Every blog post or journal that I have ever read about the Mahoosuc Notch describes it as the “Most difficult or fun mile of the A.T.” because that is how David Miller describes it in his A.T. Guide. I am determined to be a little more original on my blog and will not describe it as the “Most difficult or fun mile of the A.T.” Instead, I would describe the Mahoosuc Notch as the most time consuming, yet fun, one-mile section of the A.T.
When I left camp this morning, I don’t know if I felt excited or terrified by what I was going to face today. The Mahoosuc Notch, followed by the Mahoosuc Arm, make the “Top 10 List for Difficulty” of every previous thru-hiker, and I questioned if I had the strength remaining to successfully make it past this obstacle lying between me and Mt Katahdin. With few other choices, I climbed the ladder down from the Full Goose Shelter and started climbing to find out.
From the shelter, the trail ascends steeply towards the south peak of Fulling Mill Mountain. The summit itself, however, is a flat and open alpine area with bogs and some spectacular views. But the trail soon begins its steep descent into Mahoosuc Notch.
Mahoosuc Notch can best be described as a canyon, with near vertical rock walls, into which nature has tossed a jumble of car and house-sized boulders. Although the trail is relatively flat, the challenge comes with scrambling over, under, and around these boulders in order to pass through the notch. Some of this scrambling requires technical rock climbing moves that are not easy to perform by someone of my stature, and some of the stretches and drops were not very comfortable. At other times, it was necessary for me to remove my backpack and push it ahead of me to get through caves and slots on the rocks. But, I slowly picked my route through the boulder field and had a blast doing it.
It took me around 2 hours and 15 minutes to make it through the rock maze at Mahoosuc Notch. At the end of the notch, I arrived at the campsite next to Bull Branch where Eric and Michael had spent last night. It was a nice shady spot so I stopped for a break and took on some calories for phase two of my day.
The climb up Mahoosuc Arm is legendary in its difficulty. I’m not certain how this climb ranks but at 1,600-feet in just over a mile, it should be in the top ten for most difficult on the A.T. While climbing is never easy, this climb didn’t seem too bad to me because the trail was solid rock as opposed to the roots and boulders to which I have become accustomed. In my mind’s eye, I had always envisioned the Mahoosuc Arm to be exposed but for the most part, I was in the trees without a view.
It was only 2:00 pm when I arrived at the Speck Pond Shelter & Campsite, but I was too beat to go any further. My plan had been to go to the Baldpate Lean-to located 6.9-miles further down the trail, but I didn’t have the energy and didn’t think I could get there at a reasonable hour. Speck Pond was gorgeous and when I found the caretaker for the campsite I told her that I could think of many worse things to do than spending a summer next to this pond. She told me that she loved this pond and that is why she was committed to taking care of the area.
Last year, I read many blogs and journals in an effort to learn as much as I could about life on the A.T. These blogs included several writers that wrote for a website called appalachiantrials.com (now called trek.co to reflect its expansion to other trails). My favorite of the bunch was a writer named James Scott who wrote well crafted, funny, and deeply personal blogs that I found not only laugh out loud funny at times but also highly inspirational. James was not your typical thru-hiker in that he is a large man in his thirties who struggled to make it to Harpers Ferry last year while losing 98 pounds and 20-inches from his waist, and I was cheering for him all the way. His blog posts can be found here.
The Speck Pond Shelter looks like it was built this year and it is so new that it still has that new pine smell. I walked down to check it out and meet the other hikers hanging out there and one of the guys there introduced himself as Friar Tuck. I took one look at him and asked him if his real name was James, and indeed it was! I tried desperately not to act like a fanboy, but having the opportunity to meet James Scott on the trail was beyond all possible coincidences that I could imagine. I didn’t even know that he was hiking this year, but here he is having started at Mt Katahdin and heading south to Harpers Ferry. And the best part is that he is just as charming and smart in real life as I imagined through his writing that he would be.
Occasional quick rainstorms passed through during the afternoon giving everything a good coating of moisture. James is camping at the tent pad just below me and after dinner, I saw him and stopped to talk some more about everything from our best food on the trail to trail conditions ahead. The Mahoosuc Notch is the first thing tomorrow for James and I have my own new challenges ahead for me.
Date: August 15, 2017
Starting Location Full Goose Shelter & Campsite
Ending Location: Speck Pond Shelter & Campsite
AT Miles Today: 5.1
AT Miles To Date: 1,918.0