Mahoosuc Notch to Grafton Notch
Dinner By Lightning Light Camp to Dancing River Plunge Camp
AT miles: 7
Watch miles: 6.05
Total miles: 1930.1
Elevation change: 2694ft gain, 3238ft loss
One day, I will look back fondly to my time hiking in the Mahoosuc mountains of Maine. I’ll laugh at the deep mud pits, the steep scrambles, and debilitating humidity. I’ll remember that it was extremely hard hiking, and that I’ve never felt so tired in my life. However, I won’t really remember how hard it was in the moment, even if I’ll think that I do. That’s all great for future me, I wish him well and applaud his ability to paint a positive picture from a palate of misery, struggle, and suckitude. But for today at least, and probably for a few weeks longer, I’ll remember the truth, the Mahoosucs ain’t right. The stretch of trail from Mount Success to Grafton Notch was easily the most challenging hiking that I’ve ever done, and that’s not just the intense heat and humidity talking either, though that had a lot to do with it. Nope, the terrain was just greuling, non-stop, punishing, slow, different, unforgiving, and seemingly endless. I only hiked seven miles today, but combined with the 18 tough miles yesterday, I had very little left in my gas tank come lunchtime. Fortunately, SpiceRack once again came to the rescue, whisking me down the road to a riverside campground and filling me up with yummy food while I let my body rest and recuperate. I am optimistic for an easier tomorrow and that I might feel strong again. All this Type 2 fun is good and all, character building and braggable as it is, but I won’t complain about a return to hiking that is fun in the moment. Future me can share some of the good vibes, right?
I slept great after being outlasted by the flickering lightning show. When I awoke, the storming was done, replaced by a hazy warmth that clung to my skin in a thin film of moisture. The day was bright and alive with singing birds, but I wasn’t so easily caught up in the excitement of the new day. I knew what was coming. I knew that I was in for another fight. The other tent flats of the campsite were still under an inch of water when I swung on my pack and started back up the trail. My night had been benign when compared to what could have been if I had pitched my tent just a few feet away.
I started uphill immediately, as expected. The climb up Mahoosuc Arm was supposedly one of the steepest of the entire trail, rising 1500ft in a mile, and it did not disappoint. The lower half was scrambly stone similar to Mahoosuc Notch and the other stuff I had clambered over yesterday. The trail ran with water and was soggy with moss and fallen leaves. My feet were soon soaked, my shirt too, and my face running with sweat. Why even bother putting on sunscreen? It had instantly washed away.
The scrambling was intensely physical and slow going, but I churned away in short bursts of power. I would combo five or ten steps to reach the top of another steep slab, look back, then keep going to the next. My legs got worked in new ways, my shoulders burned with a deep fire as I mined them for everything they could give to aid my glutes and hamstrings. Sweat poured in the still humidity of the dense forest.
Nearing the top, I eventually emerged into the bright world of flat slabs. I looked back hoping to use a view as an excuse to catch my breath, and got one. The air itself shimmered with sticky heat, and the distant ridgelines were buffed of detail. Although I was blinded by the light, I left my sunglasses on my hat. I had no dry shred of cloth that I could use to wipe the lenses clear, and even if I had, they would steam up in an instant.
I caught my breath on the flat mile to Speck Pond. The boggy boardwalks were slick as ice, but I managed to end up on my butt only once, though I didn’t care that my feet splashed in deep muck. I was already more soaked and nasty as I thought possible. Gravity filtered some water from the pond outlet while I focused on the reflection of the clouds on the glassy surface rather than my discomfort. The clouds were sharper on the smooth water than the motionless mist that clung to the shadowed shoreline. This temporary beauty was a welcome distraction from my stickiness.
The next short climb was the slabbiest and most exposed yet. I was grateful for my confidence on such steep stone because there were a few heady sections that were objectively pretty freaky. A rare bad step might have caused a scary slip down a few feet, but really there was nothing to worry about, or so I told myself. True or not, this perceived intensity was welcome for overriding the low-key agony of my burning legs and shoulders. Fortunately, the climb was short, yet as I neared the top of Old Speck, I didn’t even consider taking the side trail to the fire tower. Hazy views didn’t interest me anymore, and I sat in the shade instead. I ate a bar and drank a bunch of water, giving my body a few minutes to recuperate before the long descent ahead.
I drifted downhill, without haste. I felt no need to rush, and would have struggled to do so anyway on the uneven trail. Going up slick trail is one thing, going down another entirely. My mind was tired from lack of sleep, dehydration, fatigue, or a combination of all three, and I longed for a cool spot to take a nap as well as the permission to take one. Instead, I took it slow, passing by a handful of day hikers sweating uphill, grateful that I was not one of them.
I trudged to the trailhead at Grafton Notch around noon and found a shaded picnic bench that I could have all to myselfI spread my damp socks and tent all over the place, staking my claim, and dug into my bag of salt n’ vinegar almonds. It was warm, or damn near hot, but I was comfortable in the shade of the whispering beech and birch. It just felt good to not be moving.
A little while later, that familiar black van rolled into the parking lot. The cavalry was here. Out bounded Tango followed by SpiceRack, and what little motivation I’d had to make this a quick resupply visit and get back on trail melted away with my first bite into a cold kosher dill. Now, why kill myself? An afternoon of lounging was what I had wished for. Who was I to deny my own wish?
Spice, seeing with eyes wiser than mine that I was past my limit, was on board with the plan, Tango too, so we packed up my nasty spread and drove a few minutes down the road to a lovely campground next to a meandering creek. The host was extremely accommodating, and we were soon setup in the shade amidst a forest of glowing green. After a quick dip in the cool water behind our camp, I took my time in the first unlimited hot shower since my visit to DC, so many weeks ago. It was transcendent.
Back at the van, Spice fed me a ridiculously good bagel sandwich, then I slurped down most of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. The lounging continued while Spice took good care of me, making sure that I was never lacking for food or drink. I am so spoiled. In the evening, we started up a smokey fire to keep the bugs at bay, and listened to distant thunder rumble. But there would be no epic storm tonight. Not here at least. Braving a gentle drizzle, we packed up for the evening and cozied up inside, chased by mosquitoes and black flies. My body and mind still felt tired, deeply tired, but I sensed that this was the turn. This was recovery in action. With the Mahoosucs a nightmare receding in the rearview, I felt at peace, grateful for the strength to make it through them, grateful that they were finished. I was ready for something else, the next step, the next phase of the trail, maybe for the next challenge, and definitely for the next bagel sandwich. Spice is the best.