Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mahoosuc Madness 7/12/14

Working title: Stubborn is, as stubborn does

Peak: Mahoosuc Arm (3765')

Trails: roadwalk, Speck Pond Trail, May Cutoff, Mahoosuc Trail, Notch Trail

Mileage/time: 11.8 miles, ~3300' of gain, book time of 7:35, actual time of 9:23

New red-lining miles: 9.7

It began with a suggestion for a hike. It ended with doing said hike. I might not have sold it well, but when Shanna said that it was happening, I wasn't one to argue. Besides, she wanted to go for a hike. Now I know what manner of hikes to NOT suggest! Lesson learned.

We got started "on time" in the morning, but somehow managed to not get on trail until almost 11. Mind boggling I tell you! Firstly, there was a roadwalk in front of us, 1.8 miles north on Success Pond Road, on which we'd had a bumpy ride to the trailhead. It's better to do a roadwalk at the beginning!



Success Pond Road

Reaching the Speck Pond Trail, we turned right into the woods, and started up. The lower mile or so of the trail skirts a recently logged area, passing along its edge. Thankfully, the trail itself hasn't been impacted. Soon, the trail turns sharply left, and climbs upslope. After a fashion, it crosses some old logging roads coming up from the valley. Great views to the west, over the lowlands of northern New Hampshire!

The Pilot/Pliny Ranges

Starting to climb more steeply, the trail reached ledges, open on the footway, moss covered off it. There was also a ladder up a steeper ledge. Climbing further, we soon reached the May Cutoff. Shanna agreed to get this section of trail on the way in, instead of the way out. Along the way, we passed over the true summit of Mahoosuc Arm, with some limited views over the trees. Best of all, were the views north and northeast toward Old Speck. Here we met the caretaker from Speck Pond Campsite, out doing some trail work.


Old but stable ladder

Old Speck from near Mahoosuc Arm

North view from near Mahoosuc Arm

Puzzle Mountain and Sunday River Whitecap

The shoulder of Old Speck looking northeast

Getting to the junction of the Mahoosuc Trail, we turned around, and went back the 0.3 miles to Speck Pond Trail. Hiking down to Speck Pond, there were occasional views down to the pond, and before we knew it, we were at the shore of the pond itself. What a great place! Reaching the spur trail to the spring, we went up it and filtered some cold mountain water, before finding a spot down by the pond to have lunch.

Speck Pond from above

Speck Pond

Not a bad spot for lunch

We chatted for a short time with a southbound thru-hiker (who used to work for the ATC) and her friend (who had some affiliation with the MATC), while eating our fill. Taking back to the trail, we followed the Mahoosuc Trail around to the outlet of the pond, then began the climb back up to the shoulder of Mahoosuc Arm. Down to go up, up to go down, this is the way of the Mahoosuc Range. Reaching a large trailside boulder, I clambered up to the top, and was presented with a fantastic view to the south, right into Mahoosuc Notch, and down the range toward the Carters and Presidentials.

Speck Pond

Mahoosuc Notch, the Mahoosucs, Carters, and Presidentials

Mahoosuc Mountain

Now began the grueling descent from Mahoosuc Arm to the foot of the notch, 1200' vertical, consisting mostly of rock slab. I would NOT want to be on this when wet, ascending or descending. I even got thrown to my ass and started sliding, when I accidentally stepped on one of the few wet sections. Thankfully, there was a downed tree right next to the trail, that I was able to grab on to, otherwise I would have been in for a bit of a ride. We ran into several thru-hikers climbing, some chipper, others not so much. Near the bottom of our descent, there was a large group of polite girls and their chaperones having just come through the notch. They said to have fun!

Mahoosuc Trail

Mahoosuc Trail

Walls loomed up on either side of us, and soon a cool breeze issued from before us, a jumble of boulders sat in the woods. This was the beginning of the infamous Mahoosuc Notch. It's notoriety is legendary among A.T. thru-hikers, and it has the reputation of being the single most difficult mile on the entire trail. I think I may have used that as a selling point when suggesting this hike.

Imagine if you will, house-sized boulders, plucked from the mostly unseen walls towering on both sides of you. Throw those same boulders in the narrow floor of the notch, then put a trail through it. That's what we were dealing with. The trail winds over, around, between, and under these boulders, with tricky footing at times. There was ice visible under the rocks in spots, which persists year round, and the air was a good 15 to 20 degrees cooler. It's also very shadowy deep in the notch, as it sits at such an angle that it rarely, if ever, receives direct sun

I knew the going would be slow, and helped Shanna out as best I could, but when someone is uncomfortable on a given trail/terrain feature, there's only so much you can do before becoming a nuisance! While it was fun (for me) ascending through the notch, I did (and do) feel bad about putting her in an uncomfortable situation. She made it though, not much worse for wear. I'm proud of her, and she's happy she did it... just not looking forward to doing it again any time in the near (or distant) future!

At one point, where the trail descends into a small hole beneath a boulder, I was looking into it, and heard a common expletive from the other side. Thinking I might have been hearing things, I waited, and was greeted again with the choicest word. After we wriggled through the opening to the other side, we met the speaker, a thru-hiker who was very much amazed by the notch. "This place is bananas!", he said, a statement that I wholeheartedly agree with.

Here's a smattering of pictures from our 2 1/2 hour transit of Mahoosuc Notch.

The beginning

Yup, the trail goes in there

Around the rock


Fulling Mill Mountain

Mahoosuc Notch


Fulling Mill cliffs


The walls receded, and after a couple of areas where it looked like the boulders would end, they finally did and we found ourselves at the junction with Notch Trail. Instead of taking a break, with the sun hanging low, we made our way down. Notch Trail was very nice, with a soft footbed, and some nice little cascades once it came alongside Shelter Brook. Now I've been on longer hikes, and more strenuous hikes, but I sure was happy to see my car at the end of the trail. The sun was down, but we were out!

Shelter Brook


Notch Trail

Shelter Brook

Shelter Brook

Back to the car with light to spare

Along Success Pond Road

Packing it in, we set off to find food. That ended up with a stop at the Moat, before the drive back commenced. Every time I go hiking, I ponder my proximity to the mountains on the drive back... this one was no exception!

Thanks to Shanna for joining me on this amazing day, and sorry for putting you in such a compromised position. We're scheduled to hike Washington with my parents on Thursday, but after that, she told me that SHE'S picking the next hike. After this, I think she deserves it!


  1. NOTCH!!!!!! Loved reliving this place! And I love all your pics! Man, I am dying to go back.... also - holy crap, I can't believe you descended, instead of ascended, the Arm!!!

    1. I'm shocked it's taken me this long to get here (along with many other places)! Can't say I'm so much looking forward to ascending or descending the Arm the next time I'm there, which should be in a couple of weeks (crossing my fingers!).

  2. Another great report Bill. It seems like Shanna is learning what it REALLY means to join you on a hike. See also: Pact with the Devil...

    1. Haha! She was nearly crippled, but bounced back and did Washington with my parents and I on Thursday. I'm going to be MUCH more informative when I suggest hikes in the future!

    2. I'm sure I've barely grazed the surface of what it means to hike with Bill, and that's A-okay! His level of...dedication...addiction(?) is great from the sidelines. He and Jake can keep the "extreme" stuff, I prefer leisurely ascents in beautiful surroundings that I can walk away from hobble-free, ha!