Come One, Come All, to the most marvelous mountains on the East Coast

Yes, come one, come all to the great White Mountains of NH! I think this should be the AMC’s motto.

The AMC stands for Appalachian Mountain Club, or as thru-hikers call it: the Appalachian Money Club. The AMC has a hold on most of the Trail in New Hampshire and some of Maine. It’s a challenging section for thru-hikers. The AMC has made these mountains, especially the Whites, out to be a major attraction. They have built “huts” 8-10 mi. apart through NH and have built campsites/shelters that are $8 a person per night. The huts are really mountain chateaus. They house 35-90 people a night, depending on the size,  have a full kitchen staff and composting toilets. It’s a great idea, but don’t be deceived, regardless of their efforts to “be green;” preservation of these mountains is hardly their goal. It’s a wonderful thing that they’ve made a way for inexperienced hikers to come to one of the most difficult places to hike on the East Coast, but they’ve also done just that: brought the masses to this area.

The thru-hikers of course are not the clientel of the AMC. Never would we be caught dead paying $110 to sleep in one of their hut bunk beds. Instead, we slink around these parts, either “stealth camping,” doing work-for-stay, or last resort: shelling out for the pay campsites that are no different from any other on the trail, except that the wood chips for the composting privys are flown in via helicopter.

New Hampshire was beautiful, none the less — a wonderful way to end some very difficult terrain. My knees are thanking me that we Sobos are out of the madness of drastic up and down climbing. Franconia Ridge will undoubtly be one of my favorite spots on the trail. I hope to post some of my own pics (all that you see on the blog are from Powder: the sections he’s hiked with me.)

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Quail Speed

I had a sad day or so solo after Powder left. There was one morning I was feeling especially bummed, because I knew most of my Sobo friends were a day or several days ahead. I crossed past this nice nobo couple and they were asking me about Maine. They asked the right question to make me smile: “What does a moose sound like?” Now, Powder and I spent much time perfecting our wild moose calls and I gave them my best. I was laughing up that mountain after that. Then low and behold, I was eating Snack at a beautiful pond and three people came past, packing out from the near-by shelter/campsite. One of them was a friend I made back in the 100 mile, Jasper, and 2 girls with him, who I knew about through logs, but hadn’t met yet: Walkabout from Canada and Milk Carton. I was over-joyed to see 3 sobos!!! I tracked with them for a couple days then ran into some more sobo friends in the next town. And then, then yesterday, I ran into my best buddies: Coach, Tag and Effect!!!! I thought for sure that they were still a day ahead of me. So, it wasn’t quail speed that helped me catch up with them. And, turns out, in my absence, they adopted the bobwhite whistle as their own.

In all three situations, the various crews had gotten held-up or holed-up somewhere for a couple days. Wow, great provision once again! I’m so glad to be out here surrounded by such amazing friends.

Yesterday I was going for a marathon quail day: 16mi. I heard the clack of trekking poles ahead and wondered who that could be: I knew no one right ahead of me. It was the strangest encounter. I came up on a man wearing a helmet, elbow pads, knee pads and leather gloves. I said “HELLO!” and no response. Oh great, there’s a crazy out here, what am I going to do? The man sat (or sort of fell down) eventually and looked at me. Through hand gestures I realized he’s deaf and can see out of only one eye! Later I came up on a lady who was hiking with him, also deaf. We communicated through typing on my cell phone. I learned they were slack-packing that day and trying to head to the hostel in town. I was so inspired by them, I tried to also get to the hostel but didn’t quite make it last night. Here I am now, and I had a great conversation via writing notes with the man. His trail name is Ad-Cane. He is thru-hiking the Trail! He did about half of it last year and is finishing this year with his helper, Ramsham. Wow!!!! Talk about inspiring!

It was late in the day and Ad-Cane was getting tired. I was wondering if they’d get down before dark. Around midnite, some of by buddies came back to the shelter: “You’ll never believe what we did tonight!!!!” “We saved a blind-deaf man off the mountain!” Ad-cane was too tired to finish, his assistant went down to the hostel and let everyone know he needed help. And my friends, the Army Guys (they call themselves The Men of Action Team), went up there and carried him down!!! They were so excited for such an adventure. Great guys!

The last hostel we stayed at is run by a man named Chet. He was an avid hiker but got into a bad accident with a mis-functioning camp stove. The settlement with MSR enabled him to buy a house and now he has it open to hikers. They told him he was never walk or see again. He’s already taken 20 steps. He has the most incredible attitude. He is so welcoming to everyone. He’s one of those sweet hippy hiker guys. The Dead were always on, and he rolls around in his wheelchair singing and drumming on surfaces. He was another incredible inspiration.

