Day 104: late arrival edition 


I tossed and turned all night and woke up around 545 feeling groggy. The temperatures were perfect for sleeping, and I hiked a good distance, so I’m not sure why I felt so restless. I left my sleeping bag as quietly as I could while everyone slept. I peered inside each of my shoes to check for spiders because I had left them in the dark gap between the lip of the shelter and the actual floor of the shelter. It’s a design that seems specific to the older structures on the trail to prevent porcupines from getting into the shelter. The end result looks like a snake pit if you ask me. I made the annoyingly long trek to the privy that was oddly off the trail rather than behind or adjacent to the shelter where they usually are. I took my shorts with me so I wouldn’t have to do a super man sleeping bag change in a shelter full of dude bros. 

Everyone still slept soundly when I returned. I wasn’t about to wait for them to eat breakfast, so I pulled my food bag out of my pack hanging under the eaves of the shelter. It’s the first time I haven’t hung my food outside the shelter, and everything survived. I quietly unwrapped my probar and covered it in a conservative amount of peanut butter. I’m dangerously low considering I have to eek out lunch and breakfast servings. Action Jackson eventually sat up and began to fix his breakfast. I sat at the edge of the sleeping platform and brushed my teeth and put my contacts in without moving because everything was within arms reach. Then I packed up my sleeping gear and put bodyglide on my feet. The others had finally started to rustle around by the time I was packed and ready to go at 7am. 

The trail started with a mile and a half descent to sawyers notch. The sky had been sunny when I woke up, but clouds hung overhead as I walked away from the shelter. The forest was bright green and saturated from last night’s storms, and a light mist hung in the air. As I descended to the forest floor, it started to drizzle. I steeled myself for another soggy morning, but the rain petered out pretty quickly and never got heavy enough to warrant a rain jacket. The extra moisture added to the feeling of walking through a rainforest, which continues to feel confusing relative to what I imagine New England climate to be. 

The trail down to sawyers notch consisted of a lot of man made stone steps and the occasional jumble of roots and rocks. I made decent time down to the notch where an unofficial campsite exists. Someone had hung a line about 5 feet off the ground and what appeared to be 10 red food bags hung from the line. In keeping with what I’ve found so far, people do not seem concerned about bears or proper bear hangs in Maine. A woman tenting at the baldpate shelter had tied her food bag to a stump about 4 feet in the air. Why not just leave it in your tent at that point? 


I walked past the tent site and carefully rock hopped across sawyer brook. The trail took a sharp right and immediately started up moody mountain. The climb was so steep at certain points that I could have eaten my knees for second breakfast.


 I tried to focus on using big muscles and not thrusting my head foreword while I inched my way up the mountain. There were short stretches of flat relief towards the top and then back to climbing nearly straight up. I stopped at this view to have a snack and use my phone given the higher elevation (anything below about a thousand feet is almost guaranteed to be no service zone):


It took about 15 minutes of phone zombie time for wolfie and his friend to catch up to me at the view. Action Jackson strolled through about 3 minutes behind them. I put on my pack and left them all to gawk at the mountains we haven’t gotten to see because of the whiteout conditions. The trip down moody was milder than I expected, consisting primarily of good footing. I stopped at a stream for water and had to work hard not to eat another snack. 
A strong breeze blew all morning, continuing to make it feel like fall with cooler than expected temperatures. I hiked in my wool shirt on and off all day. The walk between the bottom of Moody and sawyer arm road was picture perfect middle of the woods walking. I came upon a brand new privy that went with a tent site that wasn’t on my map. I decided to use it given the guys hiking behind me and the high likelihood that they would catch up with me in mid squat. Sure enough, as I came out of the privy (that had tp!), I saw Action Jackson slow down to read the sign near the privy’s side trail. We both remarked on the beautiful weather and terrain, and then he took the lead. Around the bend from the privy, I came to a steam crossing that involved a tricky long hop from a smaller rock to a large but uneven boulder. It was just far enough that I had to Hail Mary it and hope that I didn’t end up crashing into the water, which I managed to avoid.


 On the other side of the stream, the trail crossed south arm road where Action Jackson had plopped down to eat a snack. I wasn’t ready to take another break, so I kept going after I dumped my trash in a bin chained to a tree. The climb up old blue mountain was just as steep as the ascent up moody. As I made my way up one particularly rocky bit, I saw a raspberry laying on a rock.


 I picked it up and ate it (obviously). I looked around to find a bush dotted with petite raspberries. I picked several and ate them even though they weren’t quite ripe. 


I came to this viewpoint and decided to take another break to rest my legs and take in the sunny spot. Action Jackson caught up with me and checked out the view for a minute before moving on. I lingered, feeling tired and daunted by the 2.3 miles left to the summit. Thankfully some of that came in the form of flatter sections. Around 2700 feet, the forest became mossier and the trees were shorter. For the last third of a mile, the trail transitioned to the steep rock slabs I’ve become accustomed to climbing forever and ever. 
There was a bit of rebar here and there (top picture), but for the most part I just had to creep up the slabs or hug the roots along the edges. I ran into some day hikers heading south, one of whom assured me that this was the last climb for a good little stretch of the northbound AT. I kept my biting remarks about other people’s opinions to myself and pretended to be enthused by her “facts.” When she said I was near the top, I said I was also near lunch. An older gentleman in the party said I’d be better off just eating at that spot because of the wind. He turned out to be very correct. The wide open summit of old blue was a wind tunnel with shrub height trees that didn’t provide any cover. 


I sat my pack down for all of 10 seconds before deciding against eating on the summit. Instead, I went about a third of a mile down the mountain and sat on a rock nearly in the middle of the trail because I was starving and couldn’t be bothered to wait for a better spot. The wind had chilled me on the summit, so I put on my raincoat for an extra layer while I wasn’t moving. As I put together my lunch my hands started to go numb from cold, so I pulled out my hat and hand warmers. I felt absurd in winter gear, but I was still barely warm enough to sit still. I left my warm layers on as I headed down the mountain. I couldn’t pick up much speed because the descent was a little steep, so it took a good forty minutes to warm up enough to remove layers. A lot of today felt more like October than August. 

The descent mellowed out and then transitioned into quiet walking until I came to a section of poorly maintained bog boards. My left foot slipped on one of the boards, and I went down hard on the outer part of my left thigh. Thankfully, it wasn’t a particularly wet section, so I didn’t end up in mud as my legs slopped over the edge of the boards. I cursed to myself and whined about how the trail maintenance shouldn’t be the most dangerous part of my day. Then the trail took me through a pine section with a sparse canopy, which let in both sunlight and wind. The walking was easy minus the odd crop of boulders here and there. 


I eventually came to this viewpoint where a SOBO sat on the bench. I stopped with my pack on, not intending to take a break, but the SOBO offered to make room for me, so I took advantage of his hospitality. That’s when I noticed that the pack on the ground was actually attached to an adorable dog. 
I said hello to her and she proceeded to put her feet on my lap and lick my face. 


Her name is mountain goat and the SOBO is General Ben. He offered me some of his trail mix, which I happily took given my dire snack situation. I stuck around for about 10 minutes talking and ogling the cute dog until General Ben said it was time for them to move on. He knew the campsite I intended to get to tonight and made a passing remark about bemis being easy. I filed that into my “maybe true” category of information and tried not to get too attached to the idea. 

The first peak of bemis was indeed easy, but the ridge between the two peaks was root filled and annoying. I still had about five miles to go at 4p, which felt too far given my energy level, but I need to make the miles, so I can get to rangeley at a decent time tomorrow. As I stood off to the side of the trail sending a text, I looked up to find Tater, who is someone I follow on Instagram (hikinghepburn). She and her hiking partner, Norsemen, have been doing non-AT 4K peaks in the area and in doing so, got behind me. I gave a hearty hello and said that I wondered if we would run into each other. I made a joke about there being a few extra mountains around for them to climb. Tater complained about her legs feeling trashed and said they were both worse for the wear at the moment. I commiserated with their soreness and let them pass so I could finish writing. They will likely stop short at the shelter instead of going all the way to the campsite where they also intended to camp tonight. 
I griped and picked my way down the trail that had somehow devolved into an aggravating rocky mess with some incredibly steep sections. Here’s an example of one pesky spots (the perspective is strange, but I had to climb down this): 

I finally made it to the shelter around 5:30p. I didn’t stop because I was only using it as a benchmark for how much longer I needed to walk. 3.6 miles left at that hour is far from ideal, but it’s doable. The trail didn’t get any easier so my attempts at “fast” hiking were only mildly successful. The trail near the second peak of bemis mountain, as its known, snakes through and endless network of exposed boulders. I had to work hard not to stop to take a hundred pictures like this: 

I also had to avoid stopping every two feet to eat blueberries! Not to worry, I snacked on a fair share as I wound my way from one rock face to the next. I lamented the fact that I couldn’t stick around to watch sunset because of the incredible views of the surrounding mountains. 



