READ PART 1 if you missed it
Day 3: Monday, August 21, 2008 – Hexacube Shelter to Ore Hill Shelter
We woke up early monday morning and retrieved the bear bag. this would become quick ritual to start our days before we got our breakfasts going. Given the shorter mileage of todays hike, I opted to eat two nutri-grain bars and a fruit leather for breakfast. While everyone else cooked decent meals, hearty, nutrional breakfasts… I knew that it was only a matter of time before my tummy turned to revolt against me. But for now I was content. I deal with my self image quite a bit at home, and not eating was making me feel better. I knew for sure I was losing SOME weight and my body would start to thin up a little more… I also knew that upon my return home, binge eating would once again pose a personal issue.
After breakfast we had a quick meeting on how to properly poop in the woods. You see a trend? We shared poop stories, found poop at the campsite, learned how to poop properly.. and now we’re about to learn how to properly dispose of our poop. The method we learned was called “Chip and Putt.” We dug a 6″ deep hole and properly “putted” the poop into its new cozy domain; buried the hole and continued tearing down camp. Then we all made our way to the stream for one more fill of our water bottles before hitting the trail once more.
As we wandered down the trail towards the summit of Mount Cube, I immersed myself in conversation with my instructor. The conversation was centered around various topics of White Mountain history. My two favorite stories included talk about how Cannon Mountain used to be named for the Old man… with the name “Freaks Mountain” and how natives thought the great stone face had a magical gemstone called “The Great Carbunkle” in his forehead which captured the spirit of their god. My other story was centered around J.E. Henry, the great (or not so great) Timber baron of NH’s woods; how his logging operation built the town of Lincoln and woodstock, how his same operation burned the forest which now is comprised of the Pemigewassett Wilderness and how JE was perhaps the cheapest prick in New Hampshire History. It felt amazing to share the knowledge I had learned over the years with someone both interested/intrigued and willing to engage in converstaion over these topics. The moments were truly liberating.
On top of Mount Cube we were treated to a dance from the clouds abound. The sky was for the most part overcast with morning fog quickly being hustled over the summits while large cumulonimbus clouds towerered overhead. It appeared as though we dodged a bullet with Thunderstorms, which I leater heard struck the southern portion of the state. The sun slowly continued to peak through the trees as another Thru-hiker crested the peak. His trailname was “Izzy” and he is from Wisconsin. Izzy had hiked to Harpers ferry from Georgia before needing to be removed from the trail for family issues. He had to return to Katahdin and head south to avoid time crunching through continued North. His adventure will end at the traditional half-way point in a few short months. in good spirits, Izzy continued on his way as we continued on ours.
As lunch time approached we sat next to a wonderful stream bed where I was able to give the class a quick lesson on The History of the Appalachian Trail. The lesson was appropriate given our location on the trail, but due to the heavy traffic from no one other than us AND said thru-hikers. As is the norm, you could see and smell them from a mile away. Spencer and I ate trailmix and fruit snacks and our stomach continued to be quite the trooper. After lunch we rose to our feet and made the final approach to the Ore Hill Shelter.
When we got to Ore Hill, we immediately began to figure out where things were. Where would eb assemble camp? Where would we put up our bear bag? Where is the Privy? Where is our water source. We found the privy first, which was nothing more than a hole in the ground covered by a wooden pallet of sorts. A salloon style entrance with swinging doors and a wooden “chute” rising up from the platform. There was no real seat. A hexagonal piece of wood covered the top which was just big enough for use to get SOME comfort. We properly named this the “crap chute.” Upon sitting on the hexagon, your head was over the doors and walls and afforded us a chance to enjoy woods from a rather different perspective.
After finding the privy, I made it my job to look to the woods for water. The water source most used at the shelter was piece of stagnant water. The water was literally rising from the ground right here but not moving hardly at all. Mosquitos swarmed the air and a methane type smell wafted about. Not my idea of an ideal water source. I grabbed a map and compass, and whistle and went out to find a stream indicated on the map. I bushwhacked for over an hour while the rest of the class hung the bear bag rope and set up camp, learning a few new knots (clove hitch, figure 8 and taught line). As I wandered through the woods, I was immediately grumpy at the fact that I had to be covered in as many spider webs as possible, even going so far as killing the ones who chose to crawl on my face. ICKY!
