Homer's Travels: Appalachian Trail: Gorham, NH (Rattle River Hostel, US 2) To Grafton Notch (ME 26) … And Back

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Appalachian Trail: Gorham, NH (Rattle River Hostel, US 2) To Grafton Notch (ME 26) … And Back

Last week I was back on the Appalachian Trail (AT).  I was hopeful.  I was excited to be back on the trail.  I was looking forward to seeing and experiencing all the AT and Maine had to offer.  Let's see what actually happened. 

Crossing the Androscoggin River.
Day 1 - The shuttle dropped me off at the location of the now defunct Rattle River Hostel where I ended my AT attempt in 2019.  The first half mile was a road walk along North Road, across the Androscoggin River, and Hogan Road before I left the road and entered the wilderness.

The trail started out similar to how I remembered it: a little rocky, a little rooty, not too difficult.  That changed quickly.  The rocks and roots became more numerous.  I was slowed down quite a bit but it was still within my AT hiking experience.  Near the top of Flat Mountain the views reminded me of what I enjoyed the most about AT.  The weather was perfect and the sky was blue and the mountains went on forever.  I was also starting to meet other hikers, both south bound (SOBO) and north bound (NOBO).

Not far from this first summit I passed by the 1,900 mile (3,057 km) mark.  If I'd continued back in 2019 this would have gotten me exited.  This time it didn't have the meaning it would have had.

It started out so innocent looking.
As the trail continued it got harsher, rockier, rootier, and downright annoying.  Somewhere along the trail I took my first tumble and banged up my left knee.  It wasn't a show topper or anything but in the south it had taken a couple months before I took my first fall on the trail.  I found myself being more careful with foot placement which meant constantly staring at my feet.

Despite all the foot staring I still noticed the views at Page Pond and the summits I crossed on the trail.  This first day was a preview of what was coming ahead in Maine and I couldn't wait.

When I reached my goal for the day, Gentian Pond Shelter and Campsite, I was exhausted.  I know I had long, tired days in the south but this felt different.  This was beyond normal exhaustion.  I could hardly walk.  I was too tired to do anything.  I tried to make a meal but that didn't go well as I'd rather just lay on the floor of the shelter and moan.

Page Pond.
This was not a good start.

My first day.  11.7 miles (18.8 km)

Day 2 -  Normally I was the first to get up.  The Sun was rising at 5:15am so I saw me getting up soon after.  That didn't happen. I stayed in my sleeping bag until other people got up at 5:40am  I ate breakfast, packed up my gear, and headed out to my next goal around 9.6 miles (15.4 km) away.  Between me and that goal were Mount Success, Mount Carlo, and several versions of Goose Eye Mountain (west, east, north).

Gentian Pond in the morning sun.
It was during the climb up and over Mount Success that I realized I'd bitten off more than I could chew.  The trail was like an unending Stairmaster.  The unending rocks, varying from baby step ups to the stride of a giant troll, just beat up my legs.  It wasn't long before my legs were shaky (more about that in a future post).

Mountains as far as you can see.
I decided that, unless things got better or I felt better, I would quit when I got to Andover, ME.

My last state on the AT (#14)
I crossed into Maine, which was kinda cool, before I reached the turn off to the Carlo Col Shelter and Campsite.  I was exhausted … again … so I took the turn off and cursed the difficult 0.3 mile (0.5 km) side trail to the shelter.  I had three and a half swallows of water left when I got to the shelter.

With the decision to stop at Carlo Col Shelter, I missed my goal of the day by over 4 miles.  This was not a good sign and I decided to get off before Andover at Grafton Notch.  I figured I could get there in two 7 mile (11 km) days. 

That night I was joined by other hikers and a gaggle of fifteen plus pre-teen French speaking school girls (I presume they were from Quebec).

My second day.  5.2 miles (8.4 km)

Day 3 - Over the past few days SOBOs kept mentioning the Mahoosuc Notch and the Mahoosuc Arm.  I looked it up in my guide book and saw the description (Not sure how I had missed it during my planning).  It said: "Most difficult or fun mile of the the AT. Make way through jumbled pit of boulders."  *sigh*  My goal for the day had been a campsite between the Mahoosuc Notch descent and the Mahoosuc Arm climb roughly at the 7 mile point.  I changed my goal to make it easier.

Mountains, trees, and bogs.
I left camp and headed north over the peaks I'd missed the day before - Mount Carlo and the several versions of Goose Eye Mountain. To my surprise it was hard (🌵).  This was a relatively dry part of the trail which meant I was carrying more water.  It didn't help too much as I was still conserving water before I reached the Full Goose Shelter and Campsite.  I said it was dry.  By that I'm referring to drinking water.  It did rain on me this morning … the only day when I had rain.

I looked at the miles ahead of me and decided, instead of the two sevens I'd planned, I would do three 5 mile (8 km) sections instead.  My restriction was food but … I wasn't doing a very good job of eating all my daily food so extending this section to five days instead of four wasn't a problem.