Somewhere in the boulder maze, I heard an odd sound that I mistook for a person. I quickly turned my hat back around (I had it on backwards because of the wind) and mentally prepared myself for a short interaction. I came around the corner, but there was no one to be found. I heard the high pitched noise again and looked around to find what I am pretty sure is a grouse sitting on a tree limb twittering at me. I stared at it and said aloud “what are you doing up there?” It was a beautiful brown speckled color with a quail like shape. 

As I went into full-on rushing mode (aka hunger panic), a guy in his fifties passed me and tried to start a conversation about my hike. I brushed him off as politely as I could telling him I was in a hurry to get to camp. He knew of the tent sites by the stream and said that they were a great spot. What he should have said is that I would have to nearly stand on my head to get down the other side of bemis mountain. Dear god was it a steep and neverending descent. The slabs continued, then got steeper and then even steeper. Then came the rocks. The whole way down, I simultaneously cursed the mountain and thanked the weather because it would have been utterly miserable to do that descent on wet rocks. The grade was just too steep. 

I finally made it to the unofficial tenting area around 7:45. Far later than I had hoped because of the painstaking climb down from bemis. I quickly set up my tent, forced myself to throw a bear line and fetched water from the stream around the bend. Then I put on water for dinner. I didn’t have any cold food options to fall back on, so I had to go through my full dinner routine. I sat on a rock in the waning light and ate my black beans and rice meal. The moon shone through the trees over my tent. Today was exhausting, and I feel amazed at my body’s ability to just keep going. My feet were mincemeat by the end, but they’re holding up much better than they used to (knock on wood). I’m finishing this to the sound of what I assume are chipmunks hopping around in the woods and the soft hum of the stream a few hundred yards away. Not too long ago a car went down the dirt road that’s adjacent to the tenting area. It felt disconcerting to see headlights from my tent, but there are other hikers camped around me, so I have the necessary false sense of security to be able to sleep. 
Mile 1938.9 to mile 1955.3 (16.4)
Total miles: 952.1 
Creature feature: the grouse and a green snake that I mistakenly thought was a stick until it slithered away to a safe distance and stared at me from the brush. 

Day 103: foggy with a chance of boulders edition


I woke up around 5:15 and dosed until my alarm went off at 530. I nearly fell back asleep, but I’ve got 14 miles on the agenda, and there’s no telling how long it will take to cover the distance. It poured for a few hours last night, but it didn’t keep me awake the way it usually does. Thanks, mahoosuc notch, for exhausting me enough to sleep through the rain. I did a quick foot and calf massage and then headed to the privy with far less hiker hobble than I expected considering yesterday’s insanity. The sleeping youth group filled the shelter like little ducks in a row. On the way back to my tent, I went into the woods past a the tents of a few late arrivers to retrieve my food bag. Then I had a quiet breakfast in my tent while the rest of the world dozed. I had everything packed and ready to go around 645. I gave the youth group a wave on my way out as they geared up for what I imagine was a protracted breakfast cooking routine.


The morning started with yet another climb, this one towards west baldpate mountain. Someone has done a lot of trail maintenance because over half the ascent consisted of stone stairs. At the top of the mountain, I put on my wool layer and took a break to upload some pictures from yesterday’s craziness to social media. 


It was a foggy morning, which is sad because I imagine the views from this mountain are pretty incredible given the exposed slabs. After 15 minutes of being a phone zombie, I mustered the energy to keep walking. I passed a hiker who had cowboy camped* on top of the mountain last night after arriving at about one in the morning. Apparently, he sat down at Grafton Notch waiting out the rain until 11p and then climbed up in the dark. I don’t get it, but he seemed happy about his choice.

There was a short descent between the east and west baldpate peaks wherein I managed to fall on my right butt cheek because everything was wet. Then came a crazy climb up the east peak. I wondered if a mountain named baldpate would be exposed and the answer is YES. The last half mile to the peak was exposed rock slab that just. kept. going. up.

 The wind whipped the fog around as I traveled from one cairn to the next on a football field of rock slab (top picture is another example). I was grateful for the lack of rain, but the wind really spooked me, sending my fight or flight response into high gear. 


I tried to imagine how different I would feel if I was doing the same climb on a sunny day. That settled me marginally, but I would be lying if I said more thoughts of skipping Maine didn’t pop into my head. Over every rise came more exposed rock slab disappearing into the dense fog. 


I finally reached the wide ridge where there were the usual beautiful alpine plants to admire, including red moss and more red dotted lichen.


I tried to come down from the fright of climbing straight into the air on the side of a mountain. I also tried, with minimal success, not to preemptively freak out about the descent on the other side of the ridge. As I reached the point at which the trail started to go down, I saw a new bird that was ochre colored with a black mask and an orange beak and what might be yellow trim at the bottom of its tail feathers. It didn’t seem very frightened of me as it hung out on a perch about 20 yards away. I stared for a minute trying to memorize what it looked like and then continued down the slab.


As I hit the tree line, the trail devolved into a series of steep, slick rock faces. They weren’t as textured as they have been lately, so I immediately resorted to butt scooching until the rocks and the grade became more manageable. The video is of a particularly useless metal ladder that was more treacherous than sticking to the boulders. It took me about 2.5 hours to go a little over two miles, which felt depressingly slow. The trail eventually moderated to a series of ups and downs. I stopped at the frye notch shelter to get water right as it began to drizzle. I assumed I wouldn’t get out of today without rain because the humidity was out of control. The trail took a sharp uptick after the shelter that left me short of breath and very aware of how tired my legs are today. I also noticed that my lats and pec muscles are sore from all the full-body support I had to do to get through yesterday’s bouldering.

Once I got through the climb, the trail became so mild that I forgot I was in Maine. The rain picked up a notch, so I stopped and put on my raincoat because the temperature was only about 70 (if I had to guess). The forest consisted of dense undergrowth and hardwood trees. With the exception of occasional tricky rock hops and slippery tree roots, the next few miles were easy, albeit soggy walking. Around noon, I passed a good looking log that I momentarily considered using as a lunch spot even though I was dismayed by the meager number of miles I’d covered thus far. I stopped a few feet past the log, turned around and decided to just take advantage of the good seat while it was only sort of raining. I ate lunch and texted my mother to see if she could make a reservation for me at a hostel because I have no clue when I will have enough signal to make phone calls, and I can’t seem to get out of the scarcity mindset of things being booked. The trail continued to be mild for nearly the rest of the day, although I still managed to fall when my left foot hit an especially squishy spot in the mud, and I couldn’t stop my backwards momentum. I landed on my left butt cheek with a laugh. Leave it to me to fall in the simplest of places.

I made it to Dunn cascades sooner than I expected. I heard the falls from a distance, and as I rounded a corner, I saw the water rushing over a steep drop that took a sharp left turn to flow between two cliffs. The twist in the water was mesmerizing and difficult to capture on camera, but here’s my attempt: 


I watched it for a few minutes before heading up the short, but intense climb north of the falls. The trail took me through pines and past several more streams.

 

I stopped to stare at this trio of waterfalls and dictated some of the day’s notes watching a small black and white bird hop from branch to branch on a sapling. Today felt like fall with the low light and wet leaves on the ground. The trail then crossed a road and dropped down to a stream where I stopped to get water because it’s the last official stop until the shelter 5.7 miles away. I walked through more pines that transitioned into a muddy rooty mess reminiscent of Vermont. This section was in dire need of trail maintenance with disintegrating and/or unstable bog boards. Thankfully, it didn’t last long, and soon enough, I returned to more manageable footing.
The trip up Mount Wyman Was barely noticeable until the last two tenths of a mile when it abruptly changed to scaling rock slabs and climbing tree roots. It mellowed out almost as soon as it started. I took a short break at this spot and watched the fog roll through feeling sad that I couldn’t see farther into the distance.

 

At the top of the hill, I ran into a SOBO eating a snack. I laughed and told her I had been doing the same thing just down the way. The trail became narrower and overgrown as I got farther from the summit. The rain started again. I cursed myself for taking the extra break and not being at the shelter yet. I had to slow down for some gnarly roots and slick rocks, but I finally got to the water source just south of the shelter. It was a sad series of puddles with no apparent flow. Two guys came down from the shelter empty handed, which was confusing until I saw them pull beers out of the deepest part of the puddle. That didn’t bode well for getting stuck in the shelter with them. I filtered water that actually wasn’t bad looking. As I put my water away, it started to rain harder, so I raced the last tenth of a mile to the shelter and took the corner farthest away from beer brothers. I had been looking forward to sleeping in my tent, but the sites weren’t that great, and I didn’t feel like setting up in the rain. Instead, I boiled water and set up my macaroni and cheese to cook while I blew up my sleeping pad. A drenched hiker named Bambi Magnet showed up and ate in silence on the front ledge of the shelter. A downpour thundered on the tin roof, and I could hardly hear the beer brothers talking four feet away. They were actually really nice. Wolfie is a NOBO and his friend (name forgotten) came to visit him with beer and good food. Bambi magnet and I talked about his experiences between the PCT and the AT and about moderation. He moved on as the rain slowed because he wanted to get another mile down to a tentsite. I was sad to see him go because he was easy to talk to. Around 7, I went around the corner of the shelter to pee, and when I came back, Action Jackson had arrived. He took up a lot of space physically and interpersonally. I’m finishing this to the sound of rain drumming on the tin roof and Action Jackson discussing mileage and proposed finish dates with the beer brothers. Eavesdropping on their conversation helps me gauge when I might summit Katahdin without having to crunch the numbers. Speaking of which, I misjudged which road I need to use for Rangeley, so I have more miles to cover than I intended between now and monday. No rest for the incorrect.
Mile 1924.9 to mile 1938.9 (14 miles)
Total miles: 935.7
Creature feature: just the new bird I’ve already mentioned, which is possibly a cedar waxwing according to my bird app 
*cowboy camping = sleeping without a shelter of any sort, “under the stars” as they say. could be incredible and could result in a soggy alarm clock. I have yet to do this. 

