Two SOBO hikers warned me that the 150-mile section from Carter Notch, NH going north into Maine was the most rugged section of the AT. They were not exaggerating. It was a very rough stretch. Southern Maine is simply uber tough. If hiking that area was an entertainment business, folks who wanted to participate would have to be at least 18 and sign a waiver!
My legs are getting battered with all the branches, rock climbing and occasional falls.
On more than one occasion on Thursday, June 29th, I made use of rebar steps which have been inserted into the granite rock faces so hikers can climb up or down more easily. At the bottom of picture you can see a white blaze.
There were several nice views of Mt. Carlo and the Peaks of Goose Eye, but haze and limited sun prevented clear photos.
Mountain temperatures drop significantly in the late afternoon and early evening. I’ve been wearing a wool knitted hat, a toque, as temps drop into the 40s.
At Full Goose Shelter, I stayed with a Brit and a French hiker who met each other on the Trail and decided to hike together. The morning of Friday, June 30th brought rain, but they decided to press on and tackle the Mahoosuc Notch and Arm, hoping for a change in the weather. As they left, the Brit looked at me and said, “Considering the weather and knowing what is ahead of us, I know I’ll have the opportunity to learn many more new French cuss words.” So I started my day off with a chuckle.
The rain was unrelenting through another rugged hike and descent that day. I took a side trail off the AT, the Notch Trail, which was a 2.5-miles leading to a gravel logging road. I had arranged to stay at an extremely well-known hostel called The Cabin, owned by long-time hiker enthusiasts and supporters called Honey and Bear. These two folks, now in their 80s, are AT rock stars. They have spent much of their adult lives supporting, rescuing, giving advice to, and simply being kind and generous to hikers, plus running The Cabin and building and maintaining trails. One of their long-time friends, a woman named Hopper, picked me up and drove me an hour on bumpy gravel roads to The Cabin.
I expected Saturday, July 1, to be challenging, because I was tackling the Mahoosuc Notch and Arm, but it became an even bigger day than expected. Thankfully it wasn’t raining as I started hiking the Mahoosuc Notch. The Notch is a mile-long narrow canyon of huge boulders, many bigger than cars.
Mother Nature has jumbled these rocks all together, and your goal is to choose a path and get through. Folks say that it’s like a chess game. You find yourself going over, around, between and at times under boulders. Occasionally the path is so confining, you have to remove your pack and hoist it over rocks, or push it through a small opening with your body crawling behind. Sometimes you are on your stomach wriggling under boulders, and other times you are squeezing through tight passageways.
Here are pictures of one opening you have to crawl through:
The Mahoosuc Notch is considered the most difficult — or most fun — mile on the AT. For me, it was probably the most unique, and definitely the most time-consuming mile. It took me more than 3 hours! Hikers who are also rock climbers love this mile. Many others would just as well prefer not to hike this section, but it’s part of the Trail.
Mahoosuc Notch was immediately followed by the Mahoosuc Arm. Hikers who high-five themselves for completing the Notch soon realize that there is a more difficult task ahead of them: climbing the Arm, which is a 2100-foot ascent in one mile, much of it over rock.
The weather on the Notch had been very good, but it began to rain as I started the Arm, and continued raining heavily for the next six hours. Hiking was extremely slow.
At one point, a fork in the Trail near the peak of Old Speck Mountain wasn’t marked. So I took a wrong turn, hiking .3 miles needlessly and then backtracking to get back on the Trail, all in a driving rain.
While on the peak of Old Speck, I had an amazing and frightening experience. As I hiked the ridge line, there was a tremendously loud crack of thunder. I felt electrical jolts in both hands, and I yelled out. My trekking poles, which were strapped around my wrists, flew six feet up into the air in front of me. I realized lightning must have struck very close to me, even though there hadn’t been any thunder or lightning in over an hour. I high-tailed it out of there. It was a really scary feeling. My poles are aluminum with cork grips, but my hands and grips were totally soaked from the rain.
I am very lucky to be unharmed, aside from a burn on one of my palms. It could have been deadly. I also couldn’t help but think that if the Trail had been adequately marked earlier, and I hadn’t needlessly hiked 2/3 of a mile, I would have been safely past the peak when that lightning bolt hit.
Regardless, the rain, waiting out thunderstorms, and backtracking put me way behind schedule that day. I had to ford several streams and even use my headlamp for the last 1/4 mile, before I finally finished the descent to Grafton Notch where Hopper was waiting. Night hiking in the pitch black was a first for me.
The Notch, the Arm, rain, lightning and night hiking, all made for a day I will never forget. You never know what the Trail will throw at you. I feel as though I dodged a bullet: a big one!