On March 18th, Carey Kish left the summit of Springer Mountain in Georgia and started hiking north on the Appalachian Trail, aka the AT. His Six-Moon Journey (the name of his blog at MaineToday.com) began in the rain and it was only 47 degrees.
By the time you’re reading this he will have crossed the last state line of his journey and hiked from New Hampshire into Maine. He hopes to be standing at the AT’s northern terminus, the top of Kathadin’s Baxter Peak, by October 1st.
I first met Carey and his wife Fran while attending a ski writers meeting. We share a few interests. He is the editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide and before he left for his adventure his newest work, AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast, hit the bookstores shelves.
When he told me he was hiking the AT, I told him I wanted to hike with him and he should stay in Franconia with us. I also invited Fran to come stay with us figuring it would be nice for her to see her husband after so many months apart.
I followed Carey’s blog and read his Facebook page watching his adventure unfold while anticipating his arrival. I have been entertained and fascinated by his travels and the people he has met along the way.
This thru-hike of the AT is not his first. He did it a long time ago right out of high school. This outing is well planned; he knows where he is going, well mostly. He only got turned around on the trail once so far. He eats well and has still lost 30 pounds and I don’t think he has anything left to lose. What impresses me the most is how much fun he is having hiking!
Carey has a trail name that inspires fun: Beerman. He explained to me that he was given the name Beerman early on for his unabashed love of and ever present wish for a cold beer. The amount of trail magic received along the way has been truly magical. He has been served cold beer and grilled hamburgers trailside. He shared a full case of Coke with two others until they emptied every can—that’s eight cans apiece in one sitting.
Fran came down and met her husband where the trail leaves Vermont and enters New Hampshire in Hanover. With the help of his wife and me, Carey was able to slackpack from Hanover to Franconia Notch. Slackpacking is hiking without your backpack and only carrying enough for the day hike.
Slackpacking is a common practice. With the help of a hostel, friends or family the thru-hiker is dropped off at a trailhead and can hike only carrying what they need for the day. Leaving the heavy load behind enables the thru-hiker to hike with less effort allowing for a good rest, a chance to hike a far distance or some of both. At the end of the day their backpack is returned or, perhaps like Carey, they are picked up and taken to a hot meal and a comfy bed.
We met in Franconia and the next morning we didn’t set out too early. With Fran’s car and mine it was easy to do a car drop and help Carey slackpack. Fran and Carey had hiked Smarts Mountain and Mount Cube and we’d be starting where they had left off on Rte 25A just down the road from the Thomson’s Mount Cube Farm and ending in Glencliff just before Mount Moosilauke.
I’ve hiked the AT in New Hampshire and from Gorham to Grafton Notch, Maine, and this section brought back memories for both of us. Rachel and I had backpacked and camped on the shore of Wachipauka Pond exhausted after hiking from Moosilauke. Carey had fond memories of a perfect night spent at the pretty pond, a favorite night so long ago. The AT has been rerouted away from the pond but we took a side trip to stand by its waters once more.
We covered just shy of ten miles leaving us plenty of time to do other things in the afternoon. I took advantage of having Fran and Carey help me with a car drop so I could hike up and over Sunday Mountain since we were in the neighborhood.
Carey used this time to go to McDonald’s in Lincoln to use their free wifi to catch up on his writing and to make reservations for staying at a few AMC mountain huts as he continued across New Hampshire.
Back at the house we enjoyed luxuries that would not be found out on the trails—hot showers, a home cooked meal and plenty of cold beer. Carey was kind enough to answer our questions about life on the trail. When asked about the hikers he started with, and especially ones that I might recognize from his blog, we learned that all of them had left the trail. The reasons varied from family issues to injuries, but the fact is that most people don’t finish. According to the AT Conservancy less than 1 in 4 complete the 2,180 miles it takes to go from Georgia to Maine.
The next day Fran dropped Carey and I off at the Glencliff to hike up and over Mount Moosilauke. We hoped for a clear day but the clouds lingered low. We enjoyed the cloud’s benefit of cooler temperatures as we stepped our way up the mountain. At a tiny water crossing Carey pointed out a big leaf wedged between two rocks which was fashioned into a spout to make it easy to fill a water bottle. This was quite clever and I was surprised I had never seen this done before.
We took the spur to Moosilauke’s South Peak and we were rewarded with a view of Moosilauke’s summit as clouds went whizzing by, alternately blocking the view and letting the peak peek out.
As we neared the summit we had to put on our jackets. I even pulled my hood over my head. The wind was cold as we hiked into the clouds. On the summit we took our photos by the bright orange summit sign. A group of college students asked us to take their group photo as they posed with the prayer flags that they had made.
Carey pulled out his cell phone and called Fran to see if she was near treeline. Fran had driven around the mountain and hiked alone up the Beaver Brook Trail from Kinsman Notch, Route 112. They connected and she had decided she didn’t need to hike into a cloud. She was already headed back down and she expected us to catch up to her.
Across the summit we met a few thru-hikers Slackpacking and carrying the message that Beerman’s wife was headed back down.
Heading down Beaver Brook we enjoyed the trail as it wound around Mount Blue and soon it began to descend more steeply. We took a moment to walk into the shelter to check it out—it has a new roof and in front the trees have been cut to open the view to the mountains ahead and the Franconia Ridge.
After passing the shelter the famous part of the treacherous nearly vertical trail begins. The Beaver Brook Trail was cut by the Dartmouth Outing Club back in 1916 and it just goes straight up along the side of the steep brook’s cascading waters. This is a section that everyone is happy to slackpack. Iron bars and pinned wood steps make it possible to climb or descend the steep ledges.
I spotted Fran first and shouted down to her and she waited for us to catch up. We hiked slowly and carefully down together.
In the parking lot a gal nicknamed Stitches, a member of the thru-hikers class of ’90, is providing a little trail magic by passing out sodas and snacks to thru-hikers. Carey quickly pours a cold root beer down his throat. I ponder that he can’t eat and drink enough; thru-hikers burn an enormous amount of calories.
We had another fun evening (maybe every night under a roof is a party). As much as I wanted to hike the Kinsmans to Franconia Notch I had to return to work the next morning. Carey would enjoy another day of Slackpacking before donning his backpack and heading off to hike the Franconia Ridge, the Presidential Range, the Wildcats & Carters and then into Maine!