When I got to Crawford Notch in in New Hampshire ahead of me was Mount Washington. I didn’t want to go up there in October. The top of Mount Washington is above tree line which means there are no trees up there. I had already been over Mount Moosilakue which is like that but not as high. The day I went over Moosilakue there was thick fog, it was cold, and the wind was so strong that I had to lean against it to stay right side up. My nylon wind breaker and pack cover were luffing loudly like a sail on a boat turning into the wind.
I stopped my hike at Crawford Notch, and got a ride five miles to a highly civilized place called the Appalachian Mountain Club Highland Center. People stayed there before they went on excursions in the White Mountains. I got a bed in a hikers bungalow. In the main building there was a front desk with more than one full-time attendant. Most people who went there got private rooms with maid service.
Looking East at Crawford Notch, it looked familiar. I was at the Highland Center two days waiting for my ride. There was plenty of time to look and think. It was the outline of the hills, a lake, and the ledges. I finally realized it was in a history book many years before that I saw that place. As a boy I looked at the picture several times for a long time. It showed a horse and rider where now there is Route 302. I remembered words under the picture, “Notch in the White Mountains.” That nite at the Highland Center there was a presentation about the White Mountains. I got there early to ask about the picture. The man giving the presentation showed me a painting on his computer, and said it was done in the early 1800’s by artist Thomas Cole. It was the same place. Years before when I looked at that picture in a book I wanted to be there and now I was.
The previous Summer I stopped where the trail crosses a busy road half way between Williamstown and North Adams Massachusetts. The distance from there to Crawford Notch where I ended my section hike is 250 miles. I began from that road, and after a few miles I was in Vermont.
The half mile decent to Route 9 was tedious and most difficult. It was all large rocks and very steep. At the bottom, beside the road was a small pick-up truck with a man and woman inside. The man was looking at trail maps. I asked him if he was going to Benningon. He eventually told me to jump in the back. In town I got a clean room for a relatively small amount of money. The motel owner took me back to the trail early the next morning. The hike up out of that gap was not as severe as the hike down. That day I felt fresh as a daisy and went 12 miles to the Goddard Shelter. It was a large, well built shelter with beveled braces and mortise and tenon beams. By late afternoon there were five women, three men, a dog that was hurting, and a couple tenting in back.
Practically all of them were from that area hiking part or all of Vermont’s Long Trail, a foot path that extends the length of the state. I was one of two people thru hiking or section hiking the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail are the same path from the state line to Willard Gap, a distance of 105 miles. After that the two trails split. The Long Trail goes 168 miles further to the Canadian border, and the Appalachian Trail goes to Maine.
South of a mountain in a protected area is a very healthy beaver dam with two colonies. The trail passes below the dam on planks laid over wet mud. The dam is an engineering feat. It is four feet high on the side where I was, and it holds back a large area of water. Out on the water there are two neatly arranged pyramids of branches three or four feet high. Each one is where a colony lives. I stood there a few minutes hoping to see a beaver, but never did. It was a pristine scene, and to see it must have been what the early settlers saw everywhere in he woods. Now at least this one is preserved alive. I camped north of there at the base of the mountain on a thick layer of pine needles next to a rushing stream.
There is a shelter where the chipmunks rule. I got there for lunch and decided to stay. Out front it has a magnificent valley view, and that day there was brilliant sunshine coming from behind me. I sat there at the picnic table deep in thought, trying to put into words what natural beauty is. “I know it when I see it,” is what somebody else said about something else. That was as close as I could get. I was sitting there quietly, motionless when a chipmunk appeared on top of a big rock in front of me. He was looking directly at me, and when he had my attention he proceeded to dart around with his tail straight up in the air. It was obvious he lived nearby, and was overjoyed that another food source had arrived. Plus, he might have been showing me how fearless he was. Chipmunks don’t live in shelters like mice do, but they love the food like mice do. Unlike a mouse, they can jump. At night a pack hanging from a string with a shield is inaccessible to a mouse, but it is no problem for a chipmunk hungry enough and fearless enough to make the jump from a wall or another pack. In a short while there were other chipmunks scurrying around rocks and grasses in front of the shelter. As other hikers arrived the chipmunks disappeared.
