Hikes From History - 01
"A LOOK AT THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL.
In October 1979 I went to hear John Merrill speaking at the Guildhall in Southampton about his recent walk right around the coast of Britain. During the questions after his talk, he was asked about his future plans. He said that he was planning to walk the Appalachian Trail in America. It was the first time that I had heard the name; it had a nice ring to it. I thought,
“ I would like to do that one day”, and an idea was born.
At about 2.00P.M on the 15 th . of September 1990, a Boeing 747, North West Airlines flight NW 049 touched down at Logan Airport, Boston, Mass. The idea had become a reality. I would soon be on the Appalachian Trail.
The Appalachian Trail is a continuous marked footpath extending 2135 miles from Mt. Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia, along the crest of the Appalachian mountain range. The trail traverses mostly public land in 14 States. Virginia has the longest section with 552 miles, West Virginia has the shortest with 26 miles. The highest point is Clingman’s Dome at 6643’ in the Great Smokey Mountains; the Trail is just above sea level at it’s crossing of the Hudson River in New York. Credit for the Trail is given to a Regional Planner from Shirley Mass. In 1921 Benton Mackaye published a paper entitled “An Appaclachian Trail, a project in regional planning” He envisaged a footpath along the Appalachian ridge-line where urban people could retreat to nature.
My plan was to fly into Boston, and, after a couple of days sight-seeing, to bus up to the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire. Then to walk the trail for 12 days and nights and then to bus back to Boston before flying home. Boston is well worth a visit. It is full of early Colonial history, and proud of it! Starting from the Tourist Information Kiosk in the Central Park is a red painted line on the pavement. With Guidebook in hand, one follows this red line and reads up on Boston’s history as one goes. The site of the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s house, Bunker Hill monument, the old church, burying grounds, market places.....a fascinating tour. There are plentiful restaurants and bars to keep you refreshed as you follow “The Freedom Trail” as the red line is called. While in Boston I called at the Appalachian Mountain Club offices and discussed my plans.They suggested that I might like to book into their camp at Pinkham Notch, New Hampshire and sort out my detailed walk plans from there. It was a good scheme to which I readily agreed. Within six hours I was on the Trailways Bus on the four hour journey to Pinkham. The camp is superb.
The Accommodation Block consists of small rooms with four bunks in each, together with Washrooms and a Lounge, (with a log fire). Kitchens, a Dining Hall, Laundry Area, Reception and a Shop are in the Administration Block. Both buildings are constructed from local lumber, tastefully situated and very comfortable. The Appalachian Trail passes right through the camp, which is situated at 2,000 feet above sea level.
2. I had arrived in Camp at 10.00P.M. Next morning at breakfast time it started to snow. However, I just had to get walking, so, breakfast over, I chatted with the very helpful receptionist and decided on a circular walk, keeping off the local summits in view of the weather. By 09.00A.M I was walking on the Appalachian Trail! After all those years since I had first heard of it, and, particularly after all the planning of this year, it felt really great.
The path that I was on, was known as ‘The Old Jackson Road’. I mused on it’s history as I followed the white blazes (way marks) through the trees. The path itself had completely disappeared under the snow that filtered through the trees, to form a carpet. That day I stayed below the treeline and got the feel of the Trail, the maps and the general terrain. It was quite easy to pick up side trails and make a circular walk. I got back into camp at about 4.30P.M feeling that I had really achieved something.
Everyone staying in the Camp was very friendly, that evening at dinner and in the lounge
afterwards I was made very welcome. It was all part of the holiday to hear fellow guests
talking ‘Trail Stories’, discussing walkers clothing, walks in other parts of America, walks in other parts of the world, events in the Gulf and plans for the next day.
Next day was just beautiful. The snow locally had gone and the sun shone brightly. Mount Washington, 6,288’, towered above the camp, it’s summit covered in snow. At breakfast a chap called Irwin said, “What about having a go at Mount Washington?” I replied, “Sure thing”. Phil Bergeron, a banker from Montreal, who was in the same cabin as me, also expressed an interest By 9.00A.M we had set off up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. It was fairly hard going on boulders and rocks and climbing steadily all the time. We turned on to Boot Spur Trail and climbed steeply, really steeply, to come out of the trees at about 4,500’. It was like a moonscape. The rocky ground was covered in snow and ice and stone cairns marked the Trail. The views were magnificent in the sunshine: our goal, Mount Washington, now much closer and long views all around to other mountains, hills and forested land below us. We paused for a drink, from our flasks, and then pushed on to the summit. The last half mile or so was very steep but we made it just on 1.00P.M. Winds of 215 m.p.h. have been recorded on Mount Washington. It wasn’t too bad on our visit, but all the snow and ice from the previous day was still there, blown out into streamers by yesterday’s wind.
There is a cog railway and an auto road up to the top. As a result of these, there is also a restaurant. We enjoyed the soup and the magnificent views. We descended by a different path, the drop down really taxing our knees. For a bit of fun I told Irwin and Phil that we always stopped for tea in the afternoons in England. I had some tea bags and a stove in my rucksack, so I brewed up - it went down really well. Irwin told everyone at dinner that night about it and it became a daily ritual after that.
