Back on the AT, only to walk off of it
After two days of wonderful rest at my folks house, my mom was kind enough to take us back up Mount Washington and leave us at the summit. We greatly appreciated not having to do that climb again with well loaded packs! It was breezy at the summit, but so completely different from the hurricane force winds we dealt with when we were last there, that things felt incredibly calm.
We headed out onto the rocky terrain incredibly glad we hadn’t tried to do this in the wind a few days ago! Even without the wind it was slow going, but we kept at it. After about five miles we reached an intersection of five trails called Thunder Junction. None of the trails were terribly well marked and we couldn’t find a blaze anywhere, so we took the trail that seemed to be in the direction the AT sign was pointing. At first it seemed correct, but as the terrain got steeper and we started getting further from the ridge we had a feeling something was wrong. We should have turned back then, but we really didn’t want to redo a whole bunch of rock hopping only to find out we were on the correct trail to begin with, so we kept going. If we had known was was coming we would gladly have turned around. We spent the next hour and a half climbing hand-over-hand down a rocky overgrown trail as it made its way straight down the side of a ravine. We kept hearing voices and we knew there were people nearby so we figured we would run into them, they would have a map, and we would figure out a way out of this mess, but our trail never intersected with theirs. Instead we got to the bottom of the ravine to discover a sign that someone had inscribed a triple black diamond on, to indicate the difficulty of what we had just done, and I wouldn’t disagree with them. It would have been fun if we hadn’t been lost.
The AT in this particular mountain range forms a wide arc taking you over many peaks before curving back around towards where it came from and meeting up with the next set of mountains. Knowing this, we figured if we kept following the trail downhill and away from Mount Washington we were very likely to meet up with the AT at a later point. Not ideal, but a heck of a lot better than climbing back up the bramble we had just climbed down! So we started a string of guesses. I still feel like it was a guiding hand that got us out of there because we came to so many trail intersections that we knew nothing about and had to hope we were headed in the right direction. After many guesses and a lot of disheartened walking we saw a trail sign that mentioned a store, and we hoped that it was referring to an actual store, and not some historically significant spot in the middle of the NH mountains. So we headed for the store, and to our extreme relief arrived at a large road about a half hour later.
We never did meet up with the AT because as it turned out we had managed to go down the opposite side of the mountain! We did get a lecture from a store owner who doesn’t like hikers, but was willing to call someone from Gorham, NH who runs hiker shuttles to come pick us up.
A blessed end to an incredibly exhausting day!