Day 102: mahoosideawasthat edition


I woke up around 5am this morning after suffering through a nightmare I’ve had before. I can’t remember the content anymore, but the feeling is one of anguish and lack of control. No real surprise there. The shelter was quiet save the light snore of Action Jackson next to me. I don’t think twice anymore about sleeping next to people I’ve know for an hour. I’m not sure it was ever much of a concern, but from an outsider’s perspective, it could be strange to say I slept about 5 inches from two dudes I don’t know and may never see again. I considered going back to sleep, but today is mahoosuc notch day, and it seemed wise to give myself as much time as possible to make it through the gauntlet. I crept as quietly as I could out of my sleeping bag and grabbed my toilet paper out of my pack. When the shelters are full, we exist in 2.5′ x 12′ foot orbits, so I had just enough room to step to the side of my sleeping pad without tromping on my neighbors’ limbs. I grabbed my wet shorts hanging from a nail under the eaves of the shelter and put on my soggy shoes, cursing myself for not taking the insoles out during my long afternoon of not wearing them. Had some quality time in the privy and then squeezed into my shorts. They smell embarrassingly bad because of the rain yesterday. I might have to switch to the shorter backup shorts until I can do laundry. The different length will involve showing off my sweet shorts tan. As I headed back to the shelter, I could see the sunrise over the surrounding mountains through the trees. The colors were a deep pink that eventually turned more orange as the sun actually rose. Sadly the pictures look like nothing, but seeing it pulled me out of my anxiety long enough to remember how amazing it is to be out here.

I grabbed my food bag and sat at the foot of my space with my feet hanging over the low slung shelter. The sleeping platform sits about 2 feet off the ground whereas some of them are as much as 4 feet. Olive was the only person awake. I felt bad for making noise, but I didn’t feel like waiting for the world to stir, so I unwrapped a probar and ate it covered in peanut butter and honey. I’m trying to stretch my breakfasts and the probars weigh less than the granola/muesli mix I packed before I left home. An older gentleman whose name I didn’t catch and who definitely snores, was the first one to rise. The rest of the hikers followed in fits and starts. I was packed and ready to leave by 620. I gave a halfhearted goodbye because I don’t feel all that comfortable with these people and I hate having everyone look at me.


The hike started immediately with a climb to the top of fulling mill mountain. My legs felt strong and my Achilles’ tendons were in surprisingly good shape. I didn’t even really have hiker hobble this morning. I imagine it will only take a few more days for that to set in. Here’s the view from the top of the mountain:

The ridge walk consisted mostly of bog boards and alpine flowers. Then came a steep, mile long descent into mahoosuc notch.


I felt dismayed by all the moisture still on the rocks. The idea of going through the notch was hard enough without trying to navigate slick surfaces. The trip down took the better part of an hour because of the rock faces and slipperiness. I got to the intersection with the sign for the notch and thought about turning left to run away from the whole thing. Maine has really tested my will thus far. I considered quitting at least 5 times yesterday. But I took a deep breath, turned right, and said okay fine,  let’s do it.

The unassuming entrance to the notch blasted me with cool air and a light fog filtered through the trees. The bouldering started almost immediately and only let up for a few yards over the next mile. The notch is considered the longest mile on the AT because it’s painstaking to traverse. Some also say it’s the hardest. I would say it’s the most death defying based on the number of times I had my limbs spread across multiple boulders over top of a crevice with serious injury only a slip away. About 20 minutes into the escapade, I had one leg stretched out to land on a rock 3 feet below me, but my planted foot, which was resting at a precarious angle on the side of a rock, slipped. I went tumbling down into the rock I had intended to step on. I scraped my hand and hit my left ankle bone pretty hard, but no other damage to speak of, which is good because I was worried about my tailbone. Not long after my fall, I heard voices behind me. Action Jackson, Olive, and a clumsy fellow named Tasty had caught up with me. I let them pass and then managed to keep up with them for a little while. I noticed that in their presence, I started second guessing my choices and found myself looking to see what the others were doing. I also felt somewhat alarmed when they pulled ahead, leaving me alone again. Before they arrived, I hadn’t noticed much self-doubt. I simply moved through the maze and tried to make smart choices. After realizing the impact of other people, I worked on letting go of the judgment and returning to myself.


About halfway through the notch, I ran into the group as they filtered water at a little stream. I stood and ate a snack with them, but didn’t stick around for long because I needed the insanity to be over sooner than later. I couldn’t believe we’d only traveled half a mile and still had .4 of a mile to go. I was done having “fun” as everyone kept calling it. My shoes were slippery and my arms were tired from supporting me as I inched from one boulder to the next. was it fun? In some ways, yes. When the traverses weren’t on slippery rocks over 10 foot drops, I enjoyed the jungle gym aspect. Do I want to do it again? No. Maybe if it was the driest day ever, and I didn’t have 26 pounds of gear on my back. Maybe.

I don’t have the memory to give a play by play through the whole notch, so here are some pictures to depict a small measure of the outrageous bouldering we did (top picture included in the madness).


The temperatures fluctuated wildly, as if I had stepped into a steaming greenhouse one minute followed by blasts of cooler air around the next boulder. Small sheets of ice lingered in crevices here and there. At one point, I had my pack off and was crawling through a cavern between two boulders. It was in this section that I got someone else’s blood on my pack as I shoved it over splattered rocks and through the small exit from the crawl space. Towards the end, the boulders were even slipperier because the area clearly doesn’t get much sunlight and a lot of them were covered in moss.
I felt so relieved when the boulders gave way to actual trail. I didn’t want to get excited in case I was wrong about the end, but then it became clear that we’d made it. I sat and ate a snack with the small group while two of them smoked cigarettes (why??). Then the rest of their NOBO crew showed up full of excitement and triumph. I offered to take their picture since I was very much an outsider in the group. I juggled 5 phones while my version of a nightmare occurred as they all stared at me, and I had to give the 1..2..3 picture prompt. Then I left them standing around shooting the shit because I wanted to get through the next big hurdle: mahoosuc arm. Why it’s called that, I don’t know, but it’s a 2000 foot climb in about a mile. In other words, steep AF. It started out mildly enough, although sweat poured down my face in a matter of minutes. The NOBOs caught up with me as the grade intensified. I let a few of them pass me, but I stubbornly tried to stay in front of the other half. That lasted until the top third of a mile, which was nearly all sheer boulder faces. Here’s a picture with a few of the NOBOs to give some perspective on the verticality of the climb.


I felt aggravated that everyone had passed me, but I couldn’t go any faster so I settled into my pace as the boulders continued upwards around every corner.

I finally reached the top and was again faced with being the last one. Hawaii gave a small cheer upon my arrival, which no one else followed, but I appreciated it nonetheless. I dropped my pack and sat on the rocks feeling satisfied and exhausted. Steep climbs I can do any day. The notch I can do without. We covered 4.1 miles in 4 hours. Unreal.


The NOBOs sat around chattering about the intensity of Maine thus far. I felt glad to not be the only one getting pummeled by this wilderness. The older gentleman from last night’s shelter arrived after we had been sitting for a few minutes. He apparently fell pretty hard in the notch, possibly more than once (his blood must be what ended up on my pack). His legs were scraped and bloody in over a dozen places, and he had plans to get off the trail as soon as possible. It sounded like he might be leaving for good because Maine feels too dangerous. I can relate. We all decided to eat lunch at the shelter .9 miles down the trail. Hawaii said “lets kill this pig,” which I find horrifying, but it’s what they say to jumpstart their hike. I started out in the front of the pack, but after about two minutes, I pulled off to the side, and said I wasn’t even going to pretend to be able to keep up. They all trooped past me, and I didn’t see the again until the shelter. Not long after they pulled ahead, I hit a wet spot on a rock and went flying forward onto my right arm and hip. I somehow didn’t get hurt even though I’d fallen with no control. I felt ridiculous, having slipped on a seemingly benign spot, but also relieved at the knowledge that I could fall, and it could be okay.​

 


The trail followed a ridge for a little while. Then I crested a small rise in the trail and began to see lily pads off to my left. Speck pond appeared as if out of nowhere, shrouded in thick fog. There had also been no view to speak of on top of mahoosuc arm because of fog. The trail followed the edge of the pond until the campsite where it took a hard right. I continued forward towards the shelter where I found the NOBO crew already eating. I sat on a rock and prepared my wrap. My hunger felt bottomless, but I don’t have enough snacks to eat extra food, so I did my best to stay within the realm of a normal sized lunch. I half-engaged in conversation, laughing when appropriate but not feeling all that enthused or included. I forced myself to announce a goodbye of sorts as I went to get water because they’re all likely going farther than I am today, and it seemed rude to just disappear. Sunny made a comment about how you never know when we’ll see each other and I got a halfhearted bye in return. As predicted, they were all gone when I got back from fetching my water.
The “little up” we had all been talking about during lunch turned out to be another neverending exposed rock face scramble up the side of Old Speck. I felt somewhat grateful for the fog because it hid just how high I was, but I was also sad to miss what I’m guessing were some really amazing views. There was a slight break in the fog at one point, and I caught a glimpse of the mountainside below.


