The best laid plans…
My last post was about the dilemma of packing for an overnight backpacking trip. The plan was to hike with my son, stay overnight at the Mizpah Spring Hut, and hike back the following day. We’d hopefully hit my third NH48, and my son’s first! Bonus, we might get numbers 4 (2) and 5 (3).
The plan had LOTS of contingencies. This is me we’re talking about. When it comes to hiking, I love to plan. When it comes to traveling with my kids, I know I have to have back up plans, and back ups to the backup.
So I researched, and decided we would park at the AMC Highland Center. We could either take the 2.4 mile hike (with 1900 feet ascended) directly to the hut or we could do 2.6 miles (with 2115 feet ascended) to Mt. Jackson, and then an “easy” 1.4 miles (with a MEASLY 114 feet ascended) to the hut. The following day, we could hike on over to Pierce and possibly Eisenhower if we were up for it, then return to the car.
We got a late start. No worries, I had planned for that. We arrived at the trailhead at 2PM. According to my research, the hike to Jackson and then the hut should take approximately 4 hours. Perfect timing to arrive at the hut for 6PM dinner. Now keep in mind, this was a slow time. Slower than my other hikes (with similar ascent) and slower than “book time” (the AMC has a formula for hiking, 30 minutes for every mile, plus 30 minutes for every 1,000 feet ascended). Book time for the 4 miles, and 2200 feet should have been 3 hours. I’ve done three other hikes, all coming in at book time. Here we were planning for an extra hour! No problem!
To start, I’ll say, it was rocky.
We took a brief stop at Bugle Cliffs. Crossed a few streams. And then it got really rocky.
And then it started to rain. The rain wasn’t supposed to start until around 8PM, when we would be safely inside the Mizpah Spring hut.
And then it got REALLY rocky. Like, rock climbing rocky. I legit had to use hands and feet to get up a 10 foot wall of rock. And lots of giant boulders of smooth rock. All in the rain. Rain and rocks don’t make for a great hike. I was worried my son would slip and fall. My son was worried I would slip and fall. And we both just wanted to get to the top, so we could get to the hut. (After choosing the trail to Jackson, the only choices were to summit and take the trail to the hut, or return to the car and take the direct trail to the hut.)
We finally got there. At 6PM. It was raining, and cold, and the top of Jackson is a smooth, granite dome. Which in the rain meant it was a slick surface that made it difficult to see where the rock would just drop off into the trees. It’s very exposed, so in the weather, it was also really windy. I was also worried the rain meant the thunderstorms (aka lightning) were on their way. It was a disappointing summit to say the least. Obviously, we didn’t stay long and quickly searched for the trail to the hut.
The one pleasant moment in all of this was that the trail to the hut is ALSO part of the Appalachian Trail. So I’m now a section hiker of the AT. Albeit a very short section.
Now the huts are very clear. Dinner is served at 6PM sharp. Knowing we had just summited after 6PM, and it was supposed to take us an hour to get to the hut (but given our timing, we knew it would be more), we were fairly certain we wouldn’t be getting dinner.
Coming down off the summit of Jackson was terrifying. It was cold, wet, cloudy (aka hard to see), steep, and slippery. We ended up butt sliding down a lot of the trail. Once back into the treeline, the trail was either rocks (of course) or made up of beams across water and boggy mush, which when wet are very slippery (even more than the rocks!). One misstep and we’d either twist an ankle or at the very least, get soaked.
We spent the next two hours or so, wondering about dinner. Would there be anything left? Would they serve us? Would anyone take pity on us? Those thoughts were all to distract us both from the fear we didn’t voice, would we get there before it got dark.
One of the best things I’ve ever seen on the trail, A BUILDING. And we heard the sounds of voices! We walked in to see a “croo” member (what they call the crew at AMC huts) playing guitar at the desk. We saw lots of people sitting around the tables, clearly long after dinner was done. No wonder, it was 8PM. The croo member was incredibly kind. He checked us in, told us we were in bunk 4. Told us to drop off our stuff, dry off, change clothes, and we we came back, he’d get us two seats and bring us dinner.
Dinner was black bean soup, with amazing bread. Followed by salad. Then pulled pork and rice. The croo guy apologized that he had to make new rice and it would be a few more minutes until it was ready. We didn’t care. After starving, and freezing, and being soaked, we didn’t care at all about waiting a few minutes for some rice. Follow that all up with ginger bread!
We had hung up all of our wet clothes and ponchos on the two hooks by our bunks. We returned from dinner to a small puddle on the floor. Oops. After a noisy night’s sleep, we woke up shortly before official wake up time. Official wake up time at 6:30 is marked by a croo member singing a morning song along with an announcement about breakfast.
Breakfast was great and included oatmeal, pancakes, eggs, sausage, coffee, hot chocolate, and juice.
So our original idea was to head over to Mt. Pierce (and possibly continue to Mt. Eisenhower). Even after our rough night, we left it open to decide the next morning. The weather was much better in the morning, so we headed off towards Pierce. We got about 100 feet before we realized we were just too sore to do any extra than just getting back to the car. So we bailed, and headed to the Mizpah Cutoff trail. It was disappointing, but ultimately the best choice. Disappointing because I really wanted to get some “reward” for my son on this hike. The Mizpah Cutoff was easier than the climb to Jackson, but still rocky. Our packs felt many time heavier than they were yesterday (possibly true, since they had bags full of our prior day’s wet clothes). We were worn out, tired, and sore. But we had two really nice “rewards”. A very small spur trail to Gibbs Falls.
Almost at the end of the trail back to the car, there was a bridge crossing a stream. Just under the bridge, there were some falls and pools of water. We threw down our packs, whipped off our shoes and socks, and plunged our feet into the cold water. It was bliss.
A short walk to the car and the most wonderful stop at a roadside diner for a burger, fries, and a shake, rounded out our trip to Mt. Jackson.