The Notch Hostel and its Many Adventures

Posted on October 11, 2015 by Ashley Lader on vinyasarunner.com; re-posted here with permission.

Below is a blog post written by hostel guest Ashley Lader about her adventures at the Notch! She kindly allowed us to re-post it here. Be sure to check out her other blog posts at vinyasarunner.com! 

A couple of weeks ago I went on a five day vacation. It was at the tail end of my job as a screen printer and graphic designer at Calico Graphics, where I had worked for 5 years. I only had to work two days after my vacation ended. I saved up a few vacation days during the year, and with the spectacular weather and foliage starting to bristle into the leaves, I knew it was finally time to go up north.

Flags on the 48 on Mt. Cabot
Flags on the 48 on Mt. Cabot

The first time I stayed at The Notch Hostel was after I did Flags on the 48 on Mt. Cabot on September 12th. It’s a day where people organize groups to bring up an American flag to fly on each of the 48 4,000 footers in New Hampshire. I never (completely) hiked Cabot before, and it’s the northernmost 4,000 footer, so I picked this one. Plus, no one chose it until I became group leader. A full group of 10 quickly filled up after I posted about it on Facebook in some hiking groups. I met a bunch of great fellow hikers! I will definitely do this event again.

Since it’s such a long haul up to the Kilkenny Range, and Mt. Waumbek is also on the list, I wanted to stay overnight to bag it on Sunday. At first I planned to find a safe and legal place to park overnight, and camp in my car. However, after most of the Cabot crew had dinner at Mountain Fire Pizza in Gorham, I was given the suggestion to stay at The Notch Hostel in North Woodstock, NH. I liked their Facebook page back when they started it in the Summer, but didn’t put much more thought into it. I called and asked if they had room, and they said yes, I’d be a late arrival.

On Mt. Starr King, before summiting Mt. Waumbek
On Mt. Starr King, before summiting Mt. Waumbek

I got there a little after 9 PM. I was greeted by Anne, a caretaker helping the co-owners Justin and Serena. She gave me a tour, starting up the stairs into the living room and dining room, where a group of people were jovially talking and finishing dinner. I went past, through the kitchen, then upstairs, where I laid my dirty clothes and clean sleep clothes alike on the cozy bed. I brought sleep gear, but didn’t need it after all! It all stayed in my car untouched. I slept very soundly, and left fairly early in the morning. Justin handled my payment in the morning, we chatted for a bit, but I was on my way to hike Mt. Waumbek with Casey and his wife and two kids, all of whom hiked Cabot with me the night before. Like me, they wanted to get Waumbek as well, since they had to drive all the way from Massachusetts.

I arrived late, and left early, so I didn’t get much of a feel for the place. However, I definitely knew I wanted to come back. It had such a warm and inviting aura that was undeniable.

I returned a couple weeks later. As before I was brought in as if on a warm and inviting wave. I settled into a different bedroom, and I took my time. I explored the yard, checked out the games and books, and talked to everyone willing to talk back, which was everyone!

I befriended a man named Justin, a different one than the co-owner. He was an AT thru-hiker who started on July 31st up Mt. Katahdin, in not-so-great physical shape, and after leaving a mediocre job. He wasn’t in it for beating a certain time, or even reaching Georgia. The trail name most suited for him was “Just-in for Fun” as he sought all the adventures he could. Zip lining, white water rafting, fishing, swimming, volunteering, beer drinking… you name it, he probably sought it and did it. One of his adventures was joining Hostel owner Justin, Anne, and myself on the supermoon lunar eclipse night hike. We decided to hike the Sugarloafs, up by the Zealand Wilderness. The peak faced perfectly towards the moon, and there was no light pollution. We saw the Milky Way in all its glory, and shooting stars. We drank beer and ate dark chocolate, and snuggled in blankets and sleeping bags. It was my first night hike, and something that I will look back on the rest of my life with joy.