I didn’t even consider taking the side trail to the actual summit of old speck. Today was not the day for extra mileage and there wouldn’t have been any views because of the fog. At the intersection for the summit, I hung a left to head down the mountain. Or so I thought. The down took a while to materialize and it was intermingled with a lot of small bouldering ascents. The trail eventually did take a consistent downward turn that was far more reasonably graded than I had expected given the verticality of the ascent. The rocks were wet and there were frequent open slabs, but they were of the gnarled texture that’s better for traction.

After about 90 minutes of walking, the trail opened up to these boulders with a nice view of the adjacent mountains. I thanked the skies for not raining in the midst of the endless rock slabs today. Then it took a right and became a bit steeper and significantly wetter. I passed a waterfall that was more of a trickle and several other streams. The trail got rockier still as it approached Grafton notch, although there was about a half mile of simple walking right before the road crossing. I reached the parking lot and wandered over to where I saw two hikers. I didn’t see the trail and the parking lot sits between two maps in my app so it’s not easy to tell where to go. I asked the hikers where I could find the trail. When I got a flummoxed response, I realized they were likely SOBO, and I had asked it in a very NOBO-centric way. They pointed me in the right direction, and I crossed the road to find this giant wooden AT sign.


The hike up from the notch to bald pate shelter was mercifully uneventful. The humidity and the slight incline made for even more sweating, and I realized that that’s part of what I love about hiking. Maybe it sounds strange, but I love it when sweat streams down my face, and I look down and see it trickling down my shins. Anyway, I made it to the shelter to find a school group, but none of the NOBOs. I wandered around with my mouth agape feeling exhausted after 11 hours of difficult hiking. One of the leaders of the group approached me holding his brimming food bowl of beans and rice that smelled of tacos. He said they’d be happy to scoot over in the shelter if I needed them to, but I told him I’d rather tent. I had been thinking about the privacy of my tent on the climb up from the notch, and I had already decided to use it even though it’s likely to rain. The mosquitoes buzzing around my head on the climb had also driven my decision.

The group leader told me where he thought the tent sites were, and I wandered in that direction. I picked a beautifully flat spot and began setting up my tent, which I have yet to do since returning from music camp. I had gotten a stake or two in the ground when the leader came over with his co-lead and said that they had a lot of leftover taco fixings that they’d be happy to share if I wanted to bring my bowl over. I enthusiastically agreed to come over after I set up my tent. As I continued setting the stakes, I pondered the etiquette of having to stay by their group while I ate or doing what I wanted, which was to grab food and run to the solitude of my tent site.

I grabbed my bowl and threw my entire pack in my tent. 10 pairs of teenage eyes stared at me while the leaders asked my name and offered me food. I awkwardly asked the kids where they were from and how long they’d been in the woods. In my head, I thanked the chatty ones for not leaving my question hanging in the air too long. Then I managed to hold some semblance of a conversation with the leaders and interjected in the teens’ conversations every so often while I ate beans, rice and Fritos (their Fritos!) covered in sriracha.

I watched the leaders as they doled out tasks and tried to recruit the kids to buy into their responsibilities. One of the nerdier, possibly queer, of the bunch asked me about my tattoo and seemed intrigued by thru hiking. When it felt reasonable, I extracted and returned to my silent patch of woods. I cleaned my bowl, brushed my teeth and pushed through the task of throwing a mediocre bear line because there’s sadly no food box here. Then I went to get water, toting my phone in the very slight chance that I could catch a signal somewhere alone the way. I’d lost what tiny signal I had about a mile before descending into the notch and hadn’t climbed high enough for it to return. A few of the kids were at the water making a mess of the pools with their giant cook pot, but they were friendly, and I forgave them in my head because they’re learning. I went a few feet upstream from them and filled my water bag. I felt a few drops of rain as I filtered the water. Just as I suspected based on the increase in wind over the last hour. I hit the privy on my way back to the tent and then crawled inside to finish setting up my bed. I decided it was time to change shirts, so now I smell like clean laundry while also getting wafts of hobo camp coming from my spandex. I’m finishing this to the sound of constant rain pattering against my tent and the wind occasionally gusting through the trees. My wrists are sore from the gymnastics in the notch and my left ankle feels stiff from the beating it took in the fall. I’m going to attempt a 14 mile day tomorrow so I can try to get this infernal state over with. I’m much farther behind schedule than I would like, and I fear that I won’t start the southern section until Labor Day. However, I’m hoping the easier terrain combined with my increased hiking strength will help trim a little of that lag time. Another thing of note: going through the notch has made me more confident on the insane descents that these mountains keep throwing at me.

Mile 1912.9 to mile 1924.9 (12)

Total miles: 921.7

Creature feature: saw a new bird by speck pond. its beak reminded me of a sand piper with a more compact body and a grayish coloring and it repetitively dipped its tail region on a strange way. that’s about all I can recall for today.

Day 101: white knuckle edition 


**As those of you on my social media may already know, I’m off trail at the moment because I fractured my left elbow in central Maine. I’m going to post the preceding days of hiking as usual before I write about the incident that has me sitting in Brooklyn in front of my laptop with a half splint (for now) and a heavy heart.**
 

I woke up around 530 and put on my glasses to check out this view from the shelter:

 

The mosquitoes weren’t terrible last night, but I got a bite on my arm that made me wary of sticking my legs out of my sleeping bag. I tossed and turned for a lot of the night because of the heat. Did a little calf massage and changed my shorts before I hopped down from the loft and walked to the privy. By the time I got back, most people were stirring. I ate breakfast sitting on a rock at the edge of the shelter, filtering water in between bites. My appetite is still kind of wonky, so I had to force my way through breakfast.
I was packed up and walking towards the trail around 645. Took a quick duck down to the pond to see if the moose had returned, but no dice. The morning started with a steep climb that had me drenched in a matter of minutes. I came to a small stream about a mile after the shelter. The water stops are few and far between today, so I gave in and filtered an extra liter. As I stooped over my water bottle squeezing my sawyer bag, the rest of the crew from the shelter trickled in. Everyone stopped to fill up and collectively whined about the water situation. I left them griping and made my way up the next steep climb towards the summit of Mount Success. It seemed as if it would be a mile of boulder scrambling, but it flattened out to periodic bog boards and mildly rocky footing before the final boulder scramble to get to the summit. The trail was set a bit lower than the trees with an abundance of moss that reminded me of the whites and the higher peaks of MA and VT.

 

Halfway up the climb, I turned to see this view: 

The NOBO named first aid passed me, and we whined about the false summit a little ways back. I complained about the prospect of another mile of climbing, but first aid seemed to think we were nearly at the top. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was wrong because I’d just checked the mileage on my phone. I got to the summit and found first aid with Olive, another one of his NOBO friends. 

Hawaii showed up a few minutes later. They all sat around eating chips while I posted a few pictures from last night. I continued to be a phone zombie with a beautiful view in the background while they collected themselves and got moving.

 

The trail climbed a bit more then flattened out to bog boards with little white scraggly flowers popping out of thick clumps of grass. 


Then came the first of many steep descents, one of which consisted of jagged boulders the size of smart cars arranged in odd angles that were not conducive to my center of gravity. 


It was the first of many butt scooches for the day and felt like a prelude to the notch (aka mahoosuc notch, which is dubbed the longest mile on the AT because you have to traverse a crazy boulder field at glacial speeds).
As I went down one of many steep boulder faces, a knife-like pain shot through my right Achilles’ tendon and my foot gave out a little. It happened again on the next step. When I got to the bottom of the boulder, I stretched my calf and tried not to freak out because it felt hard to put all of my weight down. It happened again on the next boulder, so when I got to a flat spot, I decided to stop for lunch. I wasn’t really hungry, but it seemed wise to give my leg a few minutes of rest. I watched small sparrow-like birds chatter and jump from branch to branch as I ate my wrap (no need to specify; you likely know the contents by now). I’m sad that I didn’t pack out any chips, especially after watching the NOBOs sit around with their giant bags this morning. My Achilles’ tendon felt better after the rest, which is good because I had a long afternoon of scaling boulders in my future (not that I knew it at the time).

 

I ran into the cluster of NOBOs again at the Maine border where they asked me to take their boomerang dance video to commemorate crossing into their last state. I lingered after their departure and ate a snack to the sound of dragonflies popping around me. The trail was reasonable for a about five minutes until I popped out to this view that was followed by descending the giant boulders in the second picture. 


