfast at the Highland Center and asked about the weather. Slight chance of shower with thunderstorms overnight. I could deal with that. I bought a fuel canister and a few more snacks before heading back out to the road to hitch back to the trail. 20 minutes later I had a ride with a young couple from Asheville who were headed to the trail head to join the trail magic. I took about 30 minutes to eat my egg, cheese, and bacon. I asked several of the hikers there where they were headed. At least 6 of them said Lakes of the Clouds Hut. That’s was my plan too. I leapt back onto the trail headed for hut as quickly as I could to get a head start.
As I entered the woods I thought, this mountain needs rock and roll. I put on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack and started climbing up to Webster Cliffs. 3 miles and 2000 feet later I looked out from the ledge to see the parking lot where the trail magic had ben.
I kept climbing toward Mt Jackson and the Mizpah Hut which would be my lunch stop. It was a Sunday and so I met dozens of day hikers walking south. Trail runners were zooming past with their hydration vests. Many of them had started before sunrise 15 miles on the other side of the mountain. I saw lots of backpackers that weren’t thru hikers all headed to the huts. It was crowded up here. Mt Jackson gave me a good rock scramble up and a chance to test the grip on my worn boots. Still pretty good after 500 miles. One slip on this kind of trail means a trip to the hospital and the end of your hike.
At 2 o’clock I stepped inside the Mizpah hut. Challah bread has just been taken out of the oven. I grab some coffee cake to add to my lunch of bagels, hummus, cheese and pepperoni. An older lady at the check in desk was interested in talking to me and so we chatted about my hike. She was very nice and asked if I wanted to stay. I told her I was hoping to stay at Lakes if the clouds and then she pulled out a sheet with estimated hiking times for destinations across the mountain range. 4 hours to the next hut. I breathed in sharply and told her I’d better finish my lunch then. I was in my way by 2:45. My pack felt heavy with a new resupply. I didn’t want to be hungry like I was in the last section so I packed some luxury items like hummus and cheese.
It was a foggy and damp hike climbing evermore upward toward Mt Pierce on steep slabs of wet rock. Then the trail detoured around two 4000 footers Eisenhower and Monroe, thankfully. The trail turned from slick boulders to small sharp rocks with poor trail markings. I passed several trail junctions and I checked my map on my phone to make sure I was on the right one. As I was making a steep up from one rock to another I lost my balance and feel backwards. My legs were tired and I couldn’t save it like I had dozens of times already this day. Luckily there was a bunch of pine bushes to catch me and I landed on my butt, my pack breaking my fall. I slowly wiggles out of my pack and took a short break. 1 more mile to go. As I approached my destination I heard young male voices echoing through the fog. I couldn’t see anything but the rocky trail at my feet. I thought so idiots have set up their tents out there. I reached the hut at 5:30 and secured a work for stay and set my pack outside. 2 other hikers were already there and checked in. 6 more hikers showed up soon after.
I met 19 year old Grocer, Platypus the math major and Mammoth who was in his 70s. We would be working together. The rest of the hikers would be paying to stay without dinner. A hikers named Doc and Tree Trunk joined us at a side table all of us eyeing the leftover pancakes that were sitting on a platter for $1. We waited patiently as the croo served 90 people in the dinning room. Before the dinner they did a land acknowledgement honoring the indigenous people of the Abenaki who inhabited this land before the colonizers turned it into a tourist trap.
In the corner of the room was a table full of young men that I later learned were a bachelor party. Those were the voices that I heard as I walked in. They had hiked in a copious amount of wine and beer and were loud among the other guests.
At 8 o’clock we were called in to eat. There was not much left but turkey which had been cooked perfectly. I spooned a heap of mashed potatoes onto my plate along with hunks of turkey. A little pile of green beans and salad too. We sat with a few croo members to chat a while. Lemon poppyseed cake with blueberry icing for desert. I smuggled a few pieces out for Doc and Tree Trunk.
After we ate I volunteered enthusiastically to sweep the dining room. The other hikers went in the kitchen to wash dishes. As the evening edged toward 9:30 I began to get anxious about the volume level of bachelor party. I guess they didn’t know folks would be sleeping in the dining room. When the lights went out at 9:30 they turned their headlamps on and continued to party. Doc finally asked a croo member to go to their bunks. I was thankful for a quiet place to lay down after a very long day. A 5000 foot climb over 11 miles. I could hear thunder outside and see lighting illuminating the fog around the hut. It was magic. I fell asleep to the sound of rain hitting the window above my head. Tomorrow would be Mt Washington.
Miles: 1846.6 – 1857.7 (11.1)