Map of the Mahoosuc Range.
Living down south here has made me soft. I've spent my backpacking trips doing 18 miles a day on the gentle rolling hills of Virginia and the easy, well-trodden trails of Maryland. Though I grew up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I've lost a bit of my rough yankee conditioning.
Under cerulean skies, I parked the car at Grafton Notch and headed briskly up the Old Speck Trail (also the AT). My destination could be described as "south", "up", "the summit", "Speck Pond Campsite" or "Shelburne" depending what timescale you had in mind. After giving a little bit of trouble on the way up the steep 3.9 miles of trail to the summit, my left knee finally started to behave. The trail wound past a couple of nice waterfalls and a good view or two. The summit itself has a new observation tower so, instead of the uninsipring view of short conifers I got last time up this mountain, there was a stunning 360 degree view showing the bald peaks of Maine to the north and east and the taller, balder peaks of the Presidentials and other White Mountains the to west and south. Most of my trip could be seen from here. The air was so clear and still, it didn't look like far at all. How misguiding views like this can be....
Off the summit, the trail descends a patch of very steep bare rock with excellant views off to the south and in a mile or two, I'd attained the lovely shelter at the even more lovely Speck Pond Campsite. Dinner was eaten (first night out, previously frozen chili!) and I conversed with Walking Home and Wacky/Jackie, the first of many north-bound thru-hikers I would see, and the shelter caretaker who releived me of $6.
Speck Pond is trully gorgeous and after dinner I set off to circumnavigate it and take in the sunset. In fact, the trail heads all the way up the peak to the south, Mahoosuc Arm, before coming back around the natural dam which created this large pond. I located a large rocky outcropping and sat watching the sun set and pour light through the narrow slot of Mahoosuc Notch far below, a challenge I would leave for the 'morrow.
Day 2 - As thru-hikers will do, Walking and Wacky were out before we less committed mortals had stirred from bed. I had a leasurely breakfast and hit the trail myself. First order of business after ascending the short trail up the Arm, is to plunge down into Mahoosuc Notch. A mile and a half of extremely steep going over large boulders and patches of bedrock, often slippery with water or mud had me depleated and aching by the time I reached the stream at the bottom. But the "Big Adventure" was just beginning and this trail was just the openning act!
One of the challenges that makes Mahoosuc Notch the hardest single mile of the AT. Note the blazes and the legs of the guy going in.
Day 3 -- Up and off! This section of trail is one I have done several times in the past. Yet it's still challenging and very rugged. Immediately after rejoining the trail, I had to scale a couple of box cols with lots of jumbled rocks. That got the pulse going! Then the usual Mahoosuc up and down over scraped-clean bedrock slabs for a couple miles. Somewhere in there I passed the state line and was amused to see that, just like on highways, there is an actual border sign, and then a hundred yards to either side a pair of signs saying "Maine: the way life should be" and "You're in New Hampshire Now! (hike free or die)".
Just shy of the summit of Mt. Success, the main peak of the day, I ran into U-turn and Dreamcatcher, a pair of thru-hikers. Doing their part for world karma, my parents often pick up hikers and give them rides to town. U-turn and Dreamcatcher were two such and recognized me from a general description. Small world.
Great views from Mt. Success and then a long painful tramp down toward Gentian Pond with tremendous views of the (AFAIK) unclimbed crags of North Bald Cap. Reached Gentian Pond at about 1 and took a while to hang out in one of my favorite places in the universe. The pond was full of frogs and there were dinner plate sized moose prints all around the bog. But it was still early in the day so I saddled up and headed out again.
A brisk climb brought me to Moss Pond and then, interminably, to Dream Lake, both lovely, where I had some lunch. Up and over some more of the highly amorphous Bald Cap massif to Wocket Ledge (with excellant views of both Shelburne and Berlin) and down to the pristine Page Pond. It was getting on and there were a number of very attractive campsites at Page Pond. Bookworm urged me to stay, but my stated goal was only an easy mile away and clouds of mosquitos discouraged thoughts of a night under the stars, so I headed out and soon reached the lovely Trident Col tentsite.
Trident was occupied by Charlie and Rich, a pair from Texas who started hiking the AT in 1989 and have done a section ever since. They invited me over for dinner and happy hour (a small flask of scotch was passed around) and we had a dandy time all 'round. Then, feeling slightly buzzed, I wandered back, set up my bivy and was asleep in a forest glade clad in moonlight and numerous small white butterflies.
Day 4 - Last day! Looking forward to such amenities as hot water and large quantities of food, I arose, packed and headed on south for the final seven miles of my trek. And it was a fairly easy seven miles, too. Cascade mountain was quickly surmounted and I saw the early morning fog unravelling from the mighty Presidentials, now almost close enough to touch. Yet another gorgeous day with a light breeze.
Before I knew it, I had come off Cascade Mountain past a great view, traversed the mile or so of swale and had ascended Mt. Hayes, the last minor mountain in the range. Many blueberries were to be had on the summit and I spent some time browsing and hiking over to the ledge overlooking Gorham. Binoculars revealed all kinds of detail of the people going about their weekend business in the town below. But I was hungry and started off down the long descent myself.
This is a section of trail that is just interminable! 3.2 miles of steady descent that never seems to end. I passed 16 northbound thru-hikers on my way down and was quite glad that I wasn't trying to compete for shelter space and solitude with that crowd. At long last, after watching the river valley get closer and closer through the trees, I emerged out onto the Hogan road and was soon hitching a ride back home for shower, pie and lasagne (just to start).
An altogether glorious, much needed trip through some really tough terrain. 31 miles in four days. Lots of great views and interesting folks. Ah, life!
The Wilderness Journal