We had a decent night's sleep, packed up, and left our tent set up in Chet's yard. When we woke up, we were surprised at the number of bodies everywhere. All of the bunks were full, there were people all over the back deck sleeping, the garage floor was full, as was a little covered grilling area out near our tent. There was also 3 other tents that were put up late in the evening. We later heard that about 30 hikers had spent the night at Chet's that night!
We walked around the corner to Duster's house, and he was out front with a mug of coffee, waiting on us. I think he was actually excited to be taking us to the trail. He had us to the trail in no time, and we hit the trail, telling him we'd call him when we reached the end, so that he could pick us up again.
The first several miles of this trail consisted of gradually gaining elevation, and also passing through some boggy areas. We really lucked out, because just 3 days before, 4 inches of rain had fallen, and other hikers had been wading in knee-deep water through here. We were able to rock hop through most of the wet areas. When we finally reached an overlook, the clouds were still too low to permit much of a view. We followed a really beautiful stream, Eliza Brook, for almost a mile, and as I've said before, this is one of my favorite parts of the AT, when it follows mountain streams.
Before long, we began the long climb up South Kinsman Mountain, and then over to North Kinsman Mountain. We ended up with beautiful views from the top, as the clouds had mostly cleared away. At one point, some sort of large bird (falcon?) swooped down within feet of Swamprat's head. It pulled up and flew away before coming too close, but it seemed like it was going to come on down and take his hat off of his head.
We ran into a few other hikers that we had met at Chet's. Some had full packs, and were hiking on, and some were slackpacking like us, returning to Chet's for the night.
Once we left the mountain tops, we headed down to our first AMC Hut, the Lonesome Lake Hut. It was really strange to come hiking out of the forest, almost all alone, and come upon this large building, full of people gathering for an evening meal (and it smelled great!). It had solar panels all over the roof, and sat just above the lake. We did not stop to go in, because we were afraid of not getting done before it got dark. None of us had brought headlamps.
As we hiked from the hut down to the parking lot at Franconia Notch, we passed by two different streams that had the bridges washed out. This was not something we had expected, and it took us a lot of extra time to find ways to cross. Once again, we knew we were lucky, because other hikers had to wade this just yesterday. Today, it was tricky, but we did manage to rock hop. We wasted a lot of time, however, and so we hiked as quickly as we could, once we got past the streams. We finally reached the spot where we were supposed to call Duster, about a mile from the pick-up point, and there was no cell service. When we finally got cell service, Duster answered, and was a bit worried about us. He had expected us to finish sooner. He met us right at 8:00, just in time to beat the darkness that was moving in fast. We were exhausted, and all agreed that we would not slackpack again. We did not like feeling like we needed to hurry all day.