SLACKPACKING IN THE WHITES
by Don Kushon
"Being somewhere different makes us feel more alive," are the last
read in a recent National Geographic before falling off to sleep. The White
Mountains of New Hampshire come to my mind and my recent first time visit.
I had the fortune of experiencing the wonders of this Northeast high country
with a band of nine others on a Delaware Valley AMC trip. The trip was a
five day hut to hut backpack which eliminated the need for a lot of gear, i.e..
no tent, sleeping bag, or breakfast/dinner supplies. This allowed for a pack
weighing in around 30 lb--YES! Thus the term "slackpacking" which I
heard from a seasoned, hardcore, full gear, backpacker friend of mine.
Once you are there, a new mental zone takes over. Pinkham Notch Visitor
Center, a busy full service lodge with showers, and bedsheets run by the AMC
eases you into it. This was where we all first met and discussed our
itinerary. That night everyone did a "pack check" with our leaders to
eliminate any nonessential weight. I was relieved that my backpacker flask
survived the cut. A daily weather report from atop Mount Washington was
given to us the next morning over a hearty breakfast. Weather becomes
paramount to your life in the Whites. As the AMC White Mountain Guide points
out, winter-like conditions can occur above treeline in any month. One of
our group leaders told me about being caught on a ridge amidst a hurricane
on a previous trip. I approached this adventure with a healthy respect for
Mother Nature and did not skimp on the polarfleece that I packed.
Our group turned out to be the "Perfect Group"--the forming,
performing all seemed to coalesce without much trace of a storm. We seemed
to be a good mix of positive personalities with a variety of left-right
hemispheric dominance--everything from art, science, and music to business.
Our leaders, Chris Ripacki and Gillian Backus were as rock solid as Mount
Webster which was our first summit on Day 1. They casted seemingly invisible
lines of structure and safety while at the same time having fun with the
group. They also encouraged awareness of our group process. For instance,
at our first major water crossing our unity collapsed and everyone did their
own thing to get across. After the crossing, Chris brought us together to
reflect on the chaos and how we as a group could do better the next time.
Day 1 brought a good dose of rain and by the time we reached the Mizpah Hut
we were all soaked. It was nothing short of heaven to enter the hut and
find dry haven. This was the beginning of our experience of "hut
Bunk beds with a pillow and 2-3 wool blankets in a barrack style room. A
delicious hut cooked meal awaited us with entrees such as ginger and
pineapple chicken and homemade bread. After dinner there were naturalist
talks, jamming on guitars, or just hanging out with other hikers. Lights
went out at 9:30 PM and if you stayed up you could hear the quiet music of
the mountains. The mornings brought a flurry of pack organizing followed by
breakfast that included REAL COFFEE. The enthusiastic "croo" would
entertain us with a little hut theater while at the same time parting some
hut etiquette, for instance I will never forget "once lengthwise twice
Each hut had its own unique personality. At Zealand Falls Hut there was a
cascade of smooth rocks and water falls that were great for swimming. At
Galehead Hut, the most remote hut with no road access for 4 miles, the
wildness of the backwoods was palpable, at Greenleaf Hut a beautiful sunset
painted the sky. Each hut had its own interesting cast of characters and
the occasional AT thru hiker. Our hardest day took us to the top of Mount
Lafayette , at 5260 feet the sixth- highest mountain in New Hampshire.
There on the rocky summit we enjoyed an unusually clear vista. The life of
Guy Waterman now became relevant to me.
The end of our journey came swiftly as we left the trail and emerged back
in civilization on Route 93. We shuttled ourselves back to Pinkham Notch,
took our first shower since the trip, and reunited for a farewell dinner.
Pizza, beer, Dairy Queen Blizzards, jokes, and laughter filled us all with a
great feeling about having done this trip together. The group energy was at
its peak and we all basked in it. Tomorrow everyone would follow their own
agenda. The next morning as I was driving away, a huge black bear lumbered across the road in front of my vehicle and disappeared in the woods. See
you again, White Mountains.