I ended up finding the water source, looked at my watched and began walking back to camp. Along the way I found some surveyors tape (pink) in the trees and followed it to an AT Geological Marker. I tried to follow it to camp but soon found myself off course, lost and staring down at a few piles of fresh bear droppings. Word on the trail from the group ahead of us, was that a bear was insdeed spotted the night before at this shelter. I began to panic, and blew my whistle. After 5 minutes of agony, I calmed myself down and retraced my steps to 4 different locations. I managed to find the path I took down to this area and returned safely to camp. I told m instrcutor and class that though I found good runnign water; effort needed to get there was irrationale and we should stick to what is more readily available. Chris and I grabbed my water filter and headed to what we dubbed the “Degoba Water Swamp” and pumped 10 nalgenes to the the brim with filtered water. Our arms were exhausted.
We then all settled in to take weather observations, more lessons on wilderness issues and cooked dinner. Tonight spencer and I had a packet each fo Ramen noodle soup. Robby our TA was making pizzas in a fry pan which we jumped at the offer to help eat. And as a class we learned how to make and care for a mound fire, returning the ash to the earth and leaving No Trace. With the fire we all cooked s’mores and told more stories and continued to come together as a group. Chris had his activity planned for the night where we explored some of our inner secrets and feelings.
We all then headed to be to prepare for tomorrow’s higher mileage. I’m exhausted but not yet hungry. I break out the harmonica and again, play us to sleep. I slide my earplugs in.. and dream of the day I get back to my wonderful bed.
Day 4: Tuesday, August 22, 2008 – Ore Hill Shelter to Wauchipauka Pond
(Ore Hill Shelter)
We woke up at Ore Hill Shelter to a very crisp morning. Air was so cool I actually put on my long underwear for the start of today’s hike. We continued with our morning rituals of weather obs and bear bag retrieval. I ate pop-tarts for Breakfast and packed up for our longest hike yet. It was nearly 8 miles to our next destination known as Wauchipauka Pond. Spencer and Chris were to be our Leaders of the Day, us students first chance at taking the reigns of our trip. Their leadership design was that of democracy. They wanted the group to make decisions and lead as a single unit. There are pros and cons to this design, of which we won’t discuss here. I’ll just say that these two gentlemen stepped up to the plate to be the first to lead our group and they did a fine job in doing so.
We left Ore Hill Shelter and continued our journey through some of the lower points of our journey, yet still heading uphill towards the land of Moosilauke. Along the way we rose to the summit of Mt Mist where we stopped for lunch. As we ate our snacks (I had a bag of fruit snacks and some gorp) we listened to Kel tell a story of days of old. The story he read was about the logging days in these woods and how hard the men had it who worked these hills. Long cold days in winter chopping trees, sleeping in bunks with no cushion. We sat and listened as the sun shone brightly and the temps rose to near 65. The weather we had had on our trip thus far was perfect, hearing of the hardships the old loggers faced was humbling of our experience. I had an opportunity to address the class and teach them a little about J.E. Henry and his effect on the New Hampshire landscape during the mid to late 1800’s. I shared with the class the same stories I shared of J.E. with Kel on Monday’s hike. I very much enjoyed sharing the knowledge with the class as they were very responsive.
Even more unique to these stories was what we encountered on our journey today. Along our hike we passed a series of rock walls hidden within the growth of the woods. We stopped to talk about the rock walls and how they got there.. how farmers of old would till the fields and their teams of oxen would drag the rocks to the edge of the farm to create these walls. But we spotted an added bonus. As we walked down the trail which was obviously once a road of sorts, we found a foundation nestled under the 100 year old forest. Ah yes, the settlers once farmed here but left when stories of rich and fertile soils in the west were abound. In New Hampshire, in these mountains.. history comes alive.
We continued on down the trail making our way to a magnificent outlook. We all stopped to take in the views to the East and Northeast. For the first time on our journey, Mount Moosilauke was visible and how grande it appeared rising from the forests. Chris has a dream to hike all of NH’s 4,000 Foot Mountains, and was excited to see a 4K on our path. I enjoyed sitting watching him plan and dream of his own finish of the 48.. something I once did myself and even depicted in my film in 2004. Chris’ attitude was both inspiring and fulfilling to me as it was a kind of way to come full circle on my own accomplishments in a way. As we sat and enjoyed the views, we were let loose one by one for our first “solo hike.” The plan was to hike down the mountain alone and enjoy our surroundings. After a few minutes looking over Wauchipauka Pond (our destination) it was my turn to descend.
