June 28, 2018
Destination: Speck Pond Shelter Today's Miles: 14.70
Start Location: Gentian Pond Shelter Trip Miles: 1919.10
Today was the hardest day of hiking I have ever had. In some ways, it was also the most rewarding, not because of views or serenity, but because I survived.
As the day ended, I sat soaking wet with my Knorr rice side leaking all over me, my food bag, and cook pouch as I poured boiling water into it, not realizing there was a hole in the bag. But I didn’t care. That’s small potatoes out here. I was too tired to care and too full of the thrill of survival. Here’s how today went down.
I got on the trail pretty early, around 6 I think. I was expecting a long a tough day. I also kind of wanted to get ahead of Snuggs so that maybe, just maybe, we would end up in the notch at the same time :-). He is much younger and hikes faster than me, but I thought it might be nice to have someone nearby to hear any potential screams of anguish that might come from my mouth, or to notify others where to find my broken carcass, etc etc. Either way, I started to hike.
The first challenge of the morning was climbing Mt. Success. The name seemed wildly premature to me! I climbed it nonetheless, and it was definitely a workout. The weather was alternating between misty, light rain, and just foggy. The top of Mt. Success was shrouded in an eery blanket of Santa’s beard. It felt like some kind of movie scene, and it was quiet except for the sound of the birds that remind my wife of The Hunger Games call. The feeling I got from it all was that I did not belong here. I was in a strange land full of things that existed in a world that I am not a part of, a wrinkle in time that exists only in some kind of parallel universe. It was like somehow, in passing through that fog, I was briefly entering another world. I thought of The Upside Down from Stranger Things - man I hope it’s not that! It was more like I was observing some strangely private universe, a place that carried the taste of isolation, sadness, longing, but was incapable of actually harboring those feelings. It felt like a world trapped from itself, no longer able to connect with the rest of the mountains and valleys below. I had to move on, lest I linger for a lifetime.
After Mt. Success I knew I was getting close to the Maine border. The rain picked up and I heard footsteps behind me. It was Snuggs, similarly looking for the border sign. Shortly, we found it. We took pictures there and took a few moments to absorb that we had made it to Maine. I honestly didn’t think too much about it, simply because I knew how much we had left to do today, and how tough the hiking had already been. Next we took a brief snack stop at the Carlo Col Shelter. There were 4 hikers there zeroing because they didn’t want to do the Notch in the rain. I couldn’t blame them, but I had to push on. We climbed Mt. Carlo and then Goose Eye Mountain, and finally Fulling Mill Mountain. The weather continued to be rainy and misty.
As we descended down getting closer to the Mahoosic Notch, my right foot slipped and I started sliding. Some of these downhills were legitimately steep! Unfortunately, this time when I slipped, something extra special happened. Now, I am going to warn you that I am about to talk about the male anatomy. You know - the hoo ra and watchama doozits. But, not because I feel like talking about body parts is or should be taboo, perhaps for the sake of my own amusement, I’m going to attempt to do this using Dr. Seuss. Ok, so there’s Thing One, Thing Two, and The Lorax. As I slid forward my left trekking pole caught a solid hold into the ground. This caused me to pivot slightly to the left, but still with forward momentum. Somehow, the handle of my left trekking pole planted firmly into my crotchal region. That’s the medical term for it. As that happened I reached a tipping point where all my weight was on the trekking pole. To provide a visual, I looked like a human popsicle. Thing One and the Lorax escaped. Thing Two did not. My eyes bulged from their sockets like Roger Rabbit and I emitted some kind of noise - I don’t remember what. I was suspended like a shish-kabobbed popsicle man, and Snuggs, hearing my noises, turned around. As he did, my weight and the weight of my pack overcame the tension of my pole and the forces of gravity and sprung me forward. I literally pole vaulted forward via the frontal crotchal zone. Now, I know I’m getting medically technical here, but bear with me. My feet left the ground and I rode the pole forward until I fell forward onto the trail in a heap of exploding eyeballs and dismay at what had just happened. Obviously this hurt. A LOT. At some point Thing Two was released and the trekking pole handled had jabbed into my groin muscle for the final vault. I lay there grabbing at “things” (I wasn’t sure what) and gasping for air. Snuggs spoke: “that looked like one of those things where you might just need to lay there and breathe for a while.” Yep. It was. I lay there waiting for the adrenaline to subside, fearing what might have happened. After a few minutes, I was able to get up. I was covered in dirt and had bloodied my leg and elbow. I hadn’t broken anything, other than maybe Thing Two. I already had a weird and painful knot forming in my groin. But, I could walk. With every step, it hurt less. While it hurt like crazy, in hindsight, I think I got lucky. It could have been worse. I think I got lucky, I think I did that, I think I got lucky, said this Hungry Cat....
I hadn’t even made it to the Notch yet and had already hurt myself. Not good! About 10 minutes after the popsicle pole vault incident, we came upon a group of Outward Bound kids heading southbound. The first kid in the group looked at me and said “did you just fall? Sure looks like it!” Thanks kid.
Finally we got to the Mahoosic Notch. We knew we were there when all of a sudden we were climbing through a large boulder field and the temperature dropped about ten degrees. Think of the Notch as that gap between your kitchen range and your kitchen counter. Over time, lots of stuff just falls in it, and it all collects in the crack that time forgot. Where you might pull out your range and find pieces of pasta, grandma’s cigarette butts (she swore she quit!), and dead roach carcasses, in the Notch there are boulders upon boulders with wood and fallen trees mixed in. For the next mile, Snuggs and I would boulder hop, climb, squeeze, and crawl our way through. Every few steps lead to a new bouldering problem to be solved. Some of the moves were harrowing. It would be easy to lose footing and slip into a crevasse, buckling a knee or cracking a femur. But we didn’t. The rain picked up force while we were in the Notch. We kept moving as best we could. It was cold enough to put my rain jacket on. There were pockets of snow and ice in the crevices below. They are probably there year round. We tried to take some pictures in the Notch to give it scale, but it was to no avail really. It’s one of those things you have to see in person to truly appreciate.
When we finally got through the Notch we were exhausted and elated. We still had to get back up though. This portion of the trail is called the Mahoosic Arm. It is a very steep climb up multiple long sections of rock slab. It is very steep and slick, with no great footing in many places. There are lots of false summits along the way. Again we pushed on slowly but deliberately, and finally made it to the top. When we got to the Speck Pond Shelter, we were destroyed, but we had done it! I believe it took us about 12 hours to get through the 14.7 miles. The caretaker at the shelter could see we had been through a lot and was really nice. This was the Appalachian Mountain Club’s last tended shelter, which meant we had to pay a small fee to stay. He gave us some carrots and kale that he had and I put the kale in my rice side. We were soaking wet, bloody, bruised, but in good spirits because we knew we had basically done the hardest hiking we would have to do. I don’t recommend doing the Mahoosic Notch in the rain, but it’s obviously doable! Maybe a little piece of me just selfishly wants the story for myself ;-).
I was grateful to have Snuggs as my battle buddy today in the Notch, grateful that Thing Two lived to tell the tale, and grateful that neither of us sustained a serious injury today. It was a day I will celebrate with sleep.