Then came the goose eyes, a series of peaks by the same name that are denoted by cardinal directions. The first goose eye (west) passed unremarkably. There were steep sections that definitely fell in the realm of rock climbing, but the whites have worn off the shock of looking up to find 20 foot boulders as the “trail.” As I made my way towards the peak of east goose eye, things got a little more interesting than I care for, but the views were incredible (hopefully the video works): 


It started raining right as I reached this boulder face with a rebar ladder.
 

I questioned the sanity of climbing up in the rain, but I didn’t have much choice, so I stashed my poles and inched up the side of the boulder. The climb continued around the bend without the help of rebar. I reached the peak and looked at what lay ahead: goose eye North with a long exposed section (top picture).
And then it started thundering. I was surrounded by two clusters of thunderstorms, one off to my right and one behind me. It was hard to tell which direction they were headed, and I hated the idea of standing around in the rain, so I kept moving. It was slow going down endless rock faces that had me emotionally white knuckling it the entire afternoon. As I inched my way down an exposed and especially tricky boulder, a deafening clap of thunder sounded off to my right at what felt like a very uncomfortable distance. I sat there with one leg jammed against the slick corner of a rock, my arms holding my weight, no clear step within reach, and the weight of my pack threatening to propel me forward. Not exactly a place I could pick up the pace. That was one of the moments where I could see myself tumbling down the rocks. I very nearly did, but somehow managed to slip and slide my way to having both feet solidly on the ground.

 

I wound my way down east goose eye, taking care not to slip on the wooden boards in place to theoretically make the descent easier. The rain slowed to a light drizzle, but the trail spit me out onto the bald just as the thunder intensified. The lack of lightning made me feel slightly less insane for crossing the bald in the storm. I made my way across the exposed section, dipping back into the trees only to be taken back out into the open repeatedly. Then came the climb up goose eye North, which also left me more exposed than I wanted as the rain picked up and the thunderstorm settled directly overhead. The descent from goose eye north was one slick boulder face after another. I wanted to sit down and give up a dozen times. I also considered the possibility of just skipping Maine altogether. I felt mentally exhausted from the constant fear of slipping down the side of rock faces like this:


Eventually, the terrain eased up to a normal version of hard with actual rocks instead of sheets of boulders. I reached the full goose shelter around 330 and found the entire NOBO crew from last night. They had their gear spread out and someone was sweeping the shelter floor. I had hoped to see other hikers so I could navigate the decision of whether to stay or go. I had assumed they would all continue through the notch, so I was surprised to find they had stopped short. Hawaii said they’d been there for about a half hour and had just made the decision to stay. I sat on the edge of the shelter and weighed my options. I really wanted to get the notch out of the way because it’s plaguing me in much the same way moosilauke did. However, the prospect of going through it alone on a day when the boulders were likely wet and it was potentially going to rain again seemed unwise. I ate a snack and continued to dither. The idea of getting stuck in the rain alone is finally what did me in. I stood up and reached down to unhook my gaiters. Hawaii exclaimed “you calling it??” I sheepishly said yes and continued taking off my shoes. Then I set up my bed and switched into dry shorts. I added a few things to the collection of soggy clothes hanging from the trees and proceeded to loaf about for the next two hours. It poured about 90 minutes after I made the decision to stay. 


The NOBOs watched avatar and ate snacks while I lay on my sleeping pad trying to have a text conversation with a schizophrenic cell phone signal. One minute I’d have a signal good enough to receive a picture, and the next minute, I had no service whatsoever. Around 530, I boiled water and made dinner. I had somehow managed to sit around for 3 hours without eating all of my snacks. There’s definitely something wrong with my appetite.

 

More hikers filtered in as the afternoon wore on, and the shelter quickly filled up. There are now about 10 people inside with another 7-8 tented out back. I’m finishing this to the sound of a mustachioed hiker named Action Jackson shuffling in his sleeping bag, leftover rain dripping from the shelter eaves, and the tap of my fingers on the screen. Today was frightening and emotionally exhausting. Tomorrow comes the notch and then mahoosuc arm, which is a notoriously steep climb.
Mile 1903.3 to mile 1912.9 (9.6)
Total miles: 909.7
Creature feature: I startled something in the woods that made a short growling screech, but I didn’t lay eyes on the source, a little brown rabbit (hare?) that I’ve never seen before, and the usual bird suspects.

Day 100: 900 mile edition 


I woke up around 6 and turned my 615 alarm off. I lingered in bed looking at social media and feeling generally unenthused to move. I’m anxious about starting again, especially in such a difficult section. I’ve also gotten used to constant access to comforting people, so the thought of leaving the land of cell service is isolating and unappealing. I finally got out of bed around 645 and went downstairs to eat breakfast. I’m sad that everyone I know is so far ahead of me that I have to integrate with a whole new batch of hikers. Optimistically, this could be fun, but at 645 in the morning, it mostly just feels like work. I made a half hearted effort to talk to people, but I primarily concentrated on eating my English muffin covered in peanut butter, banana and maple syrup. Then I went upstairs to organize my food resupply. I probably should have asked for a bit more because I hope to make it to rangeley before my next town stop. We will see how far I can stretch it. 
After loitering far too long, I put the final touches on my pack organization and said goodbye to the hostel staff. Odie, the hiker who runs hiker yearbook, gave me thoughtful advice on how to deal with the weather over the next few days. He suggested I camp at the unofficial spot just past mahoosuc notch and then head up the arm the next morning. 


I headed down the road perpendicular to the hostel for the next half mile past the shelburne hydro station. Seeing the mountains in the distance was both exciting and exhausting because I know what it takes to get to the top of them. The trail took a left down a logging road for a short distance until it turned right into the woods.


Then came the actual hiking. My pack is the heaviest it’s been since the beginning of the whites because I didn’t resupply the whole time, so I got used to working with a lighter load. My hiking poles feel too long and unlikely to support my weight even though they’ve done so hundreds of times. I had a faint headache across my forehead, which I’m guessing is the byproduct of 10 days worth of coffee drinking. 

I had to stop after about 5 minutes because my new shoes were too loose and my left sock was halfway off my foot. I’m wearing a different pair of socks than usual and I don’t think I will try them again. For whatever reason, the black wright socks are the best fit. I switched socks and tightened my shoes. Sweat dripped from my eyelashes as I made my way up the serpentine climb, gasping for air. How is it possible to feel so out of shape? My limbs feel disconnected from my brain, and it’s as if I have to remind them what to do with every step. My heels couldn’t get purchase in my shoes and my feet sloshed around with the slightest provocation. 

I passed an older couple that I saw in the hostel. I didn’t have the energy to get their names as I huffed my way around them. The trail flattened out to a comfortable stretch with a nice foundation of pine needles and familiar piles of moose poop. The woods were relatively silent, so I put on some fiddle tunes (Erynn Marshall, who also happened to direct the music camp I attended). This made me miss all the familiar faces I’ve seen over the last week at the Swannanoa Gathering. I’ve made so many good friends there over the years. The trail intensified to the NH I expected: 

I waited for lunch until I got to the ledges with this view. 


There was enough of a breeze to keep me cool while I sat in the sun eating my peanut butter frito wrap and Doritos. During lunch, I got a text from halfway telling me he’d crossed the kennebuc river today. He gave me advice about the upcoming towns, for which I’m always grateful, and it was good to hear from him. I feel daunted by how many miles I have left and knowing that he’s out there plugging away makes it seem more possible for me to do the same. 


I watched a rain cloud overtake the mountain top in the distance. It seemed to be heading straight for me, so I gathered my things and kept moving. I felt as if my calves were going to seize the first few steps up from the ledge. My legs felt pretty tired on and off all day. It’s amazing how fast my endurance seems to have withered. The rain started about five minutes after I left my lunch spot. Thankfully it was just a passing drizzle mixed with bouts of sunshine. The trail became narrow and overgrown with wet leaves rubbing along my sides as if I was going through the circular brushes of a car wash. I hate the feeling of wet leaves smearing against my skin, even on a day as humid as this. It also made me feel anxious about ticks, but there’s nothing to do but keep moving. 
Throughout the day, I noticed vestiges of the skills I gained in the whites as my downward steps felt coordinated and more confident than I expected. My ankles, however, felt somewhat wobbly on the flat rocky sections. There was definitely some unexpected teetering, but as the afternoon wore on, I finally started to feel as if the separate parts of my body were working together, and I didn’t have to think about every step. I felt nauseated and achy on and off throughout the day. I’m guessing it’s a combination of coffee withdrawal, the humidity, and the residual effects of being in moving vehicles for over 10 hours yesterday. 

The trail dropped down to the edge of a pond with a very active bullfrog population. As I stood taking in their percussive sounds, thunder rumbled in the distance. I felt the the reflexive urge to rush, but I was over four miles from shelter, so there wasn’t much point in trying to beat an approaching storm. 


