We got to sleep in this morning since we were planning a shorter day, only 9 miles, to help us recover from the last two killer days we hiked. We packed up and got moving at 8 a.m. instead of our usual 7-7:30 start time. We could have stayed at Taft Lodge a whole day if it had rocking chairs, but it was time to move on.
We began with our descent down to Smuggler's Notch with a surprising number of day hikers heading up Mansfield. It was already incredibly humid and the air was hot and stagnant. We hiked/climbed down 1.7 miles and were pouring sweat all the way to the bottom. After initially getting lost and then finding the trail again, we headed up our biggest climb of the day, Elephant's Head.
We finally reached what we assumed to be the top because our profile map showed a nice level walk to Sterling Pond. We still had a lot more climbing to do, however, before being deposited out onto yet another ski run before we reached Sterling Pond. We had planned on an afternoon siesta at this lovely, secluded alpine pond, but when we arrived at 11 am on a Monday it was packed. There were easily 40 people on the tiny beach. We thankfully found a caretaker and asked if there was someplace more secluded we could go and he pointed us in the direction of a more private beach. We walked to the private area and took a swim and did our laundry. We had lunch and shortly Redwood and Slowpoke joined us for our private thruhiker party.
We decided to head up the trail around 2:15, having thoroughly dried our gear and clothes. We had a really tough climb up to Madonna Peak, which to our surprise was yet another ski mountain! We took a break in the shade of the chair lift before doing a steep descent down yet another ski trail (a triple black diamond route... I didn't even know that was a thing!) this is where NoKey took an incredibly nasty fall. NoKey falls a few times every day, but this one really made him into a bloody mess. Our trail here is riddled with wet rocks as switchbacks aren't a thing here. In the northeast, Putting your trail on rocks is the preferred method to making it "durable" for who knows what reason. We took a break to clean him up and then headed back up a smaller peak to the WhIteface shelter.
We met a SoBo named Professor Stromboli and Slowpoke and Redwood joined us in the shelter for the night. We had one of my favorite nights in camp on any trail I've ever hiked. Good conversation and beautiful views made for a wonderful night. The stars came out bright and beautiful with a view of the Milky Way becoming the crown jewel of the evening.