Powder River’s Appalachian Trail Journey from Georgia to Maine 2008

Smarts Mountain


Day 147

Location: Smarts Mountain Firewarden’s Cabin, NH

Miles hiked today: 18.9

Miles from Springer: 1,757.7

Miles to Katahdin: 418.5

Elevation: 3,220’

I planned for some good miles today, so that I can make it to Glencliff in two days. I have to be careful with my time now, and I would like to time it so I am staying the night in Glencliff at the hostel run by Phat Chap, whom I had met at trail days. So it is either get there in two days, or in three. It’s about 40 miles away.

What is nice about this plan is it puts me on top of Smarts Mountain tonight, which has a fire tower. I love fire towers! My plan is to sleep up there, where I can catch both the sunset over Vermont, and the sunrise over the Whites. I understand this will be the last fire tower on the trail, and I don’t want to miss out. That means I should probably get there before sunset.

I am not in the Whites yet, which is the shorthand commonly used to refer to the White Mountains. The White Mountains are meaner, taller, rockier and more mountainous than anything we have seen yet on the AT. Their reputation intimidates even seasoned thru-hikers, and are the subject of much conversation from Springer Mountain on. You are not supposed to go into the Whites without winter camping gear, and people are killed every year in the Whites. It can snow any month of the year, and you should be prepared to turn around if the weather is not favorable. In other words, a lot of us have been looking forward to them for quite a long time. But not just yet. First, there is the 40 miles to Glencliff. First come the practice mountains.

At Moose Mountain Shelter, a hiker named Bilge Rat had perhaps his finest moment of genius. I have never met Bilge Rat because he has always been ahead of me, but he is a prankster who loves to leave very humorous practical jokes for the rest of us to find. They are always ironic, dry jokes that are best appreciated by those of us suffering through the various trials of hiking 2200 miles in cold, wet, hot, dry, snowy, steep, muddy, slippery and various other conditions. There was the fake electrified wire he put on one of the turnstiles back in Virginia, as some had actually been shocked by live electric fences when the trail makes you climb them. There was the water spigot he had bought at a hardware store, carried up the trail and actually bolted to a tree stump in the middle of the dryest section of Pennsylvania. There have been many more, but then there was what I found in the shelter. There, on the back wall was posted a four foot tall poster of a Big Mac. It had McDonald’s latest ad, “Two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun.” Of course the extremely detailed photograph showed the cheese glistening, the lettuce looked crispy and every sesame seed was in place. The nearest McDonalds is 140 miles away.

Near the base of Smarts Mountain is a gentleman who hands out free ice cream to hikers. You simply follow the very visible sign posted on the trail, which has a picture of a ice cream fudge bar. You come to the blue house which is about 50 yards off the trail, knock on the door and a guy comes out and gives you water and ice cream. Brilliant!! He says he does it just to meet interesting people. Indeed, I can imagine he does. He also lets you hang out on his porch for as long as you need.

On this particular day, I had a sunset to catch so I got moving. Smarts Mountain seemed taller than anything I had climbed in a while, and it was definitely steeper. I got to the top just in time for a brilliant sunset from the fire tower. There were already two southbounders planning to sleep up there, but that was ok because it was going to be a cold, windy night up there. There is a fire warden’s cabin, but because there wasn’t much space inside I pitched my tent outside with a view to the south. A guy in the cabin had a radio so we listened to Hillary Clinton’s speech at the Democratic Convention, the speech where she had to swallow her pride and throw in her weight with Obama.  That, I thought, was an enjoyable speech.



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