Instead, I picked my way through the rocks and roots until the trail moved back into pine forest. The thunder rumbled for the next two hours, and I could see thick gray sky off in the distance, but the rain never came. 
Around 4:30, I stopped to make a bunchberry design to commemorate my 900 mile marker. It feels like a false accomplishment because I haven’t hiked in nearly two weeks, and my shoes are too shiny, but I know the miles are somewhere in my body. A NOBO named sunny stopped to talk for a few minutes while I made my sign. He talked about not rushing through the rest of his hike, which is not a common NOBO sentiment. Usually they’ve got their heads down and can’t be done soon enough. He continued on to the shelter while I finished fussing with the berries. Two more NOBOs passed me as I picked my way through the rocky muddy half mile home stretch. 

Gentian pond shelter sits near the edge of this pond with a nice view of the mountains. 


I gave up on tenting when I heard the large group of muggles, as sunny dubbed them. In other words, non thru hikers. They were loud and the shelter is spacious, so I decided to risk the bug situation. I sat in front of the shelter and made my dinner while I shot the shit with Sunny, Hawaii, First Aid, and another hikers whose name I can’t remember. 

After dinner, someone said something about a moose, so we all rushed to the pond’s edge just in time to catch sight of a bull moose scampering back into the woods at the far edge of the pond. I stuck around in the hopes that he would come back. While I waited, I watched the drizzling rain light up the surface of the pond and thought about how today felt more manageable than I’d expected. I worked on this post in silence for awhile and then headed back to the shelter. A chatty young guy had arrived in my absence. He passed around a pipe, which I declined, as I had also declined the hash that was offered to me earlier. There’s something wholly unappealing about altering my state of mind out here. I also don’t want to do anything that might end with me sitting in front of a thrashed food bag three days from a town. Now I’m finishing this to the sound of chatty dude (name: trade wind) smoke more pot while asking other people questions and late comers getting settled into the shelter. Tomorrow I’m going through the infamous mahoosuc notch. Hopefully. I need it to be done so I can stop feeling anxious about it. 
Mile 1891.6 to mile 1903.3 (11.7)

Total miles: 900.1 

Creature feature: dark eyed juncos, several garter snakes wriggling across the path throughout the day, and the occasional frog 

Day 84: presidential thunder edition 


I did not brave the dark or the ledge last night. My alarm went off around 11. About two minutes later, I heard footsteps and saw the white beam of a headlamp coming down the backside of the ledge. The hiker blew past me. I listened to see if I had more company on the way, but all was quiet. I felt so confused and said “crazy bastard” out loud to the woods. I reasoned that if the person had been able to see the northern lights, they probably wouldn’t have kept walking. This was weak logic to feel betterabout my choice to stay in the safety of my tent. I woke up for good around 5am. I hobbled up the path to retrieve my foodbag and crawled towards a remote corner of the little tent site to take care of some things. It was a cool morning, so I had breakfast in my tent with my legs inside my sleeping bag. I slowly packed up and clumsily started walking around 630. 

After about 20 minutes of winding my way over short, steep rock faces, I reached the wildcat ski gondola, which I naively thought was the top of wildcat mountain. As I approached the lift, I saw a hiker packing his bag. I walked over to check out the view and I said “are you the person who passed me at 11 last night??” Without looking up, the young guy grunted yes and continued shoving things in his pack. He warmed a fraction when he expressed curiosity about where I’d camped. He didn’t recall seeing my tent at all, which isn’t surprising given his pace. I wandered back over to the edge of the hillside to check out this view (the extra pointy peak is madison): 


The trail immediately got steeper on the other side of the gondola. I gave a heavy sigh as I looked up at the rocks disappearing back into the trees. Nowhere to go but up. There were several false summits, which provided short relief in the form of flatter walking as eastern light streamed through the trees in front of me. I stopped at a wooded overlook to get a view of the mountains towards the east: 

 
There were little side paths scattered about the woods. I couldn’t figure out their purpose even after wandering down a couple of them. They all seemed to peter out within 20 yards, and they didn’t lead to tent sites that I could see. I had a clear view of Washington to my left through the tress for most of the morning. It really is a behemoth of a mountain. After over an hour of climbing, I finally reached the summit of wildcat. A short side trail led to this overlook where I ate a snack and dreaded the changes in elevation that I faced going through carter notch. In the first picture, you can just barely make out the hut on the forest floor. 


The late night NOBO named Maverick got to the overlook just as I finished my snack. He commented on the ridge we had to walk down into the notch and also didn’t seem all that enthused about what lay ahead. He left ahead of me as I lingered on my rocky perch. I imagined the descent to be like the climb: sheer rock faces and chin-thumping high steps, but it was actually quite manageable save a few jumbled sections. I made it down in about 40 minutes. The trail wound me around this pond where I paused to admire the lily pads and gawk at the fact that I had just been standing at the farther of the two rocky points: 

The hut was farther off the trail than I’d anticipated, but I needed water, so I made the .3 mile detour (one way). I felt grumbly because all of the other huts have been virtually on the trail. I passed a man sitting at the edge of another small pond wearing a bright orange shirt and playing a bright orange ukulele. I felt as if I’d just been dropped into a Wes Anderson movie. I dropped my pack outside the hut and walked inside with my water bottles. The young woman in the kitchen asked if I was a thru hiker, to which I replied yes, wondering what gave me away and hoping it wasn’t my smell. She offered me oatmeal leftovers, which I didn’t really need, but I ate some anyway because free food. Maverick came inside and we talked a bit about his time in the whites. Then I wandered off to find the bathroom and get started on the massive climb up to Carter Dome, mountain number 2 of the day. I felt anxious about how much time I’d spent at the hut, but there’s no way to really rush a 20% grade climb (that’s rise over run calculation, and I think the average idea of steep is around 10%, but I’m not certain of that). I heaved myself up the rocky trail feeling grateful for rocks instead of slabs of boulders. I expected maverick to pass me at any point, but I didn’t see him again until the next set of carter peaks. An anticlimactic pile of rocks sat at the top of the dome. I stood there staring at it while sweat clung to every surface of my skin. My phone had a weak signal, so I took a zombie break to rest my legs and post a few things. 
The trail then went through a strange flat area that almost seemed as if it was under construction with various piles of rocks and a wide sandy trail. Then it took a slight right down a narrow corridor that descended gradually until taking a sharper right to wind around towards Hight mountain. There was virtually no ascent required to reach Hight’s wide open peak with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains: 


Several day hikers lunched on the peak. I silently walked around taking pictures and immediately began the descent down to Zeta pass. The nearly hypothermic woman from Madison had cited this section as her hardest, but I couldn’t figure out why as I navigated my way down the steep but manageable mountainside. I reached Zeta pass far sooner than I expected. Well, I reached the spot my guthook app denoted as Zeta pass, but it felt unremarkable in person with the exception of mica sparkling everywhere:


The trail then took an upward turn towards south carter, mountain number 4 of the day. The climb was short and reasonable. Light streamed through the thin firs and blooming bunchberries and wood sorrel dotted the sides of the trail. I felt excited by how the day was progressing so far. Nothing felt too hard or had taken as long as I expected. When I reached the somewhat obstructed summit, I perched on a good rock and ate lunch. You’ll never guess what I ate. Okay, fine, you already know. A day hiker approached as I crunched away on my wrap. She stopped, pulled out a giant dSLR and stepped around me to take a picture of the summit marker. Peak bagger at work. She commented on how she’d been able to make up some time on the ridge between north and south carter, which made me happy because I had started brewing a crazy idea to hike all the way to gorham tonight instead of staying at the shelter 2 miles from the hostel. I still had several mountains to cross, so I wasn’t sure if I could manage it. I emailed the hostel to check about bed availability. Maverick passed me as I ate the last of my chocolate stash. Then I packed up and continued my presidential marathon. 

The ridge between the two mountains was indeed a pleasant walk with a few boulder scrambling speed bumps and a generous number of bog boards. I passed maverick on what we both thought was the summit of Middle carter. He was sprawled out on a sunny boulder eating iced ginger cookies out of a giant tub. I laughed at the size of the container and wondered aloud how he fit that thing in his pack. He said he went through a period of eating a pound of peanut butter a day. He would carry 5 pounds at a time, but he got sick of it. Go figure. I saw him later near North Carter, and he had a bloody leg and elbow from a fall he couldn’t recall. I nearly fell over a dozen times, but managed to make it out of the day without actually hitting the ground. 

North carter was another easy summit, checking peak number 6 off the list. As I checked my email to see if the hostel had responded (no), I received a text from Halfway letting me know he was in gorham. I’ve managed to close the gap between us just in time for banjo camp to widen it to a nearly insurmountable because I’m going to be off trail for about 13 days with all the traveling and my awkward stopping point. Maybe someday we can actually hike together for more than a day at a time. 
Halfway warned me that the North Carter descent was tricky at best and Mount Mariah should be taken seriously. He was also kind enough to check with the hostel owners to see if they had any space for tonight. I really wanted to make sure there would be a bed waiting if I committed to Operation Insanity. He eventually reported back that he’d reserved a bed for me and that I needed to arrive by 9p to claim it. 
As I crept my way down the laughably steep boulders of North Carter, a NOBO turned flip flop named Dr J passed me. He commented on the sketchy sections of our descent that involved rock climbing, spider man moves. We both remarked on how grateful we were for dry conditions. He kept moving, and I hiked on as carefully as I could, trying not to rush the technical sections. There was much butt scooching and pole tossing. 


