My Walk in the Woods, Ch 16

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

Chapter Sixteen (July 27th-August 9th)

Day 111: (NH) 10 tough, roller coaster miles to camp at Mt Moriah

I get up early, pack quickly and move on before another hiker catches me lying in a ditch next to the trail. It is cloudy and cool, there are still great views of Washington and other presidents from massive, lumpy Wildcat Ridge. The roller coaster beat down continues with a drop to Carter Notch Hut then steeply up the side of 4833 ft Carter Dome and Carter Ridge. I end the day by climbing over 4049 ft Mt Moriah, camping near a trail junction.

Day 112: (NH) 5 easy, downhill miles to Rt 2, hitch to Gorham

Today is a much needed town/resupply day. I get it going with a short, easy downhill leg stretch to the blacktop of Route 2. Hitching into Gorham, NH is no problem, the friendly trail angel drops me off at Hiker’s Paradise Hostel located at the Colonial Fort Inn. A hiker named Cricket is the only other person staying at the hostel.

After a long shower and laundry interval I take a leisurely walk (without a pack!) along the main street of this pleasant little town dotted with pretty ponds. I pick up beer and food at the grocery and head back to the hostel for a quiet, restful evening indoors.

Day 113: 12 easy miles to camp between Gentian Pond and Mt Success

Today I will cross the stateline into Maine via the Mahoosuc mountain range. Sidetrack The southwest section of the AT in Maine summits rounded domes of granite polished by glaciers with names like Bald Cap and Baldpate then drops to skirt many lakes and marshes. Highpoints include seven 4000 ft peaks and thirteen 3000 footers.

I eat a hearty breakfast at the motel restaurant then wait for a shuttle ride to the trail. Back on the move, I cross the Androscoggin River Dam, head up Peabody Brook to begin the climb of the south end of the 30 mile Mahoosuc Range. The first summit to conquer is 2555 ft Mt Hayes followed by Cascade Mtn. A quick snack at aptly named Dream Lake. Just before Gentiam Pond there is a woody glen with a small wooden sign indicating the NH/ME border. Beside the sign sits Shiloh.

Shiloh is a New Englander a decade older than me who lost his wife last year and is hiking the trail to heal his grief. We get along well and decide to travel together. We hike past Gentiam Pond and find an agreeable campsite before the next climb.

Day 114: (ME) 8.5 tough, fun miles to camp on tent platform at Full Goose Shelter

It is a cloudy morning but the weather and views improve in the afternoon. Once Shiloh and I climb 3565 ft Mt Success, we spend an enjoyable day “walking the planks”, navigating the wide, open summits of mountains like Mt Carlo and Goose Eye Mtn. Seemingly miles of wooden boards link a route over the sub alpine bogs (they have to be airlifted in apparently).

We reach our goal, Full Goose Shelter, early in the day and are able to snag one of the tent platforms. The shelter itself holds 10-12 and is already full of geese. This is a popular site because of its proximity to notorious Mahoosuc Notch and dreaded Mahoosuc Arm.

Sidetrack Mahoosuc Notch (2461 ft) is a deep geologic cleft choked with huge boulders which have fallen from the unstable cliffs above. From 1918-1919, a one mile route was devised through the boulder field which requires scrambling over, under and through obstacles. It is known as the slowest mile on the AT and typically takes 1.5 to 2 hours to solve. Once through the Notch, northbound AT hikers must face the unrelenting 1500 ft (in 1.5 miles) slab climb of the Mahoosuc Arm.

Day 115: (ME) 12 big miles, stop at Bald Pate Lean-to

This is the day most AT thru-hikers await with nervous anticipation. As usual, I am the first to rise and pack. I have saved the last dregs of Hanover weed for my Wake and Bake Breakfast of Champions. There is a nice sunrise but a thunderstorm is forecast.

Shiloh and I summit minor Fulling Mtn then begin the thousand foot drop into the Mahoosuc Notch. The sky has darkened, the dim light creates a spooky atmosphere. A loud clap of thunder followed by light rain immediately heightens our senses.