Anne captures the magnificent meal!
Anne captures the magnificent meal!

Justin also felt compelled on a rainy day to cook. With me as his sidekick, he pulled out a recipe book, found a garbanzo bean soup, and with my car we drove to Price Chopper and got the ingredients. I made garlic bread and a salad, and when the other Justin and Serena caught wind of this, they jumped on board and made pasta and meatballs. There was wine and beer, a multi-course meal, and a lot of boisterous conversation with people from all over the world with different life directions.

I did quite a few hikes during my stay. Before checking into the Hostel for my 3 night stay (which turned into 4 nights) I hiked Owl’s Head, by 34th 4,000 footer, with a group of people I met on Facebook and was finally able to meet in person. What a grand group of hikers! I hiked Table Mountain, which has great views, and I also attempted Big Attitash Mountain, but had to turn back due to running out of water. I lost my map. I jogged the Discovery Trail on the Kancamagus Highway. I’ve been compelled to do it for a long time. I went up the Cannon Tram and hiked to the observation tower. Okay, not much of a hike, but it was the best weather I’ve ever experienced on Cannon. I also did my first rain hike up to Peaked Hill Pond, which is an ATV type trial, so it was perfect for rain due to lack of slick rocks. This is now one of my new favorite places in the Whites. It’s secluded and peaceful. The trail also happens to be very runnable, which is another perk.

Owl’s Head crew
Owl’s Head crew

Table Mountain

Table Mountain

Peaked Hill Pond
Peaked Hill Pond

After having such a fun time at the Hostel, I knew I wanted to come back, and I shared my enthusiasm with my husband Dan. We recently shared our 3 year wedding anniversary, so with the continuing wonderful weather, and despite the Columbus Day Weekend traffic, we stayed at the Hostel last night. The place was booked, so Dan had to sleep in the tent. It actually worked out just fine, because we met a highly interesting fellow named Jay. He is a healer who uses singing bowls. With a group of people in the big “party tent” with bedding strewn about, we meditated with the bowls, Jay singing and directing. It was a unique experience, one which I didn’t expect! Dan got so relaxed, probably due to biking 100 miles earlier that day on his mountain bike on the Northern Rail Trail, but also because the bowls are mesmerizing and comforting. He was completely zonked out. I also slept very deeply that night, and my ankle, which I badly rolled at the Bretton Woods Fell Race last weekend, loosened and lightened in pain! It’s not totally gone, but it was an improvement. Jay taught us to find balance in our energies, to realign what is out of place so that we can thrive and heal.

We even had hot dogs and s’mores around a fire pit before the bowl party!
We even had hot dogs and s’mores around a fire pit before the bowl party!

I have definitely gotten to meet some interesting characters at The Notch Hostel, and I plan on coming back to meet even more!

The co-owners Justin and Serena Walsh got married in June of 2015, and opened The Notch Hostel the following month. It was a work in progress for a long time, so it’s not like they decided to do it on a whim. Okay, sort of, but that’s another story. I can tell this is their special, love-filled project and they are both very kind and down to earth. They care deeply about their home with which they share, and the nature which surrounds it, hiking and learning as many mountains and trails in the area as they can. They brought in a free flowing spirit named Anne, who jumps from here to there, wherever the world may take her. She is sweet and helpful, coming to the Notch on a whim, seeking a place to stay and work until the world called upon her for another chapter in her life, in which she is going to Wyoming at the end of October. I admire her fluidity in adapting to changes and new places.

This place is a magnet for a genuinely kind type of person. People who seek adventure on cross-country bike rides, day hikers, nature lovers, and AT thru-hikers. People with high paying jobs, hopping between jobs, or working the job of living itself. Healers, spirits, thinkers, and people simply looking for a place to rejuvenate themselves from the daily grind, or to find comfortable refuge on their long journey in life.

Give them a “like” on their Facebook page at this link and be sure to book your reservation through their website and go play in the mountains!