Day 199: The hardest, and most fun, section of the AT

Miles Hiked: 5.1
Miles Left: 271.8
Ending Location: Staying in the Old Speck Pond Shelter at mile 1913.5

When updating the millage in my journal last night, I was very disappointed by the fact that I couldn’t remember if I camped at a shelter or stealth camped one of the days. Combined with my general annoyance that I now have signatures on my pack that I don’t remember the stories behind, (who was Stan and why was he thanking me for my help?), I figured I should start writing journal entries again.

I woke up early this morning to the sound of rain. The pitter patter on my tent softly said “you should have hiked through Mahoosuc Notch yesterday when you had the chance.” Described as the hardest mile of the AT, I had stopped early the day before as I didn’t want to chance it when I was tired and the afternoon was dragging on. Checking the weather report it looked like the rain would let up so rather then breaking camp I spent the morning reading instead. That was a good decision since as forecasted the rain did stop and I was able to dry off my tent before stuffing it in my pack.

The trail leaving the shelter was very different from yesterday. It
felt like the Maine that everyone had described to me with the fog hanging in the air and moss covering everything. More ominously, after climbing the last mountain and walking down to the notch, the sloped slippery rocks conveyed the feeling I was descending into a pitcher plant. You know, those plants that eat bugs and trap them by having slippery walls…

There was no sign for the official start of the notch. Just a large collection of boulders that were slightly more involved to traverse than normal. It actually was a lot of fun. Quickly past the first section there was a stretch of “normal” trail that broke up the boulder field. I would encounter several such sections like this so rather then one continuous rock scramble you could tackle the notch in more manageable pieces. Or to use rock climbing slang, the notch was composed of many different distinct problem sets.

At one of these sections I came across a couple from Quebec having serious problems. I provided a boost up to help the wife over one of the ledges, (she was already bleeding from several previous attempts), and it was obvious this was well past her comfort zone. For the next climb her husband went ahead, dropped off his pack, and then came back and grabbed hers. I was staying with them to see what I could do so after that I offered to help him sherpa her pack as well. We traded off with the extra trips and thus were all able to eventually make it out of the notch in one piece. Admittedly I managed to rub off every half healed scab on my legs but despite that I had a blast. Hitting a section and having to toss, shove, or pull my pack through, below, or over some rocks, (often only after attempting to do it with my pack on and having it end in a humbling manner), was great fun, and hey, scrapes heal. I certainly earned my trail name of Scrambles today!

Resting up after the notch the couple gave me some food as thanks and offered me wine if I stopped at the next shelter with them. Then it was time to climb Mahoosuc Arm. You’d think the trail would give you a breather after that last section but the Arm was one of the steepest continuous climbs on the AT. Added to that was the fact that it started to rain again. Almost all of it was at least a 45 degree angle up slippery rocks and while as challenging as the notch, the arm was significantly less fun. At the top was Old Speck Pond, the highest standing body of water in Maine , (not sure why that’s important but I had several people mention that fact to me). More importantly Speck Pond Shelter was also there. Making my way to the eating area to have a snack before pushing on, I ran into Declan who was the campsite’s caretaker. I had hiked with him back in Virginia and met him again back at the Nauman campsite by Mizpah Spring Hut so it was good to see him again. I ended up hanging out sitting in the chairs by the caretaker’s tent passing the time when he offered to cook me a hot dinner. With a difficult day behind me, the rain, and offers of wine and food in front of me, any temptation to continue hiking quickly evaporated. The Quebecians showed up shortly afterwards so Declan and I shared their wine while he prepared dinner. Once that was ready he then dumped sausage and couscous into my now empty cup. Hey, anything to reduce having to wash dishes! Once hiker midnight came around, (7:30ish now), I bowed out and went back to the shelter to get set up. With the rain it was a full shelter but luckily the shelter was extra large so we were able to fit everyone without too much crowding. Then it was just a matter of ignoring the mice and snoring long enough to fall asleep.

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