Quail speed is not super fast but proves to be the right speed. I am doing great physically, all things considered. This is still the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But my goodness! What an inspiration to meet these folks who are pushing along too! And my speed is always improved by knowing I’ve got good people all around me!

On to Vermont!

Mahoosuc Notch

July 25

The name “Mahoosuc Notch” evokes a lot of trepedation and excitement among thru-hikers.  It is talked about among the northbounders as far south as Georgia, whispered like some magical portal through which only the worthy will pass into Maine.  Southbounders have other things to think about, like the 280 other miles of Maine, but Mahoosuc beckons as one last, huge obstacle course on their way to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Maine’s last best chance to twist your ankle, sending you home in despair and pain.  However for most, Mahoosuc is one giant jungle gym, not something to fear but to respect, and enjoy exceedingly.  It is quite unlike any other place on the AT, and it is quite fun, especially for a rock climber like Marie and a, well, Wyoming boy like myself.

This spot was really, really green, so we stopped.

Mahoosuc Notch is at the bottom of a ravine between two very steep cliffs, and the bottom of it is filled with boulders of all sizes, including truck size, volkswagen size, refrigerator size and piano size.   It’s reputation is quite deserved because navigating all of this takes a lot of time, a careful step, and at times going under small caves, removing ones pack and sliding on the ground.

We had filled up water at the beginning of the notch from the stream that flows far beneath the rocks, only to find out 20 yards down the trail that the stream we filled at flows from a beaver pond.  We had just heard someone talking about “beaver fever,” and halfway through the notch a German hiker talked to us, randomly bringing up the subject of “beaver fever.”  I had never heard the expression and worried it was some water borne illness outside the usual suspects of giardia and cryptosporidium, for which we are treating the water we drink.  The German told us specifically that the black slime on the rocks is a sign that “beaver fever” is in the water.  Remembering the black-slimed rocks we walked on to collect the water we were now drinking, we thanked him and moved on.  We didn’t have much choice now but to drink the water we already had, but it was unsettling.  Later we learned that “beaver fever” is simply a term that the crazy Mainers made up for giardia.  They just have to be different up here!

These may all look the same but each one is actually an entirely different set of rocks, carefully chosen by our photographer to portray the perilous and gruelling Mahoosuc Notch trail.  The model in the photos is Bobwhite’s backpack, accompanied by Bobwhite.

This was the spot where you need to remove your backpack to get through.  There is a hole in the rock which leads to a cave, goes under the giant rock and comes out the other side.

More of the terrain.  This was the equivalent of smooth trail right here.

We had very dry conditions, which was very fortunate and made for better leaping from rock to rock.  It hadn’t rained in about 4 days, and because the bottom of the ravine is usually in shadow it takes quite a few days for the rocks to dry out.  It rained after we got through however so people behind us were not so lucky.

This was her photographic eye, not mine.   I like this picture!

This is where the trail checks to see if you’re skinny enough to proceed.  Neither of our packs made the cut.

I went with the limbo technique, which worked in the end but wasn’t really easy.  I suppose we could have just removed our packs, but that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

Rock family.

The chance to walk on actual roots again, for just a few feet was really amazing.  It was almost easy for a really brief period.

Another cave!  There were probably 5 or 6 of these.  We never did see any bats.

I’m not sure there is any other place on the AT that uses arrows instead of blazes.  Without them I’m not sure it would be terribly obvious what exactly we were supposed to do in many of these situations.

Trail says, go into this dark tunnel.  Somewhere around here we started to loose a bit of steam.  We had been in the notch for nearly two hours.

On the far side of the notch we started to see ice and snow in the recesses, which stays here year round.  There were places where extremely frigid air was blowing up from underground caves, and mixes with the 80+ degree humid air we had been dealing with.  It was really nice!

What’s a few more boulders, really?

The last portal.  And just like that, we were out, standing on flat trail, and being greeted by a couple who were about to start into the notch.  We had done 1 mile in around 2 and a half hours.  Mahoosuc Notch definitely lives up to its reputation.

Of course that didn’t mean we were done yet.  There is a very brisk climb right after Mahoosuc Notch, followed by a shelter about a mile away.  We opted to stop at the shelter even though we had only gone about 5 miles.  I’m not in as good of shape as Marie is!

Southern Maine

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.

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