Grafton Notch

It’s past 9:00 PM. I’m at the brink of exhaustion, yet I need to write and post today’s entry. I hope to be asleep within the next two hours. If I closed my eyes I would be in two minutes. It has been a physically and mentally tiring day. With only 267.2 miles until the finish line, it seems like I should be getting ready to celebrate. Instead I continue to find myself facing difficult challenges and often in precarious situations every day. There’s no way to enjoy what I am doing due to the stress I am under. If folks really want to know what thru hiking the AT is all about, I can sum it up in one word: hard. Make that HARD.

After a restless night’s sleep at the Full Goose Shelter, I awoke at first light. Molar Man was already dressed and ready to hike. Susquehanna Slim was getting ready. Pilgrim still snoozed in his sleeping bag. Begrudgingly I forced myself from my cozy bedding to ready myself for a day I had been dreading. My fears would soon be realized as I hiked what easily was one of my five toughest days on the trail. A good description would be somewhere between treacherous and brutal. For those who have hiked this section and describe it otherwise, my apologies.

So after a less than nutritious breakfast my buddies and I headed up the trail toward the Mahoosuc Notch, reputedly the hardest mile on the Appalachian Trail. The duration of the notch from the south end to the north end actually covers 1.3 miles. It would take us almost two hours to complete the infamous section. Some call it a fun mile. I may have too in my youth when I still possessed agility. It was definitely different climbing through, over, and under the boulder maze. We stayed together during the scramble, each offering suggestions for the most passable route. For the most part we chose to go over the giant rocks. Only once did we have to remove our packs to crawl through.

When the traverse finally ended we were immediately confronted with the Mahoosuc Arm, a lengthy ascent with long segments of sheer rock face to walk, climb, or crawl up. Like many other times, I clung to trees on the erosion line when the opportunity existed. Pulling myself up using spindly trees or roots afforded me the safest passage up the mountain. Within about a half mile from the summit we paused for lunch. Sitting in the middle of the trail on a rock, I thought about how tired and miserable I felt with over half the hike remaining. It was a challenge getting going again.

After the Arm there was no break. We then had to deal with Old Speck, a mountain I had not even expected to be a challenge. I was dead wrong. Exposed rock face near the summit required precision rock climbing. There appeared to be no room for error. At one point I stood almost petrified staring upward at a jagged rock that had to be climbed. As I pondered what to do, Burning Man happened to show up. The route he took looked like the safest so I followed. It was a relief to get past this section. The beauty of Speck Pond offered the only positive for the entire day.

Eventually we reached Speck Pond Shelter which left 3.8 miles to Grafton Notch. Those miles proved to be the most agreeable of the entire day. With a sane trail again, we quickly made our way to the notch and road. Sweet Tooth had not yet arrived, so Slim, Pilgrim, and I waited while Molar Man hitched a ride to Bethel where he could get cell service to call her. When we finally did her back to the Cabin, Honey had gratefully saved us some supper. Four tired hikers ate well.

So far Maine has been just as difficult as New Hampshire. I knew it was going to be tough. I just thought I would be able to hike without stress again. So far agreeable trail has been limited. It has been fortunate for me, however, that every time I find myself in a very real predicament, someone comes along to help. When I saw Speck pond today I thought of Don. I know that when others aren’t around, he is. Today was again a challenge. Tomorrow may be as well. But regardless of the difficulty, I’m still making my way northward, slowly but steadily, on the Appalachian Trail.

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