AT: Pinkham Notch to ME-17

Sunday, June 19: Pinkham Notch to Carter Notch Hut

Maple and I got up at 4:30 and, an hour later, after having a Mountain House breakfast and packing up, we left Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch. It was a cold morning, threatening freezing rain in the mountains. Since we weren’t at all sure how long our hike would take, we decided to get a very early start.

The Lost Pond Trail, which brought us to the Wildcat Ridge Trail, was only a mile long, but already it gave us the sense that this was going to be a very difficult hike. Later we would learn that there had been a decomposing moose at the pond, but fortunately for us the temperature was too low to allow for much of an aroma, and we passed the dead creature without ever realizing its presence.

Once we got onto the Wildcat Ridge Trail, the uphill scrambling began immediately. Soon we were climbing the steepest mile on the AT. It brought us to some precarious sections, which prompted no little anxiety. One section, called “The Chimney,” had me doubting my ability to climb for a moment. There were no easy stretches on the two-mile ascent to Wildcat Mountain, Peak D, where the ski resort’s gondolas rested. By the time we arrived there, four hours had passed. The temperature was now 34 degrees, not counting wind chill—and there were gusts up to 50 miles per hour. Maple and I found a spot protected from the wind and had a snack.

Two further miles of constant ascents and descents separated Peak D, at 4,050 feet, from Peak A, at 4422 feet. It took us another three hours to traverse the distance, although we did stop for lunch shortly before summitting Peak A. The Wildcats exhausted us. This was our first day out on our hiking adventure, and our muscles were feeling the old familiar strain.

From Wildcat Peak A there is a descent of over 1,100 feet in .9 mile. After a long day of hiking, we had to take our time and be extra careful on this descent. Finally, we arrived at Carter Notch Hut, after a strenuous hike of eight-and-a-half hours.

We were sent by Bailey, the hut manager, to our room, Number 3, in the lower bunkhouse. After having coffee and conversation with other guests, Maple and I retired to our bunkroom to await dinner time.

Monday, June 20: Carter Notch Hut to Imp Campsite and Shelter

Last night Birch and I had a marvelous time at dinner. We sat with three guys (“Tin Cup,” “Bush,” and “Stoolie”) who began hiking the AT together back in 2005 and are now this far north. The men had great stories about their adventures, and we shared a lot of laughs. The hut had a guest lecturer for the evening, a geologist from the University of Maine Farmington. But as much as we wanted to hear his talk, we just couldn’t do it. By 7:30 we hit the bed and were out—so tired!

Birch and I had the small cabin to ourselves. We awoke early and had a huge breakfast at 7:00. We were on the trail by 8:00. The ascent up to Carter Dome was very steep the first half mile, then became much more manageable. We were thrilled to get to the dome by 9:35.

The day was beautiful, with bright, sunny skies. However, it was very windy. The hike to Height Mountain was easy. The views from the summit were spectacular; however, gusts reached 50-70 mph, and it was tough to even stand! The descent was steep.

We saw a lot of day hikers. Many were trying to knock out some 4,000 footers.

The stretch of the Carters was a bit tougher than I expected. We were thrilled to complete North Carter, but the descent from the summit was extremely steep and very unsafe. I think we spent about a half mile of the descent on our butts! While we had heard so much about this section, I’m not sure anything could have prepared us.

Unfortunately, Imp Shelter was .3 mile off the trail. We decided to sleep in the shelter. It was large, with an upper and lower section and plenty of room for a dozen hikers. We were sore and tired but also thrilled to have successfully navigated our descent. Again, we saw the three guys that we met at Carter Notch Hut, and it was nice to affirm that we were all in one piece after a tough day of hiking. The views did not disappoint!

Tuesday, June 21: Imp Campsite and Shelter to US-2

Maple prepared, for our dinner last night, a wonderful, dehydrated meal of macaroni, beef, vegetables, and herbs, to which we added parmesan cheese. After cleaning up and finishing whatever other chores we had to do, we slid into our sleeping bags and were soon asleep.

I arose with the dawn and made us both coffee. Maple soon joined me and we had our oatmeal breakfast before packing up. We were on the trail at 6:45.

