Yesterday’s section was rated 10 in our guide – the most difficult rating on the AT. I didn’t want to believe it after getting out of the Whites. I thought it couldn’t get any tougher but I was fooling myself. This section also contains the especially cruel section called the Mahoosuc Notch but it was far from the only challenge of the day.
What makes this part of the Trail so hard is the terrain. Sure, the elevation is steep but there isn’t any “trail” to speak of. Just an endless series of steep boulders. If you are climbing, then the game is to find hand holds or nearby trees to haul yourself up. When descending, there is a lot of sliding on your butt and hoping you don’t pick up too much speed and loose control. It’s excruciatingly slow and dangerous so there is nothing that you can really do to speed anything up. I hiked from 6:00 until 7:30 with just two short breaks and still only got 17 miles in.
The Mahoosec Notch is in a category by itself. It is .8 miles long and took me two hours to get through it. It is a crazy jumble of huge boulders, logs and ice. You have to plan each move, try to execute it and hope it gets you over something that you can still move forward through. Many times I would be so proud that I was able to get up and over something just to realize that I couldn’t move forward from my new position. Backtracking was the only option. There were three places where I had to shove my pack under or over a rock and then drag it through after I got myself over. Crazy.
The reward for getting through the Notch is a nearly vertical rock climb ascent. It was a brutal collection today and I was feeling totally wiped out. I hadn’t slept well in days and was really struggling. Everything was hurting. I had to talk myself through this – out loud. I hope no one heard my motivational phrases but I had to do something. I called my favorite cheerleader Betty and she gave me a great pep talk. More cowbell, please!
I made it down to Grafton Notch and found my first SOBO hiker at the parking lot. His name was Hats Off (a hawk stole the hat off of his head) and he looked so fresh. He was clean, healthy looking and chipper. I probably scared the crap out of him when I came shuffling out of the woods hunched over and snarling through the day. You will have days like this buddy. It’s part of the fun. I had one more climb of the day to the campsite and treated myself to a bath in the cold stream and a big dinner. I had a great night’s sleep last night and feeling better about today. I might even get a ride into town tonight and buy a spoon. It doesn’t take much to please a thru hiker.