Hiking The Appalachian Trail Through New Hampshire
We made it to New Hampshire! We’ve been looking forward to this section for a long time. It’s notoriously known as one of the hardest states of the AT, but also boasts some of the most rewards.
We really developed our love and passion for hiking in the White Mountains of NH. Over the last 5 years, we have spent so much time day hiking and peak bagging in the area. We really cut our teeth on these mountains and we love them so much. So now we are thrilled to connect all the dots between summits on this Appalachian Trail thru-hike.
The first few days of trail in New Hampshire crossed over a few mountains we had not visited before including Smarts Mountain and Mt. Cube. Both climbs were more difficult than the majority of climbs we have done up to this point. They were a nice preview of what was to come in the White Mountains: lots of granite rock slabs and boulders making up steep ascents and descents with incredible views of layers upon layers of mountain ranges. New Hampshire tested us, but not in the ways we expected. It was by far the toughest terrain, but it was the mental and emotional hurdles that pushed us.
Here are our big reflections from this section:
- Slowing down, pausing, and being flexible during a thru-hike is essential, but hard to do. Being responsive to the weather and our bodies instead of stubbornly following a predetermined plan can be really challenging, especially when we just want to hike. However, in places like the White Mountains, where the weather is dramatic and the terrain is tough, we had to make day-of calls to take extra zeros when circumstances dictated them. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it. First there were calls for thunderstorms and extreme amounts of rain. Then, we had to deal with one of the biggest unplanned wrenches possible: Kev got COVID on trail. Navigating the logistics to isolate was challenging to say the least. Also, feeling like we lost momentum after feeling so good and having to be physically separated placed a high level of emotional stress on both of us. But, we handled it and got back on trail where we left off on the Presidential Range. We decided not to skip ahead, but to continue hiking from where we stopped because we wanted to enjoy the Whites, not just get through them.
- Hiker hunger is getting real. Over a month in and we are starting to see the effects of moving all day and expending so much energy. We need to eat more and eat even more nutritious food when we are in town. We bought another bear proof sack because we just need to carry more food to fuel ourselves! Don’t worry, we are also gorging ourselves on town food.
- Thru-hiking is hard and tests you more mentally and emotionally than physically, we’d say. Hiking for at least 9 hours a day, up and down the roller coaster that is the Appalachian Trail isn’t easy, but our bodies can do it. Dealing and coping with the difficulty of logistics, physical discomfort, and being alone with your thoughts and feelings is the real test. There is no way around that. But, would the rewards and personal growth feel as sweet or even be possible without the difficulty and then the moments of profound joy? Perhaps not.
- Our bodies are transforming. Almost like a flick of a switch, we both felt our trail legs kick in, hard. During our second day in the Whites, despite the difficulty we just wanted to keep going 18+ miles for the day.
- We are cultivating an AT community in a way that feels right for us. Many seek to find trail families (“tramilies”), tight knit groups of hikers who plan to stay together for the entire journey. We don’t necessarily want that type of experience. Rather, we make authentic connections with hikers through brief or long interactions and do not make specific plans to see them again. We find that the trail creates so many opportunities to reconnect with hikers at unexpected times and places.
Day 27, 7/14/22: Velvet Rocks Shelter to Trapper John Shelter
15.2 mi, 4100 ft elevation gain
We’ve left the mud and roots of VT behind and now have rocks and roots of NH to replace them. The trail undulated relatively gently through the morning and around 10:30am we came to a stream with 1 beer staying cool in the water. It’s never too early to accept trail magic. We climbed and descended Moose Mountain and then, as usual, the last climb of the day turned out to be the steepest and most sustained ascent. We were tired with Kathy feeling like she was dragging, but we did fine as usual, just sweating profusely. At the top, we took a quick look at Holt’s Ledge, but the cliffs are fenced off to keep people away so as not to disturb nesting Peregrine Falcons and some fragile plant species. From there it was a quick descent to Trapper John Shelter, 0.3 mi off trail unfortunately, but a nice space surrounded by soft pine needle forest floor for good comfort camping. We gathered around a campfire with a band of hikers we would see sporadically through the Whites: Lazarus and Rocket Man, Hey Squirrel, Downhill and her tramily of Cinderella, Chef, and Big Dipper.
