Last night wasn’t exactly what I envisioned as my first glorious night in the Maine woods. Things started to unravel a bit when Mike thought it would be a good idea to put the Jetboil cooking pot on the burner with the plastic protective casing still on it. Negative ghost rider, that pattern is full. At least he saved me a couple of ounces in pack weight by burning a large hole through the casing.
The bad mojo continued through bedtime. For some reason I wasn’t able to sleep all night. Literally all night. That reason is that my brand new Thermarest air mattress has a leak. And so it was that I set out at seven thirty this morning to tackle the vaunted Mahoosuc Notch as a walking zombie with muscles I didn’t even know existed sore and aching. With only 5.1 miles to the next camp site, I thought we’d be there by noon with plenty of day to entertain continuing on. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The Mahoosuc Notch, widely considered the most difficult mile on the entire AT, is a gorge filled with massive boulders, some as big as houses. As soon as we stepped down into the notch the temperature dropped twenty to thirty degrees. The air rising out of the crevasses felt like we’d entered a commercial walk-in cooler, which was caused by lingering ice and snow.
The notch isn’t physically taxing. At least when compared to the rest of the hiking in the Mahoosuc Range. Instead it is more technically difficult. Navigating the boulders requires going over some while squeezing through cracks and caves in other areas. Doing so with a weighty exhibition pack on your back throws your balance off and makes it all that more difficult to squeeze through tight spaces. We had to take our packs off once to pass them through a cave and probably should have removed them a couple of other times. There’s also a decent risk of injury if you aren’t careful, a lesson I nearly learned the hard way.
The notch, in a nutshell, is awesome. Truly.
It took us about an hour and forty five minutes to complete it. Our reward? An immediate ascent up the Mahoosuc Arm of Old Speck, Maine’s third highest mountain (fourth highest peak at 4,180 feet). The Arm has an elevation of 3765 feet. On a map it appears to go straight up. In person, I’m willing to bet it’s inverted. It’s also worth noting that there are very few wooden staircases and no metal rungs to aid the weary. It’s as if the trail planners want us to experience the torture as Mother Nature intended. Now that it’s behind me, I’m glad they did.
So now it’s nine o’clock and I’m off to bed. I shouldn’t have any trouble falling asleep tonight. Then again, that’s what I thought last night.
Welcome to the Notch.
Yes, that’s what you think it is.
Snowball fight on the Fourth of July? In the immortal words of Bluto Blutarsky, “Brrrrp…why not?”
I drew the short straw on checking the cave for mountain lions.
The trail route in the Notch was often open to interpretation.
Thanks to Fred and Linda for taking this photo for us. They quickly dubbed us Darrell, Darrell and my other brother Darrell. Shocking, I know.
Wait, who was it that burned the Jetboil cover? Oh yeah, this guy.
The packs had to come off to get through here.
Can you hear the banjo playing?
That’s me in the stream. Had I not gone in, my brothers would have given me a trail name questioning my masculinity. That would have been cold, but in hindsight, the water was colder.
Brad and Mike filtering water at Speck Pond, the highest pond in Maine and also the location of one of the more popular camp sites on the Maine AT. For anyone looking to stay at Speck Pond, there’s a caretaker and $8 per person fee.
The view back down onto the Notch from the Mahoosuc Arm of Old Speck.