We slept soundly at Lakes of the Clouds Hut, despite the snoring of EVERY person in the room (including Yours Truly), and woke up Monday morning, August 16, 2021 eager for our hut breakfast and the adventure that awaited us on our return hike to Crawford Notch. Breakfast was not until 7:00 am, and we were up by 6:00, so we strolled outside to take in the view. Mist was still draping the valleys below. While we had jackets on, it wasn't as cold as the forecast 40F would make you expect. We felt very comfy as we looked at everything in a new light:
We will admit that we were not very wary about the Covid risks of staying at an AMC hut. We had our masks, and of course we've been fully vaccinated. But we just didn't think about that fact that the other 90 hikers we would be spending the night with would go maskless the entire stay. Add to that, that we would be sleeping in a bunkroom with 13 other strangers (😷). We thought that the hut would require that bunkroom windows and doors be open for ventilation, but that wasn't the case. In fact, as we were choosing our bunks, an Australian friend we made when we arrived suggested that the room be opened up, but a very aggressive "Karen" nixed that idea, saying that it was, "Far too cold!" By the time the risks sank in, we were there and committed to stay. This was probably our least thought-through Covid "adventure"; we regret how it is playing out, and we resolve we won't let this happen again as long as Covid risks are elevated.
Putting our anxieties aside, we enjoyed a convivial breakfast with the other hikers and, since we are veterans of the huts and have seen the Croos' breakfast skits before, we opted to leave as soon as the eating was done and hit the trail. Here we are with Mount Monroe in the background as we prepared to set foot back on the Crawford Path:
It was cool but not overly cold, and within a half mile or so, we had doffed our outer layers. The morning sun highlighted the reds in the alpine grasses as we looked out over the Dry River Wilderness from the flank of Mount Monroe:
Kathy paused to take what we thought would be one last look at Mount Washington and its (very tiny) Observatory.
Turning west, we looked out toward Mount Eisenhower, our next peak, which seemed too small to be on our itinerary for a day hike:
We slowly descended toward the col between Mounts Monroe and Eisenhower, into the krummholz:
According to Wikipedia:
"Krummholz (German: krumm, "crooked, bent, twisted" and Holz, "wood") — also called knieholz ("knee timber") — is a type of stunted, deformed vegetation encountered in the subarctic and subalpine tree landscapes, shaped by continual exposure to fierce, freezing winds. Under these conditions, trees can only survive where they are sheltered by rock formations or snow cover. As the lower portion of these trees continues to grow, the coverage becomes extremely dense near the ground. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the formation is known as tuckamore. Krummholz trees are also found on beaches such as the Oregon coast, where trees can become much taller than their subalpine cousins."
The denseness of these small trees is remarkable. We experienced two effects from the dense, firm, woody growth. First, the limbs could easily catch on our packs, straps or whatever was hanging on them and either catch us up or spin us as we hiked -- which, with the heavier packweight we were carrying, could cause us to lose our balance. Second, on the narrow paths, it gave us the feeling of being in a pinball machine, bouncing off the krummholz from one side of the trail to the other.
Kathy, however, did not let this deter her from her main goal as we descended -- to search for those luscious wild blueberries and harvest them for snacks along our hike:
We thought we had hiked so far from the hut that it would not be realistic to spot Mount Washington again, but we were wrong. Here it popped up again in the gunsight formed by these two little peaks. We had missed the sight on our way up to the hut because clouds had come in and obscured some of the mountaintops:
Eventually, we reached a viewpoint where we could clearly see our next goal -- the summit of Mount Eisenhower!
On the hike up to the hut the previous day, we had elected to take a side trail around the shoulders of Eisenhower, rather than climb up to the top in the heavy wind and clouds. That side trail, however, proved very unappetizing and -- since the winds were completely still today -- we wanted to re-hike the summit as we had done in prior years.
As we climbed Eisenhower, we happened to look back and spotted an unnamed tarn, shining silver in the reflected sunlight and boasting colorful vegetation on its borders:
We remember thinking we were happy that Eisenhower is shaped like a gumdrop, because it got less steep, with fewer rock-clambers, as we neared the top:
We had plenty of company at the peak, but found a quiet spot to rest and snack. We realized we had a nearly full-length view of the Cog Railway as it climbed from the open area in the photo below, up the shoulder of Mount Washington. We recalled the thrill we had experienced, in traverses from Madison Hut to the summit of Washington, to Lakes of the Clouds Hut, walking across the tracks of the Cog Railway, waiting for the little train to pass, and waving to the passengers as they snapped their photos of the hikers standing there.
Having rested, we continued down the Crawford Path, descending a section of Eisenhower where, 15 years ago, Kathy had slipped on a small pebble and sprained her ankle. She had had to hike the remaining 2.2 miles to Mizpah Spring Hut on a sprained ankle, wrapped as best we could with an Ace bandage (that event caused us to pack knee and ankle braces with us on every challenging hike thereafter). Below, Kathy celebrates descending Eisenhower (photobombing in the background). She found an unusual pebble (just about the size of that little stinker from 2006) and saved it as a souvenir, thinking that she and the Crawford Path were now even. Little did she know (foreshadowing).
We made it past the Mizpah Spring cutoff and started the last 2 miles of our descent down the Crawford Path, when a root or rock clipped Kathy's boot. Her forward momentum, together with the weight of her pack, sent her rocketing forward to an unknown fate. She banged her head, hitting the side of her nose, which started gushing blood. She thought it was dislocated or broken and pushed it back into place and we then attended to stanching the flow of blood. Luckily, Kathy's First Aid pack has supplies for every occasion, and she thought of stuffing two dense cotton wads into her nostrils. As it turned out, the GPS took a whack on its antenna, and Kathy's glasses went flying. Reconstructing the event, we eventually concluded that Kathy's nose did not take a direct hit, but was slammed from the right side by her glasses, which took the brunt and somehow came out with only a scratch. As we hiked on down the Crawford Path, Kathy's cotton nose decorations drew the inevitable stares of curiosity and she adopted the response that, "The trail punched me in the face!" After assuring every one of those dozens of sympathetic hikers that Kathy was okay, we completed our return to the trailhead and the Jeep.
We had parked at the National Forest parking lot on Clinton Road, and had accessed the Crawford Path via the Crawford Connector, but, as we left the main Crawford Path, we thought back to other treks when we had hiked all the way down to the Highland Center to rest before continuing our adventures. We took a photo of the Highland Center with Mount Washington in the background and thought that this would serve as a fitting end to this blog post.
Wait. That wasn't the end of this blog post. We got back to the RV and Kathy thought it would be fitting to memorialize the punch-in-the-face episode with a more cleaned-up version of her face:
We realized that Kathy had apparently not evened the score with the Crawford Path for that unfortunate pebble stumble in 2006, but had somehow newly offended the trail by stealing one of its own. The trail is patient. The trail waited. It found its moment and it struck. Never disrespect the trail.
David caught Covid from the hut stay and had mild cold symptoms, but unfortunately infected a number of family members before we figured out he had Covid. Oddly, Kathy either never caught it, or was unsymptomatic and overcame it before she got tested. As we said above: lesson learned about taking risks with Covid.