Day 28, 7/15/22: Trapper John Shelter to North Mount Cube
14 mi, 4500 ft elevation gain
Today’s hike included Smarts Mountain and Mount Cube. The terrain got progressively more difficult, with steeper rocky climbs and wooden ladders making up parts of the ascents and descents. We climbed the tower at Smarts Mountain for a pretty awesome view. The tower itself was enclosed and apparently some people sleep up there! Mt. Cube had a lot of open rock slab sections as well as white quartzite rock that was distinctive from the granite we had seen already.
Instead of staying at a shelter, we opted to take a spur trail to North Mount Cube and stealth camp near a large open ledge with views of the White Mountains. Facing east, we didn’t see a sunset, but did enjoy practicing yoga and eating dinner as the sky transformed from bright blue to purple to midnight blue.
Day 29, 7/16/22: North Mount Cube to Jeffers Brook Shelter
14 mi, 2800 ft elevation gain
This wasn’t the most memorable day, and probably a great example of the monotony that does exist when hiking all day every day. We stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant, met a family of 5 (two parents and three boys) we would spend more time with later, and just walked. When we got to Jeffers Brook Shelter, we were shocked by how many people were there. It was the most crowded shelter we’ve been to so far and was filled with weekenders as well as large NOBO and SOBO tramilies! For us, this totally confirmed our decision to flip flop. Everyone was perfectly fine, but it was pretty overwhelming to be around so many people.
Day 30, 7/17/22: Jeffers Brook Shelter to Kinsman Notch (stay at the Notch Hostel)
8.4 mi, 3600 ft elevation gain
We officially made it to the White Mountains and could not have been more excited to hike up Mt. Moosilauke. The route up was a steady rocky climb for about 3 miles before getting to the mile-long carriage road that heads into the alpine zone and section above treeline. It was a perfect sunny day with a cool breeze. The way down Beaver Brook Trail was more treacherous than the route up, with a lot of slippery boulders and wooden stairs drilled into rocks. But, we took careful steps and finished this 8 mile hike in record time. We weren’t trying to rush through it, but our hiker legs really kicked in! At the trailhead, we were greeted by trail magic (fresh fruit, yum) and chatted with a group of NOBOs we’ve been leapfrogging with before hopping in a shuttle to Lincoln. In town, we resupplied and got some celebratory margaritas before going to the Notch Hostel where we got to stay in a gorgeous private room because Kathy had a credit! It was a perfectly relaxing evening.
Day 31, 7/18/22: Zero Day at the Notch Hostel
When we checked the weather report, it said thunderstorms and heavy rain, which did not sound great for doing a 17 mile day over some extremely tough terrain. We opted to take a zero day and enjoy our private room for the rest of the morning. Before the storm, we took the Notch’s complementary bikes to North Woodstock for more food and spent the afternoon chatting with fellow hikers and playing games with the boys of the family of 5 who are also flip flopping and we’d be happy to see off and on for the next couple of weeks. Hanging out with kids can be so much more fun than adults! Also, Kev showed them no mercy during our bananagram matches.
Day 32, 7/19/22: Kinsman Notch to Liberty Springs Tentsite
18.9 mi, 7100 ft elevation gain
After an unplanned zero, we were feeling good. With very heavy packs after resupplying, we hiked over Mt. Wolf, then South and North Kinsman, two 4,000 footers. The trail to South Kinsman was surprisingly difficult, with a ton of vertical climbing and rock scrambling. Much of the trail was also totally flooded from the heavy rains the day before. One section of bog bridges was so submerged it was laughable. We moved quickly and strongly, but really had to concentrate on our steps. Feeling really good overall (despite Kathy getting a huge knot under her shoulder blade that Kevin had to massage multiple times throughout the day), we decided to do the massive 3 mile and 3,000 ft climb at the end of the day to Liberty Springs Tentsite to set ourselves up for another big day tomorrow going over Franconia Ridge. We won’t sugarcoat it, the last mile was extremely difficult, but we were happy we made this call. Our trail legs are engaged!
Day 33, 7/20/22: Liberty Springs Tentsite to Zealand Falls
17.5 mi, 5500 ft elevation gain
Hello Pemigewasset Wilderness! We love the Pemi and were so happy to be back at this magical place that was the site of our first backpacking trip together 5 years ago. Franconia Ridge was socked in for most of the time, but the clouds parted sporadically to provide brief views through the morning. By the time we got to Garfield Ridge Trail (one of our favorite sections of trail that is much less crowded than Franconia Ridge), it was sunny and very hot. The terrain overall today was very steep and rocky. With large packs on, we felt less nimble and balanced than usual. That said, we still felt physically strong.
