1861 miles on the Appalachian Trail
Mahoosuc Notch. Since Georgia, I've heard tales of the difficulty of the Notch: a mile-long ravine filled with truck-sized boulders. Some call it the most difficult mile on the trail; others, the most fun. Based on the terrain, today will be the most technically - if not mentally - gruelling day on the trail. Tenacious, Nighthawk, and I decide to push through Goose Eye, Mahoosuc Notch, and Mahoosuc Arm in the same day. Thunderstorms are predicted for the following two days, so we have little choice but to hike. If we hike through Mahoosuc Arm today, we can get off high ground before the first thunderstorm rolls in.
We generally hike separately, meeting up at mealtimes or in shelters at night. Today, we hike together. I've never been more happy for company; I've never seen terrain this rugged. On Goose Eye, 15 ft rock walls rise at 70-80 degree angles from the ground. Evergreen shrubs hug the edges of each slab, their roots exposed by years of hikers pulling on them. The thin shrubby roots seem hardly able to hold a person's weight. Each foothold seems precarious. With each step, I feel as though I am entrusting my survival to the tread on my boots. These slabs of rock are my least favorite kind of terrain.
The Notch doesn't scare me as much. Boulders, holes, and crevices litter the ravine, but because the Notch lies in the gap between two mountains, I feel little danger of falling to my death. It is undoubtedly the slowest mile on the trail. We must crawl over and under boulders, into and out of caves: the whole area is a horizontal rock scramble. The only part that gives me pause is sliding down a steep, smooth boulder. If I slip, I could find myself lodged in a small crevice about 5 ft below.
I can hear the rush of water deep within the crevice.
"You just gotta commit and go for it," Tenacious tells me. "Maybe you can put your hands there to slow you down." She points to a slab of rock above me.
I slide, slip, reach out with both hands, and catch my fall.
At first, the Notch is like an exciting jungle gym. The novelty wears off a bit when I check my GPS after an hour and realize we've gone about 0.4 miles.
As we pick our way through the boulders, I hear a helicopter whirring overhead.
I wonder if someone's getting rescued, I think, as I continue forwards.
My legs are leaden by the time we extract ourselves from the Notch and begin the long, steep climb up Mahoosuc Arm: nearly two miles of 60-70 degree slabs of rock, with an elevation gain of 1500 ft in 1 mile.
"Oh, Maine...!" I sigh as we scamper up yet another rocky slope.
We reach the top of the Arm near sunset. From here, the trail levels out and descends a mile to Speck Pond. A faint tinge of pink touches the edge of the sky. The trail continues across a set of slick wooden planks straddling a puddle of water. I walk across. On either side, the tips of my poles sink into the mud. Nighthawk follows, with Tenacious bringing up the rear.
"I need help - I need help - I need help!!!"
I whirl around to see Nighthawk, waist deep in the puddle - which was, apparently, a bog. One of her legs is folded beneath her, still on the plank; the other is completely out of sight. For a fraction of a second, Tenacious and I stare, stunned. Even as we begin rushing over, Nighthawk has hoisted herself back onto the planks. Mud covers the entire length of her leg. The bog water emits a faintly metallic smell.
"I didn't even feel the bottom!" Nighthawk exclaims.
We get to Speck Pond Shelter in the dark. A caretaker lives there. We hand him our fees.
"She fell into a bog!" Tenacious tells him, pointing at Nighthawk.
"I've done that," he says. "There are dinosaurs at the bottoms of those things."
It took us 12 hours to hike 9.5 miles: 2 1/2 hours for the Notch alone. I walk the overly long path to get yellowed tinny water, then fall fast asleep.