When we arrive at the start of the scramble, I am jacked to the max. Conditions are intense and exciting. A sudden flash of lightning quickly followed by a deafening ‘CRACK!’ acts as our starting gun.

We trace the white blazes and arrows painted on the rock to show us the way. We must constantly remove our packs to squeeze under or toss over obstacles. We slide down 10 foot drops on slick granite. We must be extra careful where our feet land so we don’t twist an ankle. In the end, it is difficult but SO MUCH FUN!

In contrast, the slab climb out of the Notch on the Mahoosuc Arm is an exhausting challenge on a much larger scale. The rain has increased, sending cascades down the rock face. The rough slab looks like a steep uneven sidewalk below a hidden hydrant at full blast. Big leg moves and desperate hand holds of slick roots are required in an endless taxing variety.

After the Arm the weather improves. Upright climbing continues to 4180 ft Old Speck, tallest and northernmost mountain in the Mahoosuc Range. There is a fire tower on the summit. A crowd of day hikers have attracted a cloud of flies so we don’t linger.

A big descent brings us to Route 26 at Grafton Notch and State Park. We continue a bit further towards Bald Pate, stopping at last at Bald Pate Lean-to (in Maine, shelters are called Lean-tos).

Day 116: (ME) 8 easy miles to road with Shiloh, shuttle to Pine Ellis Hostel in Andover

After such an exhausting day yesterday, Shiloh and I need a break. A morning of relatively easy walking through the woods and around ponds brings us to a two lane road. Shiloh had called ahead so there is a shuttle van waiting to take us to the Pine Ellis Hostel in Andover (population 800+).

This small New England village is clean and tidy, full of old historic buildings. Once we shower, do laundry and shop at a small grocery store; its time to load up on calories. We have lunch at the diner, eat fried dough and ice cream from a street booth, then have dinner at the diner.

Day 117: (ME) 10 miles to South Arm Rd

We have breakfast at the diner then get the shuttle back to the trail. The calories are useful on the gigantic roller coaster of 2945 ft Mt Wyman, 3600 ft Old Blue Mtn, 3774 ft Elephant Mtn and 2923 ft Bemis Mtn. We drop finally to South Arm Rd where we find a group camp of thru-hikers. Piper, Forest Gimp, Memphis Tim and others become a new group of loose knit vagabonds that reunite at night.

Day 118: (ME) 14 miles to Maine 17, hitch to Riff Raff Friendly

Today is a mostly low elevation cruiser through woods, over creeks, around ponds. Several of us arrive together at Maine 17 where we miraculously get a group hitch to the infamous Riff Raff Friendly (NOT a hostel!). I call it the Delta House of the Appalachian Trail.

As we approach the bland two story apartment structure, the first thing we notice is the loud music. Once the front door is opened, the cacophony of chaos spills out like a wave of hiker audio trash. The pollution of the senses intensify inside. A large couch and chairs crammed with wiry men with beards stare at a large screen television. The kitchen is packed with people exchanging joints and beers. I don’t even bother going upstairs to see what depravity it contains.

I make a feeble attempt to join in the revelry but quickly tire. When the energy begins to wane, I stuff my sleeping pad, bag and myself between the couch and the wall and crash.

Day 119: (ME) 13 wet, sloppy miles to Maine 4, ride to Rangeley

Shiloh and I get a ride back to the trail to start a miserable day. It rains steadily, creating a flooded trail, body and soul. We arrive at Maine 4 completely soaked and dispirited early in the afternoon. Shiloh offers to pay for us to get separate rooms at the Rangeley Inn and I instantly accept.

Rangeley is the largest town I’ve seen in weeks. We have lunch at the Red Onion and shop at the IGA market. Forest Gimp and Memphis Tim arrive later and we have a picnic dinner in one of the rooms.

Day 120: (ME) 15 miles to camp along creek with Shiloh

Shiloh and I have breakfast at Mooseley Bagel then get a ride back to the trail with Shiloh’s connection. It’s my first day in Maine with clear blue skies. The views are beautiful along the massive Saddleback Mtn Ridge, especially lunch on The Horn. We find a pleasant place to camp along a bubbling brook at the end of this rejuvenating day.

