No burnt bottoms! That is, for my second round of baking muffins up at Gray Knob cabin. It was a simple fix, really. I just moved the baking rack one notch higher.
It was an amazing long stint up at the cabin – nine days! My fresh veggies nearly lasted the whole time, and I saved the best for last, a nice piece of butternut squash. I baked it up in my stove-top oven and shared it with “Ben Here” – an Appalachian Trail (AT) through hiker who spent the previous blustery night in a small cave up on the ridge just below Adams 4.
Ben came into Grey Knob cabin at around 8am. I don’t usually get folks arriving at that time and after asking him how he’s doing, he admitted he’d had a rough night. AT hikers usually adopt trail nick-names of some sort. Either they’re given to them or they come up with them on their own. ‘Ben’ may well be his real first name, but it developed as he signed the shelter log books simply with the date and “Ben Here.”
He was heading out from Mt. Washington, along the ridge when he caught up with “Commando” a 23-year old female through hiker. She was moving pretty slow and the weather was not pleasant for hiking with a large pack. Ben slowed his pace to walk with her as the winds were pushing 40-50 mph and the hikers had to really lean into the wind to keep from being blown off the trail. They arrived at Thunderstorm Junction with plans to descend down to Gray Knob, but it was already dark, the fog thickened to the consistency of pea soup and the wind intensified. Headlamps in the fog turns your world into the interior of a blinding white orb. You can only see right where you’re putting your foot, and when rock hopping, like much of the trail from Thunderstorm Junction down to Gray Knob is, the going is difficult. Also remember, with the wind blowing across the trail, their large packs acted as sails pulling and twisting them off their balance each and every step.
I was out the day before in similar winds with driving rain, albeit in the daylight. The fog wasn’t as thick, in fact, it moved in clumps. It was an amazing and surreal experience as I trotted along, going no more than 2-3 miles per hour, but I felt like I was in an open cockpit stunt plane as the pieces of cloud whooshed by! My world was reduced at times to the few feet in the sphere of fog around me, and even though I knew there was a massive ravine or a huge mountain right next to me, it took my breath away from me each time the clouds parted like curtains and revealed a whole new scale of perception.
Ben and Commando continued to fight their way down towards Gray Knob on a trail they’ve never been on. They knew they were on a ridge and each step they were cautious not to step right off the mountain, or let the wind blow them off! After scrambling up Adams 4, they started down the back side and the cairns led them right past a small cave in a rocky outcropping. Not knowing how much further away Gray Knob was, Ben suggested they bivouac in the cave where they could get out of the wind and stop stumbling in the fog. The quarters were cramped, but it was apparent others had found refuge in the little cave as small rocks were crammed in the cracks to minimize drafts. The heavy mist of the fog combined with their warm moist breath condensated on the cold rock walls of the cave and dripped on them, soaking their synthetic bags and adding to the misery of the long windy night.
Commando had the better spot in the cave and actually got some sleep and was keen to get to Pinkham Notch while Ben didn’t like the look of the weather and tried to convince her, without success, to come down to Gray Knob with him and wait the storm out. There was a stack of packaged food hikers had left in the cabin because they were hiking out and didn’t want it, and Ben ate most of the day and put a good dent in it.
Earlier in the week I took time to explore King Ravine. The weather was mostly overcast and pleasantly cool. I took my camera and tripod and used it to shoot some waterfalls low in the ravine, but it was a hindrance as I was climbing through and among the boulders piled up at the base of the headwall. I often had to take my pack off, pass it through a hole between the rocks and crawl through myself. It was a blast.
The temperatures are starting to just drop below freezing now. One morning I headed up Lowe’s Path to climb Mt. Madison and take the Parapet trail back around to Madison Spring Hut. The hut has closed for the season, but the trails are still wide open. The driving freezing wind frosted everything in the alpine zone with the moisture in the air. The rime ice sparkled in the sunlight and rattled in the strong winds that continued to blow. It was a very different sort of winter wonderland. By the afternoon, most of the ice had melted away or was blown to pieces as the frozen boughs creaked and rattled against each other filling the air with an odd chattering sound.
A few days later, my hike down and out of the hills for my day off returned me to the land of broad leafed trees where the colors are continuing to evolve. The trail has been converted to the Yellow Brick Road with all the golden Yellow and Paper Birch leaves that have fallen. The Sugar Maple stands out in stark contrast with dark red leaves and adds perfect texture to the view.
It’s about fifteen degrees warmer down here in the valley, and I’m thriving in the warmth. But as soon as I go shopping for some fresh veggies and other food supplies, I’ll be packing it all back up the mountain for another week in the hills!