Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Almost Mahoosuc Traversing 8/1/14

Working title: Fool me once

Peaks: Old Speck Mountain, Fulling Mill Mountain (South Peak), Goose Eye Mountain (North Peak), Goose Eye Mountain (East Peak), Goose Eye Mountain (West Peak), Mt. Carlo, Mt. Success

Trails: Old Speck Trail, Mahoosuc Trail, Goose Eye Trail, Peabody Brook Trail

Mileage/time: 24.7 mile, 9539' of gain, book time of 17:07, actual time of 15:35

New redlining miles: 13.7

The Mahoosuc Range, its name should be spoken of in reverential tones. It's the kick in the groin, telling northbound thru-hikers, "this ain't over", and also, "Welcome to Maine!". Long has it been a thorn in my red-lining side, specifically its namesake trail, of which I'd only done small sections of. A couple of my recent hikes in the area had been shameless scouting trips, checking out the exit (Mt. Hayes), and checking out the hard part (Mahoosuc Notch). The forecast for Thursday didn't look great, especially in the afternoon, so I pushed it off until Friday. Much like my first Pemi Loop attempt, I didn't take humidity and the heat of the day into account.

Some broken napping Thursday afternoon/evening, left me leaving Portland at 1am for a ~3am start from Grafton Notch. It was odd driving late at night on these particular roads, this would not be a typical "alpine" start in the Whites. All was quiet in the notch, the stars were brilliant overhead, and it was in the mid-40's. My attempts at astrophotography were stymied... I really should get a Gorillapod.

By headlamp, I started up the trail at 3:17. Time has a habit of dulling memories, and my memory of the Old Speck Trail was no exception. Within minutes, my long-sleeve layer came off, and I was in shorts and a t-shirt the rest of the day. Wet rocks were the rule as I climbed, but my trusty Frankenshoes made quick work of the slickness. In the lower reaches, the sound of the stream running nearby was calming, and kept me moving. Above the Eyebrow junction, early morning colors were starting to show behind me, and before long, I reached the familiar ledge just below the Mahoosuc Trail junction. The sun had just peeked above the horizon.

Hitting the junction, I booked it to the tower, and climbed up. The ladder is just as sketchy as I remember it, and climbing up it with a pack on (even my small one) is interesting. Views were hazy, but the sun was up, a red disk hanging low in the sky. This was a great start to the day!

Downclimbing out of the tower, I hit the Mahoosuc Trail southbound. This was not exactly the easiest section, as the trail plummeted 800' on slippery slabs, toward Speck Pond. The first people of the day were campers, all very sleepy looking, having just climbed out of their tents. They said nothing to me, but the look of shock on their faces when I rolled through, said it all. Speck Pond was beautiful in the early morning glow, and I took a moment on the shore.

Circling around the pond, I began the climb up over the shoulder of Mahoosuc Arm. It felt like I had just been here! Reaching the open ledges on the shoulder, my task for the day was bathed in the morning sun. It didn't look so bad from here!

Descending from the Arm, the trail drops 1600' (!!!) down to the foot of Mahoosuc Notch, over slick, striated slabs. These big drops were to be a running theme on the day, what goes up, must come down. Reaching the bottom, the cool air of the notch issued forth, and mist developed where it hit the warmer, more humid air.

My trip up through the notch was uneventful, considering the rocks were very damp from the prior evenings rain. Mid-way through, I ran into the first hikers of the day, a couple of thru-hikers headed northbound. I'd run into at least 6 more in the notch itself, everyone having stayed at Full Goose shelter. I made it to the other side in about an hour and ten minutes, which I consider a win! Once out, I soon paid for my quickness.

Turning upslope, the trail now climbed nearly 900 feet in the span of about half a mile! I made frequent stops, short of breath, legs burning. The grade eased as I neared the south peak of Fulling Mill Mountain, which stands amid some nice alpine meadows and scrub on the ridgetop. Looking ahead, a substantial drop accompanied my route along to the many peaks of Goose Eye.

Dropping down, I soon came to Full Goose Shelter, where I ran into a couple thru-hikers, making good time from Carlo Col. Filtering some brownish (but still tasty) water, I refilled, snacked, and kept moving. Steep, wet ledges came and went, some sporting iron rungs. Before long, I was on the bare summit of North Peak. Behind me lay all that I'd come over, ahead was the extensive alpine areas between there and the other Goose Eye peaks. Like everything else, a not insignificant drop lay ahead.

