AT Days 64-67: Rugged Terrain in Carter-Wildcat, Mahoosuc Ranges
The AT challenges continued as I pushed through the final trail sections in New Hampshire and into Maine. Here are the details of each trail day:
Day 64 – The Bluff Campsite, NH to Imp Shelter, NH (17 miles)
Day 65 – Imp Shelter, NH to Route 2, Gorham NH (8 miles). Shuttle to The Barn hostel
Day 66 – Route 2, Gorham NH to Gentian Pond Shelter, NH (12 miles)
Day 67 – Gentian Pond Shelter, NH to Speck Pond Shelter, ME (15 miles)
An Early (Food-Driven) Start
I’ll admit that I had serious concerns about the ambitious nature of my Day 64 hike. The Wildcat and Carter ranges are rough and rocky, and contain two of the steepest uphill climbs in New Hampshire.
So how did I mitigate my risk?
- Get up really early. I’d be hiking by 5:40 AM, a new record for me
- Get some fuel food! Luckily Pinkham Notch’s breakfast was a little over 4 miles away, so I loaded up:
A Truly Weird Weather Day
Yeah I’m a child of the 70’s who grew up watching the Sonny and Cher Show. At times the stars would speculate on how many outfits Cher would wear in that 48 minute gig. Sometimes it would be fifteen to twenty wardrobe changes!
Well I felt like Cher on Day 64. When I hopped on the trail prior to 6 AM I was dressed in my shorts and T-shirt with extra alpaca hoodie and hat. A half hour in, alpaca was in the pack as I worked up enough sweat to stay warm. On most days, that’s it for wardrobe changes until I reach camp.
But this day was so weather weird that I actually started adding back my hat and fleece as I walked downhill to breakfast! A gusty wind blew straight out of a valley cloud in my face as I descended. Truly bizarre, and it would continue all day like that.
Wet and Wildcat
Things got worse as I headed up Wildcat Ridge. The climb up this ridge out of Pinkham Notch is often mentioned as one of the steepest on the AT. Usually steepness does not translate well in pictures, but if you spot the tiny white AT blaze at the top of this cliff I think you can see what I was facing:
And it was wet – not raining wet, but thick cloud moisture wet. Everywhere. And so my raincoat went on, off, back on, add the hat – never a comfort zone. I emerged from the endless bumpy up-and-down ridge with numerous cuts and bruises.
Here’s what most of the day looked like:
And except for some brief blue sky at Carter Notch (rain gear off, then back on twenty minutes later), clouds and dampness would rule the day.
The 17 mile day would take me twelve and a half exhausting hours to complete! I was glad to be headed into Gorham in the morning!
Nearo in Gorham
The sun greeted me as I turned out of the shelter side trail the next morning:
After 8 mostly downhill miles I arrived by shuttle at The Barn hostel in Gorham. Here’s a picture of a vacant gathering space, but there would be a full house of nearly twenty thru-hikers staying that night. That would include Straps, a friendly 19 year old that I’d first met in Pennsylvania.
Many of the group had started the AT in Georgia, and were in the “top 200” of the nearly 5000 starting there this year. Yes it was a fast, aggressive group.
That afternoon I discussed this with a foreign hiker who shook his head sadly and asked “When did it become a race?”
I felt a bit sorry for this polite adventurer who was “one of the fast ones”. He had become boxed into a situation that he didn’t appear to enjoy. I resolved to not let that happen to me the rest of the way.
The remainder of Day 65 was showering, laundry, food shopping, and town food! Mr Pizza came through with Fiddlehead IPA on draft – yes, I’ll take the large mug:
Gorham is a pleasant and friendly town, and I enjoyed my afternoon. Here’s Libby’s Bed and Breakfast, attached to the hostel and run by the same owners. Isn’t it charming?
On to the Mahoosucs!
The next two days wouldn’t bring any easier terrain, as the Mahoosuc Range loomed ahead. And I’d discover pretty early on the first morning that I just couldn’t get into a hiking rhythm.
The day was very warm and humid, and the sorry state of the Mahoosuc Trail – badly overgrown, trees blown down everywhere – didn’t help. I’m going to make a plea here for New Hampshire to please put some maintenance into the ridge section that runs to Gentian Pond. Thru-hikers are expressing their frustration online at the state of the trail, and it sits right near (well-maintained) Maine. I honestly think the NH trails are generally well-kept, but this section needs attention!
Some interesting natural sights and sounds:
- A brown-headed cowbird made some of the most unusual bird noises I’ve ever heard during my lunch break. Ever hear a bird make a liquid gurgle?
- A viewpoint called “Wocket Ledge” provided great views of the Presidentials and Carter-Wildcat, where I’d just been:
The strange ledge name also brought up memories of one of my favorite Dr Seuss books “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket”! I’d spend the next hour remembering other Seuss creatures from the book:
- The findow in my window
- The nookgase on my bookcase
- And a scary one: the vug under the rug!
And, ah yes, after seeing many toads on this trek I finally got a great close up of a handsome prince, I mean frog:
But the MMM (Most Memorable Moment) of Day 66 was this view from Dream Lake.
I’d hiked this trail last year and was absolutely floored by this striking vista of Mounts Washington and Adams over the gorgeous blue pond. On this day it was again stunningly beautiful!
On to Maine and the Notch!
On Day 67 I’d cross into the final state on this first half of my trek, Maine. Aside from the summits of Katahdin and Springer, I’d have to guess this is one of the most photographed spots on the trail. Certainly the bugs seemed to know this, as a swarm lived right by the sign:
I don’t remember ever taking a selfie that looked so much like a Photoshopped picture! But I guarantee you I was there, donating my blood to Maine’s mosquitoes!
Head music for the day was the Silversun Pickups’ “Panic Switch” – which, strangely enough, I couldn’t piece together a month earlier in Massachusetts! I could recall the name of the lead single from the Swoon album, but all the riffs and lyrics didn’t return until now. Strange how that works….
That 15 mile day included rough and beautiful terrain such as “the AT’s Toughest Mile”, Mahoosuc Notch. It’s hard to capture the essence of this boulder field playground in photos (there are YouTube videos if you’re real curious), but here’s an example:
As you solve this rock maze, you feel refrigerator cold air coming up from the snow still under the boulders. I was happy to be hiking this ultra-rough trail stretch with Straps, as we could each check out the best ways to navigate some of the over and under rock scrambles.
The MMM for day 67 was a terrifying moment in the Notch. I’d taken a “creative” route (now I might say “stupid”) on some mossy boulders and upon reaching the top I looked down at a manhole sized thirty foot drop between rocks. As I balanced with my pack on a single narrow rock holding a small tree stump, the stump split off and I wobbled and fell back on my rear end – thankfully not forward into the hole! It was a very scary moment – one I’ll not soon forget!
Straps and I would take 75 minutes to navigate that Notch mile, emerging unscathed to push on.
The rest of Day 67 was also incredibly beautiful and rough – the 15 mile stretch would take me 12 hours to complete! (My pace on typical terrain is two miles per hour.)
But the visual rewards were stunning in this relatively remote section of the mountains. Below is just one piece of the 360 degree view from Goose Eye’s West Peak:
When the day finally ended at Speck Pond Shelter, I was exhausted and exhilarated. When hiking the 2000+ mile AT, who could ask for anything more?
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