Day 142: The Mahoosic Notch
Wisdom From the Ages…Aged…For the Aged…Whatever
I planned and schemed so I’d hit the Mahoosic Notch in dry weather. But as my Grandpa Mick always said, “You can’t always get what you want, The Incident. But if you try sometimes, you might just get what you need.” Wise words. I needed to get through the Notch with my all my bones intact. And I did.
But Grandpa didn’t warn me about the Mahoosic Arm, which gave me no satisfaction and left me waiting on a friend because, you know, time waits for no one.
My neighbor’s alarm went off at 5:30. By the time he located his phone and found the off button, everyone in the shelter was stirring, with four stoves hissing within five minutes. Including mine. Today, an early start meant an early finish and more reunion time with Northstar before tomorrow’s hike, so I was anxious to get on the trail.
We had the same smokers last night as at the previous shelter, both flavors, but not the snorers. This morning, I averted my eyes as one of them peed from the shelter platform into a huge puddle in front of it, and then proceeded to spit his toothpaste in a big white mass in the same puddle. The pre-dawn alarm was bad enough, but how do you hike 1900 miles on the AT and not figure out that you shouldn’t smoke, pee, and spit in the shelters?
I waited around a little, hoping for some company to go through the Mahoosic Notch with me, but everyone said they’d be at least another hour. So, I headed out into a light rain at 6:40. I had a steep, 400-foot, half-mile climb up Fulling Mill Mountain before heading down an even steeper 1.5-mile descent to the Notch.
If I survived the Notch, I’d have a delightfully near-vertical 2,000-foot climb up the Mahoosic Arm and Old Speck Mountain. Then, whatever was left of me would tumble down 2,400 feet over 3.5 miles (700 ft/mi) to ME 26 where I’d meet Northstar.
The Mahoosic Notch
Over the years, I’ve heard so much about how the Mahoosic Notch is the AT’s toughest mile, I was a little intimidated when I finally stood at the entry point about 7:45 am. Despite my best efforts, I’d be hiking it alone. In the rain. I took some comfort that most of my shelter mates would be only an hour or two behind and could mop up whatever parts of me I’d leave behind.
The Mahoosic Notch is a 0.8-mile jumble of car-sized boulders that fill the bottom of a narrow steep ravine. The trail winds over, under, around, and through these boulders. The stream that flows down the ravine, slightly swollen by a night’s steady rain, disappeared far below the trail, though I could hear its babbling echoes from the deeps as I scrambled along. The ravine is so deep and isolated that it acts like a thermos, chilling the already-brisk wet air by at least 15F. It’s nature’s jungle gym.
I stopped at the entrance, retracted my trekking poles, took my Garmin off my shoulder strap, and stowed everything safely inside my pack. Anything dropped in the Notch is likely to become a permanent resident in its impenetrable rocky depths. I kept my iPhone handy in case of photo-opportunities, but between the rain and keeping my hands busy holding on for dear life, I didn’t/couldn’t take any.
As I stood at the top of the Notch, I had a similar feeling to the first time I rowed Lava Falls in Grand Canyon, though not to that extreme. At some point, you stare into the hazard, face your fears, and launch into the unknown, prepared for the worst. Usually, it works out. Other times, you get a good story that hopefully, you’re still around to tell.
I stepped over the threshold at 7:56 and was out at 8:51, taking less than an hour. There were two break points along the way where I thought I was done, but they were just interludes between steeper, rockier sections.
Frankly, the Notch was a ton of fun. Even dripping with rain, the rocks were sticky enough to keep me from falling, as long as I kept three points of contact, used whatever trees and branches were available, and didn’t do anything too stupid. My training trail on South Mountain in Phoenix isn’t that much different (aside from the Notch’s flowing water, leafy trees, and not being 115F this time of year), requiring the same kinds of bouldering moves. In fact, the Notch was a lot less tricky than the worst parts of yesterday’s hike. Having long legs and some upper body strength was definitely a plus.
The Mahoosic Arm
The climb up the Mahoosic Arm was as ridiculously steep, slippery, and tiring as advertised, but without any of the promised views due to the low clouds and rain. Similarly, the ascent and descent of Old Speck had my knees creaking and aching, but it was no worse than other big climbs in the Whites. I didn’t bother with the extra climb up the blue blaze trail to the top of Old Speck since I was already in the clouds at the junction.
My shoes didn’t help matters much. New Hampshire had shredded them, after only 175 trail miles. The tread was gone, some of it ripped right off. My right shoe had a three-inch tear in the uppers which made it difficult to tighten them properly and keep the bog water out. And of course, they hadn’t been anything close to white since the day after I left Hanover. I’d be pulling out pair #6 tomorrow morning.
Three Day Review
I hadn’t carried a full pack since Hot Springs, North Carolina, but I enjoyed it. The extra weight didn’t matter much, though perhaps it contributed to my sore feet and knees. I found myself in a bubble of amiable thru hikers, which was nice. Shelter stays have their challenges, but they certainly help with the social aspects of the trail.
This particular bubble seems to love slackpacking, planning to slack as much of the remaining 250 miles as possible. Many of them have the same target date for Katahdin, so I may be seeing more of them in the coming days. I also heard from Soco that he’s right behind me and may catch up any day.
I walked into the ME26 trailhead and found a trail magic spread set up in the parking area, as well as Beans, Bells, and White Rabbit. I’d last seen Beans in New York. White Rabbit was hiking with PsyOps in Virginia the last I saw him.
Everyone at the trail magic was chattering about Hurricane Lee, which is tracking its way off the east coast and may reach landfall in Maine. I’m wary but am taking a wait and see attitude before I panic.
- Start: Full Goose Shelter (Mile 1921.3)
- End: ME 26 (Mile 1931.0)
- Weather: Cloudy, chilly, intermittent rain. Patches of sunshine late.
- Earworm: None. Finished the Cradle Series today (Book 12)
- Meditation: Rom 8:28-29
- Plant of the Day: Spruce Grouse (that’s kind of a plant, right?)
- Best Thing: Mahoosic Notch
- Worst Thing: Rain. Again. Still.
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