3. Irwin checked out the next day and I explored on my own the Appalachian Trail to the east of Pinkham. I went on the Lost Pond Trail and then the Wildcat Ridge Trail and over Wildcat Mountain to a Mountain Hut known as Carter Notch Hut. This was on Caretaker service only, which meant that no food was cooked, but I could use the stove and facilities to cook my own food. There was also a bunk where I lay in my sleeping bag.
I met some “through” hikers at this hut, a fellow called Glen and his girlfriend, Meg, and another fellow whose Trail Name was the ‘Walking Dude’ (I never learned his real name). We had an interesting evening and I began to realise what a terrific undertaking it would be to walk the whole Trail. Glen and Meg had left Georgia at the end of April and still had three weeks to go before they finished in Maine.
For the next two days I walked with Alan, a dentist and Bill, a prison officer, (I met them both at the Carter Notch Hut). We walked on the Carter Moriah Trail, which is the Appalachian Trail in that area. We crossed the Carter Mountains at 4,500’, just coming out of the tree line. Our next night was spent at Imp Shelter, a three sided wooden shelter with a floor and a roof, the front side was completely open. We cooked on our stoves and just stretched out on the floor in our sleeping bags. About ten hikers were staying there that night. There was a great atmosphere as everyone was yarning in the evening. It had been a disappointing day walking in the clouds, but the next day was superb. The sun shone and picked out the fall colours in the trees. The red maples, were particularly beautiful.We came on to the Rattle River Trail, stopping for our lunch at the Rattle River Shelter.
Here the Appalachian Trail crossed the Main Highway No. 2. Alan and Bill had their car here, so I said “Cheerio”, as they headed east to their homes in Maine. I hitched a lift westwards back to Pinkham. Phil was back at Pinkham. He had been off with his tent for three days. We decided to hike westwards the next day and stay at Mizpah Hut. It was another mediocre day. We pulled up in our tracks while on the Davis Path at a notice saying...”You are now entering an area which experiences some of the worst weather in the United States.Many have died here from Hyperthermia. Unless you are 100% fit and carrying food and spare warm clothing turn back”. Conversation died away as we pushed on in driving sleet.
Once we got back below the tree line, we knew that we were safe. Mizpah Hut was a great success. About 20 people were staying there and the hut was on full service, which meant that dinner and breakfast were available. The other occupants were very jolly and the hut crew were great fun.
4. The next day was perfect. We decided to take the Crawford Path over the Presidential Range of mountains. Mt. Pierce at 4,312’ and then out of the trees for Mt. Eisenhower (4,760’), Mt. Franklin (5,001’) and Mt. Monroe (5,312’). We felt like giants striding over the world with great views all around us, and, up in front of us, Mt. Washington (6,288’). We lunched by another mountain hut called ‘Lake of the Clouds’, this was shut for the winter, although the hut cellar was open as a refuge if required. It was perfect!.
We sat in shirt sleeves in the sunshine eating our lunch. Rick, a fireman from Ottawa, had joined us for the day and a couple from Oregon were lunching at the same spot.
We skirted under Mt. Washington and took the Lion Head Trail back to Pinkham, stopping for a brew by the Hermit Lake Shelters en route.
Using Phil’s car, we got in three more excellent day hikes before the holiday came to an end. We went out about twenty miles and parked up to get in some different walks. We climbed Mt. Madison (5,366’), did the 19 mile Brook Trail and on our last day went south and climbed Mt. Chocura (3,475’). All of these days were in brilliant sunshine. The full colours of the Fall were another week away, yet a lot of trees had turned. It was sheer beauty. For our ascent of Mt. Chocura we had as a companion a fellow who was billeted in our cabin, Jeff Wagner. Jeff was from Chicago and worked in ‘Systems’ at Sears Roebuck, he was a great companion. We discussed James Thurber, Kipling, Belloc, Conan Doyle, Thoreau and Robert Service. It was quite a literary hike. Jeff’s great grandfather had fought in the American Civil War, his father had flown Liberators ‘over the hump’ between China and Assam in the last war. Jeff was typical of the many interesting folk that I met on this holiday. Next day, I returned to Boston. A fellow named Bill, from Texas gave me a lift. Bill was a runner and came to Pinkham every Autumn for a week’s holiday. He told me proudly, that he was the fastest man over 60 from Texas!
Twenty four hours in Boston before flying home was sufficient time for present buying and for a final look around. Five hours and fifty minutes from take-off at Boston to touch-down at Gatwick, and, yet, I had been to another world! I reflected on the holiday. The U.S.A. is a great place for a holiday. Food, transport and clothing, are all cheaper than in the U.K. The people were really friendly and made me very welcome. The Appalachian trail should be on every walker’s ‘list’. It wasn’t particularly easy walking in the New Hampshire area but well worthwhile and all very well organised. In 12 days walking I can honestly say that I didn’t see one piece of litter on the Trail. The country was magnificent. I would never hesitate to go there on my own again. The people just made it a 100% successful holiday.
Useful addresses: Appalachian Trail Conference Appalachian Trail Mountain Club
P.O.Box 807 5, Joy Street,
Harper’s Ferry Boston
West Virginia Massachusett
I wrote this up in October 1990, soon after returning from the ‘Trail’, I retyped it in early
George H. Hollobone."