Slack Packing Paradise

Posted on Posted in Lessons From the Trail

Today’s post is a continuation of my “Lessons From the Trail” series about my time on the Appalachian Trail…

A&P and I with Bruce our slack packing facilitator. I was having an especially poofy hair day.

From July 25-31, 2000 I was hiking the section of the Appalachian Trail that runs through northern New Hampshire.  Specifically we spent most of the time hiking up and down the White Mountain range.  The Whites are a series of granite mountains, most of which are bald on the top because the treeline drops off a few hundred feet from the peak.  If you have never hiked on granite slabs it can get really tricky when they are wet.

In my journal entry for July 25 I was off on an early morning start to get to the Post Office before it closed at 10am.  Most of my food, updates from home and sometimes a special treat were waiting for me at the Post Office.  The various POs along the trail would hold mail for hikers if it was sent to “General Delivery.”  I walked in with my drivers license and they would hand me any mail that was on hold.  Usually there was a box from home with my next delivery of food and a note.  Sometimes there were cards from friends back home who knew my schedule.  Getting mail was always a highlight of the week.

After two rough days of trying to navigate the slick granite slopes of the White Mountains with a full pack I decided to ‘slack pack’ with Almanac and Profile.  There is a place in Gorham, NH called Hikers Paradise that accommodates thru-hikers and will drop them in various places throughout the White Mountains to do day hikes.  Bruce was the driver and he had an amazing knowledge of the mountains and the trails.  I wished his car had a little more leg room because the long rides would become excruciating to hiker legs.

From our headquarters in Gorham, NH we hit every mile of the Appalachian Trail that went through the White Mountains.  Most of our days were 15-18 miles which were HUGE days through the steep and slick terrain.  More than once I fell on the granite.  One day in particular I fell on a slick rock face and slid 15 feet towards a cliff.  I was grabbing onto everything I could to make sure I stopped before I went over the edge.  Obviously I was able to stop…or I wouldn’t be writing this post today.  I still have a scar on my left hand from that fall.  My hand bled for the next few hours, covering my shorts in blood, and we convinced more than one day hiker that I had been attacked by a mountain lion 😀

The Appalachian Trail goes right over the top of Mount Washington which stands at 6,288ft.  That may not seem very tall in comparison to the 14,000ft peaks in CO but it is plenty tall when you are starting at near sea level.  Mt. Washington is home to some of the worst weather in the world.  The summit held the wind speed record for years and years.  There is an observatory on the top of the mountain that is staffed year round.

It was a foggy, wet day when we were on the top of Mount Washington.  We began our descent down the slick rocks.  All of the granite was amazingly slick.  When we got into the trees all the foliage was covered in water.  We called tighter sections of the trail a ‘car wash’ because the folliage felt like the scrubbers in an automated car wash as we walked through them.  We were very clean at the end of the day but completely soaked.  The next day we back tracked and caught the section of trail that climbs up Mount Washington.  We were thankful for the advice from Bruce on how to efficiently make it through the challenges in the White Mountains.

Some die-hard hiking enthusiasts will say that we cheated when we slack packed the White Mountains.  I was raised to work smarter not harder.  Our bodies were beaten by that point in the hike and trying to hike with a full pack through the White Mountains might have ended our journey when we were so close to the end.  There are a lot of opportunities in life to save ourselves some undue stress and trouble, but are we willing to take them?

Slack packing was a fun and memorable part of my journey.  If we hadn’t gone into Gorham we wouldn’t have met Bruce and learned a lot of the history and tales from the White Mountains.  There were a lot of things we simply would have missed if we had plowed through this section of the trail.  The same is true of life.  If we are constantly plowing through life to get to the next big moment we will miss so much along the way.  (By the way, Michael Nichols wrote an excellent post about this very topic today.  His post was based on Jeff Goins new book “The In-Between.”)

Keep your heads up friends and your eyes open.  The adventure is in the journey.