Arriving at Garfield just after lunch, we enjoyed the summit all to ourselves. The stretch between Garfield and Galehead Hut was more difficult than we remembered, with a fair amount of rocks, roots, and undulating terrain. At Galehead, we got free baked goods with our thru-hiker passports to fuel up for the relentlessly steep 0.8 mile and 1,000 ft of elevation gain hike up to South Twin. The views from South Twin and the section of the Twinway to Guyot were perhaps the highlight of the day. We hiked into the night because it was so beautiful, up over Zealand and past Zealand Falls to stealth in the woods. Kathy’s back was still hurting a fair amount and Kev started getting a tickle in the back of his throat, a bad sign for the next two days.
Day 34, 7/21/22: Zealand Falls to Nauman Tentsite
14 mi, 4000 ft elevation gain
Thunderstorms were predicted at 2pm so we woke up before 6am to get hiking. Kev woke up with a sore throat, but we chalked it up to sleeping in a super humid and damp tent (humidity and heat have been really rough lately). The first five miles were beautiful and flat, passing over bog bridges and alongside a massive rock slide. We descended to Crawford Notch and reunited with the hiking family enjoying trail magic pancakes. Knowing the storm was coming, we forwent the pancakes and climbed Webster Cliff Trail, which is probably the hardest trail we’ve hiked so far. There was one rock scramble section that was pretty scary and challenging, but at least short. Kev started feeling fatigued and congested and we thought he was definitely developing a cold. Luckily, we had some medicine for him. Then, we climbed Jackson and only had a couple more miles to go. It of course started raining as we traversed some bog bridges in open marshy terrain on the way. Luckily that spurt didn’t last and we made it to Mitzpah Hut and Nauman Tentsite with dry enough feet and only slightly damp rain jackets.. We set up camp and hunkered down with other NOBOs just as the rain came in.
Day 35, 7/22/22: Nauman Tentsite to Agiocochook (Mt. Washington)
6.1 mi, 2900 elevation gain
Uh, oh. Kevin did not feel good and did not have a good night sleep. We were both worried that it might be more than a cold, but we were at the top of a mountain. His hiking body also felt physically fine, and he powered on as though he didn’t feel unwell, which was incredible. Luckily, we found rapid tests in a thru-hiker box and kept them just in case. We climbed Pierce and caught our first glimpses of the Presidential Range on a perfect day. Mt. Washington was shrouded in clouds, but everything else was clear. Taking the Crawford Path, we skirted around Eisenhower and Monroe. Before going into Lake of the Clouds Hut, Kevin took the rapid test and unfortunately tested positive. Kathy took the second test and was negative, so she went into the hut to get snacks, Kevin waited outside, and we hatched a plan to figure out how to get off the mountain as safely as possible. This was a tough conversation, as we both wanted to keep hiking but knew Kev’s health and the safety of others were the priorities, not our pride or egos. We hiked to the top of Washington (the clouds had parted and the sun was now shining) where there were a ton of services and got a shuttle down to Pinkham Notch where we then got another shuttle to an Airbnb we rented with two rooms and outdoor space so we could isolate from each other. It was a tough end of the day.
Days 36-38, 7/23/22-7/25/22: Airbnb Isolation
We did the best we could to support each other, while maintaining distance from each other, but we will be honest, these days were really hard. Kev had mild symptoms, but he was still sick and disappointed. Kathy luckily did not develop any symptoms, but also struggled to figure out how to get food for us without a car to get around and keep spirits high. We ordered food from the two places that delivered from town and Kathy walked to Gorham twice (about 2 miles each way) to buy food from the gas station and to pick up her resupply boxes (new shoes and bear bag) from a local hostel we had planned to stay.
The biggest lessons we learned: you can make plans, but they just don’t always go the way you think and you have to be flexible, which is super hard. We are grateful to have the privilege and means to stay at a place to safely isolate. And, supporting each other when we can’t show any physical form of affection is really difficult for us.
