End of Book 1: New Hampshire and Maine
As I recount the past few weeks, I find myself bewildered by how time, and trail progress passes me by. It has been hundreds of kilometers since Lincoln. We have completed the Whites, conquered the Presidential range, clambered through Mahoosuc Notch, pond hopped through the 100 Mile Wilderness, and summited Katahdin. It feels like yesterday was weeks ago, and like weeks ago was only yesterday. Having said that, the past few weeks have been my favorite part of the trip for so many reasons.
Its true what everybody says about the White Mountains, they are nothing like the rest of the trail. Granted, I have yet to embark on the southern half of the trail, but they do feel more like a part of the Rocky ranges than they do of the Appalachians. Instead of a rolling range of green, it’s a jagged series of high rocky peaks to clamber and scramble up, while being guided by cairns instead of whiteblazes. However, the views are unparalleled. In particular, Smugness and I decided to stay in one of the newer shelters run by the AMC, Guyout shelter. Although the shelter lies a little farther down a blue blaze than we usually like to take, the view from the loft of the shelter was incomparable to that of any other we have stayed at.
Since day one of our journey, I had anticipated the Presidentials and feared the ascent that was ahead. In some ways, I’m thankful for being mildly terrified of the undertaking. For months, I had built up this challenge in my mind as being unattainable in difficulty, which in a way made it seem easier as I accomplished each step. I was surprised to learn that this section of the trail is only about 15 miles, proper, and thus can be done in a matter of a day or two.
The trek up the mountain starts at Crawford Notch and ends around Pinkham notch. The trail is incredibly technical and steep, but there are huts with food and lodging every 6 or 8 miles which serve as mini goals that keep you going. Interestingly enough, the official trail doesn’t lead you “peak bagging” the entirety of the Presidentials. Save Mount Washington and Madison, to properly summit each presidential, you have to take a small side trail, “blueblaze”, to actually reach the highest point of each mountain. Needless to say, Smugness and I did not feel it necessary to add the extra miles to what was already a challenge orders of magnitude larger than anything we had encountered thus far.
Bonus Goat Fact: everybody makes a fuss about Washington… But in good weather, Madison is the real beast.
Between the Presidentials and the 100 mile Wilderness
Arriving at Pinkham Notch visitor centre felt surreal as we believed the hardest part was behind us. In a sense, we were right, but the celebration was much too early. Little did we know, Wildcat D, the Mahoosucs, and south Maine hold some of the most technical scrambles we had yet to behold.
Wildcat D was something I wished I was warned about sooner. This small but mighty section holds one of the steepest scrambles of the entire trail, with scenic rewards that pale in comparison to the mountains we had just conquered. However, being able to say “did that” at the top felt great.
Unlike Wildcat D, everybody had warned us of the Mahoosucs, and we prepared for that particular section to be our slowest on trail, which it definitely was. Climbing through the jungle-gym of the Notch, and struggling up the Arm slowed us to a crawl. By the end of a very long day, we were surprised that our immense efforts yielded us 12 miles (which is a distance we could conquer before noon with moderate terrain under foot).
Surely, after all that, it gets easier… Right?
South Maine greets you with a series of tough ledges to all but fall down, and more steep climbs and balds which continue to bust your quads, and slow your pace. But, it’s beautiful. Something about south Maine feels more wild than the rest of the trail… Having said that, when we finished our last big effort, the Bigalows, before the 100, we were ready for it to get easy.
100 Mile Wilderness
Thankfully, the majority of this section is relatively flat. With the exception of the first day or two leading to the summit of White Cap Mountain (and your first peak at Katahdin), your journey to Katahdin winds through a series of lakes and ponds, with blueberries abound. Truly, the 100 mile wilderness is a treasure of the Appalachian trail.
Katahdin, the northern terminus, was a force to be reckoned with. 4178 Feet of elevation gain, over 5.2 miles, Katahdin is the longest sustained effort on the trail. What they don’t tell you, is that Hunt trail will have you scared for your life once you pass the treeline. “Scramble” does not describe the terrain adequately. As someone of small stature, I found myself jumping to gain purchase on rock holds, practically doing the splits to place a toe on small scraps of rebar, and muscling up rocks, hoping I didn’t slip.
And yet, people of all ages complete this trail, almost every day.
The summit was something special. Not only did touching the sign signify the end of our northbound segment, there were moments shared with our tramily that I will remember for the rest of my life.
For some the summit meant an accomplishment, and for some the summit meant letting go… And for one, the summit was the pinnacle of a journey of grief for the loss of a child. The written word cannot capture the significance of that summit for me and my tramily, therefore I will not attempt to do so.
Who is to say what is good and what is bad. Due to our frustrating setback with the post, I was able to be a part of a trail experience that I thought I would never have as a flip-flopper: becoming part of a tramily.
Soon after the presidentials, Smugness and I happened upon a hiker we had met on our second day on trail, but had not seen since: Carbon. Familiarity drew us together, and we found ourselves hiking similar itinieraries over the next few days. Then we met Fallout, whom we hadn’t seen since Comnecticut, and believed him to be far ahead of us, and we stuck together. Soon after, we met Lucifer, and Float who would also become part of our tramily. It only took a single hostel experience, and a game of Cards Against Humanity for it to feel official. We hiked the majority of Maine together and became incredibly close.
Since Katahdin, we have unfortunately split up for the most part. Carbon was summoned back to the real world, while Lucifer left us in New York (her journey began there instead of Harpers Ferry), which left us with Float and Fallout. From there, Float decided to take a week or two off to rest up his knees, and Fallout hanged back to pace a friend with fresh legs. So, it’s back to Smugness and myself… For now.
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