3 Day Fastpack in the White Mountains of New Hampshire by Ryan Welts
Over the winter my training friend, Nate Sanel and I, had discussed doing a multi day fastpack at some point this summer. I enjoy putting new routes together in the Whites to train on and at some point I came up with the idea of doing the New Hampshire section of the Appalachian Trail in its entirety. Turns out, That’s 170 miles! Not really something I had time for this summer… Eventually I somehow decided I would create a new 130 mile FKT route that we would fastpack over 3-4 days and then a few weeks later I would try to complete the beast in one push.
With two busy work and race schedules plus family commitments to coordinate Nate and I finally decided on a midweek 3 day journey. I ended up whittling down the route to cover the real “meat and potatoes” of the NH section. Our route would start at the Rattle River Trailhead in Shelburne, just outside Gorham, and end 100.8 miles and 38,725 ft of vertical ascent and descent later at route 25 in Glencliff. That’s a HUGE amount of vertical. 4,000 ft more than Hardrock and MUCH more difficult footing.
Our plan for the fastpack would be cache food along the route and utilize lean-tos and shelters so we would only need to carry sleeping pads and bags and no shelter. The forest service has a bear canister rental program so we’d be stashing those in the woods along the route, at road crossings so we could replenish our supplies. The way the route broke down into 3rd’s with shelter placements etc…was 30 miles day 1 from Rattle River to The “perch” on the shoulder of Mt. Adams. Day 2 would be tough with 34 miles and ending at the the Garfield ridge shelter. Day 3 would be the remaining miles to Glencliff. The Elevation would be split into pretty even 3rd’s, day 2 being the ‘Lightest” due to the Ethan Pond trail section.
Tuesday came and it was time to spot a car, place the gear and shuttle up to Gorham to get an early start on Wednesday. We met in Plymouth and drove out to Glencliff on route 25 in the pouring rain. After I gathered my gear and checked it repeatedly to the desired OCD quota we headed off to the AT crossing in Franconia Notch to place the first bear can with our food for the last 25 miles or so...from there we headed to route 302 AT crossing and stashed our night 2 dinner and breakfast plus a full days rations. After a quick stop at the Margarita grille in Bartlett we headed to Pinkham notch to hide our last can, which would be at mile 20 of day 1 and would contain a breakfast, dinner and 25 miles of trail food.
We arrived at Rattle River Trailhead at dusk gathered up our packs, which we never weighed but I’d guess they varied between 13 and 17 lbs throughout our trek, and hiked the 1.6 miles into the shelter, hung a bear bag and settled in for the night. I slept excellent on my newly acquired “SEA to Summit” inflatable pad which weighs in at a super light 12 oz!
I was stirring to the sounds of the morning birds around 4:30 am but didn’t wake Nate until 5. At 5:40 am we started up the trail towards Mt. Moriah. We moved pretty swiftly over the Carters down into Carter Notch and over the Wildcats, jogging the flats and downs when possible (NOT OFTEN). We struggled a bit with our altered centers of gravity from packs we aren’t used to carrying and had a hell of a time heading down the Wildcat ridge trail towards our first bear can at rt16. Now we had our fourth and biggest and most substantial climb of the day from Pinkham notch to Mount Madison (7 miles 4,500 ft gain) ahead of us before we’d make our way the last 3 miles or so of Northern Presi rocks to the Perch. At about 7 pm we arrived at the Perch and were excited to see we had the place to ourselves, proceeded to cook dinner and hang our food before turning in.
Up with the birds again and a nice granola breakfast, we were heading back up to the ridge by 6 am. Something happened overnight...we were moving more slowly. We realized this when we arrived at mount Washington and treated ourselves to whoopie pies from the snack shop. We stayed relaxed and moved ahead to the next cache at rt 302. It took us almost 9 hours to go 19 miles.. were we in some sort of Bermuda Triangle?? Nate struggled mentally with the slow pace of the day, thinking we had only went 14 miles instead of 19, (my bad) and after some deliberations we decided to take our next closest shelter option at Ethan pond (mile 23 for the day) and then we’d decide how to move forward in the morning. After all, this was a training run and our intentions were to enjoy ourselves and not have a sufferfest!
A nice dinner and good night’s rest at a busier Ethan Pond Shelter and we woke to pouring rain and decisions to make. We had 47 miles of route to complete still and we both had commitments to get to on Saturday morning so we decided the best course of action would be to bail off the AT at Thoreau Falls trail, cross the Pemi Wilderness to Lincoln woods then hitchhike to Kinsman Notch to complete the route, about 24 miles.
We made great time on the much easier pemi crossing and arrived at the Kanc about 11:30 am. We stopped to fill our bottles in the bathroom and began our road walk. We marched for about 2 miles before someone scooped us up and dropped us at White Mountain Bagel. YUM! We chomped on some lunch while we lined up a $20 shuttle ride up to the Notch. The climb up and over moosilauke and back to my truck at Rt 25 were tough and beautiful.
All said and done, we had a great 3 days on the trail! It was great to be out in the “wild” with a simple but difficult objective. I look forward to more adventures like this in the future.
As for the #WM100, I still plan to head back on July 5th and 6th and take a good hard stab at it. As far as I know, no one has completed this section of trail or any 100 mile “run” in the whites as far as I know. It’s going to be TOUGH, and if I can finish before the sun sets a second time that would be an EPIC accomplishment! As Nate says, “This could be the beginning of a legacy” or something... ;)
My Gear list
Hyperlight Mountain Gear pack
Western Mountaineering 40F bag
Sea to Summit sleeping pad
2- 1 liter platypus bottles
Katahdin “hiker Pro” water filter
Snow peak stove and half a fuel can
Mountain hardware 2 person aluminum pot-bowl,spork
Headlamp w extra batteries
Extra socks at bear cans
Wild Things “epic” windshirt
Patagonia strider shorts
Scott “kinabalu” trail shoes
Small med kit
Lighter and matches
Paracord for bear hang.
500 calories granola
Couscous with tuna