The relentless descent from North Carter exhausted me both physically and emotionally. I did my best to return to speed mode (read: average hiker pace) as I made my way towards Mount Mariah. About a mile from the base of the mountain, I heard a low rumble of thunder. I cursed the weather and then pleaded with it to let me get over my last mountain before storming. There were places to camp along the way, but I felt anxious to be done with the whites even though they’re beautiful and like no other hiking I’ve ever done. There wasn’t much in way of water for about 4 more miles, and I hadn’t been drinking enough, so I took the turn off for imp campsite. It seemed doubly irresponsible to go up a mountain in a storm without enough water. The path to the campsite was a rocky mess that felt much longer than necessary. I nearly turned around, but I knew I would regret it, so I cursed and rushed onward. Dr. J passed me right near the water source. He whined about the distance from the trail and we discussed thunderstorm strategy. Neither of us had any intention of stopping at imp for the day, so we both shrugged and crossed our fingers. A common coping mechanism for uncertainty out here. I hurriedly filtered water and bolted past the shelter where a handful of hikers were standing around. 


The hike to the base of Mariah was aggravating and serpentine. Then came the mountain (number 7 of the day), which was a series of exposed rock slabs, some of which I literally had to jog in order to stay upright. There was little in the way of foot or handholds. I could feel tightness in my lower back from the twisting I’d had to do getting down North Carter. As I gained elevation, I got a better look at the impending storm (top picture). My pace was just short of a run for as much of the ascent as I could muster without making my legs seize up. The occasional clap of thunder sounded as I made my over the boulders. The trail doesn’t actually go to the summit, which I didn’t realize until I crossed a bog surrounded by bright green moss and began descending again. I checked my map to find that the summit would involve a side trail. Not a detour I had any desire to take on a day like today. 

I moved as quickly as I could, feeling grateful for tree cover and far fewer rock slabs on the descent. I came to an out of place bog board perched on top of a rock, which seemed like the perfect makeshift bench. I sat and ate a snack and forced myself to drink the water I had taken the time to retrieve. Two NOBOs came tearing down the trail clearly in hot pursuit of safety. They called out hellooo and were out of sight in seconds. My feet and knees were getting noticeably sore, but I continued at the semi pounding pace because I needed to get off that mountain before the sky decided to explode. 
About halfway down, I met a cranky woman filtering water with a bug net over her head. She simpered about the lack of camping options and the rain. I gave a generic but empathetic response and hurried out of the splash zone of her kvetching. A few minutes later, I passed another woman choosing her steps wisely along the rocky decline. She turned out to be safari, whom I had heard of at carter notch hut when I asked if anyone did work for stay last night. Right as I passed her, the thunder intensified, cracking loudly, but no lightning. I made a remark about how we were about to get some weather and hurried past her. A light drizzle began to fall. It quickly turned to fat drops with lightning flashes and chest rattling, sustained thunder that rolled for 5-7 seconds at a time. There were a few deafening cracks that sounded as if the lightning had found a solid home to strike.  The storm stayed overhead for about 45 minutes as I half-walked, half-jogged once the terrain eased up to a basic path. The rain seemed like it might let up for a few minutes, but then it poured even harder and the thunder continued. 

The trail crossed rattle river where I nearly fell in because of the slippery rocks. I saw a forest protection sign and felt relieved about nearing the shelter, but then I arrived at another crossing of rattle river. I couldn’t believe it. Always with the barriers right before the end the day. About halfway through the second river crossing, there was a white flash of lightning followed by a crack of thunder. It seemed unwise to be standing on wet rocks holding metal poles dipped in water. As I got to the other bank, safari showed up and yelled “we have to cross this fucking thing twice?!” My thoughts exactly. I shared her outrage and kept moving. I arrived to a very full shelter, the inhabitants of which included Boss and goddess from MA, some people who seemed pretty high with a very cute dog, Dr J, and maverick. Safari came in about 2 min after me. Apparently, the cranky woman is mrs joy. she seemed far from joyful. 
Everyone made motions to clear room for me in the shelter, but I told them I was heading for the road. Safari suggested I said out the rain, but I was already soaked and needed to keep moving before I got any colder. I pushed on through ankle deep puddles and yet another dicey stream crossing. I could feel a chill coming on, and I told myself that if I got any colder, I had to stop to put on my wool layer. That took all of 5 minutes to be necessary. I tossed my pack onto a rock and tugged my shirt over soggy arms. I forced myself to eat snack as I walked because I was too hungry and also thought it might somehow help with warmth. My knees were VERY unhappy with the near jogging pace, but I just needed to be done so I could shower and eat an actual meal. 

I covered the last two miles in record time, moving at nearly 4pmh. I finally got to the road where I took a left and slowed to a walk for the remaining tenth of a mile to the hostel. I was greeted into an open garage with a wall of packs on hooks, a changing room and a giant stockpile of loaner clothes. I felt overwhelmed, exhausted and starving. I hung my saturated pack on a hook and brushed the inches of bark and mud off my legs with a towel from the hostel. Then I went into the changing room and peeled out of my wet clothes. My room was upstairs in another building. I came close to losing it during the tour of the facilities, but I managed to pay attention long enough without exposing my inner meltdown. Halfway waited for me in the kitchen. I felt so grateful to see him in a house full of strangers after such a long day. We caught up as I went through the motions of making macaroni and cheese. because the idea of waiting for food delivery was too much for me. We eventually wandered away from each other, and I remembered that I had yet to shower. With that taken care of, I collapsed into my bed and went into full on zombie mode. My knees are actively throbbing with the occasional sharp stab across my knee caps. I don’t think I will be hiking tomorrow. Stockpiling 11 more miles seems far less important than the longevity of my knees. Only 22 miles to Maine! 
So this is where I would have left you for my music break, but it’s already come and gone, and I’ve taken today (8/8) off, so there should be more posts in your future as soon as I can unmangle my notes on this tiny, TINY keyboard that drives me batty. 
Mile 1872.7 to mile 1891.6 (18.9)

J

Total miles: 888.4 
Creature feature: nothing to report. had my head down when I wasn’t staring at mountains in the distance and the woods were pretty quiet. 

Day 83: out on a ledge edition 


I woke to the sound of Johnnie Utah and the Swiss guy packing their stuff at 5am. So much for sleeping in until 615. Between their rustling and two hut guests who sat at the tables and had a conversation at full volume, there was no going back to bed for me. After resigning myself to consciousness, I packed as much of my gear as I could in order to leave immediately after breakfast. Then I tucked myself into the corner of the self serve table and looked through an Audubon book. I discovered some wildflower names that I have now forgotten again. The book was an attempt to keep to myself because I wasn’t in mood for talking, but the woman who came in nearly hypothermic last night tried to engage me in conversation with the usual litany of I-don’t-know-you questions. I gave efficient answers that clearly gave the signal that I wanted to be left alone, which I felt bad about, but I just didn’t have the stamina for it at 730 before eating. 
The hut croo brought us a massive bowl of oatmeal and a handful of spoons before the breakfast was officially over. I tried to not eat too much because I had spied pancakes and had hoped of leftovers, but the oatmeal was just sitting there. Pretty boy talked non stop and tunneled his way through the oatmeal. Literally, he carved out a tunnel from one side of the bowl to the other. When official breakfast was over, he started strumming his ukulele, and I had to hold my eye rolls to myself. Earnest college boys. As he sang “house of the rising sun,” I second guessed my decision to stay for breakfast. It was hard to sit around with clear skies and mediocre company. 

The hut croo finally called us over for leftovers around 8. I ate three pancakes, some eggs and a strip of bacon (sorry, pig). The coffee at the huts is actually quite drinkable, which I find surprising (insert eye roll at my coffee snobbery). With a stomach full of sugary starch, I helped sweep the bunkrooms a bit after fielding questions in the bathroom. A few curious hut guests always ask us what we’re doing. I feel like a smelly unicorn when they gaze at me with shiny eyes and say how jealous or amazed they are that we’re thru hiking. It feels strange for something so unglamorous to be so revered, but I’ve done the same thing when I’ve seen thru hikers over the last few years. 

I hit the trail by about 845, and immediately came face to face with the wall of rocks known as mount Madison. It’s straight up and then straight down, and I was very grateful to have not continued on during or after yesterday’s rain shower. A lot of the rocks in NH have a bit of tooth to them, so they aren’t as slick as they could be, but falling on them would be bad news because there are jagged edges everywhere you look. 


Here’s the hut from about halfway up Madison. I ran into a few hut guests who had hiked up to the summit and were headed back to the hut. I’d spoken to one of them in the bathroom, and she gave me a warm greeting. She asked if I needed anything, which was thoughtful. I asked her how much longer she her trip would be. She lamented her return to FL tonight, and I replied “but it’s so flat!” to which she laughed and agreed. 

We said goodbye, and I returned to the task of not falling on my face as I climbed at a crazy angle. The summit of Madison is indeed pointy, as another hiker described it on his way down. I had a great view of Mount Washington, which made me sad for the fog I experienced yesterday, but also grateful to get a clear view. 