As we got to Wauchipauka Pond we took our time setting up camp. It is very safe to say that it was a bit disorganized. We were all pretty tired from our hike and the fast paced yet always firing at us lessons on our journey. I am having a hard time listing all of the things we learned and discussed on our journey but maybe its just as well. Just know that up to this point, we’ve had virtually ZERO down time. We’ve always been either hiking or learning or setting up base camp. Here at Wauchipauka pond things were no different, until today. After we finished erecting camp and the bear bag location.. we all took a break to dunk our weary bodies into the pond for a quick rinse. The grime had to be peeled from my body in a sorry effort to do so. There was no way for me to get it all. The pond was scummy as crawfish and bugs inhabited the water. A beaver lodge was nearby and I began to miss my close friends in the Beaver Brigade.
After our swim we were allotted some down time to kind of chill and decompress for 30 minutes. Although by the time we were done cleaning up and finished the erecting of camp.. there was no down time left. I wandered up the hill to find the outhouse which was appropriately named the “S*** Box.” Yes.. it was nothing more than a box resting on the ground with a hole cut in the top. If you had to go you were going in the box. Yippee! What was funny about the box was the sign attached to its side. An old advertisement for Black Horse Ale Brewery. Its in my notebook which the instructor still has but I drew a picture and wrote the poem down. I’ll be sure to share later, but I know it said something about “Quaff the Foaming Brew.” Nice!
Dinner tonight for Spencer and I was Teriyaki Rice Side with a can of chicken each. It was actually a pretty decent and filling meal. After dinner I decided to try what others had all ready… the drinking of the gray water. I poured water into our bowls and the pot and scraped the sides clean of the teriyaki sauce and bits, once it was all cleaned, I tipped my head back with the pot to my lips and chugged the gray water. THE single most disgusting thing I’ve ever drank, so bad that I choked for a bit and coughed for air. Just terrible. Needless to say, we were burying the gray water from here on out.
We enjoyed a campfire this night as we tried to burn the fire that remained in the pit from old visitors. Kel engaged us once more in thoughtful discussion, this time centered around wilderness ethics and the real historic figures that were instrumental in the process such as those in the CCC, The Beatnicks, Roosevelt and John Muir. It was a pretty long and engaging lecture that I found super interesting and after a short break we al returned to the campfire for a short discussion on local wilderness issues like signs, designation and other. But as always, we retired to under our tarp. I retrieved the Harmonica and played the group to silence. The night was very cold as the winds whipped from the west shaking the tarp. I got very little sleep this night. My stomach finally bottomed out and I needed to retreat to “The box.” I was starting to worry about not making it the week on our menu, but I knew i had superior mental resolve to overcome many obstacles. This would be just like any other.
Day 5: Wednesday, August 23, 2008 – Wauchipauka Pond and Trail Work
We woke up very early in the morning to hike to the top of Webster Slide Mountain where would watch the sunrise to the east. As we woke at 5am, the wind still blew lightly from the west as the fog rolled over the top of the pond. It was a stunning sight to see as we prepared for our early morning excursion. It was quite a treat to watch the crowd slowly walk about camp like a group of zombies as we hastily prepared for our trip up to what we hoped would be a decent viewpoint for the sunrise. We gathered ater bottles and camera’s and headed up the trail to the Webster Slide Trail. The trail was a muddy mucky eroded mess as we stumbled around in our half awake states… gee… have I been here before? I struggled to climb the short but steep mountain. I haven’t been feeling well lately as severe muscle fatigue has taken over my body. I lagged behind the group and they even had to stop and wait for me. How embarassing for this 100 Mile runner. We made it to the top of the mountain and walked over the crest to the eastern slope where we sat in blueberry bushes. We picked away and ate blueberries while we waited for the suns arrival. It was fairly easy to see the sun illuminating the various peaks around us before finally rising above the ridge-line of Hurricane Mountain and Moosilauke’s Ridge. But when we finally saw it it was something truly amazing.
