When The Unexpected Happens: Route 17 to Grafton Notch

Bemis Mountain

When Shuttler Kim dropped us off at the parking area at the Height of Land on Route 17, she told us the trail would descend steeply. We descended on the first steep trail we saw, which unfortunately was not the AT. After reading the comments on FarOut, we returned to the road and saw the white blazes on the guard rail, which we followed to a bench and the correct steep descent.

On our way to Bemis Stream, we met a trail runner, who told us he had forded the stream barefoot.  I have not been wearing my camp shoes, which are made from fabric and dry slowly, to ford streams. Instead, I have been fording in my trail runners, usually first taking off my socks. I decided I would try to go barefoot.

Bemis Stream was filled with relatively small, smooth rocks among medium- sized rocks. The current was light and the water no more than calf deep where I crossed. I successfully forded the stream barefoot. My feet were very comfortable in dry socks and trail runners until I later slipped into the mud—several times. Ugh.

We passed many NOBOs, including Cloudburst and Spice, who own Cloudburst Coffee, a direct-to-consumer company. They told us they donate profits to a charitable cause.

We had excellent views over the Bemis Mountain range, as shown in the featured photo above and the photo below.

We stopped several times to pick blueberries. Some we ate as we picked. Others we collected to eat later. We camped at a stealth site near a small mountain brook nestled in the deep conifer woods. The two tent sites were small and not very flat, but we made do. I recommend camping at one of the two sites 0.1 mile north of the brook, which are larger and flatter.

I put my stash of blueberries in the tea I drank with dinner, which was delicious! We planned to get up early, and I was lulled to sleep by the sounds of the babbling brook.

Rescue On Elephant Mountain

About 5:30 a.m., Georgia said she wouldn’t be able to hike because she wasn’t feeling well. I quickly went to her tent; she was experiencing abdominal and flank pain, which rapidly worsened. Georgia activated the rescue feature on her Garmin and handed it and her phone to me. On the Garmin screen, it said to get to open sky. I moved up the trail but remained in dense woods. I was concerned that the signal was not reaching Garmin and contacted Georgia’s spouse, who started making phone calls.

Some 15 to 20 minutes later, a call came in from the Garmin dispatcher on Georgia’s phone. I called back several times as Georgia’s pain increased and other symptoms developed. I was advised to keep her warm.

By about 7:15 a.m., the local warden called and confirmed our location. He said a rescue team would reach us via a logging road up Elephant Mountain. I spoke with him several more times to get an update on the status of the rescue team and to report changes in Georgia’s symptoms.

Thankfully, Georgia’s condition improved. About 10:00 a.m., EMT Chantelle arrived with a warden and a few volunteer rescuers. After Chantelle took vitals and a history, she determined that Georgia could try to walk one mile to a waiting ATV. Other team members arrived, who packed up Georgia’s tent and backpack and carried it out.

The rescue team consisted of several wardens and perhaps a dozen volunteers. The volunteers told me they work at Sunday River Ski Resort, which allows them to leave work with pay when participating in a medical evacuation. One person had carried up a litter (or sled) and another had carried up a wheel which attaches to the litter in case Georgia needed to be carried out. I also learned from them about bear and deer hunting and being assigned a zone in which to hunt.

We descended on a lightly-used, wet trail marked with orange survey tape down to a logging road, where there was a waiting ATV.  Georgia got into the ATV and the rest of us hiked another half mile or so, where two trucks were waiting. We all piled into the trucks and had a bumpy ride several more miles down the logging road to South Arm Road, where EMT Sam was waiting in the ambulance.

Chantelle and Sam put Georgia on a stretcher and placed her in the ambulance and provided care. I sat in the passenger seat. While Chantelle drove the ambulance, Sam cared for Georgia.

At Rumford Hospital, Georgia was evaluated in the ER. By then, most of her symptoms were greatly reduced. A battery of tests did not reveal any serious conditions and Georgia was discharged with treatment recommendations.

Homespun And Doogie, Shuttlers/Trail Angels Extraordinaire

We had assumed we would spend the night at a motel in Rumford. To our surprise, there were no rooms available because of work being done at the mill. I contacted Doogie, a shuttler out of Bethel, who texted me a list of motels there. Although it is difficult to imagine, there were also no rooms available in Bethel.

