Monday, October 12, 2009

AT in a Day

Well, we did our bit. Saturday was the Dartmouth Outing Club’s 100th Anniversary attempt to walk the entire Appalachian Trail in a single day. I had originally planned to take one of the sections here in Connecticut, but realized that there were others among the many Connecticut alums who would take care of that. I thought I would simply join A and H on their New Hampshire section. They had signed up for a short, B-friendly walk from Franconia notch to Lonesome Lake. The DOC, however, had other thoughts and requirements. Short, easy strolls were out. A and H were instead assigned the Wildcat Ridge traverse, just east across Pinkham Notch from Mt. Washington.

Much discussion about the best way to handle this with a baby. Simply bring her along? Take her up from the south as far as the ski gondola, with one of us riding her down while the others continue? Someone simply riding up with her at an appropriate time to meet the others crossing the ridge for a rest a a good look at the beautiful fall foliage likely to be at its peak? All of these, and several variations, were eventually rejected for a variety of reasons, and A and I headed for the mountains without H or B, who made their way south to Connecticut instead.

Sad choice.

Good choice.

Heading north to south, as we decided to do, requires a 3.6-mile walk in on the Nineteen-Mile Brook Trail to meet the AT. Counting that, we were looking at total of a little over 9 miles, with 3,949 feet of elevation gain, followed by the precipitous, slabby, loss of most of that back to the notch. We’d walked much of the ridge before, and knew it was challenging (attested to also by the standard guide-book time of 7:19), but we thought we’d probably finish it in six hours or so.

We started at about 9:30, in decent if chilly weather, predicted to become pretty good.

It didn’t, and at the junction of Nineteen-Mile Brook and the Wildcat Ridge Trail, we donned rain gear to head up the steep climb to Wildcat Mountain, crossing the slide, which usually offers terrific views, we were utterly socked in.

We topped Wildcat (a rock on a hump in a clump of underbrush at 4,422 ft, and scuffled along the narrow, rocky, brushy path laconically described in the White Mountain Guide as “fairly steep drops interspersed with level sections”—

—over Wildcats A, B, and C on our way to D, the southern anchor of the ridge at 4,062 ft.

We arrived there, just above the creaking machinery of the running but unused ski-lift gondola, to truly awful weather: rain, fog, and high winds that pushed the wind-chill well below freezing. I stopped in the lee of the ski-patrol shack for a quick exchange of wet base layer for dry. There was a trio of other hikers on the mountain, celebrating the fact that one of them had just—there and then on this nasty, viewless day—completed his full round of all 48 New Hampshire 4,000-footers. They obliged with a photo.

Shortly after we left the summit of D, we had our first views of the day, as the mist lifted and the sun peeked out.

The section down off the ridge’s south end is well-known as one of the roughest of the routinely rough White Mountain trails, pretty close to 2,000 ft., pretty much straight down over slabs, broken slabs, and rubble—

—including this short stretch of some artificial aid of a type neither A nor I had ever seen before.

Remember that six hours we thought it would take instead of the Guide’s 7:19? Not even close (though A would have been if he hadn’t had me as his sea-anchor). We finished in almost exactly...7:19.

Late afternoon in the notch, it was brighter than it had been most of the day, but it was still 43°F with a very stiff breeze. We’d had a great day despite the lousy weather and a few slips and dings, but the entire walk and every possible permutation we had considered to bring the baby along at least a part of it had proven to be absolutely not B-appropriate, or BA, as we started calling it.

So we’ve done our bit, and we are waiting to hear how other Dartmouth walkers, stretching from Georgia to Maine along the 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail, managed. We hope most of them had better weather.

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