Location: Gale Head Hut, White Mountains
Well, what a day! I woke up late this morning and I left Ethan Pond around 8:45 am. I covered the first 4.5 miles by 10:30am. I was really moving. The trail was smoothed gravel, remnant of an old railroad bed. I stopped by Zealand Falls Hut for leftover breakfast. They only had pumpkin bread and brownies, 2 for a dollar, and all the lemonade I could drink for a dollar. I filled up on sweet pumpkin bread. I met Mr. Mountain Goat, from Australia, and Firefly, from Alabama. They gave me a pound of trail mix, which I happily accepted. I left the hut dragging, as I always do after breaks, and I climbed a long slope to the peaks of South and North Twin mountains. I rested for a while to absorb the view. There were many people on the summit. Most climbed the AT from Gale Head hut 0.8m below the peak. I planned to go to Gale Head for water before pressing on to the south side of Garfield Mountain where I had been told by a couple of NOBO’s that there was a great place to stealth camp by the pond.
I made my way down the steep, rocky slope to Gale Head. I went inside and filled my water bottles. I broke down and bought a huge cookie for a dollar and a glass of lemonade. I hadn’t planned on asking for work for stay, but I knew it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Gale Head hut is notoriously difficult for getting work for stay. The hut master, a college junior majoring in Philosophy and whose father is a lawyer (these facts he tells everyone), has a tendency to throw around his weight in his 2000 square foot world. Always he finds a reason why he can’t or won’t accept thru-hikers. They are either too late or too early, there’s no work or not enough for everyone in a group. All the Northbounders I’ve met have told me to avoid Gale Head because of the punk behind the counter. For that reason, I stuck to my original plan and decided to hike over Mt. Garfield.
As I was strapping on my pack and taking the first few steps off the porch, a staff member came on to the porch and announced that a guest had broken her ankle and needed to be carried out on a litter. He asked for volunteers from the guests. I offered my services first, followed by many, but not all, of the men at the hut. I asked the staff member if I could stay if I helped, and he said probably. I waited for him to strap the litter to his back. Many of the other guests had already gone down the trail to locate the injured woman. The staff member, Nate, had coordinated the rescue attempt with Fish and Game, which would send a crew up the trail to meet us as we were carrying the woman down the trail.
When we reached the woman, she appeared in good spirits. She was smiling and lying underneath a pile of coats. Quickly we moved her onto the stretcher and I helped fasten her to the stretcher with the straps. I accidently fastened one belt across her neck and cinched it down tightly. I removed that strap after she complained of the pressure. I was on the first team of six people to carry the litter. The woman, 55, weighed 150 lbs, and I think most if it was in her head because my corner was heavy. We walked her down Jacob’s ladder, the longest stretch of manmade stairs in New Hampshire. I’ve discussed these stairs before now. They are steep, slippery, uneven and with high steps. As we stumbled down the first few sets of stairs, the sky opened up and released a hellacious rainstorm. Our task was just made much more difficult. Over slick mossy boulders, through narrow trail with limbs and stumps, into and out of three creeks we carried this woman. We traded positions frequently. There were probably fifteen people, only five of us were in any kind of shape suited for carrying a person over such difficult terrain in the pouring rain. Chaos ran amok, but out of chaos came a system of carrying this woman and passing her over rocks and bridges that seemed to work. Sometimes I felt that everyone should just shut up and that we should designate one person to call the next move. A few times I told two older men to be quiet because they were doing more harm than good by causing confusion. They both thought they knew what should be done, but they both had different opinions. I decided not to take charge but simply to maintain order so that the staff member could make decisions. The last thing I wanted to do was step on his toes and then not be allowed a place to sleep in the hut.
After about an hour and a half, we met two members of Fish and Game, both of whom were paramedics and formerly in the military. Some true order was established with one of these two men as the executive. They had brought with them straps that looked like seatbelt straps. They attached to the litter and we pulled them over our backs. The straps made a tremendous difference. Not only did they take the weight off my four fingers but also they helped rest my arm muscles. However, their facility allowed us to move faster which led to many slips and near drops of the litter. We forced our bodies to slow down as we walked on smoother trail. Finally we met a dozen volunteers from SAR that brought in a wheel, an oversized off-road wheel that could be used to transport the woman out in a wheelbarrow fashion. The SAR team took my name and address. I’m sure I’ll find out why soon enough. With the dozen volunteers from the hut, I hiked back up to Gale Head. I could not believe how difficult the climb was. My body was spent and the trail was a lot more difficult and a lot longer than I remembered it as we climbed down with the woman. We had carried her over 2 miles on the trail and nearly 1800ft down the mountain. I still can’t believe we did it without injury. My main concern during the rescue was that another person, mainly me, might get seriously injured. Injuries happen all the time when a person is being carried out on difficult terrain, and I didn’t want to be the next casualty.
I reached the hut first, although I was one of the last to leave the injured person. I spoke to the head of the hut. I hadn’t realized that he was one of the staff members that helped us carry the woman. He said I had done enough work to stay for a week and that I could have dinner in the dining hall with the rest of the guests. That I could not believe. Most thru-hikers have to wait until after the regular guests eat before eating breakfast or dinner. Instead though, I sat down with the guests who had helped carry the woman and ate the best meal: spicy tomato soup, fresh salad, brown rice, spicy corn, turkey, homemade bread and one of the best cakes I have ever had. I fed myself until I was stupid with food and fatigue. The guests, mostly rich weekenders from New Hampshire, enjoyed my stories about hiking the trail. I enjoyed myself at dinner. Afterwards, the staff set up a mattress with blankets for me in the attic where the food is stored. Thank goodness I don’t have to sleep on the dining room tables and wake up with the cooks. I am up in the pantry/attic now. I have the tiny room to myself with an overhead light and a window. I’m surprised that they let me stay in here alone. I am surrounded by candy bars, chips, cookies, nuts, raisins, cereals and Lipton packets. A hiker could lose sanity in here and just start eating everything. For now, though, I need to sleep. I’m behind my schedule for the White Mountains because of the five mile detour with the rescue. I’m exhausted because I ended up hiking 16 miles today. We’ll see how far I can hike tomorrow. Moosilauke is only a couple days hike from here, and then I’ll try to hike some bigger mile days. For now, though, from the pantry floor in the attic of Gale Head hut, this is Wayward, signing off.