Mount Moriah gave us a rocky climb, with many slabs of granite to ascend. Along the way, at intervals, we were treated to views of the surrounding mountains. The sky was clear, and we could easily pick out Mount Washington. Near the top of Moriah we had a snack, enjoying the views all around us. When we reached the highest point of the AT on Moriah, we discovered that there was a side-trail of .1 mile to the summit. Maple and I both felt that we had already had summit views, and we did not want to add to our 8-mile day.

Our descent from Moriah was 6 miles long. We had to be careful of our footing, but there was nothing very precarious to make us pause on our way down.

When we reached the first crossing of Rattle River, we stopped for lunch. Maple had brought salami and cheese for the occasion. She rolled up several slices around the cheese, and on her first bite something went terribly wrong. The peppercorn in the salami cracked her tooth in several places, as we would later learn. Fortunately, she wasn’t in much pain, just discomfort.

Upon reaching the Rattle River Shelter, the trail evened out, and we had a smooth walk for the last two miles to our car, parked about 3 miles to the east from Gorham.

In Gorham we checked into the Rodeway Inn, and Maple got an appointment to see a dentist that afternoon.

It had been a beautiful, 80-degree day to finish the Whites. We both agreed that the Whites are one section of the AT that, while beautiful, we would never want to repeat.

Thursday, June 23: US-2 to Trident Col Campsite

Birch and I enjoyed a quiet day in Gorham yesterday. The town has a fantastic coffee shop called Dermody Road. We hung out there, reading and drinking coffee. We also went to a fun gift shop. Unfortunately, the dentist was not able to repair my tooth, so we’re hiking at some risk but hoping for the best.

Dan from Trail Angels Hiker Services met us at the Rodeway Inn at about 6:30 and we followed him so we could drop our car off at Grafton Notch. By 8:10 he had dropped us off at Rattle River on US-2 and we began our hike. After a short walk on a road, we began our ascent of Mount Hayes. This was pretty easy. We then descended and had lunch by a very unreliable water source. We ascended again up Cascade Mountain, and this was not as easy, with rock faces more like what we had seen in the Whites. As usual, we clung to tree roots and tree trunks and pulled ourselves up the trail. At least we had some nice views.

This area of the trail was not well maintained, and we found ourselves bushwhacking a bit!

At Trident Col Campground we found a spot in easy walking distance to the privy. After setting up the tent, we went about 100 yards down to the water source; it was weak, at best. We had gotten in early enough to have a bit of a nap before dinner, which was more of cheese with pulled barbeque pork. As we finished up our meal, a SoBo thru-hiker, “Bard,” came into camp. Bard is from Quebec and carries a disassembled guitar with him on the trail. He had fallen into a deep moat of mud and warned us to be careful as we navigated the upcoming bogs. By 6:45 we were ready for bed.

Friday, June 24: Trident Col Campsite to Gentian Pond Shelter

Maple and I were on the trail this morning by 7:00. Even though we had only 4.9 miles today on the AT, we knew that they were going to be rough miles. The forest was so dense that it overlapped the trail, and the branches and leaves that stretched across our path, soaked from the rain of the night before, got us totally drenched.

Our hike involved crossing over many bog boards and navigating around or through numerous mud pits. Maple and I both had falls in the mud, but no significant harm was done. Our clothes, on the other hand, were no longer clean enough to sleep in.

Along the way we met one other backpacker, an AT SoBo thru-hiker named “Re-run,” although, he said, his friends call him “Claus,” on account of his white beard. This is his third thru-hike of the AT.

We arrived at Gentian Pond Shelter at 12:30, glad to have the rest of the day to relax—especially having such an incredible view of the mountains from this shelter.

After eating lunch, we napped for ten minutes, dried out our tent, and went to fetch water from the pond. Afterwards, four NoBo thru-hikers stopped by—a group of three older hikers (about our age) named “Strawberry,” “Double-Time,” and “Fillin’-In,” and a solitary young hiker named “C.C.” (because she was hiking the trail for college credit). C.C. hiked in from Gorham this day, and she was on her way to Carlo Col Shelter. Oh, to be young and fit! The other three put up their tents on the wooden pads.

Saturday, June 25: Gentian Pond Shelter to Carlo Col Shelter

Birch and I were up by 5 a.m. having coffee. It was a beautiful evening, with a sky full of stars. The early morning view was wonderful. We were on the AT by 6:15, the first ones from the shelter on the trail. Our goal was Mount Success. After one miniature ascent—just to get us going—we started the big ascent. In many ways, it was like Mount Webster, with lots of long slabs of granite. We would strategize about what side to go up and what trees to hang onto.