We then went back to camp for breakfast and to prepare for our day of trail work with a member from the Dartmouth Outing Club. I ate two nutri-grain bars and packed a lunch of trail mix and gatorade. Carl came bounding down the trail with stories of a temperamental chainsaw that was no longer sharp and was failing to work to HIS expectations. This was altering our plans for the day. The plan was to construct a section of bog bridges on the AT to allow hikers safe and dry passage over a swamp and poorly draining area. But if his chain saw did not work, our day would be cut short. He asked how many hours we were going to be with him to which Kel answered 8-4 if you’d like. Carl was shocked and almost seemed beside himself. Either way, as a group we hiked to our area of concentration. When we got there, Carl gave us a tour of what we needed to work on and it was easy to see how eroded the trail was becoming and how dangerous it was to travel through.
Carl wasn’t a very organized man and seemed to lack trail work and leadership experience. His display was perfect for our class because it gave us something to discuss in our own teachings and education through the course. No offense to Carl, but I think the real lack of communication and preparation came from his superiors. Carl admitted to us he was used to being in control of youth groups.. not college students. He also explained how he usually gave an entire presentation on trail work and kel and I wondered why he didn’t just give his presentation to us. We would have loved it. Regardless, in the middle of giving us our tasks for the day, Carl disappeared into the woods. We looked around trying to figure out what was going on when we heard his chain saw rev up and dig into a very much alive tree. Carl returned to look for volunteers to help him with the trees while requesting others look for rocks. I took Kel and Spencer and we headed off into the woods in search of decent sized rocks to do god knows what with. Meanwhile, the rest of the class chopped, sawed and worked with trees in the area to be used in the building of the bog bridges. This was turning out to be quite the cluster bomb in a short period of time.
Kel, Spencer and I gathered about 30 rocks for use on the trail before stopping for a drink. We saw Chris chop up a log to be used as a base for the bog birdge, which was later deemed to rotted for use. Meanwhile, Greg and Robby were using specialized tools to strip the bark from the logs they cut down. I have no idea what the girls were working on because I never made my way to them but I DO know they were working exceptionally hard… we all were. Back at the trail (aka. Swamp) Kel, Spencer and I got a good look at what needed to be done. I first noticed that a water bar had been clogged by a large stone. and a short area of smallers stones needed to be re-organized. We spent quite a bit of time fixing the water bar and re-organizing the stones. We had mud up to our elbows and shins, we struggled and huffed large boulders.. and we ever got mud on our faces. We were down right disgusting and a smelly lot.
As the bog bridge process continue to evolve slowly, I took a closer look at the real issue with the trail. There little to know drainage on the trail given that all of the water bars had collapsed or been clogged with muck. So.. I help lead a small group of us to repair and replace 2 other water bars and get the water flowing through them once again. We gather logs and leaves and buried visible herd paths and we even put logs down on heavily eroded sections of trail to sway hikers away. All in all, we did an amazing job. We finished the rock work and turned to help stripping the rest of the logs that had been felled. The process was painfully slow and gave us new appreciation to the work that HAS been done on these trail before us. Regardless, we soon began standing around loking for things to do, when Kel allowed some of us to return to camp. Robby, Spencer, Chris and I returned to camp where we swam in the pond to clean up and I fell onto my pad for a 45 minute nap. Kel and the rest returned later and cleaned up themselves before telling us that long story short.. Carl didn;t even know how to make a bog bridge as he had never done it. Our trail work day could have been a disaster, but out great group of dedicated and heart healthy students made work of a great opportunity. We all enjoyed the experience greatly and had the chance to give back.
We then had 45 minutes of solo time where we had to leave camp and lose ourselves in the woods for some moments of self reflection. I took the opportunity to climb back up to the outlook we had perched upon yesterday and then run back down to camp. I enjoyed the views from the top before running down. As I neared the pond on my decent it finally happened… my stomach growled and for the first time on this trip.. I was hungry. Dinner tonight was Ramen again, we ate the Ramen and Kel gave us Bouillon Cubes and the rest of our Marshmallows from S’mores. After eating our ramen, we made broth and drank it down and I snacked on the marshmallows. I was hungry and looking for food. The class felt our hunger and started to constantly offer us food. We felt really bad that they were even offering it and were very hesitant to take it. What we committed was OUR mistake and we were fully prepared to live with the consequences.
After dinner we gathered once more as a group for another lesson and ethical discussion about the wilderness and education. Following the lesson, we headed for bed, more harmonica and sliding the ear plugs in. Wednesday has ended.. 3 days to go.. and I am wanting to go home… to hot food and a warm cozy bed. However.. I am doing quite well and enjoying this great experience.
(To Be Continuted)