Ask Me: Planning a 96-mile Appalachian Trail Hike in New Hampshire
In looking at your website (super nice by the way!), looks like you and your friend just did part of the hike I am planning! We are planning on starting at Crawford Notch and traveling South to Dartmouth. It looks like about 96 miles. Did you really go 15 miles the first day to the Galehead hut? I wasn’t going to be that ambitious. We thought we would go the 12 miles to Guyot shelter/campsite. I’ve never stayed at a “hut” on the AT before. More of a four-walled version of a shelter? Do we need reservations or can we wing it? We will have a tent just in case.
So my biggest question involves the weather that NH can see in early September. I have done some VT hikes in early October and awoke to frozen water bottles and snow on the ground. I have not ventured in the Presidential Range on the AT yet and am very excited to do so, but I want to be prepared. So Mt. Lafayette looks like 5000 feet. Besides doing some “day hiking” in Idaho, this will be the highest peak I have backpacked for. We are planning on starting Sept 2 and finishing around Sept 11. Any thoughts on weather issues? We will keep and eye on the weather forecast but any information you can tell us about this area and the time of year we are going to be doing this would be super helpful. We decided to bring our backpacking tent (4 lbs…ughhh) because there only seemed to be tent areas on some nights. So my questions:
1. Weather that we can expect Sept 2-11.
2. Anything out there better than the Sweetwater filter system? I know it won’t be 90 degrees but for a 10-day hike, does bacteria build up in the cartridge? Do you keep it in a mesh bag out of your pack to dry it out a little? I was considering bringing small amount of bleach/water solution to run thru the Platypus hoses around day 5. Do I need to do that? I have seen some hanging filter systems out there. Have you ever used one? What filter system do you use? Will one of my cartridges be okay for 10 days? I have one that I have used on two hikes already. I freeze them when I get home from a hike and usually only use it 2-3 times.
3. Fuel. I use an MSR Pocket Rocket stove that is a champ. I usually buy a new (small) fuel for my 3-day hikes. I have a bucket of them at home but don’t ever want to run out on the trail so I always buy a new one 🙁 so my question is how much fuel would you bring for 10 days/2 people? We will have it going for water in the morning and dinner at night.
I think I’m all set with my other equipment unless you have something you “can’t live without” that would make our hike better. Thanks so much for your wisdom and insight. I’m hoping I can keep my pack to 25-28 lbs but I hate being cold at night so some extra warmth will weigh me down. I think it is so amazing that you are doing what you love and want to help anyway that I can. You are truly inspirational! Thanks again.
Your trip sounds great. I’m sure it’ll create some good memories.
First of all, it’s about 12.6 miles from Crawford Notch to Galehead Hut via the Avalon and A-Z trails to Zealand Notch, then the Twinway. You could make it to Galehead that first night. Or stay at Guyot campsite, which could make it easier to take a side hike to the summits of Mt. Bond and West Bond, perhaps even Bondcliff, all of which have great views up high in the middle of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, and are remote and not heavily visited. South Twin, which you’ll pass over en route to Galehead, has similarly spectacular views.
The AMC huts are much more than just walled shelters; check out photos online. You get meals served in a big dining room and the bunkrooms are rustic but comfortable (especially compared to a tent). Galehead is a nice hut, with smaller bunkrooms (read: sharing with fewer people so less noise). Zealand Notch hut was recently remodeled and it’s nice inside, too; plan to visit there on your way through Zealand Notch.
The huts are very popular and Sept. is prime hiking weather, so I’d expect them to be booked up on weekend nights already, but you may find space available on a weeknight. Check into it asap. If you don’t stay in huts, you’ll find that campsite options in the Whites are heavily restricted; the Forest Service has tried to eliminate random camping along trails and encourage people to use established campsites. You won’t find many individual, established tentsites in the woods in the WMNF. If you plan to tent between Crawford Notch and Franconia Notch, you’ll probably have to plan on hitting Guyot and Garfield Ridge campsites. Get to both as early in the day as possible, especially if it’s a weekend evening; they’re very popular.
