I just returned from about 10 days on the trail with Marie, which included southern Maine, Mahoosuc Notch and the first part of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Marie and Margot were just finishing the section between Monson and Andover, about 130 miles! Margot has by all accounts become a thru-hiker, with the trail name of “Happy Camper.” Maine is some of the toughest terrain anywhere on the east coast, and tougher than any other trail I have been on. Margot has been tried and tested! Those nice easy trails in Virginia will never be the same now. She is planning to post soon about her section on the AT.
As I was getting ready to leave Baltimore I got a call from Marie that said they were ready to be picked up and go into town a little early, so I got on the road and drove straight there over a day and a half. Just before I left I had to put my car in the shop for a new radiator fan (fixed, and necessary as it was pushing 100 degrees) and a broken air conditioner (not fixed, as they wanted 3 days and $1,000) When I arrived I was all prepared with some trail magic, and who did I see about to duck into the woods but Coach, Tag and Dylan, three guys I had met up in the 100-mile wilderness and Monson! They had just been dropped off 5 minutes before and I nearly missed them. They hadn’t seen the girls in several days, even though they were only a few miles ahead of them. They stopped to wait for them and eat some cheese burgers, and we had a nice little reunion.
Some hiker art by one of the guys, (Coach I think) depicting them fighting a bear. This scene is fictional, of course.
Bobwhite, Dylan (Effect), Happy Camper, Coach, Turtle and Tag
It was really exciting to see the girls, and really amazing to look at the map and see how far they had walked since the last time I saw them! We hung out at the road until nearly dark and then drove into town to check into the hostel. Andover is extremely small, but is serviced by a great hostel called Pine Ellis, and there is a great guy who drives the shuttle named David. He has a great sense of humor and makes jewelry out of moose poop, including necklaces and earrings. As moose eat only plants and have one stomach, their poop is among the cleanest in the animal kingdom, he tells me.
We went and had an amazing breakfast at this place called the Red Hen, but when another thru-hiker told us about it they said we have to eat at the “Red Robin.” We soon were on the road to Monson to take Margot back to her car, which was around a 3 hour drive to retrace the distance they walked! The big priority of the day of course was to see the new Harry Potter, and just because we can drive anywhere we picked a theater that had 3D. It was a GREAT movie, and even the four guys were planning on seeing it at a later town.
While in town we saw a moose!
We stayed at Shaw’s again in Monson and saw our friends there, and then parted ways. Marie and I headed back to Andover to get back on the trail, and during the drive my brakes went (mostly) out! That’s three strikes now just on this trip, Jetta. This would later influence some of our plans, but I got it safely parked in Andover and we got on the trail by the afternoon.
Just another climb in Maine. Notice the steep granite face, which Maine is well known for.
The trail builders in Maine do some amazing work, but they’re not really known for making things easy for hikers. It seems the philosophy to the trail design is to get between two points in as direct, and steep manner as possible. However sometimes the terrain in that path is simply too difficult so they resort to ladders, wooden blocks or rebar.
We crested East Baldpate, which is one of my favorite places in Maine. It is so unbelievably beautiful!
Bobwhite with her new pack!
Looking at the trail climbing up West Baldpate across from us, with Speck Mountain in the background.
West Baldpate. You can see several hikers ascending the granite slabs.
From the col looking back at East Baldpate.
Another ladder! On our way down the Baldpates we encountered a trail crew that had just that day opened a new section of trail that had been under construction for 7 years! That means that the new trail had existed, in part, back in 2008. I don’t have any pictures of the new trail but we met the guy painting white blazes on the tree, and I put some white paint on my shoe just for fun.
Why yes, we ARE hiking trails.
We hung out a little in Grafton Notch, which is a nice state park with lots of tourists, and a guy named “Soda Mike” who is a ranger there and always has cold sodas for the thru-hikers. Then we tackled the 2,500 foot climb up Old Speck Mountain. What a view from there! It is great to look at the horizon and recognize mountains that you had climbed already, just by their shape.
There are some places on the trail that are just so magical. This was one of them. The green grass looks better than what is in my back lawn, and the boards preserve a place to walk so the grass isn’t trampled.
We stayed at Speck Pond shelter, which is a pretty amazing place. This is the shelter right before Mahoosuc Notch, which is very difficult and requires a lot of time. A lot of hikers will stop here on their way in or out of the notch, and the place was full with a few summer camps and some section hikers. Our friend Zach was there as well. The pond provided a nice escape from all the noise, and that night had the most amazing display of stars, the kind you can’t see anywhere around Baltimore.
The next morning we climbed out from Speck Pond and were rewarded with our first great view of the White Mountains, and the Presidential Range. That’s Mt. Washington and Mt. Madison touching the clouds in the distance!
We headed down Mahoosuc Arm, which is the very steep descent into Mahoosuc Notch. Mahoosuc Notch is the notorious “longest mile” on the Appalachian Trail. It is a jungle gym of giant boulders at the bottom of a ravine, and the trail travels among them for 1 mile. It is one of the marquee spots on the entire AT. I will save it for another post.