The summit of Success was beautiful, with 360-degree views. We were so excited to make it to the top! Unfortunately, the descent was not easy. The hardest parts were in the gap right before the Maine border and along the .1 mile before the side-trail to the Carlo Col Shelter.  The gap before the border had serious boulders and a precarious descent. As you can probably imagine, we had eagerly anticipated reaching the New Hampshire/Maine border. To some extent, though, it was anticlimactic. It was hot, humid, and incredibly buggy. We took a quick photo and then moved on. Descending the ledges was the most precarious section of the day. At first, I wasn’t even sure that it was the trail.

Once in camp we were disappointed by the water source, which was barely flowing. The shelter itself was big, but it had no views. Perhaps we’d been a little spoiled by our New Hampshire campsites.

This night, there were a ton of people here, mostly SoBos. We got into camp about 2 p.m. and now, at 5:45, we’re ready for bed! Camp life makes us tired!

Sunday, June 26: Carlo Col Shelter to Full Goose Shelter

I got up this morning at 4:30 and made coffee for myself and Maple. As usual, Maple asked for another half hour of sleep, but the coffee got her up, and we were on the trail by 5:45.

We enjoyed the trail today, for the most part, but the going was still tough, and it took us six and a half hours to go the 4.4 miles between shelters. I ran out of energy before 11:00, and we had to stop for an early lunch.

Rebar and wooden ladders made impossible inclines and precipices manageable. The alpine bogs were difficult to traverse, without sinking into the deep mud pits.

As of 2:45, Maple and I were the only ones in the shelter. We filled up our water bottles and dromedary from the spring 100 yards downhill from the shelter. We were both so thirsty when we arrived, as we had to conserve our water while hiking.

At about 5:45 in the evening, as Maple and I were enjoying a dinner of loaded mashed potatoes with bacon, in strolled three backpackers our age, a married couple from Ohio named Karen and Ken, together with their friend Mark. Ken was on a mission to complete the last forty miles of his section hike of the A.T. We had very pleasant conversation, not entirely about the thunderstorm in the forecast for tomorrow.

Monday, June 27: Full Goose Shelter to Speck Pond Campsite and Shelter

Birch and I were up by 4 a.m., excited and nervous about the day ahead. The weather forecast kept changing all week. Now, it forecast showers from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The good news was that thunderstorms seemed out of the picture.

We left camp at around 5:45 a.m. and hiked for about 1.5 miles. There were a few stairs to help us along, and I was glad that, although the trail was rocky, we made good time.

At last we saw the sign for Mahoosic Notch. To our left was a jumble of downed trees. Then, I saw our first major obstacle, a large boulder about four feet high that we had to climb. I had no idea how to get up! Birch and I soon developed a system where he would either help push me up an obstacle from behind or give me a hand from ahead or above. That did the trick. After getting through one spot, we scanned the environment to determine our next move. The ”path” was rarely evident and required some strategizing.

It wasn’t long before we had to duck into a cave and crawl our way to the other side. Several times, Birch had to take his backpack off to squeeze through a crevice. At one point, his leg went right through a gap between rocks.

About halfway through, it started raining. We put on our raincoats and that helped. However, now we were dealing with wet, slippery terrain.

Finally, we saw what we knew (from watching videos) was the last cave. Birch was doubtful about going over a rockface since to fall from it would be catastrophic. He went around and down, then threw his pack up onto a ledge, and climbed up and into the cave. I took the rockface approach. Finally, we climbed up and out. Before long we were on a “normal” trail. In all, it took us four hours to go one mile.

Next was Mahoosic Arm. This was about a two-mile ascent of 2,000 feet. Most of the Arm consisted of long, smooth, slick slabs of granite that sloped sharply up. At one point I tried to switch over to a different side of the slab to avoid some moose poop, when I fell and slid down the granite. I got a bad gash right above my left eye. Birch got out the first-aid kit and tried to clean me up, then we continued. Eventually the rain stopped, and that helped brighten our mood.

At last, we saw Speck Pond below. We got to the shelter about 3:15 and set up our tent on a platform. The shelter had a dining area where we made coffee and dinner. Water was easily accessed just beyond the dining area.

Our friends Karen, Ken, and Mark arrived in camp while we were setting up our tent, and it was nice to catch up with them.

