August 2, 2017
Slack pack: Stash one’s gear at a hostel, utilize a shuttle, and complete a segment of one’s thru-hike as a long day hike, unencumbered with the weight of a full pack.
5:30 a.m. – Wake up. Walk to a nearby deli for breakfast. Get back to the hostel in time to grab our lightened packs and…
7:00 a.m. – Take the shuttle to Grafton Notch.
7:30 a.m. – Spend a few minutes puzzling over our direction! We’ve been hiking south on the AT, but today we’ve skipped ahead, and are hiking 10.2 miles north, back to the hostel. From which side of the trail head do we leave?
Our goal is to climb both east and west peaks of Baldpate Mtn before the afternoon thunderstorm hits, and hopefully catch the 5:00 p.m. shuttle to the hostel for the night.
We begin hiking, through birches, pines, firs, and spruce. For a few hundred yards, the trail is flat, with mud and boardwalks. A rather large green frog hops through the mud, pausing long enough for me to snap a picture. We pass a trail register sign where someone has written, “Rewild your mind.” I smile. Yes, the AT can change one’s brain a bit!
The trail slopes steeply, with a 2,600 foot climb ahead. We take our time, walking extra slowly for the first 30 minutes as our muscles warm up, then settling into our usual steady plod. A hiker named Rob once told us, “I’ve watched the two of you going uphill. It seems as if you’re barely moving, but you never stop! My heart’s banging away, my lungs are laboring, and you just keep inching along, as if you could go forever.”
Blue sky above, dirt and granite below, light packs, and light hearts make the climb up the west peak of Baldpate Mtn feel relatively easy, though long. We break out above treeline just as we reach the top, with 360 degrees of a gorgeous view! The sight of most interest to me is the east peak of Baldpate Mtn ahead.
The trail drops a precipitous 300 feet into a saddle, then climbs another 600 feet to a granite top. Our path becomes bare granite, marked with rock cairns. Jay calls this the ‘granite sidewalk’. I say it’s a very STEEP sidewalk! We come to one 25 foot vertical drop, peer over the edge, and I give a cheer. Some industrious soul has built a wooden ladder to aid hikers! Hurray!
The climb up the east peak feels longer than 600 vertical feet. There are many bare granite ledges to scramble up and over, with lengthy pauses to look at the view. I’m so thankful we decided to slack pack, thus climbing this mountain in the morning, when my muscles are fresh, the weather is still beautiful, and the rocks are dry!
At the top of the mountain, our attention is claimed by ripe blueberries! Our forward progress slows still more as we pick and eat this most delicious trail treat. With attention focused on searching out nuggets of blue among green bushes, we ignore the large black cloud coalescing in the air above us. The sun is shining, my mouth is happy, all is well in my small world!
As we move down the mountain, still picking blueberries, we suddenly hear branches creak, and a loud exhale emanate from the middle of a pine thicket ahead! What could it be? Surely not a deer so high in altitude. Could it be a bear? We carefully move around the thicket, still picking berries, but giving a wide space to the mystery animal concealed there.
We finally reach taller trees, and the blueberries fizzle out. I happily continue down the mountain, sometimes on the ‘granite sidewalk’, sometimes climbing down boulders, and occasionally getting to walk on a bit of dirt. About 1.5 miles from the top, that large black cloud which had begun forming earlier decides it is time to take action. First I hear rain spatter in the tree tops. I know I am near Frye Notch Lean-to, but how near? Just as the rain breaks the leaf barrier and begins to sprinkle my hair, I hear the unmistakable laughter of a hiker named Camel on the slope below me. “Oh good,” I think. “If Camel is laughing, that means he made it to the shelter before the rain. It can’t be far.” Jay is ahead, rapidly disappearing between the trees. The rain increases in intensity, spattering cold wet drops across my shirt and pack. I begin to run, just a little. As the cloud opens its floodgates, with thunder and lightning accompanying, I see the roof of the shelter. I tumble inside as the water sheets down! Jay and five other hikers are crowded under the metal roof, with the rain battering above, and speech all but impossible to hear! Whooeee! Timing is everything!
We eat a late lunch as we wait out the storm, laughing and talking with the other hikers. I’m so blessed, to be surrounded by other happy adventurers. I reflect upon the gifts of technology, that we could plan our day around the storm, hiking above the treeline early in the morning, and now with only 4.5 miles left through wet trees. Life is good!
5:05 p.m. – We reach the road just five minutes too late for the first and shorter shuttle. Dang! Nothing to do but wait.
5:35 p.m. – We catch the next shuttle, which makes a larger loop before getting back to the hostel.
6:40 p.m. – We stagger out of the shuttle van, our leg muscles protesting sudden use after being cramped in one position so long for the ride.
7:00 p.m. – We slide into a seat at the nearby deli a few minutes before closing. The waitress and cook graciously feed our ravenous hiker appetites!
8:00 p.m. – We tumble into bed, worn out from our active day.