Hanover to Franconia Notch

Gah, my stupid ankle! A moment of paying insufficient attention to the trail, coming down a particularly rough and steep section near the end of a long day, a big step down off a rock, and I didn’t notice the small shark’s fin of rock sticking up from the surrounding mud. No more than 2cm high but enough to twist my ankle over and leave me lying in the mud. Instant nausea, but after 5 minutes it subsided and I found I could put weight on my foot. So I took some ibuprofen and carried on down the hill. The next morning it was a bit puffy and discoloured, but nothing dramatic. More ibuprofen, carry on hiking as planned. But that night I took my sock off to find a swelling the size of a tangerine and a colour that was heading towards aubergine.

So it’s a reluctant rest day in town, foot up on a stool and applying a bag of ice wrapped in a towel. We’ve been looking forward to New Hampshire since the start of the trail, so it’s maddening to be resting instead of hiking. But these mountains are brutal, and I really can’t afford to go over on my ankle again, so I’m hoping that a day of rest will help.

The first day out from Hanover was easy enough, over Moose Mountain to Trapper John’s shelter. We felt well rested after our day off, and the trail was like much of the AT so far – pleasant woodland hiking on reasonable trail, over rounded mountains.

The next day, the New Hampshire mountains started to show their true nature. We had two big ascents, over Smarts Mountain and Mount Cube, giving 5400 feet of ascent over 19 miles. The views were good, if hazy, and we enjoyed climbing the fire tower on top of Smarts Mountain.

Smarts Mountain fire tower
Helpful tree roots on Mount Cube
Beautiful granite slabs on Mount Cube

By the time we got to our tent site, we were pretty tired, but glad to meet Quick On The Draw, an English guy who paints watercolours in his journal every day of things he sees along the trail. He showed us his journal, and it was lovely to see how he had captured some things that photos simply can’t do justice to.

In the morning, we leapfrogged with Quick On The Draw on the way to the Hiker Welcome hostel, where we resupplied with food, and Quick On The Draw decided to rest up and stay the night. We were about to leave when our friend Rolodex arrived, having left his gear at the hostel the night before and “slackpacked” with just a daypack over Mount Moosilauke, the next big mountain on the trail. He told us Dingo and Walkie Talkie had done the same and would be arriving shortly. There were cold sodas in the fridge, food to eat, shady places to sit, good company … But we were looking forward to Moosilauke, so we shouldered our packs and got going.

Mount Moosilauke is 4800 feet high, and marks the start of the White Mountains. It has a reputation as a bit of a beast to climb – well deserved! From the hostel at 1000 feet elevation, there’s a short gentle (ish) preamble before the path heads straight up the mountainside. No switchbacks here to make it easier – just a gruelling ascent over steeply piled large rocks. There was a little tree cover, but not enough to provide cool shade. We’d only left the hostel at 12.30, and it was a hot sunny day. We poured sweat, soaking our clothing and packs, and making it hard to hold our walking poles with wet slippery hands.

Rocky trail on a less steep section of Moosilauke
Steep ascent – hard to capture how steep it was!

We had to stop to cool down a few times, but finally the path levelled out and began following a path through stunted pine trees, along the ridge. Then as we climbed a little higher, the pine trees petered out and we were walking through tussocky grass studded with small white alpine flowers, with wide views all around of the Appalachian ridges. Best of all, there was a chilly breeze – very welcome after the sweaty climb!

Flowers on top of Mount Moosilauke

From the summit, it was a long descent to our planned camping spot at Kinsman Notch. The way down was not much easier and no faster than the way up, and although we were taking great care, we were less than half way down when disaster struck and I twisted my ankle. Once I’d picked myself up and found that I could still walk, I realised that it was going to be a very long day and a late finish.

After the rough and steep bit at the top, we came to a series of steep granite slabs, descending next to a series of waterfalls.

Some of the slabs were dry and we could walk or scramble down them; the wetter and steeper ones had wooden steps bolted to them. It was all tough on the knees, and I had to be careful not to overextend my injured ankle on the steeply angled rock. By the time we got to Kinsman Notch it was 7pm, and we were pretty shattered.

Nonetheless we were up at 5.30 the next morning, knowing that we had a long day’s hiking ahead of us (also we had camped in a not-very-legit place and wanted to leave before anyone saw us!) My ankle felt ok, and we were on our way by 6.15.

First up was 3400 foot Mount Wolf, a steep but steady climb up, followed by a long descent to Eliza Brook before the crux of the day – possibly the toughest ascent we’ve ever done with fully loaded packs, 2000 feet of ascent to Kinsman Mountain South Peak (4358 feet). Not only were there steeply piled large rocks like on Moosilauke, but also steep slabs with pine tree roots crawling across them, the roots providing decent hand and foot holds. Sometimes the roots ran out, and we had to rely on rocky hand and foot holds. It was pretty good fun, but carrying heavy packs that kept slipping sideways made it a whole lot harder, and the consequences of a fall on the more exposed sections didn’t bear thinking about.

Rocky path on the Kinsmans
Short scramble between South Peak and North Peak. There were dozens of these, all quite nice but taken as a whole, quite tiring!

Finally we reached the top of the South Peak, and had a rest on the warm granite slabs to enjoy the view of the Presidential Range to the east, our next set of mountains. Unfortunately we were accompanied by blackflies which didn’t seem to be deterred by DEET, and kept biting us, so we hurried downhill then up again to the North Peak, before starting the seemingly endless descent to Franconia Notch. Annoyingly, my phone had run out of credit, so although I had arranged a lift into town from Flume Gorge parking lot, I had no means of letting our shuttle driver know when we had arrived. But with a bit of a sprint finish to the day, we got to the visitor centre just as it was closing, and borrowed their phone to sort things out.

So now we’re in the touristy little town of North Woodstock, staying at the Old Colony Ski Club.

Old Colony Ski Club

There are breweries and restaurants in town, and the ski club has comfortable beds, hot showers, and an ice machine. They also have hair clippers, so Neil has had a long overdue haircut!I’m keeping my foot elevated and doing 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off with an ice pack. I’ve bought an ankle support bandage, and pulled out 2 lbs of unnecessary gear from my pack and posted it on 200 miles ahead. Tomorrow we’ll head back onto trail, and I’m going to be walking very very carefully!

2 Responses

  1. Sandra Wilkinson
    | Reply

    Tanya, as you have gone over on your ankle twice, I would get some tape, put your foot in a comfortable position for walking, and then tape up under neath your arch and about 3 or 4 inches up your leg. Leave it on for a couple of days, or longer your ankle has a weakness which could possibly go again. The sticky tape will take a bit of a struggle to get off, along with any hairs you have on your leg. Hope this should help Sxx

  2. Sandra & Johnny
    | Reply

    Oh my word that ankle looks sore!.. Hopefully a day’s proper rest will help and let you carry on.. Personally, I don’t know how you do it, you must have the most tremendous mindset, tenacity and strength to keep going.. you’re both doing amazing… I’m loving reading your account of the journey, the people you’re meeting and the different landscapes so far..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *