The Mahoosuc or the “Mahoo-suck” Notch

I have been off the trail for over two months now and the transition is challenging to say the least.  I’m excited to start writing my story again and sharing my experiences with all of you.  So please bear with me as I find my flow.

New Hampshire vanished behind us in what I hoped would become a vague memory of physical discomfort.  Hiking into Maine I had a deadline ahead of me, my grandfather was celebrating his 92nd birthday and my mother had asked me to leave trail to surprise him.  It was the first time I’d considered coming off trail to attend an event.  This meant I had to plan carefully to find a place where my mom could meet us at a road crossing that was well defined, I am not so cruel as to tell her to find a thin line of trail vanishing into the woods after crossing a back road.  Scribe and I would push to make it to Grafton Notch.

The last stretch before Maine

The last stretch before Maine

The northern mountains were beautiful.  Summits often held open views to the surrounding peaks.  No Shame was thrilled to be out of town and moving back into the “wilderness” where she could run free and let her excess energy out after our double zero.  The trail was full of obstacles which we tackled with a new found energy; walkways ran along mountainsides with narrow ramps leading you down to the next section of boards (often times rotted), trails vanished into mud pits, and steep ascents challenged our worn treads.  Scribe and I had started hiking separately and would pick where we would meet for the night to set up camp.  This allowed each of us to take on the terrain at our own pace, and me being me, an opportunity to speak with other hikers.  I was getting used to people voicing concerns about how No Shame would handle the terrain, usually it was utter concern for her safety.  As we made our way towards Mahoosuc Notch there was a stretch of ridges where you could see what was coming, rock scrambles, ladders, and cliffs.  Scribe was ahead of us by about a half mile and his bright green pack cover made it easy to pick him out from the mundane brown and yellows of the trail. There is something so cool about watching someone move along the trail ahead of you knowing you will be there shortly.  I called out to him as he ascended a ladder, a small dot on the mountainside, in the openness my voice carried clearly to him.  He warned me No Shame might struggle with the climb, coming from him I took it a little more seriously.  As No Shame and I approached the steep steps and rebar climbs it became real, I may actually need to assist her, this would be the first time in more than 1,300 miles.  I stood there looking at the simple steps wondering how I would carry both my dog and my pack, No Shame didn’t feel I should concern myself and did some very quick problem solving making her way up the steps to the first ledge with rebar holds.  Now I am a firm believer in allowing people and animals to do their own problem solving, my little lady was standing at the base of a 5 foot ledge with rebar ladder and trying to figure out how best to get up it, who am I to stop her?  I quickly realized I was her mom and it was my job to keep her safe.  Her fist leap was just short and in her attempt to recover her footing she launched herself back towards me clipping one of her legs on the rebar.  As she stood there holding her foot off the ground survival mode took over.  Calling her to me was fruitless, she was determined to get up the ledge, she knew where we were going and she wanted nothing to do with mom assisting her!  I watched her bush whacking into some very scary terrain, while I called her incessantly to no avail.  She finally made her way back towards me where I snagged her harness, soothing her rattled nerves.  She allowed me to give her a boost and even waited patiently while I climbed the rebar, repeated this action for the second ledge and then she was off, unhindered she vanished up the trail.

I can do this!

I can do this!

Full Goose Shelter is the last stop before the Mahoosuc Notch.  This shelter was nothing special, a typical lean-to with a capacity of 8.  I rarely slept in shelters as it was more challenging to keep track of the pup and the sleeping habits of others can be very disruptive to me BUT tonight was one of those nights where I made an exception, much to my dismay.  It was a full camp, two groups doing college orientation took over the tent platforms, the shelter filled up with some hikers rolling in at “hiker midnight.”  If you haven’t stayed in a shelter or camped out with a large group of people let me give you an idea of what the shelter was like that night.  We were shifting around to make room for those who had arrived late, I almost always place myself against a wall if possible as it makes it easier with No Shame.  Full Goose was awesome for the fact it had bear boxes making it inordinately easy to store food outside of the shelter.  The late comers opted to cook and then eat in the shelter in their sleeping bags.  Because they were already in bed the idea of storing food in the bear box was beyond their comfort level.  I was serenaded by the sound of snoring, munching, farting, water gulping, belching, shifting, and mice scampering.  If you have ever been in the middle of nowhere you know how every minuscule sound is amplified.  Now picture yourself in a wooden box which creates a natural amphitheater…  sleep did not come to me.

Wooden pathways leading down the mountain

Wooden pathways leading down the mountain

The trail into unknown mud depths

The trail into unknown mud depths

I dragged myself out of bed earlier than normal, we had places to be and things to tackle.  Today was the day, my energy ran high as I got pumped up for the journey through the “notch.”  How can you go wrong with a mile of boulder scrambles, climbs, and tunneling!  There were so many things to be excited about, play time in rocks, only a 10 mile day, trail magic, family, and a shower!  As we entered the notch it became apparent it was a maze of boulders with white blazes scattered throughout.  No Shame was ready, she started weaving, leaping, and exploring this wonderful world.  We couldn’t have asked for a better guide, when the blazes were obscured or out of our line of sight, we just followed No Shame’s lead.  Having a second person made navigating with a full pack much easier, I would climb through the boulder tunnels and have Scribe pass me my pack and drag it out the other side, then I’d go back for his pack and do the same while he followed along.  Lessons learned:  trust your feet and find the way which is comfortable for you, make sure any items on the outside of your pack are secured (dropped my Pstyle down a crevasse), be ready to find additional items (when you go spelunking for your own dropped items).

Thank goodness for a strong guide through the Mahoosuc Notch

Thank goodness for a strong guide through the Mahoosuc Notch

I spy with my little eye "No Shame leading the way"

I spy with my little eye “No Shame leading the way”

Backwards butt scoot through a rock pile

Backwards butt scoot through a rock pile

The Mahoosuc Notch is listed as the most hated or most loved part of the AT.  It is at the top of my list for best on the AT!!!  After weaving our way through the Notch you start to make your way up the Mahoosuc Arm, a climb which pushes you through your paces.  I am grateful for the fact we were climbing UP the Arm and that the weather was in our favor, nice and dry.  The rock slabs were already a challenge to navigate with almost perfect weather I can’t even fathom what others have faced.  Personally I was happy to have my introduction to Maine be a wild and crazy time running rampant through roots, rocks, mud, and slabs!

Looking back down the Mahoosuc Arm - doesn't even start to do it justice

Looking back down the Mahoosuc Arm – doesn’t even start to do it justice

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