Day 121: (ME) 17 wet, slippery miles to Stratton Motel Hostel

Today we pay for our good fortune yesterday. The rain returns with a vengeance. We get on the trail by 5:15 am to try to beat the weather but it is futile. A steady downpour all day. Shiloh and I keep pushing, not wanting to camp or shelter in this depressing weather.

After taking separate spills, we must pay closer attention to the murky puddles we are stepping in. We barely avoid hypothermia waiting for a hitch to the Stratton Motel Hostel where we eat, shower, resupply and do laundry in a sink.

Day 122: (ME) 15 miles to Little Bigelow Lean-to with Shiloh

Back at work early thanks to a ride from trail angel Sue at Stratton Hostel. We spend the day traversing Mt Bigelow, actually a long ridge of several peaks. It had rained all night; it is windy, cloudy and unsettled today. At the summit of each peak I pose for pictures with Shiloh, Forest Gimp and others. I tick them off in my mind but the poor visibility makes them indistinguishable — 4145 ft West Peak, 4088 ft Avery Peak, 3805 ft The Horns (Hook Em!), 3194 ft Cranberry Peak and 3070 ft Little Bigelow.

After a long, hard day Shiloh and I occupy space in the dry Lean-to.

Day 123: (ME) 17 miles to Harrison Camp Cabin with Shiloh

I don’t know if I am walking or swimming. It is the wettest day of hiking I’ve experienced. The trail is completely flooded, I can’t see where my feet touch the earth. Hidden roots are a constant danger, fording swollen rivers is a danger. The entire nerve-wracking trek is a traverse of this low elevation flood plain.

Shiloh and I stop for lunch at a lonely, empty Lean-to and try to dry out. Not succeeding, we keep pushing on, there is no other good option. Near the end of this excruciating day of water torture, we are stopped by the huge outlet of fast water coming from Pierce Pond. The waist high crossing above the falls is super sketchy and frightening.

Our reward is reaching a haven known as Harrison Fish Camp which has lovely log cabins for rent. The place appears empty except for us two drowned trail rats so the small staff gives us excellent service. In our cabin (generously paid for by Shiloh), we build a hot fire in the stove and hang all of our gear from drying cord stretched across the room, creating a steamy sauna.

Once we are dry and presentable, we head for a homey dining hall and take a table next to the large windows. We can look out at a wide deck ringed with hummingbird feeders. Waiting for our excellent meal, we watch hundreds of the darting birds in their feeding frenzy. When the food arrives the frenzy continues at our table.

Day 124: (ME) 8 miles from Caratunk to camp on rocks

Sidetrack The Kennebec River is the widest unbridged river crossing of the entire Appalachian Trail. Frequent dam release upstream makes it too dangerous to cross on foot so the Appalachian Trail Conservancy maintains a canoe ferry available to hikers during limited hours each day of the hiking season. It is considered one of the most iconic experiences of an AT thru-hike.

We had heard days ago that the Kennebec ferry was not running because of dangerously high water. Luckily, Shiloh has a solution. He had already planned to get off the trail at this point so he calls his son-in-law to come pick us up and take me to the other side of the river.

Before dropping me off, we make a detour to Skowhegan, a working class town, where we have lunch. They take me to a sporting goods store so I can purchase a new pair of shoes. I had been wearing the old pair since Harper’s Ferry (midpoint of the trip); they got completely destroyed by the rugged White Mountains.

They drop me off at the trail in tiny Caratunk and I break in my new shoes with a comfortable climb towards Moxie Bald. I cowboy camp on some flat rocks.

Mahalo Shiloh, for your comeraderie these eleven days in Maine. Aloha and Happy Trails


2 Responses to “My Walk in the Woods, Ch 16”

  1. Have I missed something? Where are the hot, naked trail chicks? Where is the pile of writhing, dirty bodies engaging in trail sex? How about at least some naked hot springs soaking? I mean, why else go through all that?

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