August 3, 2017
Today we climb Old Speck Mtn, gaining 2,500 feet in altitude. From there we climb over and down the Mahoosuc Arm, with many boulder and bare granite ledges to ascend and descend. While walking down the ridge line of Mahoosuc Arm, we observe a thunderstorm pouring rain into a valley on our left. It is a little scary, we are so exposed on the bare ridge! But the wind keeps the thunderstorm away from us, and the rocks stay dry as we walk.
At the bottom of the Mahoosuc Arm, a creek, Bull Branch, burbles through the trees. A large campsite invites us to stop early. “I know we’ve only hiked 7 miles today, but we’re very near the Mahoosuc Notch. I think it would be better to camp here, and face the Notch in the morning, when we’re fresh,” Jay tells me. I don’t need a second invitation to drop my pack! Camp chores get finished quickly, and we curl up in our cozy shelter. Relaxation and ease, hurray!
About 4:45 p.m., our storm buddies from yesterday come by. Camel, Peeps, Sasha, Emma, and Sawyer stop to consult with one another. Do they go on through the Notch now, with three hours of daylight left? Or do they follow our example and make camp early? Being young and energetic, the five decide to continue on. We wish them well, and crawl back into our tent.
Fifteen minutes later, that thunderstorm in the far valley sends a few buckets of rain our way. The water pelts down, pounding our tent, puddling around us on the ground. I watch the liquid gather and flow, feeling smugly warm and dry. Ah, the comforts of technology!
Another fifteen minutes go by, and suddenly we hear loud splashing footsteps. It’s our five hiker friends! “The Mahoosuc Notch is crazy in the rain!” Camel tells us. “We decided retreat was the better part of valor.”
“Yeah, not that we’re running away or anything,” Peeps chimes in.
“You’re just being intelligent,” I tell them. “We’re glad to see you safe!”
The five set up their tents, and we all settle in for an early night, getting a well-deserved rest before tomorrow’s test!
August 4, 2017
Morning fog drifts past as we pack up, while blue sky shimmers above the swirls of gray mist. The Mahoosuc Notch awaits!
This is perhaps one of the most famous miles on the Appalachian Trail. Huge tumbled boulders are crammed between incredibly sheer cliffs. A stream runs underneath, with ice pockets lurking deep in shadowy clefts. Moss, ferns, and trees fight for purchase on and between the granite boulders, filling the area with a jungle of greenery. The temperature drops 10 degrees as we begin negotiating the boulders, and the fog continues to swirl between the cliffs above us. It’s been described as a climbing gym for grown ups, and many hikers find this to be their favorite mile.
Jay and I inch along, sometimes near our five friends, sometimes getting left behind as their youthful enthusiasm (and muscles) carry them forward. We meet many northbound hikers also, making the Notch a very social occasion!
Some imaginative person has painted white blazes through the Notch, but the blazes are really more of a suggestion than an actual trail. I hear one hiker tell another, “This is a game of choices. Try a way and see if it works for you.”
At one point, faced with 10 foot high slabs of granite, I decide it might be easier to follow a tunnel under a boulder, hoping it will lead me to the other side. Emma has a more adventurous spirit, and stronger muscles. She climbs to the top of one boulder, balances on a knife edge for a moment, then grabs a tree root above her head and swings through the air to the top of another boulder! What an amazing move! And with a full pack on her back!
Jay and I continue to crawl, jump, climb. I grab at finger holds, haul my body and pack over obstacles, balance on corners and edges. Over, under, around, between … it just keeps going. I hear Sasha ask Emma, “Are you finding this to be fun?” I grin at Emma’s cautious response, “Well, I’m not hating it. It takes a lot of concentration.” I silently agree. My brain feels as if I have been putting together a very large 3-D puzzle. I’m so focused on route-finding, everything else disappears. There is no sense of passing time, it’s as if the sun is standing still, all the world stops as we work our way through.
I come to another tumble of granite slabs. Just as I reach high for a hand hold, a hiker’s head pops out from a hole beside my left foot! Startling, to say the least!
A few yards further on, Jay follows me through a boulder tunnel and gets slightly stuck. “Did you go feet first or head first?” he asks plaintively.
“Ummm, I kind of oozed through sideways on my stomach,” I tell him with a grin.
By the end of the mile, as the cliffs widen, my legs are distinctly rubbery, and each knee wobbles between tibia, fibula, and femur. What a fun, but strenuous puzzle to solve! Our reward for solving it is another mountain to climb. The south peak of Fulling Mill Mountain, only 900 feet above the Mahoosuc Notch, saps the last of my feeble muscles. When camp is made, exhausted sleep claims me almost before my head hits the sleeping pad!