Tuesday, June 28: Speck Pond Campsite and Shelter to Grafton Notch

I slept like a rock after the exhausting day, and Maple and I awoke in our tent at about 5:15. We packed up our things, and then went to the cooking area to prepare our oatmeal breakfast. There we chatted for half an hour with Ken, Karen, and Mark, before returning to our camp to pack up our tent and depart.

Going up into the alpine zone on Old Speck Mountain was a unique and disconcerting experience. We rose into the clouds by grabbing hold of roots and branches and pulling ourselves upward. The clouds were so dense that we could not see more than ten feet around us, so it appeared that, if we fell, we would fall through the cloud, however far, to earth below. The gusts of wind made our ascent even harder and dropped the temperature into the thirties.

The descent was much more gradual and kinder to us, and soon the clouds dispersed, allowing the sun to brighten our day. We encountered several day-hikers on their way up to the summit, and after crossing a stream, we found a beautiful cascade.

Upon making it to Grafton Notch, we drove to a first-aid station at a ski resort in Newbury to have Maple’s injury treated. It was beyond the 24-hour window for stitches, but the ski patrol staff did a great job of cleaning the wound and applying butterfly stitches. Afterwards, we drove up to the Rangeley Inn, where we had a reservation for two nights.

Thursday, June 30: Grafton Notch to Frye Notch Lean-to

Birch and I had a great zero day at the Rangeley Inn. This inn is majestic, with huge rooms of various shapes and sizes. The bathrooms were luxurious. We enjoyed the common area and the large porch. The staff couldn’t have been nicer.

Rangeley is an interesting town. It caters to tourists, with lots of little gift shops. However, for some reason most restaurants were closed on Tuesdays! We were very excited to find a delicious ice cream shop that also sold hot dogs and fries.

Before 6:30 a.m., Birch and I were packed up and ready to hit the trail again. David, from Pine Ellis Lodge, picked us up at 7:00, and we had wonderful conversation on the one-and-a-half-hour drive to Grafton Notch. David was in the Army Special Forces, lived in the Yukon, and now lives in a small town (Andover) with only 600 people. You can hardly imagine the stories!

We were able to get on the trail by 9 a.m., but it was not well marked and, at 10 a.m., we found ourselves off the AT by about half a mile. We backtracked and marveled at how easy it was to miss the trail.

The ascent to Baldpate West Peak was steep but manageable, with steps to ease our way. We met a woman full of energy and enthusiasm for our hike. She told us that the Baldpates were “sticky” today, making it a bit easier to climb, but she cautioned us about the wind. In fact, several people coming down warned us!

West Baldpate was beautiful and very easy to navigate. We descended and came to the bottom of East Baldpate. It looked very intimidating! It was one large granite mountain. Cairns guided our way up and, although windy, it was much better than some other mountains.

The descent was time consuming. The top half of the mountain was steep, with ladders to help. Finally, the trail became easier. We arrived at the lean-to at 4:15 and decided to stay in the shelter. NoBo “MEGA” set up his tent, and we enjoyed chatting with him. Other thru-hikers soon arrived, the tenting areas filled, and before long we had company in the shelter.

Friday, July 1: Fry Notch Lean-to to East B Hill Road

Maple and I slept in a bit this morning, and we didn’t get onto the trail until 6:45. Our intent was to hike the 4.5 miles to the brook just below East B Hill Road, but the trail was so easily hiked that we arrived at the brook at around 11:30. So, instead, we called Pine Ellis Lodge and rented a private room. David, who had shuttled us from the Rangeley Inn to Grafton Notch, picked us up and drove us the six miles into Andover.

While crossing the wide brook, I stepped on a rock that shifted under my foot. I lost my balance and could see that I was going to end up in the brook, but I somehow managed to pivot, so that I fell, instead, on the rocks that I had just traversed. My right knee took a beating, and I expressed my pain with a choice word or two.

Saturday, July 2: East B Hill Road to Sawyer Brook

Birch and I had a nice “nero” yesterday at Pine Ellis Lodge in the town of Andover. The big hang-out spot was Mills Market. We had a private room and a nice sleep. At 5:30 a.m. we walked over to Mills Market for breakfast—breakfast burritos. It was quite the busy spot even early in the morning.

