The Whites; an overview
On July 15th. I entered the Whites in northern New Hampshire after two weeks off the trail for an injury. I had only heard a few random things about the Whites. There was a bit about cold temperatures, hurricane force winds, huts, limited camping, and steep terrain. All of this was true…
The Whites proved to be one, big logistical nightmare. In this national forest the Appalachian Mountain Club maintains full-services huts for guests to stay in. At a steep $110 you can have a one night stay in a bunk room with several other guests and two hot meals. Nonetheless, day hikers and tourists pay willingly, but hikers definitely cannot afford those kinds of accommodations. Unfortunately, sometimes the mileage on the trail is a little odd and it is ideal to end your day at one of the huts. It is common practice for the huts to take-in one or two thru-hikers for work-for-stay purposes. Typically it consists of some menial task, like sweeping, in exchange for a hot and delicious meal and a night’s sleep on the dining room floor. The hut crews can pick and choose whosoever they want to stay. This, however, presents a few issues. I hike with a group of five people and we had to separate throughout the Whites so that we could all find accommodations. The other issue is that you could hike 20 miles, show up, and be turned away, knowing that the next campsite is not for another 10 miles. It’s all really a gamble and one never knows if they will be able to stay at the huts.
Luckily, I was never turned down. I learned very quickly that if you want them to let you stay that you need to tell them you have your own food and bat your eyelashes at the men folk a little. I know it sounds ridiculous, but the men never turn away a female thru-hiker. Once you secure your space in the hut it can pretty fun.
Each time I stayed at a hut my job was to give a speech about my experiences on the trail to all the guests. Around 9pm, 20-30 guests would gather around and I would recount stories and answer any questions they may have. Then we were fed all the leftovers that the guests didn’t consume. Hut crews like hikers because we are their human garbage disposals; if any food is left the hut crews must hike it back down the side of the mountain because there are no roads going to any of the huts, just trails.
Once you figure out how to work the hut system it’s just a matter of getting through the tough terrain. In fact, the Whites are 1 of the 4 toughest spots on the trail. Up until that point I was pulling 24 mile days without any problems. When we hit the Whites we had to adjust to the amount of time it took to hike. We deliberately dropped our mileage to compensate for the sheer difficulty. It is incredibly rocky and for the first time on the trail, we encountered Alpine Zones.
At first the Whites contained a lot of waist-high step-ups traversing trails that were about 45 degrees in angle with no switchbacks. As we moved farther into the Whites we encountered smooth, slanted granite rock faces-they weren’t so bad to ascend, but descending over the smooth surfaces was incredibly dangerous. Most of the time we would hang on to tree roots and branches, use our hands, or sometimes just slide down on our backside. What made this even more challenging was the rain and it rained half the time we were there.
Nonetheless, the beauty was enough of a reward for the hard hours we were putting in. In the south we would climb these 4,000 ft. mountains and see only trees at the top. The Whites, however, all had amazing views. The scenery changed as we traversed the forest. When we hiked the Presidentials we would spend entire days hiking on ridge lines and see no trees for miles.
All this said, I am very happy to be finished with the Whites. I have to say that many portions of southern Maine are really just an extension of the Whites. We are currently pressing on through the last bit of tough stuff. We are told that soon the trail will flatten out entirely after Monson, Maine and it will only be one final sprint to Katahdin. It is hard to believe that we have covered so much ground in so little time!