Out in the alpine meadows, bog bridges led across wet, muddy areas. The only problem was, some of them were floating, while others were under water. My feet had been dry up to this point, but no longer. Much damage has been done in these areas, by hikers trying to work around the mud pits. Hopefully they'll be repaired sooner than later. Reaching the low point in the col, the trail climbed steeply again, up to the summit of the officially unnamed West Peak of Goose Eye.

After snapping some pictures, I set off for the East Peak (the main, and highest summit), where I'd take a proper break. Passing a large group of kids out backpacking, I climbed up to the peak, just as an older gentleman was leaving. I had the place to myself, and what a spot it is! It had been nearly 2 years since I'd stood on this summit (and consequently, it was one of the first hikes I documented here), and I found myself fondly reminiscing about the hike. I took a seat on the rocks, and basked in the sun, eating and relaxing. I'd brought along some pepperoni slices, but the kind I'd bought for my last trip had a resealable package... this one did not. So I found myself eating an entire package of pepperoni, because I had no way to seal it. There are worse problems to have.

Looking south, the range began to curve more to the west, and Mt. Carlo seemed a ways off, though the signage said the Carlo Col trail was only 1.8 miles away. Maine miles, can't trust them! Once off of Goose Eye, the trail drops down a very steep wooden ladder, then down a set of iron rungs in the rock. It then wound among some small alpine areas, with great views back to Goose Eye, before dropping steeply, yet again.

More gain confronted me on the other side of the down, though I soon found myself on top of Mt. Carlo, the last (or first, depending on your direction of travel) peak on the A.T. in Maine. Most of the summit is in the trees, but just barely, as there are decent views over the trees in a couple of spots around the summit. Steeply down again, I came to Carlo Col, a neat little box ravine, featuring a very steep section of scrambling as you exit the col. Not far beyond, I came to the Maine-New Hampshire state line, where the demoralization started.

I thought I'd been making decent time, but the signage told a different story. From the state line, the sign indicated that my destination (the Centennial trailhead) lay 15.8 miles yonder. I'd been hiking for more than 10 hours, and only made it this far?! The stretch from Carlo Col to Mt. Success was a bear, and I was bonking pretty hard at times, though the views from the summit were worth it. It showed just how far I'd come, but also, just how far I had yet to go.

Dropping down slightly, the trail sticks to the summit plateau for a bit, before dropping 800' to the head of the brook between Success and North Bald Cap. Here I stopped to filter water, as I was almost out. I chatted with a thru-hiker named Jukebox for a while, while I filtered and ate, hoping to regain some energy. He had some interesting stories about his journey, and was nearly at mile 1900! Wishing him well, I continued on, not feeling very quick, nor very fresh. Reaching Austin Brook Trail, I considered bailing, but a check of the time made me hopeful, so I told myself I'd reassess at the next junction.

The next two miles stuck a fork in me. I was done. My lungs rasped for air, my legs burned, and not a stitch of clothing that I was wearing was dry. The day had gotten the better of me. Reaching Peabody Brook Trail, I checked the time, and got out my map. To reach my destination involved another 5.7 miles of torturous ups and downs (another 2000' of gain), plus the 3.1 miles down to Hogan Road on the Centennial Trail. Sometimes, you just have to drop back and punt. Pulling out my phone, I called Mike, and made arrangements for him to meet me at the Peabody Brook trailhead instead.

Rounding the end of Dream Lake, I noticed that some bog bridges had been replaced since my visit here last year, and the dangerously slippery ones had been removed! The trail descends steeply alongside its namesake brook, before mellowing out after the spur for Giant Falls. Reaching the old logging road the trail follows in its lower reaches, my phone rang. I directed Mike to the trailhead, as best I could, and said I'd be there in 10 to 15 minutes. Jogging when I could, sweating profusely, I made my way down, reaching Mike's waiting vehicle at 6:52. Beaten but not defeated!

As per our agreement, I bought Mike dinner. As far as bang for the buck is concerned in Gorham, you'll get no better than the Dynasty Buffet. After a long day in the mountains, all you can eat Chinese food, is a no-guilt (for me anyway) solution to all your gastronomical problems. Afterwards, he drove me back to Grafton Notch, and my waiting car, arriving well after dark. Thanks for being my support crew!

A few days removed from this hike, and I have a suggestion for Backpacker Magazine. Revise your list of Hardest Dayhikes in America, this one should definitely be on it. I'll be back this fall to try again, and again if necessary!


  1. "I came through and I shall return."

    1. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

  2. Anytime, Bill. I got your back. Great write-up, by the way.

    1. And I'm eternally grateful that you do! Thanks buddy!