Day 39, 7/26/22: Agiocochook (Mt. Washington) to Great Gulf Wilderness Campsite
10 mi, 1900 ft elevation gain
We made it back on trail after isolating and miraculously Kathy not testing positive or developing any symptoms. After getting a hitch to the Mount Washington auto road, we took a shuttle up to the top of Mt. Washington at 9am with the staff and restarted our thru-hike where we left off. The summit was in clouds when we got there, but at the sign, we saw Tracker and Pilgrim, which was a lovely surprise. Through the day, the clouds began to burn off, giving us clear views from all of the Northern Presidentials. The trail got especially rocky between Jefferson and Madison, but the views were incredible. To be transparent, it was a tough day mentally and emotionally for us getting back on trail and dealing with Covid stuff. We tried to stay positive, but honestly, we struggled to regulate our emotions.
We took the Osgood trail along the ridgeline, which was spectacular, but extremely rugged. Once below treeline we descended and found a stealth spot to sleep. We wish we went further to make the next day of hiking easier, but we were just too emotionally spent.
Day 40, 7/27/22: Great Gulf Wilderness Campsite to middle Carter
14.2 mi, 6100 ft elevation gain
This was probably our toughest day on trail to date.
Not only did we go over four 4,000 footers, gaining over 6,000 ft of elevation, we were also just so emotionally and mentally exhausted from dealing with so many issues leading up to this day. We woke up and were just not feeling it. It took us almost two hours to get out of camp. Kathy developed hives and rashes all over her body, we don’t know exactly from what. She tested negative for Covid again, so we kept hiking. We did run into a lovely woman who follows us on instagram who was so positive and energetic. That brief interaction helped us keep moving. After resting at Pinkham Notch, we started hiking the very steep climb up to Wildcat D, which was utterly relentless.
We hit a low point at Carter Notch Hut when we found out there were no more baked goods available and we knew we’d have to carry extra water up the super tough climb out of the notch. You could see in our slumped over body language that we just felt defeated. At one point, Kev said that he didn’t feel strong enough to do this. Nonetheless, we had no choice but to keep walking, and at least we felt a little proud of our physical ability to tackle hard climbs. So we may not always feel strong enough, but we’re still doing it. That’s exactly what it’s taking to thru-hike. The best view of the day was from Mt. Hight. We stealth camped just after Middle Carter, feeling relieved to be done with this day.
Day 41, 7/28/22: Middle Carter to Stealth near Trident Col
15.4 mi, 3250 ft elevation gain
We made it out of the Whites! Of course, however, not without some extremely steep and rocky descents from North Carter and some rock slab climbs to Moriah. Today, the good news is that we started to recover our hiking groove and felt more in sync after the last week of disruption. Importantly, we also decided to revise plans to avoid hiking unnecessarily far so we could enjoy more of the experience. Then, we got some trail magic of chips and cold drinks at Route 2 before the last climb of the day! Nervous that a storm was coming in, Kathy made us move fast for the last five miles until we found a great stealth spot. The rain came in after dinner, leaving us in a very hot, humid, and clammy tent.
Day 42, 7/29/22, Stealth to Full Goose Shelter
16.6 mi, 6200 ft elevation gain
We cannot believe we made it to Maine! Waking up this morning wasn’t easy, though. A lot of rain splashes made their way into our tent and our sleeping bags were sticky and wet with condensation. There was nothing we could do but pack it all up and air our wet belongings out at a sunny viewpoint, which is exactly what we did a few hours later. Today, we didn’t have one sustained ascent, but rather a lot of elevation gained and lost over multiple peaks. We passed some beautiful ponds and through trails that seemed much more wild than what we had experienced so far. Branches reached out in the middle of the trails and fallen logs barricaded many pathways. The AT started feeling less traveled, and we welcomed greater solitude after the busy crowded trails of the White Mountains. When we realized we were hungry and didn’t have as much food as we wanted, we decided to accelerate our plan to get to Bethel for a zero earlier than expected, which meant making today a 16+ mile day with more than 6,000 ft of elevation gain.
It was mentally challenging until we crossed the Maine border and made it to the Goose Eye peaks. The alpine bogs and expansive views into Maine and New Hampshire were some of the most breathtaking we have seen so far. We almost sank knee deep into mud bogs, had to climb up steep metal and wooden ladders, but felt so filled up by being out in the wild. The wondrous evening in the alpine reminded us of why we hike. Also, when we got to Full Goose Shelter, we met back up with the family of five (the boys heard Stretch’s voice and immediately popped their heads out of their tent to cheerily greet him) and two other hikers, Clean Machine and another really nice NOBO we met at Killington. We don’t necessarily want a “tramily,” but love unexpectedly seeing familiar faces.