My 1983 Appalachian Trail Hike in Photos
I wrote a ton in words in my journal as I hiked the Appalachian Trail. I also shot a ton of Kodachrome slides in that pre-digital age. I've scanned all my old AT slides and posted them with short text blurbs connecting them to their parts of the story. I'd never tried to connect all these slides with all these words before. It helped me remember details of that long-ago hike in new ways. These pages are a chronological visual journal of the hike. Probably one of the oldest thru-hikes on the Internet to get one.
More pics from my 1983 Appalachian Trail hike. Table of Contents is here.
Danby-Landgrove Road, VT - Mount Kinsman, NH
Another 12:15 start on the trail August 25, 1983. The first couple of miles followed a congenial little brook up to Little Rock Pond. I have seen so many mountain lakes lately, but this may have been the nicest of all. Nestled in a narrow valley between two good-sized peaks, it radiated an aura of seclusion from the world (an ambiance somewhat tarnished by the hordes of campers already thronging its shores at just a little past 1:00 on this fine August afternoon. Someday, I would like to return to the Long Trail in late autumn, after the crowds go home).
Leaving the pond, the Appalachian Trail crossed a brook and made a long, gradual climb up White Rocks Mountain. It skirted the summit and began an even longer and more gradual descent. The Appalachian Trail passed through private lands for the final seven miles of the day. It remained, for the most part, in the woods, but crossed a few open pastures. Several stretches were on dirt roads passable by car.
Clarendon Gorge, although I shot no pics, was the main highlight of today's trail. The Mill River roared through a narrow defile between two sets of cliffs bristling with evergreens. The Appalachian Trail leapt high over the gorge on a long, narrow suspension footbridge. The side ropes rose only slightly higher than my knees.
Still Chapter 19.
I arrived at Vermont Highway 103 at 7:10 -- almost a full half-hour later than expected In spite of the trail's moderate grades and lack of long climbs, I had needed almost seven hours to cover fourteen miles, carrying an extremely lightweight backpack. As it was, I was lucky to make it that early. Hiking was hard work for me August 25, 1983. Hopefully the next day would be better.
The weather on August 26, 1983 took a turn, one in which I was very familiar on this hike. The thermometer had skyrocketed and the humidity was amazing. Pico and Killington, the two highest mountains on the Appalachian Trail in Vermont, were completely socked in with clouds and haze.
This was the Long Trail about which I have been hearing stories for years: an ungraded, unimproved footway in the true tradition of New England trails. Climbs and descents were steep, eroded, and paved with tangles of exposed tree roots and rocks. The Appalachian Trail does not actually traverse Killington's summit. The final quarter mile is on a steep, rocky side trail.
After a sluggish start, I somehow found my legs on the long climb up Killington. Arriving at the trail junction, I was already in the clouds and still running very late despite all of the lost time I had recovered during the climb. Even so, I could not see getting that close to the first 4000-foot summit since central Virginia and not going up. After that, I made great speed, but night was sprinting onward even faster. I needed my flashlight for the last five minutes to the road.
Sherburne Pass, where US 4 crossed the Green Mountains, was the end of my hike on August 26, and the end of Chapter 19. The next day I would be leaving the Greens and heading towards New Hampshire.
As we begin Chapter 20, I have no idea exactly where the two pics above were shot, nor this one. The unfriendly weather conditions over the Coolidge Range, and the pretty but relatively unspectacular scenery of the connecting trail between the Green and White Mountains leaves me with no major landmarks to pick out and place the intervening pics. This leaves me with four hiking days' worth of pics I can't place. Geotagging was not even a dream to me in 1983. I'll post the pics without trying to blind guess their exact locations. All were shot between August 26 and August 30. Yes, that's five days, but I took a day off due to weather.
August 27, 1983. From Sherburne Pass, I hiked the last half-mile of Long Trail on the AT to Maine Junction, where the AT leaves the Long Trail and descends eastward from the crest of the Green Mountains towards New Hampshire and the Whites. The AT often followed old woods roads that day with some passable dirt roads. Like the Greens, most ridges around there ran roughly north-south, so heading east involved a lot of climbs and descents. A place called The Lookout offered the best views of the day. I reached it as the clouds were partially clearing after a drenching thunderstorm. Could be either this pic or the one above. Or neither. I crossed a lot of high pastures with views on August 27, 29 and 30.
