In the White Mountains there are no trees for miles on end. There are other people negotiating the path like me. The going is not easy. At the end of the day nobody asks anyone else why they are there.
When I get near Carter Hut I am exhausted and hungry. It’s been 10 hours since I left Pinkham Notch that morning. I need my headlamp to see the rocks, and in the last hours of the day it gets extremely windy. I am not sure I can find Carter Hut in the dark. Like always I am prepared to sleep outside, but it won’t be fun, more like a survival trip. I desperately need to find Carter Hut. Out here life is reduced to such simple terms. I well know deep down inside whatever happens I will be OK. I am not alone, but I am alone.
Finally I abruptly see the hut in front of me. There is no light coming from the windows. There are no windows. This hut (going north) is the last of eight evenly spaced huts in the White Mountains, and the smallest one. When I open the door the warmth and light feel good. I am grateful to be there. Supper is over. One of the staff comes over and in a business like way tells me to leave my pack and poles outside with the other packs. She says there is not much room inside. Once more I am outside in the dark putting my pack in a sheltered place near the door in the light of my headlamp.
The few people inside are either cleaning the kitchen, sitting at one of the tables talking, or playing some sort of board game. I expect it will be like it was a few days earlier when everyone was in the middle of supper when I got to Madison Hut.
At Madison Hut I came in minutes behind another hiker who sat on a wood bench by the door. Everyone in the room was eating and the staff (or croo as they’re called) was busy getting food out to the tables. I sat on the bench next to the other hiker. I took a long drink from my water bottle. I hiked all that day from dawn to dusk and was glad to be resting my weary bones in a place that when compared with outside was relatively civilized. A young man wearing an apron and with a dish towel in his hand was talking at length to the other hiker. He had his back to me so I didn’t hear what either of them said.
After he left, the other hiker just sat there calmly like it was nothing. I asked him what did he say? The other hiker looked to the side at me and said he told me to “push on.” “You have got to be kidding,” I said. “Where does he expect you to push on to.” Outside it was like walking on the moon in the dark, plus hikers were told not to camp on the delicate tundra. I got up and reminded myself to be calm, cool, and collected. I looked in the kitchen area where people were moving around busily. I didn’t care anymore if they were busy or not. I looked for the most mature, reasoning, responsible person I could see. I walked up to her and said, “I’m not pushing on. You can call the sheriff, but I’m not pushing on no matter what that little whipper-snapper says.” “Please sit down,” she said with a slight friendly-look on her face, “I’ll be with you in a moment.” I ended up staying there, eating well, and sleeping well. The other hiker got to stay there for free doing some cleaning work that evening and again in the morning before he left.
I was expecting that treatment again at Carter Hut, but it was different. I told the person who asked me to put my pack outside that I wanted to book a room and get something to eat. I asked her if there were any leftovers. She looked at me with a blank stare like a person who doesn’t speak the same language. I once heard a radio transmission from a pilot in an out of control military helicopter that was going to crash and burn. I was amazed how unemotional he was in his last moment. I tried to be like that when I repeated myself to this young woman.
In the corner of my eye I notice a young woman sitting. She has an amused grin on her face and listens to the exchange between me and the blank-faced lady. I do not look at her. She works at Zealand Falls Hut and is there on her three days off to be with a young man she has an emotional dependence on (loves) who works at Carter Hut.
Earlier in the day she passed me on a steep rock ledge like a gazelle while I slowly grappled my way up. Before I started I stood at the bottom with outstretched arms castigating the rock. Then when I was well on my way the gazelle goes past. She stood there 20-feet from me and asked if I am alright. I say yes I’m fine. Concentrating on what I was doing I didn’t look up at her, but I asked her something trivial to indicate I was fine. I said how far you going which is a standard hiker question. I looked over at her that time, but I really didn’t see her. In Carter Hut what amused her was that earlier in the day, unknown to me, she waited behind me while I yelled at the rock.
“Where do people sleep around here,” I said to the blank-faced lady. We stood in a tiny rectangular stone room with no windows, big enough for a few tables at one end and a kitchen area at the other end. “There is a bunk house and latrine house out that door, around back,” she said pointing to the main door in the middle of the room, “and we sleep in there,” she said, pointing to a smaller door on the opposite side of the room. She became friendly toward me when she realized I wasn’t a freeloader. I told her I needed to eat and sleep in that order.
She asked me where I wanted to sit. All the tables on the other end of the room had people. Two people sat at one end of a long table where there was plenty of room. I didn’t feel like conversing with anyone and trying to eat at the same time. Over by the smaller door there was a table, not a food table, where nobody sat. That would be perfect, I said, and she said I could sit there. They brought me salad, bread and butter, and in a few minutes some heated soup, then some kind of fried meat pieces that were heated-up, and an over-cooked vegetable concoction. It all tasted mighty good.