Saturday, August 27, 2011

Chapter 133: Mahoosuc Notch

Mahoosuc Notch is often cited as the most difficult mile on the entire Appalachian Trail. It's not. The most difficult mile on the trail is really mile 679 in Central Virginia.1 Mahoosuc Notch, on the other hand, is actually kind of fun. Sure it's time consuming, but it's never not enjoyable.

Veggie, Buckeye, Fredo and I kept a decidedly leisurely pace, stopping every few yards to take pictures; laugh at the precarious positions we'd gotten ourselves into; bash our knees into boulders; and sob like lost, pathetic little girls.2 Where else on the trail do you have to shimmy underneath giant boulders, through spaces so tight you have to take your backpack off and drag it behind you? Is there year-round ice? Are there crevices you could slip into and die, your body never to be found? Nowhere! It's magical.

And over too soon. The worst part is, when you're done, there's no summit, no rewarding viewpoint or lookout. It just sort of peters out.

And then we passed the Speck Pond Shelter, where I had stayed ten years earlier on my AMC backpacking trip. The lake, normally leech infested, wasn't much of an attraction. We stopped at the shelter only long enough to check the logbook and chat with some fellow north-bounders whom I strongly suspected were fakers.

One of them casually mentioned that they had started in May, as if we were supposed to be impressed by that sort of thing. Morons. Yeah, they were just breezing through. One of them was from Pennsylvania. I asked him how he liked Lehigh Gap. He didn't seem to know what I was talking about. I quietly wrote him off.

Climbing Old Speck was much hairier than I remembered. Sheer granite slabs with very little in the way of handholds. I wondered how I had managed to climb up it in the dark. And with a handheld flashlight. Then again, everything is less scary when you're sixteen. Except girls.

Sadly, we decided as a group not to take the loop to the summit. Not only had we abjectly failed to make it up there in time to watch the sunrise—or sunset, for that matter—now we wouldn't even be going. It was disheartening, but we'd fallen behind schedule, and were already having too much fun tripping on bog boards and falling up to our knees in mud.

Descending to Grafton Notch, we encountered a flood of day hikers headed in the opposite direction. None of them looked particularly pleased to see us barreling down the mountain toward them, falling all over ourselves and screaming in panic. It was kind of steep. Whatever.

Reaching the gap, we found a cooler of trail magic. Some assorted, vaguely generic snacks, and some Emergen-C packets. Did I want 1,667% of my daily recommended allowance of Vitamin C? Don't mind if I do!

And then there was a Forest Ranger sitting in his pickup truck in the parking lot, giving out juice boxes, soda, and cookies to any thru-hikers who walked past. Double score.

Feeling fat and contented, we hiked on. But we didn't make it far, only another 2.3 miles to the Baldpate Lean-to. (Like I said, fat and contented) Finding the shelter blissfully south-bounder free, we monopolized the space, made a roaring campfire, and relaxed.

But these are only the things we did. No simple account of the day's events can capture the feeling of being out there in the world. The camaraderie we felt, as a group, as adventurers, as frontiersmen, as pioneers. The joy we found in each other's company, the solace from the grind.

We only had 264.5 miles left. If only I had done more to savor it at the time.

1. The less said about that, the better. It was steep, and I cried.

2. Or maybe that was only me.

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