After a day off, August 29 was much like the 27th. Still heading roughly eastward, climbing over north-south ridges through a pleasant country of rolling ridges and neat little farms. A place called Thistle Hill offered 360-degree views of the Connecticut River valley. Could be the pic directly above, maybe.
On August 30, 1983, I crossed the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. This was a major crossing of a large river, involving a stretch on both sides of walking very busy roads, through White River Junction, Vermont and Hanover, New Hampshire, home to the Ivy League's Dartmouth College. Two states to go.
My first miles in New Hampshire were in the rain. Hanover's sidewalks were thronged with students and their families. It was a relief to finally get back into the forest.
I walked about 28 miles August 29 and 30, resting up for the more rugged and spectacular hiking just ahead. It was mostly connecting trail, but it did pass through a lot of nice country.
August 31, 1983 started with several miles of connecting trail as well, mostly because a very nice sounding brand new relocation over Moose Mountain that was in the official guide book did not yet exist. Still chapter 20.
The Appalachian Trail eventually begin a fairly taxing climb up to Holts Ledge, the first real mountain which it had thus far traversed in New Hampshire. It passed just to the left of the wooded summit and began very gradually to descend along the ridgeline. The sun broke out just as I was breaking out onto the open ledges. Suddenly, the sky was clearer than it had been in days. I sat down to drink in the sunshine and the views. I had a 180-degree view of miles of lowland lake country to the south and mountains to the east and north.
A slightly different framing of the same view from Holts Ledge as above. From this relatively low altitude, the masses of Smarts Mountain and Mount Cube shut out my view of the loftier peaks of the White Mountains to the northeast, but they were impressive features in themselves. I would be climbing them the next day.
I arrived at the road early, just in time for a drenching downpour as I waited for my ride. August was over. I was ready for some fall New England weather.
The first day of September, 1983 was a gorgeous day in central New Hampshire. It could not have come at a better time. I hiked one of the most spectacular sections of the entire Appalachian Trail. I knew from my reading of the guidebook that it would also be a very strenuous one -- including a 2400-foot and a 1760-foot climb. In order to cover all of that climbing and still have time to enjoy the impressive scenery, I allowed myself seven hours to traverse this fourteen-mile section.
Still Chapter 20 of my story.
The hike began September 1 at 12:20 with a two-mile roadwalk, climbing very gradually. The Appalachian Trail turned onto a woods road and the climb became more strenuous for a couple of miles. The AT left the road and turned up an extremely eroded and rocky trail. It was a steep scramble across slanting, moss-covered rocks, over which a steady trickle of water was dripping. I climbed through a spruce forest, eventually breaking out onto open ledges with views westward towards the Connecticut River valley and the distant blue-gray line of the Green Mountains. After about a mile, the trail turned straight up the rock face and became even steeper and more difficult. Fortunately, this stretch was fairly brief.
When I arrived at the junction with the side trail to Smarts Mountain Shelter, I was more than happy to make a short side trip in order to recover from that climb and enjoy the expansive vistas to the south and east from the shelter. Even the view from the shelter's outhouse was so compelling that the D.O.C. had completely removed its walls and ceiling in order to enable the (grateful?) user to enjoy it to the fullest extent possible.
Still September 1, 1983. Still Chapter 20 of my story.
I spent a half-hour at the shelter before hiking on another whole tenth mile to the 3240-foot summit, where I spent another fifteen minutes enjoying the vista from the fire tower. The 360-degree panorama was dominated by the nearby hulk of Mount Cube and the distant mass of Mount Moosilauke -- my first glimpses of a major White Mountain summit on this hike.
The trail down the far side of Smarts Mountain was in worse shape than the ascent had been. The Appalachian Trail began following a woods road, which gradually became a passable dirt road as I walked past a couple of crude cabins.
Still September 1, 1983. Still Chapter 20.