As for weather, it can certainly be variable and potentially cold and wet and very windy above treeline. (The longest stretch of hiking you’ll have above treeline will be the western end of Garfield Ridge and most of Franconia Ridge; fortunately, the wind is likely to be at your right side or back in the direction you’re hiking, though that’s not assured.) The first week of September, though, is a good time of year because it’s not too hot and humid and you are mostly past the mosquito and black-fly season. You may often hike in shorts and T-shirts, but have clothing for cool mornings even on sunny days. Nighttime temps may not drop below freezing, but I’d be prepared for temps that cold, anyway, in terms of sleeping bag and insulating layers. I’d want to have reliably waterproof (and breathable) boots and suggest you bring some low gaiters to help keep your feet dry if you get sustained rain. (High gaiters would probably be too hot.) You definitely want a good rain jacket, gloves, and a warm hat. I don’t often carry rain pants because they’re so hot to hike in; I prefer a high-quality pair of soft-shell pants that are very breathable and repel moisture to some degree, so that they dry out fast when they get wet.
If you have the right clothes, you could hike through bad weather up there, as long as the wind isn’t blowing ridiculously hard. Whiteouts and thick fog aren’t very common at this time of year. Even if you camp every night, plan to stop in any huts along the way to check the current forecast, which is posted every morning in the huts.
I have not used a Sweetwater filter; I’m not sure how long the filter typically lasts, but that will vary greatly depending on water quality. If you have a relatively new filter cartridge, your filter should be fine for the duration of your trip. The water sources you’ll use aren’t heavily silted or clouded with anything that will clog a filter quickly. I often use the Platypus GravityWorks gravity filter and I like it (read my review) or the Katadyn Base Camp Pro (read my review), though when I’m solo or with just one person I might use a SteriPen or Aqua Mira chlorine-based water treatment. One thing about gravity filters: You have to back-flush them frequently, but that’s easy to do.
Your MSR Pocket Rocket is a good stove for this trip. I generally plan on one 8-oz. (net weight) canister lasting four days–or three dinners and three breakfasts–for two people, as long as you’re not cooking dinners that take an inordinate amount of time. A fuel-saving trick I use is to bring fast-cooking foods like a couscous mix (boil the water, throw in the mix, turn off the stove and wait), or instant soups (like Ramen) that you can toss into boiling water and then turn off the stove and let them “cook” for a few minutes in the hot water with the stove off. I’m also careful to ensure that the stove is turned off unless something’s on it (even for a few seconds).
The one gear item I would also mention is that I always backpack with trekking poles, especially on rough trails like in the Whites.
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You’ll do well if you can keep your total pack weight under 30 lbs. on a 10-day trip. I assume you’ll try to resupply instead of starting out with 10 days worth of food. I weigh everything I put in my pack, including food (keeping it to two pounds or less a day), and I don’t carry more water than I anticipate needing before my next certain water source. You should often be able to get by carrying 1-2 liters of water. Guzzle water at sources so you need to carry less. You’ll find other tips on packing lighter in this post about ultralight backpacking and this Ask Me post.
Good luck. I’d love to hear how it goes.
Thank you for all the fabulous information!! So the one thing that caught my eye was your comment: “I assume you’ll try to resupply instead of starting out with 10 days worth of food.” What are our options for resupplying? Without making Tom come and meet on on a road intersection and give us food (somehow this seems like cheating…) Any other options along the way? I haven’t had much time to research this yet. I’m assuming there won’t be many post offices we can mail ourselves boxes. Thanks again!!
Glad to be of help. At about two pounds of food a day needed on average per person–and I weigh my food because I want to have enough but not way too much–you’re each carrying 20 pounds of food for a 10-day trip. I know you can do that math, but it’s worth pointing that out if your goal is a pack weighing under 30 lbs. The AT crosses several roads along your route. There may be a post office or even a store within a reasonable walking distance of a road crossing, or an inn or other business you could contact about shipping or dropping off a box of food to pick up partway or halfway through your trip. Check out the Appalachian Trail Data Book, which lists mileages for key junctions and services along the entire trail: hikerbox.net.
If you find one or two places to resupply food, or even have Tom deliver a resupply of food to you at a designated meeting time at a road crossing (it’s not cheating, it’s smart), you’ll greatly change everyone’s comfort level on the trip. It’s rugged terrain with a 25-pound pack, but harder with a 35-pound pack. I strongly recommend you figure out where to resupply once or twice. AT thru-hikers and other long-distance hikers resupply as much as they can.
Michael, great advice. I think we will re supply for sure! P.S. Watched your Presidential Range Death March video. You two are crazy!! 🙂
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