We were up early and out hitching by 7 am. A motel guest was just returning from his morning run and gave us a ride to the trailhead at The Flume State Park. We got out at the parking lot and started up the paved path to the trailhead when we received another ride from the park ranger on a golf cart to the trail head. Score!
The trail started with a steady, moderate climb that became steeper and harder as we went on. We passed Liberty Springs Campsite and were joined by an older couple who were out for a 4 day hike across the ridge. They reported that there had been some bear activity at the campsite the night before.
We continued on a steep rocky climb, up to above treeline. We stopped to don rain gear not for rain, but as wind breakers since the wind was to strong and cold at this elevation. We ran into a family out for a weekend hike. They reported that Franconia Ridge was their favorite place to hike in the area; we soon found out why.
After a bit more climbing, we came to the most spectacular views anywhere on the trail as of yet! I've seen this ridgeline so many times from below. It's something else altogther from the top! To think I've lived so close to this ridgeline and never climbed it until now. I'll say this: all the hype about the White we've been hearing since Georgia is totally deserved! And the weather was spectacular. Windex-blue skies with puffy clouds. We were very lucky in that respect.
We continued along the ridgeline for a few miles before dropping back below treeline. We experienced the usual: forest walking, boardwalks over muddy areas, rock-hopping. Nothing too steep. We made it to the campsite that we had determined would be option #1 for stopping but it was still relatively early so we decided to push on to the Galehead Hut.
The hut system is something unique to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Instead of the free shelters. there are huts. They have electricity, a dining area, running water in the bathrooms, and very large, very delicious dinners and breakfasts. Of course, this all comes at a price. A big price. An overnight stay in the bunkhouse runs $100-$120 per person. Ouch. But they have a nice deal for thru-hikers if your timing is right: each night, they will accept 2 to 4 thru-hikers on a work-for-stay option (Lake of the Clouds Hut accepts more). In exchange for doing some chores around the hut, hikers can eat the leftovers from dinner and breakfast after the paying guests have finished and may sleep on the floor of the common room. Not too shabby!
As we made our way from the campsite to the hut, the late afternoon thing started happening as it does every day; I started slowing down from fatigue while Subaru started speeding up from being anxious to get where we were going. Today, instead of asking him to please slow the heck down, I said to go as fast as he wanted in order to secure the work for stay spots. He took off, I followed behind, and we got the work for stay spots? Yahoo!
I arrived at the hut at 4:45, washed up and changed into camp clothes, had some lemonade, hung out my wet clothes to dry, and waited. Waiting is always hard. Especially when you are waiting to eat. But eventually (around 7pm) we were given the ok to come into the dining room. Dinner was great- flank steak, potatoes, green beans, homemade bread, 2 different soups, and spice cake for dessert. After dinner, we wiped down the tables. Then Subaru washed dishes, I cleaned and changed the foil on the drip pans of the stove, Almost (a southbounder) defrosted the freezer, and Whiplash (his hiking buddy) swept and mopped the floor. Took about 35-40 minutes. After we were done with the chores, we again played the waiting game. Lights out in the hut was 10pm, which may as well be 2am for hikers. Once 10 pm came, we spread our pads and sleeping bags our on the freshly swept and mopped floor, and slept in a nice, warm hut. Which was nice, since we were at 4000 feet in New Hampshire. Great day!