When I told Doogie we couldn’t find any place in Bethel, he and his wife Homespun generously invited us to spend the night with them. Forty-five minutes later, Homespun picked us up. After stopping in Bethel for Georgia to buy medication, we arrived at their home. Kevin, their playful dog, greeted us. Not only did Homespun and Doogie put a roof over our heads, they also prepared a delicious dinner and breakfast.

The next morning, Homespun drove us to town for a resupply and to the outfitters. I purchased a Katydin Be Free filter as my bag had developed a pinhole and the filter was slowing down. I also bought an MSR Whisperlite stove, which is much lighter and less bulky than the Glacier GSI I bought in Rangeley after my very old Whisperlite broke. I gave the GSI to Homespun to pass on. Below is a photo of the three of us.

Heading South From The Cabin In Andover

Homespun shuttled us to The Cabin, where I had stayed about 15 years ago during my section hike of the AT. I fondly remembered Honey and Bear. Bear passed away five years ago, but Honey, now age 91, continues to operate the hostel with help from her son Don, who provides shuttles, and Kitchen Sink, who prepares breakfast, shuttles, and more.

We spent a relaxing afternoon at The Cabin, where we chose beds on the porch. I even napped a bit. Honey prepared a delicious spaghetti dinner, with corn, garden-fresh green beans, salad, garlic bread, and dessert of banana bread and ice cream. She regaled us with stories from the past, pointing out a photograph of Earl Schaeffer from his 1998 thru-hike. She invited us to sign our names underneath the table, as had Earl and hundreds of other hikers.

The next morning, we ate a delicious breakfast prepared by Kitchen Sink, including his signature spicy home fries. Due to the forecast of rain, Georgia and I slack packed from South Arm Road to East B Hill Road.

When we were dropped off at the trailhead, we saw Mike and Ana, who were being shuttled to The Cabin. They were still wearing flip flops from their ford of the Black River, where we soon arrived. I removed my socks, gaiters, and insoles, and forded it in my trail runners. On the other side, I dried my feet and put on my dry socks. My feet were happy, at least temporarily.

The hike up Moody Mountain was not very difficult. Due to rain and clouds, however, there were no views at the viewpoints.

On the other hand, the descent from Moody Mountain was slow due to the steep terrain and my knees with their reduced range of motion. Below is a photograph of Georgia descending a near-vertical rock slab with the help of metal rungs.

As we began the next ascent, there was a pretty flow of water over rock slabs.

We stopped for lunch at Hall Mountain Lean-to. Off came the trail runners and socks, and my puckered feet dried out. Although out of the rain and wind, I rapidly started to cool down. Before continuing on, I donned my rain skirt and rain jacket. Soon it was raining again.

On our way to Wyman Mountain, we crossed paths with Zip, who had slack packed the same section in the opposite direction. He reported that although the trail was muddy, the terrain was east to navigate. And so it was. My feet got wet in the mud, but I could hike at a faster pace.

Third Wheel had told us the day before that he had seen a moose at Surplus Pond. We were not so fortunate. But we did see the lovely gentian flower pictured below.

Soon enough we arrived at East B Hill Road and met Kitchen Sink, who shuttled us back to The Cabin. Over another delicious and filling meal, we learned that rain and thunderstorms were forecast for the following day. We had planned to hike over Baldplate Mountain, which is above treeline and has steep rock slabs. Most of the hikers at The Cabin decided to take a zero day. So did we.

The next morning, Homespun shuttled us to Gorham. We are now in a motel and have arranged for Ziggy to shuttle us to the trailhead on Route 2 at 5:30 a.m. (it was either leave very early or not until almost 9:00 a.m. as he had another shuttle at 8:00). For a change, we will be hiking north—through the Mahoosuc Notch and beyond. No rain is in the forecast for a week!

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Comments 1

  • Michele Clark : Aug 19th

    You are insane as are all the hikers, but in an impressive and delightful way. I am glad Georgia was not too ill, finally. All is well in Central Vermont where we all think of you and discuss, sometimes, your amazing feats and happy or too wet feet as well.


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