At 7 a.m. David drove us to the trailhead. We began with an ascent up Wyman Mountain in the rain. Fortunately, the trail was easy. By 9 a.m. the rain had stopped. We made good time up to the peak, then descended to Hall Mountain Lean-to. There me met Jeff, who had his things spread out to dry. We joined him in the lean-to and prepared lunch. Suddenly the sky darkened, and it began to pour! Birch changed into his fleece, and we had a cup of coffee while we waited out the rain.

The showers ended quickly, and as we packed up “Laps” came into camp. He informed us that a large group of NoBo thru-hikers was also going to be staying at Sawyer Brook.

Birch and I had a 1.4-mile steep descent into camp. We went as fast as we could safely go, so that we would arrive before the group. Although we each had a few slips, the trail was pretty tame. Once at the brook, we crossed, thinking that tent sites were on the other side. Nope! We had to cross over the rocks again to find a site near the water.

As we filtered water, Laps came to camp with “Juice Box.” We enjoyed sitting with them as we cooked dinner and learned that Juice Box (Jenny) went to American University! Soon a group of about eight other hikers arrived, and the noise level rose. Birch and I ducked into our tent for a quiet evening of sleep.

Sunday, July 3: Sawyer Brook to South Arm Road

I was the first one up this morning at Sawyer Brook and quickly had a couple cups of coffee prepared for Maple and myself. My big surprise was finding my Sea-to-Summit trash bag missing. I forgot to pack it inside the food bag before retiring and, instead, left it on top of my backpack. Apparently, some animal larger than a squirrel carried it off. I hated the thought of leaving it somewhere in the wilderness, but it was nowhere to be found.

The weather was beautiful but humid this morning, and Maple and I were on the trail by 6:15. We had Moody Mountain to climb, and I was soon drenched in my sweat. When we got to the summit, I called Pine Ellis Lodge to arrange for a shuttle into Andover. Maple and I arrived at South Arm Road at 9:30 and were picked up, as requested, at 10:15.

Monday, July 4: South Arm Road to Bemis Mountain Lean-to

Birch and I got up at 5 a.m. and walked over to the market for coffee. David shuttled us to the trailhead, and we began the hike at about 6:25. We had heard from SoBos that Old Blue Mountain was a “beast,” so I was apprehensive about the plan to go 8.7 miles. However, the difficult portion never really materialized. Yes, there were a few granite slabs and scrambles, but nothing we hadn’t seen before. We made it to the top in about three hours.

The trail this day was sometimes easy, sometimes taxing. For most of the day we were on a ridge. After talking with several SoBos, we learned that the water situation at the lean-to was pretty dire.

About three miles before the lean-to was a stagnant water source. We took it, loading up with two extra liters. The last three miles were tough, mostly because I was tired and because Birch was now carrying added weight. We arrived at the lean-to just before 4 p.m. and decided to tent for our last night out. The weather was beautiful this evening.

Tuesday, July 5: Bemis Mountain Lean-to to ME-17, “Height of Land”

Once again, Maple and I were the first up at the shelter and campsite. We arose just before the sun, and I made coffee, as usual, bringing Maple her cup to enjoy in the tent.

There’s a lot of granite slabs on top of Bemis Mountain, Second Peak, and the trail is often marked by cairns. We met at the summit a thru-hiker who had cowboy camped there, hoping to catch sight of some fireworks. Although disappointed, he had no regrets.

The trail down Bemis’s Second Peak was sometimes steep and rocky. At one point Maple lost her footing. “Maple!” I exclaimed. “No! Oh shit! Fuck!” I was sure I was witnessing a tragedy in the works. Even so, somehow, rather miraculously, she regained her balance, without ever having lost her composure. Apparently, I alone thought a fall was imminent.

I had carried my sandals with me, strapping them to the outside of my backpack, under the presumption that I would need to wear them when fording 100-foot-wide Bemis Stream. When we got there, though, we found the stream quite shallow and easily crossed it on rocks. Afterwards, we climbed to ME-17, walked over to the “Height of Land” overlook, and there awaited out shuttle driver, Kim Spats, from Rangeley.

Our original plan had been to spend this night at Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to and to get off trail at ME-4, a day later, but Maple was able to set up her dental appointment in Maryland, which necessitated that we get on the road one day earlier than planned. So, here at ME-17, at the spectacular “Height of Land” overlook, our section hike came to its end.

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