The road emerged from the woods in a wide, flat, high valley, passing farm fields over which there were spectacular views of Smarts Mountain behind me and of Mount Cube up ahead. The farms were part of a tiny mountain community known as Quinttown.
Altogether, there was four miles of walking various grades of dirt roads through the valley. After that, the AT left the dirt roads and proceeded to climb Mount Cube.
The trail up Cube was similar to the trail down Smarts, only steeper. The air was dry and fairly cool, but I lost buckets of sweat on that ascent. I was happy to break out onto the open ledges surrounding the south peak. There were fantastic views. The south peak -- the mountain's main summit -- had views to the south and west of Smarts Mountain, Holts Ledge, and the Connecticut River valley. The elevation was just over 2900 feet.
I enjoyed that view for about fifteen minutes, before making my way over the rugged, rocky crest to the north peak. Ledges near this summit featured great views of the White Mountains towards the northeast and a scenic farming valley encircling a large lake to the east.
Still Chapter 20.
The climb down the north ridge of the mountain was another scramble; it took me forever to pick my way down the first precipitous mile. Occasional views to the north from along this ridge enlivened the descent.
A relocation near the base of the mountain lengthened the trail somewhat but made the going much easier. Nevertheless, between the slow descent and the extra mileage at the end, I arrived at New Hampshire 25A fifteen minutes late at 7:45. September 1 had been a tiring but entertaining day.
September 2, 1983 featured 14.5 miles of connector trail, the last in New Hampshire. Upper Baker Pond was nice: a large, placid lake dotted with vacation homes and surrounded on three sides by an arc of low ridges.
September 3 would begin the major peaks of the White Mountains, taking me all the way into southwest Maine. Beyond, less than 400 miles away now, lay Mount Katahdin and the end of a long road.
End of September 2, 1983. End of Chapter 20.
Chapter 21 begins. My mission for September 3, 1983 was to climb the highest mountain on the Appalachian Trail since Mount Rogers in southwestern Virginia, about 1250 miles earlier. I was at the trailhead on New Hampshire Highway 25 at 1:30 P.M. Once again, I had my work cut out for me, thanks to a late start. I was looking at a six mile, 3728-foot climb; followed by a three mile, 2932-foot descent into Kinsman Notch.
Most of the other major mountain ranges along the Appalachian Trail are all long, basically continuous ridges. New Hampshire's White Mountains are a series of shorter, roughly parallel ridges separated by deep, narrow, glacier-carved valleys called notches. The terrain is spectacular -- perhaps unsurpassed on the Appalachian Trail, but it is rugged country for backpacking.
There was very little climbing along the first two miles from Route 25. I passed the first weekend hikers of a typically lively Labor Day weekend in these mountains at the point where the AT turned onto a dirt United States Forest Service fire road. The Appalachian Trail briefly followed the U.S.F.S. fire road before turning onto a paved road for a while. Eventually, the trail turned off that road, passed through some fields, and reentered the woods.
That was the point where the real climbing began. During the next two-and-a-half miles, the trail rose about 2800 feet -- an average grade of about twenty percent. It was a typical White Mountains trail: deeply eroded and covered with exposed tree roots and rocks.
Still September 3, 1983. Still Chapter 21.
The AT finally reached the ridgeline near the south peak of Mount Moosilauke and turned onto the traces of a very old carriage road, which it followed along the ridge for the last mile to the main summit. All of the September 3 pics up to this point were shot along the carriage road.
This road had been built in the 1860's, when a rustic hotel was on the summit of the mountain. The hotel burned down in 1942, and the carriage road has long been abandoned. Today, it was simply a wide, rocky foot trail, lined with eight-foot-tall spruce at the beginning.
The spruce gradually diminished in height as I ascended the narrow ridge crest. Soon, they were little more than stunted dwarfs, and I was surrounded by panoramic views.
Eventually, the spruce disappeared altogether, giving way to alpine vegetation as I climbed the summit peak. This mainly consisted of a plant which resembled golden-brown grass, rock lichen, and low shrubs which grew out along the ground rather than up into the violent, destructive winds which frequently lash these exposed summits.
Still September 3, 1983. Still Chapter 21.
