Sarah Jane Hatfield, a former graphic designer at The Mountaineer, has embarked on a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. During her journey, she’ll be sending dispatches from the forest, which we’ll publish each Wednesday.
This week, we join Hatfield as she fights cold and rainy conditions, summits Mt. Washington and reunites with an old hiking buddy.
“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” — Barry Finlay
The White Mountains of New Hampshire did not disappoint. Her high ridges above the tree line and scary rock walls ascend and descend along steep drop-offs. My heart raced and my legs felt the burn.
The week started off rough. As I awoke Monday morning, to rain and cold temperatures, I moved like molasses, putting off having to break down my tent in the awful weather. I waited, mostly dry, in the tent, staring down at my soon-to-be-wet socks. Then I’d look at my watch: had it really been only three minutes since I last checked?
The rain just wouldn’t let up. It was almost 10 a.m., and I knew I had to get going. The wetness wasn’t going to abate anytime soon, and I had to hike an exposed ridge line for most of the day. I finally worked up the nerve to break down camp, and pushed on into the White Mountains.
The rocks and boulders were bigger and more difficult to navigate than any I’ve experienced thus far. They really slowed me down, as they do to all hikers. I was as safe as possible with each step and handhold. I frequently had to stow away my trekking poles.
I needed my hands free so I could pull myself up the steep, sketchy parts of the trail. I stopped many times to assess the best way up or down the mammoth wet rocks standing in my path to Katahdin. I can’t count how many times I was saved by a tree on the side of the trail. Being able to hoist or lower myself by grabbing a trunk, or exposed roots, helped immensely.
My hike brought me over Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette. On most days, the views would have been amazing. For my travels, though, I hiked to an elevation of 5,259 feet through high winds and rain. I felt fortunate it was only rain when I hit the treeline, and started my trek across the Alpine Zone, as it’s called.
It felt like another world up there. The wind gusts atop Mt. Lafayette were brutal. One particular gust blew me over, and I tumbled to the ground. Then the hail started. I had to move below the treeline — and fast. At one point, I found shelter from the high winds behind a large rock. Moisture seemed to be soaking through my rain jacket and pants. Perhaps it was only condensation, but nonetheless, I was starting to feel really cold.
I cut my day short so I could warm up, and dry off, as quickly as possible. My tent was still wet from the rain that morning, and it was hard to handle the fact that most everything else was wet, too. I eventually warmed up, though, and planned the coming days.
It rained for the first three days of the week. My socks stayed wet through it all. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was put on cold, wet socks in the morning. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to dry my things in the sun midweek. I posted up at a convenience store and charged some electronics while my clothing dried out.
Good weather was in the forecast, and that made me happy. I’d be summiting Mt. Washington (elevation 6,289 feet) soon, and it’d be nice to have good weather for that day. I haven’t been there since I was a young child. But the last time I was there, I rode to the summit in a car with my family.
I pushed further into the Presidential Range, summiting Mt. Webster, Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Garfield, all in one day. Collectively, these climbs were perhaps the hardest I’ve ever done. I surprised myself as I summited each peak: I struggled a lot, sure, yet I made it. My confidence grew.
I stood atop Mt. Washington Saturday morning, pushing the 1.7 miles from the base to the summit without hesitation. The climb seemed much easier than previous ones. I was so excited that I practically ran up the mountainside. The trail resembled what the surface of another planet might look like: everything was utterly foreign above the tree line, including the plants.
From a distance, I could see clouds rolling toward Mt. Washington. It looked like I wouldn’t be getting a clear view up there after all. I was OK with that, though, because I was so happy to simply have walked there at all. I waited my turn in a short line at the iconic Mt. Washington summit sign, tears of joy and accomplishment in my eyes.
The day I summited Mt. Washington, I was in contact with my hiking buddy, Hawk Mains. We did the Approach Trail together in Georgia, all the way back on Feb. 25. Hawk is attempting a “yo-yo” on the A.T., which means he started at the southern terminus in Georgia, hiked to Mt. Katahdin, then turned around and went back toward Georgia.
Long ago, we made plans to zero when our hikes aligned during his journey south. As it turned out, that was going to happen in Gorham, New Hampshire. We were looking forward to seeing each other. I had to do some heavy hiking that day to get as close to town as possible. I even did some night hiking to make sure of it.
Gorham can be accessed from two points on the trail. I was exiting at the southern access point: Pinkham Notch Welcome Center. Hawk was at the northern access point (Route 2), and we were going to meet in town. I received a text from Broccoli Rob, and it turned out that he was also at Route 2. I extended an invitation for him to join Hawk and I, and he was totally on board. I was excited to spend the weekend with two of my favorite hiking buddies.
Our weekend off was well deserved. Broccoli Rob nursed an achy knee and Hawk took care of a light ankle sprain. The respite allowed both of them to recover before hammering out big miles again. Our time in Gorham was spent being extremely lazy, eating too much food, laughing and having conversations on many topics. Seeing Broccoli Rob and Hawk hit it off made my heart feel full.
Follow along on YouTube at Katahdin or Bust. Also follow Hatfield’s buddy, Hawk, on YouTube at Craig Mains.
Week 28 mileage: 49.4
Appalachian Trail mile marker: 1,872.6