After an early wake-up, I joined Travis and Steve for the amazing “free” breakfast at the Fairfield Inn. What a treat it is to enjoy fruit, yogurt, and fresh pastries along with the usual breakfast fare. Overnight, the rain had returned to the area and I was very appreciative of the fact that I would be able to hike today without carrying a wet tent. Travis and Steve drove me back to the trailhead where we took a few pictures before they wished me happy trails and sent me on my way. Although I thanked them both profusely, I’m not sure they will ever realize how much their trail magic meant to me and I will never forget their kindness and generosity. The thing about trail magic is that you can never pay it back. You can only pay it forward.
In keeping with the general rule regarding roads and gaps, I immediately started climbing. This 1,000-foot warm-up climb took me into the clouds and up to Holts Ledge where there was supposed to be a view. When I reached the ledge, the land appeared to drop away over the side into a deep chasm but all I could see was a detailed view of the interior of a cumulus cloud.
Descending from the ledge, I soon got under the clouds and continued downhill to the Grafton Turnpike. I had to chuckle a bit at the “turnpike” designation because the road was barely two lanes wide and was far removed from an expressway with toll booths. From the Grafton Turnpike, the trail crosses Grant Brook and circles around a small pond before starting the 2,000-foot climb to the summit of Smarts Mountain. The climbing was starting to get serious.
About three miles into the climb, I reached Lambert Ridge where, still being under the clouds, the exposed quartzite allowed me to enjoy my first view of the day. As I continued climbing, however, I once again entered the clouds and it started to drizzle rain. The further I climbed, the steeper the climbing became as I made my way up huge slabs of smooth rock. I kept thinking to myself that this section while wet would be extremely hazardous to a southbound hiker trying to descend from the mountain summit.
By the time I reached the top of Smarts Mountain, the moisture in the air had rendered my cell phone worthless as I could no longer open it to take pictures. At the summit is a fire tower where I found Blaze sitting on the bottom step. She didn’t know where Naps was but planned to continue slack-packing to the next road in the hopes of finding him there. Neither of us bothered to climb the tower as it seemed pointless in this weather, so we made our way over to the Fire Wardens Cabin. This old cabin is maintained as a shelter and offers a convenient place to get out of the weather. There was a SOBO hiker there named Gus who had a dog that was a cross between a standard poodle and some sort of wolfhound. I suggested to him that he might want to wait for drier conditions before trying to descend, and I took their picture after I had dried off my phone.
The northbound descent from Smarts Mountain was much easier than the climb up, although the trail was very rocky. I eventually got below the clouds and, after crossing South Jacobs Brook, started climbing again to the Eastman Ledges where I enjoyed another view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. It had been a long and strenuous day of hiking and I was relieved to finally reach the steep side trail to the Hexacuba Shelter.
It was after 6:00 pm when I finally reached the shelter and the only good tent site had already been taken by a couple of section hikers with a huge tent. The Hexacuba Shelter gets its unusual name from the fact that it is a unique six-sided shelter. There were already several hikers in the shelter, but they gladly moved around to make some room and invited me in. Following the completion of my usual chores of setup, water, and food, I hung my wet clothes on a line in the shelter against the long odds that drying might occur. At least I would have a second day with a dry tent.
Date: July 27, 2017
Starting Location: Goose Pond Road
Ending Location: Hexacuba Shelter
AT Miles Today: 14.7
AT Miles To Date: 1,776.3