Quite a few weekenders were on the summit. It was, after all, the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, 1983, the last major holiday of my thru-hike. I was still able to walk around and enjoy some serenity.
Looking down at the foundation of the old hotel that burned down in 1942.
After about twenty minutes at the summit, I started down.
Still September 3, 1983. Still Chapter 21.
The descent was very steep, even worse than the ascent had been. For about a mile, the trail dropped sharply over huge boulders, with many steps installed along their sheer faces to ease the difficulty somewhat.
Nevertheless, it was a very scenic trail, running alongside a series of attractive cascades. Surprisingly, I only ran into two more weekenders along those final miles from the summit to the road. I arrived at New Hampshire 112 in Kinsman Notch at 6:55 -- almost a half-hour later than I had expected to be. My ride was also a half-hour late, so no harm done.
End of September 3, 1983. Still Chapter 21.
I hit the trail at noon September 4, 1983, meaning that I wasted no time in making things interesting in the White Mountains. I faced fifteen miles of very rugged trail, and lately night had been falling about 7:30. I seemed to be unable to function anymore, other than in a crisis mode. I may have been growing addicted to risk and adrenaline. This day, I experienced generous portions of both.
It was a steep climb, of course, out of Kinsman Notch, but much shorter than those awaiting me in the days ahead in Franconia and Crawford notches. A mile from the notch, on a wide, flat section of ridge crest, a side trail called the Dilly Trail led to the right across the plateau and descended slightly to a high rock projecting out over the trees and overlooking Kinsman Notch. I absolutely had no time to waste taking side trails such as this one today, and I cannot really explain why I did, but it was a nice view.
After a series of alternating rugged knobs and damp cols, the AT ascended to the highest portion of the ridge, where three large knobs formed its summits. All three were heavily wooded, but the first one had a good peephole viewpoint through the trees, overlooking the Pemigewasset River valley, the Loon Mountain ski area near Lincoln, New Hampshire, and a small portion of Franconia Ridge.
Still September 4, 1983. Still Chapter 21.
A long, knee-killing descent led off of that ridge, followed by a long ascent of the south ridge of Mount Wolf, with one memorable view on the way up from a wooded knob topped by a huge hunk of exposed granite which rose above most of the treetops. It looked back across the ridge towards Gordon Pond, a small, secluded body of water sitting on a high plateau just below the ridge crest, near the col between that first, nameless mountain I had traversed today and Mount Wolf.
Another steep, treacherous descent took me down off Mount Wolf. The ensuing climb up Mount Kinsman was a bear. The AT followed a brook back up towards the ridge crest through a narrow defile clogged with mossy boulders and old, mossy blowdowns. The AT finally regained the ridge crest at the shore of Harrington Pond, a small mountain tarn located in a high, flat, wet sag lying between a low, flat-topped knob and tall, brooding gray granite cliffs on Mount Kinsman's south ridge.
The pond was surrounded by a desolately pretty marsh of knee-high golden-brown weeds and low water grasses. The marsh, in turn, was encircled by a forest of low spruce stunted and gnarled by wind and weather. The Appalachian Trail traversed the muddy shore on gray, weathered, old wooden bog bridges and began to ascend Kinsman's south ridge.
Still September 4, 1983. Still Chapter 21.
Another long, thigh-killing climb. The AT bypassed the cliffs which towered over the pond, but there were several great viewpoints atop rock outcrops along that climb, overlooking an immense, L-shaped valley encircled by the lofty, wooded heights of Mount Wolf, Mount Kinsman, and several of their spur ridges. The lower arm of the valley was a high plateau featuring Bog Pond -- a long pond of irregular shape surrounded by an extensive marsh speckled with tiny pondlets (yes, my own word). From that height, the marsh looked lovely, but also empty and barren save for a few small groves of conifers.
By this time, it seemed I had been climbing forever, but I could now see the crest of Kinsman's south ridge rising above the treetops ahead, and my ascent still had a way to go. I eventually reached the ridge crest on a small, flat, boggy section covered with stunted spruce. From that spot, I finally caught a glimpse of Kinsman's south peak towering another several hundred feet above me. Make that a long way to go.
I'm still not done. More AT pics here.