Friday, August 10, 2012

Hiking Maine's Mahoosuc Mountain Range

Southern Maine's Mahoosuc Range, a northern extension of the White Mountains, has the reputation as the hardest section of the Appalachian Trail. A 4000 footer, and several that are nearly so. Steep notches where the trail goes straight up and down. A foot path that is often shear rock face, and slippery when wet. It's the home of the infamous Mahoosuc Notch - A mile-long jumble of boulders described as the most difficult, or fun, mile of the trail, depending on one's predilection for bouldering.

After my shipmate, Ray dropped me off at The Top Of The World, I hiked a few miles to a campsite by a stream, The next morning I traversed Bemis Mountain. A long, steep descent brought me to South Arm Rd where I camped for the night. The next morning I got a lift to Pine Ellis Lodge in Andover to resupply, and to ice my feet and knees. More after the break.

The Little Red Hen in Andover bakes their own bread and hamburger buns, and has a wonderful breakfast menu. I was seated next to a couple that had done some hiking in the Whites, and wanted to know all about my hike. We talked till some friends joined them, and then I gave my full attention to eggs benedict with a homemade hollandaise sauce … When I went to settle, I was told it had been covered!

The next couple of days took me across Wyman and Baldpate mountains and into Grafton Notch at the base of Old Speck Mountain. This is where responsibility for management and maintenance of the trail transfers from the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, to the much more hands-on Appalachian Mountain Club. Old Speck, at 4170' is the forth highest mountain in Maine, and marks the northern end of the Mahoosuc Mountain Range.

I was getting into the shit …

I started climbing Old Speck. It was getting late as I hit a false peak a little less than a mile from the summit. Nice tent site tucked into a screen of trees and brush. I camped for the night and awoke to the view on the right.

Mahoosuc Notch was on the agenda for the day, and the weather was perfect. I took a quick detour on a side trail to summit Old Speck, then descended to Speck Pond Shelter for second breakfast and water.

AMC has caretakers at most of their shelters and campsites. Amanda, a 2010 thru-hiker had the job at Speck Pond (photo below).

After refilling my water bottles and gullet, I strapped my hiking poles to my pack, and headed down the steep Mahoosuc Arm. I was glad the weather was good. It made for a pleasant if tough descent. I would not want to do it when raining and slippery. On my way down, I met Houdini, a northbound thru-hiker, coming up. (Picture below left)

A short hike, and I was in the jumble of boulders that filled the bottom of the notch. Nobos I passed had argued the merits of "taking the high road" - Staying on top of the boulders rather than picking one's way down in the jumble. I pretty much stayed on top, but could not resist dropping down in places where I passed thru short tunnels. It was a warm day, but cold air rushed up from the depths under the rocks. Chunks of ice were visible in the crevasses. I climbed out of the jumble, pulled my poles out, climbed up over a small hill, and saw that I still had a long stretch of boulders ahead of me!

The next day, I traversed the rest of the Mahoosuc Mountain Range, passing northbound thru-hikers  One Speed and Crush on the summit of Goose Eye Mountain  (pictured above), crossing the border into New Hampshire and camping at Gentian Pond Shelter area.

The next day I limped 12 miles in the rain to Gorham for a few days of R&R.

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