Al's story 
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Backpacking in the White Mountains 

by   Al Erpel

The AMC White Mountain hut system of backpacking was different than I expected. Having only tent camped up until now, I thought hut camping would be a step backwards. Obviously, I had never hiked in such challenging environs. The thousands of feet of up and down elevation change between each hut over rocky paths is a challenge to all but the upper crust of backpackers.

I signed on for Chris Rapacki and Gillian Backus' trip from Jun 24 to Jun 29. On the first night, the 10 group members met at Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch (at the base of Mt. Washington) for an orientation meeting and review of the trip as we all followed it on our topographical maps. Some of us were shocked at the amount of elevation changes we were about to experience. Afterwards, the leaders helped us unload unnecessary items from our packs. For this trip, (5 days hiking, 4 nights in huts) a 30-37 pound pack with water bottles full, is the maximum necessary, and we all struggled with what items to jettison to achieve this.

The next morning, after positioning cars for our entrance and exit points, we were off, traveling up Dry River Trail out of Crawford Notch . Over the next five days our route was Mizpah to Zealand Falls to Galehead to Greenleaf to our parked cars in Franconia Notch. The weather varied greatly; it was necessary to be prepared for anything. But the weather was mostly good, especially towards the end of the trip. Our first dayís weather started out beautiful, but degenerated into rain for the last 45 minutes of hiking. We arrived sodden and everyone got busy trying to find a place to hang wet stuff to dry. A boot pyramid developed in the open window so more of us could take advantage of the drying breeze. Dinner consisted of pumpkin soup, home made bread, salad, rice with black beans, vegetables, chicken, a variety of teas or coffee, and peanut butter cookies for dessert. The next morningís breakfast included cream of wheat, cereals, pancakes, sausage, juices, coffee or tea. These awesome meals were typical of the fare served to us each day in all of the huts. During the five days of hiking, our group of 6 men and 4 women who mostly did not know any of the others as the trip began, bonded with each other in a way that I personally had never experienced before. Between hut hikes, we talked and got to know many personal things about each other and laughed and joked often. It was (allegedly) discovered that women can pee with their packs on (although there was no independent verification of this except for two accidental passersby whom we didn't ask). In our group of 10, we had 3(!) singer/guitar players, who provided entertainment in the three huts which had guitars. Everyone's life backgrounds varied widely with our ages pretty evenly spaced from 28 to 47. There didnít appear to be a typical profile.

The second day was the most humid, and after a long sultry hike we finally arrived at our next stop, Zealand Falls. After claiming bunks and ditching our packs, we hiked about .1 miles up the falls from the hut and found a waterfall emptying into a pool. We all took a turn sitting on the shelf in the cold (but refreshing) water; one of the moments we will all remember. Later that night we sat in the dark on the rocks by the falls and told dirty jokes until we smiled.

We left the next morning full of energy and the hiking seemed easier. We eventually reached the highest peak yet, Mt. Guyot at 4508 ft., but couldnít see anything since we were surrounded by clouds in 30 mph winds. We stopped for lunch as the rain subsided, in a small protected area. After lunch we reached the summit above Galehead (South Twin Mt.), we were all wet and chilly in our jackets in the 18 mph wind from rain and sweat when a young blond girl appeared before us all, seemingly out of nowhere. She wore only a halter top and very short shorts. She was looking for a rare flower (itís name sounded like diet pepsia) There was at least one classic double take as each of us saw her. Then she (seemingly) disappeared and reappeared two more times. It was too much for us. A group hallucination? An apparition? It became the subject of much debate.

The next day before leaving Galehead we saw our lunchtime destination of Mt. Garfield, a peak looming high in the distance. We promptly began our hike down(!) 1300 hundred feet before finally ascending 2000 feet to the top. It was worth it; our first 360 degree panorama. Then on to the top of Franconia Ridge before descending 1200 feet to Greenleaf hut. Chris advised us that we would see many false summits as we climbed this ridge, even so, we were still taken by surprise several times, when thinking we had just achieved the highest point, were chagrined to find out otherwise. This feeling gave way to elation as all of us, in our best condition of the trip, approached the summit on the ridge path surrounded with vistas in every direction.

The last day, we hiked back up to the top of Franconia Ridge, the dayís only difficult uphill, then followed the ridge to the Falling Waters Trail, which took us 3000 feet down to the parking lot to our cars. Success! No injuries. Everyone happy. What could be better? ----- Can you say "hot shower"?

We drove back to Pinkham Notch (after a photo op with the Old Man in the Mountain). We got cleaned up and headed out for pizza and beer. Then onward to Dairy Queen for dessert. Then back to Joe Dodge Lodge for an informal meeting in the recreation room where we rehashed the trip to much laughter. We discovered that we had constant references to things that no one else would understand. Red dot on white canvas, WNL, buck forty-five, maximum shrinkage, "the apparition", etc. The next morning we had breakfast at the Visitor Center and then went our separate ways. Many of us were staying for an additional day or so of vacationing. I was headed toward Lowell MA, to meet my wife before heading home to PA. Booking down I-93 at 90mph! YEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaa! Euphoria! Arriving in Lowell, I got settled in, and after my wife read the trip journal I had been keeping, I started to elaborate, and I was emotionally overcome. It was a strange experience, crying at the loss of something ephemeral like our trip; a new experience for me.

Thanks to Chris and Gillian for leading all 10 of us in creating a wonderful unique experience.