(Continued from: https://swanhikes.com/2020/07/22/harvard-hiker-invades-dartmouth/ )
The Wandering Kiltsman and I were separated from each other for over a month, but he finally caught up. It was nice to see him again. Crash and I had been telling Rusty stories about our hike down South. Most, if not all, involved TWK. Rusty was excited to meet him after months of stories and bought him a bottle of rum. This crazy guy did 30 mile days for a week to catch up with us. A couple days later, everyone woke up in camp and decided to pass that bottle around. It had been a crappy night, the hike was rough, alcohol weighs, and my foot hurt. I really am not much of a drinker and was quickly three sheets to the wind. I hiked and came to a parking lot where there was a pair of thru hiker alumni waiting with more alcohol and a ride to the store. I got so drunk. I wanted to camp in the parking lot. Rusty convinced me to hike. We needed to hit miles.
I staggered along the trail until we came to a large boulder at the bottom of Webster Cliffs. I laid on top of the boulder and hoped to sober up. It felt like an hour or more. We compromised and decided to camp at the top of the cliffs. There was no water source there, so we had to fill up before we got to the top. There was supposed to be one water source along the way, but we never saw it. Rusty even went on a wider search for water. The next reliable water source was 5 miles ahead of the cliffs through difficult terrain. It was early afternoon and we had a liter of water per person. We camped in the trees on top of Webster Cliffs.
The next morning, we woke up dehydrated and began our trek. I had promised Rusty that we would hike at least nine miles to the Lake of the Clouds hut. A mile or two into our hike, I felt like I couldn’t go past the hut a few miles away. I was so dehydrated. Rusty lost her temper and told me what an asshole I was for suggesting that I may have to break my word. She was furious. We were hungry. Our bodies were starving and dehydrated. We sat in the middle of the trail to eat. Rusty started to eat dry food and I suggested that she eat something with moisture in it to mitigate the dehydration. She ate tuna.
At a certain point she even told me that she wasn’t leaving the relationship, but that she wouldn’t allow me to hold her back and was going to leave me on the trail. I knew that while she could out hike me based on how many hours in a day that she was willing to hike, I could hike faster. I hiked ahead of her so that she couldn’t see me, but I kept my ear out so I could be there in case she ran into trouble. The thoughts of holding her back or being left did not sit well with me. I had decided that, “I would show her,” by hiking the rest of the way to Maine alone even if it was detrimental to my health, and still be there at the finish line.
As I was lost in my thoughts, I came across a tent and I thought I could score some water, but no one was there. After a few minutes, I came upon two weekend hikers who were on the way to their car (it was their tent). I told them how angry Rusty was with me and how it was 100% my fault and that I screwed up. If they could give me a little water, it could really turn the day around. They gave me half of their water, because they had more in the car. When I caught up with Rusty, she had filtered bog water through her bandanna and was drinking it through her Sawyer Squeeze water filter. She was still very angry, so I continued to give her space.
We came within a mile of Mizpah Hut, part of the Appalachian Mountain Club hut system. Rusty stopped me and said, “Look, we need to work this out before we go around people”. We both apologized and made up and walked into the hut together. It had been getting very cold. It was nice to sit in the hut and warm up. I was able to buy some Polartec gloves and the hut worker even took my trash for me. I felt horrible and wanted to make it up to Rusty. We sat there and tanked up on water and food and looked at maps. I had promised to go to Lake of the Clouds hut, because that was the last hut before Mt. Washington and you have to be very careful due to the extreme weather up there. The embarrassment and shame of drinking to the point that it negatively affected us spurred me to go beyond our goal for the day. Bad weather was rolling in, and it would be good to summit the second highest peak on the 2,000 plus mile trail before things got ugly. We looked at maps and tried to find side trails we could take to safety if things got bad. I pointed out Tuckerman’s Ravine. The hut worker immediately said that was a bad idea, because that is where the most accidents and deaths happen. Finally, we decided if worst came to worst, we would back track.
With my new gloves on, we hiked past the Lake of the Clouds hut to summit Mt. Washington. I felt like a conqueror, because I went from having one of the worst days on the Appalachian Trail to over-delivering on a promise I thought I couldn’t keep. Rusty allowed me to lead the way to the summit. The whole way up, I kept thinking about our trail friend “Grock”. He was on a flip-flop hike and had driven up to Maine and started hiking south after completing the southern half. He crossed our paths again several days prior. We were concerned due to the amount of weight he lost. He looked a bit more beat up than the last time we had seen him. I asked him what Mt. Washington was like and he said, “It was like WWHOOOOOOOOOOOOSSSHHHHHHHHHHH”! He used his voice to imitate a strong and sustained wind. Mt. Washington has the highest land wind speed record on earth at 231 MPH.
We made it to the top of the mountain, a mountain so steep that it has about 4000 feet of elevation gain over 5 miles from it’s base. The wind? What wind? We must have been the luckiest hikers on Washington. The skies were clear and there was no wind. We went inside the visitor’s center and bought a bread bowl of chili and looked at the list of 200 fatalities that have occurred on the mountain and mumbled a few words of respect. Afterwards, we stood in line to take our picture next to the sign, which was a comical experience. I had to chase her around it to get a picture. The stranger taking our photo got one of me chasing her and one of us beside each other. We have them in a double frame that we travel with.
As the sun began to set, we made our way down the mountain. Our friends, Rooster and Tinklebell, told us about a tradition of mooning the Cog Railway train. Our descent was timed perfectly and we did our part in keeping the tradition alive. We continued to walk across rocks above the treeline. It became darker and darker. Hiking above treeline could be compared to walking on the surface of the moon. Soon, it would become very difficult to navigate and there were approaching storms.
We decided to backtrack a few hundred yards to the Jewell Trail. It would not have been smart or very feasible to pitch our tent above treeline. We came down to a sub alpine area of Krummholz (stunted and gnarled trees and shrubs at treeline) and camped in the middle of a day use trail so that we would not destroy any of the fragile plant life. We got dumped on. The next morning when we woke up, everything was wet. The fog was so thick that there may have been 10 feet of visibility. Keep in mind that there wasn’t much to look at besides rocks. This is a navigational nightmare.
My foot was causing me an excruciating amount of pain. I no longer had a fever. Between the weather forecast, hiking above treeline, and the state of my injuries, I told Rusty, “I’m not doing it today”! I told her that I was taking the side trail and finding a ride to Gorham, NH and getting a hotel. Rusty would continue on to Mt. Madison. It was not that many miles from there to the trail head where she would be getting a shuttle to meet me up with me. The issue is that we were in the White Mountains, which are treacherous. We normally could hit 15 to 20 miles or more with no issue, but in the Whites, we were hiking 6 to 12 miles a day. We had been splitting up the components of our tent so that both of us were carrying our own weight. She considered not taking the tent, because it was not very far and she could hike there faster with less weight. I reminded her that the Whites are unforgiving and she took the whole tent. She said her Garmin In-Reach device was charged and on. We kissed and I began my descent as the brave Rusty continued into what would become a pivotal moment in her wild adventures.
Read what happens next: https://swanhikes.com/2020/11/25/rusty-on-mt-madison/