Lakes of the Clouds

It is 5:50 PM. I am sitting on a worn wooden bench at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. Banzai, Pilgrim, Susquehanna Slim and I all received work for stay. Thru hikers Finder, Fatty, Roadrunner, Red Rocket, Star Child, Hermes, and Splash are also here. This AMC hut has bunk space for 90. It is full tonight. Most of the occupants are day hikers who walked up on one of the many White Mountain trails. Lakes of the Clouds is nestled between Mt. Monroe and Mt. Washington. We crossed Monroe in a heavy fog to get here about an hour ago, just before the rain commenced. We will tackle Washington in the morning. We are in the midst of the Presidential Range, the most spectacular section of the Appalachian Trail.

Earlier today Mike dropped my hiking buddies and me at Crawford Notch before heading back to Virginia. We immediately faced a 2000 foot climb up to Webster Cliffs to start our day. Within the first half hour I took a fall when I lost my balance at the beginning of a rock scramble. Other than a couple of minor scratches, I came out OK. For the remainder if the day I stayed on both feet. During the climb I was passed by Fatty and later saw Finder at a scenic outcrop. I had not seen her since PA. Goose and All the Way also passed me. I had last seen All the Way just south of Bland, VA. Banzai hiked ahead with the faster folks, leaving Pilgrim, Slim, and me to fend for ourselves.

The trail presented us with numerous technical segments as we eventually climbed to over 4000 feet at Mt. Jackson. Unbelievable panoramic views were visible in all directions for much of the day. After summiting Mt. Jackson we made our way to the Mizpah Springs Hut where we stopped for lunch. While there I talked a good while with crew member Eric. The young man gladly provided us with trail and weather information. Expecting afternoon storms, we wanted to be sure we could reach the Lakes of the Clouds before they hit. The 3.9 miles between the huts usually requires four hours to hike. Pilgrim, Slim, and I would do it in just over three. With exposed ridge line, we continued to enjoy unbelievably beautiful views all afternoon.

When we got to Mt. Pierce we had views of Eisenhower, Monroe, and Washington in the far distance. In AWOL’s Thru Hiker Handbook he has Mt. Clinton in parentheses after Pierce. I asked some day hiker New Hampshire residents about the change. They were unaware. Seems odd that someone would suggest taking New Hampshire native Franklin Pierce’s mountain from him. We later saw a new sign with a reference to President Clinton as well. By then we were approaching Eisenhower. The AT does not go over the summit of Mt. Eisenhower; however, there was a spur trail to the summit. We chose to stay on the AT and head for the hut.

Within a few hundred feet of the summit, the trail circumvents Eisenhower toward Mt. Monroe. Crossing Monroe, we noticed the increasing clouds. Literally within about ten minutes, all views were gone. The wind velocity increased as visibility diminished. I hiked ahead, hurriedly trying to make the hut before the inevitable rainfall. When it came into view I waited at an intersection where four trails meet for the others. Then the three of us hiked the last hundred yards to the hut together.

So now as I sit here awaiting dinner, I’m thinking how fortunate I was to experience the awe inspiring vistas that surrounded me today. The hike was tough but manageable. I’m hiking with care and deliberation at times, yet when the trail offers the opportunity, with more speed. It’s all good. Today was a good day. Even though it took over nine hours to hike the 11.2 miles, I definitely felt encouraged with my effort. So tomorrow I will ascend the tallest mountain on the AT. My buddies and I will climb Mt. Washington as we keep heading north up the Appalachian Trail.

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