The shelter was mostly full that night. There were two tent areas. One person was in one of them, and just before dark three people hiking together took the other one. The other one was several hundred feet away and not visible from the shelter. These three guys started making noise in the middle of the night. It wasn’t in three part harmony. From all the yelling the only words I could make out was, “GET AWAY.” The next morning one of them said they fell asleep with an open bag of cheese puffs which are highly odorous food. All their food was in the tent. He was sort of embarrassed by the whole event because they thought it was a bear, but learned it was chipmunks climbing up the outside of the tent in a coordinated effort to have some cheese puffs. After the chipmunk assault they hung their food from trees and went back to sleep. One hiker said there hasn’t been a bear incident in Vermont in 30 years.
In the four years I went from Georgia to where I was in Vermont I saw one bear, and had a close encounter with a second one I didn’t see. Both times were in Virginia. The first time was in the early dawn in front of a shelter. Another hiker brushing his teeth pointed him out to me. It kept circling around one tent. There were several tents out there. I was amazed how big it was. The other hiker clapped his hands to make the bear leave. It looked at us and turned like it was moving away, but then turned back again to circle that same tent. Whatever was in there must have smelled good. Not wanting to wake everybody up with noise the hiker clapped his hands again, the bear looked at us once more, and moved begrudgingly back into the woods. Later that morning a person from that tent came up to the shelter to have breakfast. When she was told about the bear circling her tent she seemed shaken, and mumbled something that she didn’t think bears would come around that many people. She didn’t say it, but the way she reacted I would say she had some open food in the tent. It was a relatively big tent, big enough for more than one person.
The second time a bear came by I was resting in a shelter in the late afternoon. One other hiker was sitting quietly at the picnic table out front. He started yelling loudly for a prolonged time. A bear, natural as could be, was nonchalantly meandering down the path toward the shelter. The other hiker said if I wanted to see a bear there was one right up there, and he pointed up the trail. I didn’t particularly want to see a bear and told him so.
Often there are written entries in shelter registers about multiple bear sightings the same day. I never saw any bears when I was hiking and figured it was because I moved so slow and made so much noise. In hostels along the way sometimes I would hear other hikers talk with a bravado about death dealing animals they saw.
Three years earlier in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee I went a grueling six miles uphill from Fontana Dam to the Molly’s Ridge Shelter where an excited hiker a few minutes ahead of me had a digital photograph on his cell phone of a rather fat Timber Rattlesnake he had just seen. Many people were in the park that day. It was Memorial Day weekend, Five minutes behind me were several people who talked about seeing the same snake sliding down the path. That was a death dealing animal I went past and never saw.
That day in Vermont with the chipmunks a young man and woman hiking together came into the shelter. They weren’t very conversational among themselves or anybody else. After a few minutes they went to the tenting area, and came back. He had a huge camouflaged pack and when another hiker asked him if he was military he said yes. He was a large person, not fat, but big in comparison to all other people. He had a black beard and black hair that stuck out all around his head in long clumps that made him look like a wild man. He carried everything for both of them and had a tattoo of snakes on one calf. She had a small pack with mostly books. She was a long, leggy girl with light brown hair who looked intellectual. I never heard her voice except for one word.
That was the next morning. She was propped-up on one elbow in her sleeping bag reading a book wearing tortoise shell eye glasses. He was still asleep next to her in a sleeping bag turned on his side facing away from her. I asked her what she was reading and she said the one word without looking up. When her voice sounded he flinched like a highly trained security guard.
When he was up I walked over to where he was under the shelter overhang. She was still reading not far below us in her sleeping bag on the shelter deck. I didn’t know what the one word was, Marquise de Sade or something like that is what I imagined. He was packing up when I asked him about the weather. He was friendly enough and made eye contact. Then looking away he mumbled quietly the words, “shut up, shut up.” It was loud enough for me and her to hear, but no one else. I didn’t think he was talking to me, and kept on conversing. They were going North, thru hiking the entie Appalachian Trail that Summer.