Let me start by explaining that I’m only counting this day as a half day on the trail, because, well, that’s what it was. We left the Speck Pond camp at 6:30 am and were on the summit and climbing the fire tower by eight. From there it took us two hours to hike down to Route 26 where my father picked us up. While this admittedly is cheating a bit, it was our plan all along, and we’ll be returning to the Grafton Notch trail crossing in less than two weeks to resume from where we left off. From there, barring any unforeseen circumstances, we’ll be hiking straight through to Katahdin.
Our second night on the trail at the Speck Pond camp site was much more enjoyable than the first. I slept much better, even with the hole in my sleeping pad. As it turns out, Second Skin and Band-Aids aren’t suitable for patching non-human holes.
The highlight of our night was cooking dinner at the lean-to and talking with some interesting and friendly hikers. We met one man who was likely in his fifties and was through hiking from Georgia. He used to be an avid runner, but an achilles injury forced his doctor to instruct him that he’d have to stick to walking. When he jokingly asked his doctor how he was supposed to get any exercise out of walking, his doctor replied, also in jest, “You could hike the Appalachian Trail.” And so there he was, 2,000 miles later.
We also got a quick rundown on trail names from a recent college grad from Louisiana who, somewhere along the way, had been dubbed Bishop.
“Have you met the General and the Cadets?” Bishop asked.
This reminded us of a man with a southern accent we’d run into on our first day on the trail who was hiking with two teenage boys, presumably his sons. We crossed paths with them on a particularly difficult headwall on Goose Eye. Upon seeing us, the first thing the man said was, “Is there any place in Maine that’s flat?” I merely shrugged and replied, “The Interstate.” He wasn’t amused.
“That’s the General,” Bishop said after we’d relayed this story. “All business.”
And then there was Linda, aka Willow, and Fred, two AMC guides who were doing the Notch for the first time. Our hike mirrored theirs for two days and it was particularly nice of them to feign the same difficulty from the trail that we were experiencing.
Best of luck to everyone we met on their continued travels, and, of course, happy trails.
As for the hiking, it was 4.6 miles from the Speck Pond campsite to the trailhead on Route 26, plus the .6 of a mile for the summit spur trail. The remaining hike up had several steep stretches with a couple of plateaus that gave us time to appreciate what we’d done. As a whole, the trail from the Mahoosuc Arm to the top was brutally steep, challenging, and twisted, as if devised in the imagination of Wes Craven. In contrast, the trail down the other side to Route 26 appeared inspired by Bob Ross’ paint brush. Each rock staircase and steep embankment had a corresponding stretch of easy going terrain for the perfect trail balance.
Seven thirty in the morning and we were nearing the top of Maine’s third highest mountain. This stretch was windy and steep, giving me the feeling that if I leaned back a little too much, I just might fall off the mountain altogether.
Climbing the fire tower on the summit. The wind didn’t help my nerves at all as I neared the top.
The view from the fire tower overlooking, essentially, everything we’d hiked the previous two days.