Navigating the notoriously difficult southern Maine section of the Appalachian Trail proved to be a slow but steady challenge this week. Wet, rocky and rooty footing coupled with soggy misty days made for more tedious terrain to travel.
Cautiously advancing through the muddy miles, I still racked up plenty of scrapes and bruises. One morning after slipping and falling I rose to collect myself and immediately was stung by a bee. “Great!” Slowing my pace improved my confidence but didnt prevent further scuffs and dings. Gravity plus mud make for a constant struggle to stay vertical.
Dryness adds to the overall comfort we feel when starting a morning (or anytime for that matter). Climbing into damp, cold sweat-soured clothing first thing is not a pleasant task and something I have not yet gotten used to. Knowing that your day will be spent hiking in wet shoes can suck the motivation out of you quickly but the trail beckons and I am here to answer the call.
Mid-way through the week the weather turned drier as the heat returned again. Even though there wasn’t rain from the sky, my excess sweat precipitation still managed to leave me dripping wet from head to toe. My shoes in particular took a smelly beating as the perspired droplets trickled down my torso and legs, funneling nicely into my trail runners. I was quite pleased to swap them out for a new pair when my mom met me for a resupply at Grafton Notch and brought a local favorite (George’s Italians) for some trail magic lunch.
Well fed, cleaned up and laundered, I restarted my hike that evening at 5:30 heading up to Speck Pond campsite. Driving to the trailhead from town and noticing the dashboard thermometer reading of 83 degrees, I quickly dreaded the thought of a late evening hike up a 4000 footer. Taking my time, I gingerly climbed the 4.6 miles. As I rose in elevation, the sun dropped behind the mountain while a cooling breeze eased my concerns and dried my sweat covered brow. Reaching the summit as the sunset, I was rewarded with beautiful sky colors and strolled into the campsite after dark, guided by the light of my headlamp.
The next morning’s hike through the infamous Mahoosuc Notch, “the most difficult mile of the AT”, actually was a fun experience. At times it was akin to bouldering at a rock gym. Trekking poles tucked away in my bag, I was hoisting myself up and over pickup truck sized rocks. Points where I had to remove my pack and required a fellow hiker Gandalf to help pass my bag through an opening no larger than a manhole cover and down into a crevice in order to proceed further along the trail.
Although the air was hot and humid that day, the shape and position of the notch in relation to the sun means that the water running underneath your feet remains ice cold all year. Fog was actually rising from the rocky ground and blasts of cold air made for a refreshing reprieve from the normal summer heat. The sensation felt like driving with the AC on but with the windows down on a hot day.
Camping at Carlo Col that night, I rested easy knowing that I was a half mile from the New Hampshire border. The Southern Maine section lived up to its reputation as a tough part of the trail leaving many more miles to still explore.