Day 4: The Hike up White Cap

# Morning

Continuing the trend of the days, we awoke to the dining hall bell ringing. Sweet blueberry pancakes awaited us. We reviewed the maps, plotted a course, and confirmed our plan to hike up the Appalachian Trail to White Cap.

# The Plan

It’s roughly 8 km from the dining hall to the entrance of the Appalachian Trail (AT) to get to White Cap. This is a good 1.5 hour hike along the old French Town Road, logging roads, and finally a spur of the AT. It’s another 5 km from the AT crossing to the summit of White Cap. We figured we could do all of this and be back for lunch.

An alternate route involved some bush whacking up the old logging/hunting trails more directly up the side of the mountain. However phrases like, “if you squint just right, you can still see the remnants of the path”, and “if you get lost, just follow the contour of the ravines” didn’t inspire confidence.

We packed up some supplies and set off on our morning adventure.

# The Hike to White Cap

Along the old Frenchtown Road, we ran into our first obstacle:

active logging

This is an active logging area. Yes, in AMC nature preserve, there is active, commercial logging. Also, this is calf-to-knee deep mud. It took us 20 minutes to pick our way through the brush and mud to get back to solid ground. The trees were fresh cut and the smell of wood and fresh pine boughs filled the air.

fresh cut logs

It’s sort of amazing to see the sheer destruction logging appears to bring to the forest. Huge machines just lumber through the woods, cutting down the trees in their path, stripping their branches, and piling them up for hauling back to another massive machine. This second machine makes quick work of the final stripping, sizing, and stacking of the trees. It appears to be a 2-man operation able to clear hundreds of trees in a week. Here’s the main machine for tromping through the forest to pull out the freshly felled trees:

tree mover

It’s tough to see the scale of the machine. I’m almost 2 meters tall, and those tires are above my head by quite a bit.

We hiked on. We eventually ran into an active operation where the final prep machine was active, and we waited about 5 minutes for him to let us pass. In this 5 minutes, the operator prepped (stripped, debarked, cut into consistent lengths) a tree every 30 seconds.

## The AT

After 2.5 hours, we finally made it to the AT gate.

the AT gate

Re-invigorated at the sight, we picked up the pace and made it to the AT crossing.

AT sign

5 km to the peak. We head off up the mountain on the AT. My travel companion noted for the historic significance and “epicness” of the vaunted AT, it sure looks unassuming.

the AT

Fairly quickly, we come to the sign we’ve been waiting for, directions to the summit:

AT Summit directions

We stop at the lean-to for a water and snack break. Almonds, cherries, and some water recharges us. There’s a grey mouse scurrying around the lean-to and recently-used fire-pit picking up food scraps. We take some time to read through the lean-to logbook, which dates back to 2003. 11 years of hikers have left messages of one sort or another for posterity. Some are more positive than others. Mike, you aren’t alone, or at least your message isn’t any more.

Mike Montalvo's AT log book message

We leave the lean-to and head up the trail to the summit. It gets very steep, very fast. It’s slow going. We eventually reach the first lookout point.

first white cap lookout

It’s totally impossible to explain the sheer beauty of this view. And at the same time, the sheer drop off of the cliff we’re standing on. According to my GPS, we’re at 811m altitude. The wind is wet and we’re watching the bottom wisps of clouds pass beneath us in the ravine below. We stay for a drink of water and some more almonds. We carry on. It’s nearly 12:30. We missed lunch and we’re not even at the summit. The trail continues to get more and more steep.

## Final ascent to the summit

In fact, the trail is so steep, the AMC built stairs for parts of it to keep you from sliding down the wet, cloud-soaked trail at this point.

stairs at 900m

We persevere. Finally, the trees are getting shorter than us. The wind picks up. The blueberry bushes are everywhere (and tasty). The GPS says we’re at 1100 meters. We’re at the summit. We’re greeted with clouds, mist, near freezing winds, and a wonderful view of the 100 mile wilderness.

summit of white cap

Comically, I have cell signal up here. I call back to WBPC and tell them our status. Surprisingly, this is a common occurrence for them and they simply congratulate us on our achievement and tell us they’ll have dinner waiting.

# The Return Hike

The hike back down the AT is quicker. We’re tired, but it’s all downhill from here. Ok, we’re exhausted. We’re wet. We’re surprisingly not cold even though there is frost and light snow. Our feet and legs are sore. We press on.

Back at the lean-to, we stop to finish off the almonds, cherries, and water. We relax for a bit and begrudgingly convince our bodies to head back for dinner. In sort of a stupor from the hike, my traveling companion provided a running commentary on cherry pits, ephemerally referred to as “The Cherry Pit Report”. It helped pass the time and keep our minds off our sore legs and feet.

On the way down, we run into a few hikers on their way up. Some of them apparently are carrying a small house worth of supplies and equipment on their backs. They look tired, sore, and overloaded. We have brief chats with them, encouraging them the lean-to is a scant 30 minutes away.

We cross back off the AT onto the logging roads.Through the AT gate and manage to get back through the knee-deep mud at the active logging sites. The final 8 km on the logging roads is exhausting. We have to stop more often to just rest our feet and legs.

# Evening

Finally, we get back to camp. Dinner is at the tail end. We head back to the cabin, clean up, and head to the dining hall. As promised, Eric, Amy, and crew have dinner waiting for us. The pink lemonade was never so satisfying as it was at dinner. I think it was Cornish game hens. I don’t think either of us really remember the actual menu. It was just warm, tasty, and we inhaled it all down to the bare plate. The mixed berry pie was awesome. We talk with the other dinner patrons. It was a 26 km hike today. Up and down a mountain. On the AT. 26 km of hiking. It sounded all so easy and quick over breakfast.

It’s our last night at WBPC. Even as exhausted as we are, we start a roaring fire and sit to enjoy the moment. It’s wonderful. We soon take warm baths and pass out in the big cabin at the end.

This is the fifth in a series of posts recounting the return to West Branch Pond Camps after 21 years. The full set of images are at my smugmug gallery.

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