Did I hike over there … I think so.
I had my second fall on the way to the shelter.  Banged up my right knee.  Nothing major.  I always wanted a matching set of banged up knees.

I arrived at the shelter at 12:30pm and just slept and forced myself to eat all afternoon.  Forced because I had zero appetite … no hiker hunger.

A SOBO stopped here for the evening too.  He talked about how beautiful Maine was and how much he enjoyed it.  All I could think was how bad my body felt and wondered just how deep of an exhaustion a person could bear.

My third day. 4.4 miles (7.1 km)

Day 4 - I woke up in a mild panic.  I'd been dreaming of going through the Mahoosuc Notch and falling to my doom.  Not a good way to start your day.  I had two days to go to get off the trail and my subconscious and conscious minds were both concerned about getting off alive.

Surprised they actually gave us rebar steps.
I left camp and went up and over the Fulling Mountain south peak before I arrived at the start of the boulder jumble.

To get through this part of the AT it is best to put your poles in your pack since you will need free hands to climb.  I put my poles away and started rock hopping until I caught up with a NOBO from Georgia named Trouble.  We talked a little while we slowly made our way up, over, under, and around large boulders.  We both said it was nice to have someone to do this part with so there was someone to call 911 if the other got injured.

The start of the boulder jumble of Mahoosuc notch.
The hard part of the notch decent, besides having to climb up and down rocks with a pack on your back, was figuring out how to get through it.  There were white blazes (AT markers) on some of the rocks but the path to those blazes wasn't always obvious.  Several times Trouble and I just stood there looking trying to figure the best way through some rocks that wouldn't kill us.  Trouble was surprised we hadn't come across any skeletons and I said "that is probably the only trail maintenance they do around here" which made us both laugh.

There were three places where you were expected to go through a tunnel formed by boulders.  You had to take your pack off to squeeze through.  We decided to find alternative routes to skip most of these.

Despite the potential danger, the rock hop was pretty cool.  Between some of the larger boulders you could still see ice and snow.  When you walked by cave-like openings it felt like you were walking in front of an air conditioner.  We stopped at an accessible stream between the rocks and had our fill of water so cold it almost gave us brain freeze.  Was it difficult?  Yes, this wasn't hiking, it was rock climbing.  Was it fun too? I'd have to say yes.  One thing I am sure of … I would never try to do this in the rain.

The arrow says go in but we climbed around.
We passed the campsite I'd considered going to the day before.  It was very nice but I'm glad I didn't push it. The trail then went straight up the mountain to a point known as the Mahoosuc Arm.  This trail was mostly long solid slabs of stone at a slight angle off vertical.  I think they expected you to trust the soles of your shoes to stick to that rock.  I used trees and roots along the side of the rocks to climb instead.

Trouble and I arrived at the Speck Pond Shelter and Campsite soon after.  Another hiker showed up and briefly disappeared.  When he reappeared his hair was wet.  Apparently he likes visiting ponds.  He likes to put on goggles and stick his head in the ponds he visits to see if there is anything interesting.  He then moved on ... I presume to another pond to stick his head in.

Having someone with me through this section helped a lot.  Trouble was continuing on to Grafton Notch.  I was too tired to continue on and spent the night in the shelter.  We thanked each other and said our goodbyes.  I think she will make it to Katahdin.

My fourth day. 5.1 miles (8.2 km)

Day 5 - So … this four day stage turned into a five day stage and covered 10 miles (16 km) less than I'd planned.  This didn't go as I expected.

Speck Pond.
I got up and had a slow morning around the shelter.  I went behind the shelter and walked down to the edge of Speck Pond.  It was a nice morning.  The water was like glass.  I noticed some ripples and saw a beaver apparently doing laps since it really didn't seem like it was going anywhere in particular.  I'd seen a small snake the day before at the same spot.

On top of Old Speck Mountain.
I left the shelter and climbed up Old Speck Mountain.  I sat at the peak and turned on my phone.  I called a shuttle to pick me up and made a hotel reservation.  I gave myself too much time to get down the mountain.

My last white blaze.
The descent was over 2,600 feet (792.5 m) but, compared to some of the other trails, it was relatively gentle.  I made it down to the road without incident.

My shuttle pick up time was at 2:00pm and I was there at 11:30am.  I sat with some SOBOs and told them about the Mahoosuc notch coming ahead for them.  It was more of a "It's not so bad" talk.  They were all young and I was feeling old.

My shuttle picked me up early just before the rain returned and I was dropped off in Gorham.

This … whatever this was … was over.

My last day on trail. 4.6 miles (7.4 km)
Pictures can be found in my 2022 Appalachian Trail Google Photos album. 

Total Distance*: 1,927.0 Miles (3,101.2 km)
Section Distance: 32.0 Miles (51.5 km)
Section Elevation Up: 11,632 ft (3,545 m)
Section Elevation Down: 10,778 ft (3,285 m)
Total Distance includes the distance I hiked in 2019.

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