Mahoosuc Mayhem

Maybe I’m just exhausted after hiking 2,00o miles… or maybe the AT in Maine just sucks? I will admit that after I completed the Whites in NH, I sighed a huge sigh of relief, but no one ever told me southern Maine was going to be as ridiculous as it was.

Smooth, wet, granite rock faces are all I seem to hiker over these days! Since I crossed the state line, the clouds have hovered over me, dumping buckets of moisture and rain. The trail has been slick and muddy; my shoes are soaked through! It’s been utterly miserable and I am ready to finish this thing!  For the last few days, it has been a challenge to push through the mileage. Normally I am a fast hiker, but the trail keeps coming to these sharp, steep descents. It gets so frustrating because I must stop, look for a safe way down, and then slowly crawl down the rock face. I came to so many of these granite chutes that I just started throwing my trekking polls all-the-way down. To make things worse, I ripped a hole in my shorts from having to slide down so many rocks. I hiked about 6 miles and passed 2 trail-maintenance crews before I realized there was a hole.

So Maine was pretty much adding up to be one big frustration. Meanwhile, the threat of a forthcoming place was looming over my head. Everyday we were hiking closer and closer to the infamous Mahoosuc Notch. My AWOL trail guide simply reads “Mahoosuc Notch: one mile of trail that weaves through a giant boulder chasm. The most difficult section of the Appalachian Trail or the most fun? You decide.” David Miller must have thought he was being funny when he included that little description into the guide. Nonetheless, I had a pretty bad feeling in the pit of my stomach about this Mahoosuc Notch. For all intensive purposes I will refer to it as MahooSUCK Notch.

We camped at the shelter just before the notch so that we could wake early and have all day to tackle it. On July 27th. we hiked into the chasm around 9:30 am and did not complete that mile-long section of trail until noon. This should give you a good idea as to the difficulty of the notch. Nonetheless, the Appalachian Trail is demarcated by white blazes to designate the trail. When I climbed into the notch I saw white blazes painted on every rock, cranny, tree, etc. I rolled my eyes at the sight–the blazes were completely ambiguous as to say “anything goes.” I didn’t find it very funny. I stood there, feeling as if the AT was mocking me. I turned to Tiger Lilly and said “I’m a hiker and I want to hike the Appalachian Trail. I didn’t’ sign up for rock climbing and bouldering.” Immediately I grew angry knowing there weren’t any alternative routes around the notch. I guess I would have done Mahoosuc no matter what, but I still wanted the option.

To make the situation worse, it had rained all night long. What was already going to be an enormous challenge was now made worse by slick rocks and dangerous conditions. At first it was a slow-going hop from boulder to boulder. Every rock, tree, and vine was covered with green algae and slimy, orange slugs. Then we started climbing up-and-over slick rocks. I came to one section and tried to hoist myself up onto the top. It was wet and there were no foot grips. I kept falling down and scraping my knees. I thought that I had finally reached a place on the trail that I was simply incapable of doing. I wanted to give up. Tiger Lilly came by, giving me a boost, and I barely made it over. There were sections that took us underneath house-sized rocks. The arrows would point to the very bottom of the chasm to narrow, dark holes. Yes, they expected us to hike through them with our packs. There was nothing to do except remove our packs and crawl on our hands and knees in the dark,damp, icy-cold dark. The tunnels were strange and eery. I could feel the cold of ice radiating to my body. I was surprised to find snow and ice still existing within the notch in late July; I am told this is quite common.

I think you guys can get the jest of just how ridiculous this section of trail was. Unfortunately, the “fun” didn’t end there. Just after Mahoosuc Notch the AT comes to another section called Mahoosuc Arm. I will say that I was fortunate to be north-bound on the trail, as that is the much preferred way to travel the Arm. The Arm is one long granite sidewalk coming down the side of the mountain at about 50 – 60 degrees of angle. There are no wooden steps, ropes, or re-bar drilled into the rocks. If the AMC were smart they would install re-bar rungs for the hikers to use because the erosion around the Arm was insane. If you put a hiker on a trail of slick, wet rock that goes straight down the side of the mountain they are going to find another way down. Because of this spirit and the sheer danger of walking straight down the rock (impossible) hikers have climbed into the tree line that surrounds the Arm, pulling on branches, roots, and whatever they can get their hands on to keep from slipping. This has caused serious erosion and it is evident that several trees have fallen from the lack of soil to support their weight. It is always easier to climb up difficult rocks and precarious places–don’t ask me why, but hiking down these sections is much more difficult and scary.

Needless to say, I was not amused at the end of the day. My first impressions of Maine were tarnished by this particular section of trail and I am still not impressed!

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