I texted a few people with my bit of cell service. I was about to leave when I decided I may as well book a bunk at the hostel since I pretty much know my timing for the next couple of days. I have an awkward amount of miles between roads after gorham, and I’m either ahead of schedule or behind schedule depending on how you look at it. I had hoped to get all the way to grafton notch by Wednesday. As it stands, I can get about 10’miles from there, but it involves hiking a 3.5 mile side trail both now and then when I get back on trail. In the end, I save money by not having to pay for a shuttle from grafton to gorham, but I’m worried about how far behind my projected timeline I am. I really hope the “easier” miles in VA can help me recover some time.
Anyway, I’m going to take my pause sometime Tuesday. Either early in the day or after a 14.5 mile day of hiking to squeeze in a few more miles. We will see how I feel after getting through the presidential traverse. If it’s anything like the first part of wildcat then I might not have any time for more miles. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 


As I spoke to the woman at rattle river hostel (formerly known as white mountain house), a thru hiker and an adorable pittie summited Madison. I held the phone away from my ear to take a picture of him while the woman looked up reservations in her system. Feeling accomplished, I scuffled my way down the long ridge line on the osgood trail. The AT in the white mountains is actually a combination of existing park trails with other names. Thankfully the signage is pretty good, and I have my phone app with gps as a backup for obscure intersections. 


The trip down Madison was not quite as steep as the ascent, but it was three times as long and a sea of rocks. Here’s a view about halfway to treeline after turning around to look behind me: wall ‘o rocks. 


I kept passing people heading up the mountain and whenever they asked how I was, I said, “tired of these rocks” because I didn’t feel like being fake cheerful. One guy commented on how nice the weather was, and I agreed remembering that I should be grateful to not do this section in the rain. What a death trap that would be. It took over an hour to get down to tree line. Barely a mile from the summit. Then another hour and a half to get to osgood tent site. I never would have made the trip yesterday. My soul would have been crushed around the 90 minute mark. About a half mile south of osgood, I met a thru hiker named wizard who looked so much like my recently late uncle that I felt like I already knew the guy. He smiled and it was like a time warp to my grandmother’s house with my uncle giggling on the couch. Wizard was sweating bullets and gasping for air, and he hadn’t even made it to the steep part of the climb. We exchanged timelines and discussed destinations for the day. Another nice thing about SOBOs: they can tell me how long it takes to get somewhere (and then I add in my slow buffer to get a real estimate). He said it took him about three hours to get there from Pinkham notch visitor center. That’s definitely longer than I had hoped, but still doable for my evening goal of work for stay at carter notch hut. 
Wizard and I parted ways, and the trail finally flattened out to a gradual descent rather than a knees up to my eyebrows four foot steps kind of descent. I sat at the intersection for osgood and ate my lunch. No chance I would make it to Pinkham for a sandwich, and I honestly didn’t feel like eating “out” again. Too many pancakes this morning. I rushed through the next mile and a half, but I was sorely disappointed when I checked my pace. I estimated forward and knew I should give up on making it to carter notch hut. I had distant visions of doing another work for stay, but I started too late, and Madison slowed me down too much. It also exhausted me. I felt like I was dragging, and I’m sure the pancakes didn’t help. I have a backup plan to stealth camp a third of the way up wildcat mountain, but I stubbornly clung to the idea of getting all the way to carter. I made sure to drink more water in case my sluggishness was due to dehydration. I passed who I assume is the caretaker for osgood or maybe just a parks employee at a stream crossing, and he remarked “pretty humid today,” which felt like a subtle directive to drink more water. I reluctantly stopped to filter water and made sure to drink a bunch, which I usually don’t do when I rush through the miles.


The trail went through a bunch of intersections. I ran into cosmo and his daughter near this suspension bridge. They’re hiking south towards Washington. I warned them of all the rocks and the slow going. I wonder if they made it all the way to lakes of the clouds. When I saw them they were hours out, and it was already 130. The trail transitioned to a wetter zone with stream crossing after stream crossing. This meant roots and rocks and a lot of little dips in elevation, all of which slowed me down even more. I started to settle on the idea of getting to a stealth camping spot near one of the wildcat ledges. It’s not ideal because it’s uncertain, but it gets me a few more miles, and there’s not really anywhere else to stay around Pinkham notch. 

The trail finally eased up to very comfortable walking. My knees were stiff and sore. Everyone’s knees are bothering them, and it’s a regular topic of conversation. The last mile to the visitor center felt endless. I arrived to a complex of buildings near a loud, two lane road with a bustling parking lot. I scoped out the situation and found a hiker room in the basement where I camped out with my phone plugged into an outlet. I considered taking a shower, but it felt so futile with the climb ahead of me. I tried to figure out how to move my train ticket and when to do it. It would be nice to see an old friend in Boston and leave the train ticket for Thursday, but maybe earlier in the day so I can get to Brooklyn sooner and get more stuff done. I didn’t have enough time to get it straightened out because I really needed to start on the wildcat climb. Judging by the elevation profile and what everyone keeps saying about it, it’s going to be slow going. Even the woman from the hostel warned me not to take too much weight up the wildcats. A lot of people slackpack it. With that in mind, I ate a bunch of snacks before I left to lighten my bag, and I put a bar I’d gotten from another hiker in the hiker box because I have enough food. 

Then I left the strange, shiny visitor center and crossed the busy road. A guy on a bike took a spill from a standstill because he couldn’t get his foot unclipped. He hopped up and jokingly blamed the fall on me, which I didn’t find too funny, but I let it go. He mentioned wanting to see the northern lights, which piqued my interest since my campsite will be somewhat high in elevation. Then I walked across the highway and nearly pushed over a teenager who wouldn’t give way on some bog boards. He tried to pass me and there’s just not enough room for two people. My right foot ended up in the mud, but thankfully it didn’t get wet. I was cranky for a bit after that, but the trail required enough concentration to occupy my mind. Even circling the edge of a pond can be tricky in NH. Here’s lost pond, which was hard to navigate in terms of roots and boulders: 


Then the trail for wildcat took a left and immediately went upward. I can see why everyone said to lighten my load. Good grief, was it steep and it just.kept.going. I felt more like a rock climber than a hiker. A tattooed older guy I saw at the visitor center passed me on an especially tricky section that made me feel like spider man. 


He intended to go all he way to carter notch. When I said I didn’t think I’d make it that far (see how I can’t commit to stopping short?), he said, but there’s so much daylight left. I said, yeah, but my legs only have so much daylight left in them. I knew I couldn’t handle another long descent to the notch. It wouldn’t be safe with my wobbly legs and sore knees. 

I wound my way up the side of the mountain. There were blocks bolted into the rock at points. I came to a series of ledges spaced out about 3 tenths of a mile, and then a longer stretch with a trickle of a water source. I passed on the stagnant water, but then I came to a slight flow of water of down the side of the trail and decided it would be irresponsible to pass it up. There’s no other water up here until the hut and these miles are hard. I’m doing a lot of sweating, and I should be drinking more. Regretting the extra weight, I filled my sawyer bag with a liter of water to get me through the morning. 


Then came another stretch of steps and yet another crazy set of boulders, which led me to the ledge where the stealth site should be. The ledge looks westward with quite a view of mount Washington and the surrounding mountains. Sunset! And a phone signal! Jackpot. The tent site was just off the trail to the left after a short climb down from the ledge. I dropped my pack and wandered around looking for where in the world to hang my food amongst the tightly packed fir trees. I settled on a leaning tree trunk that was about the right height and had a slight patch of open area around it. Not perfect, but better than dealing with throwing a line along the teeny tiny limbs. I set up my line and then pitched my tent in the lumpy, small spot.


It’s just big enough, and I hope it doesn’t rain because it’s not the best pitch ever. Then I grabbed my food bag, making sure to grab the snacks from my hip pocket, and I climbed back up to the ledge to eat a cold hodgepodge dinner. It’s less effort and will do more to lighten my weight than cooking would do. I also need to conserve water. I ate and stared at the mountains feeling exhausted, satisfied, and incredibly small. I had hoped to get farther today, but this is a good spot. I’m a little creeped out to be alone, but I’m comforted by the insane climb it takes to get up here. A slight deterrent for scary people. Hopefully? 


I brushed my teeth on the ledge and watched sunset (also see top picture) while overloading my social media with pictures I haven’t been able to post. Sorry for the giant drop of pictures. Someone on Instagram told me how and when to check for the northern lights, so that’s two people who’ve mentioned it. I might brave the darkness and return to the ledge to see if I can catch a glimpse of them. I don’t know that I have enough of a northern view. I also don’t know if I have the guts to get out of my tent in the dark alone. 

After killing my phone battery with the posts and sending texts, I went back to my tent. I’m finishing this to a strangely still night with just the sound of my fingers tapping the screen, a slight rustle of limbs, and the occasional pop of bugs against my tent. Many mountains to climb tomorrow. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain. 

Mile 1862.6 to mile 1872.7 (10.1)

Total miles: 869.5 

Creature feature: just a few cute dogs today and the usual bird suspects