"The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep."
~ Robert Frost
Ever since first climbing Katahdin, in 2001, I've thought about giving the AT a shot. Upon reaching my car at the end of this trip, I thought seriously about resupplying and going on for another day or two. Needless to say, the AT's siren's song has reached a fever pitch, and I'm unsure how much longer I'll be able to contain my wanderlust.
Monday 9/15: Norwich to Moose Mountain Shelter
Peak: Moose Mountain - South Peak (2283')
Trails: Roadwalk, Velvet Rocks Trail, Velvet Rocks Shelter Loop, Hanover Center Trail, Moose Mountain Trail, Moose Mountain Shelter Loop
Mileage: ~13.5 miles, ~3350' of gain, hiking time of ~7:10
New redlining miles: 10.9
Only a couple of days removed from my prior weeks hikes, I found myself up at 4am, finishing up last minute preparations, and showering before 4 days in the woods. Out the door, I headed first to Conway to meet up with Mike, he then followed me to Glencliff, where we left my car (it deserved a break!). Hopping in his vehicle, we motored down to Hanover, but both of us failed to do our due diligence when it came to the parking situation. We ended up leaving his vehicle parked on the road in Norwich, VT (there were no signs saying we couldn't), and walking 0.8 miles to the Vermont/New Hampshire border.
The border may not have been where our hike started, but it was the beginning of a massive redlining spree, that didn't stop until we'd nearly reached my car. I did find it strange to be walking through a town, while still being on the AT, maybe because all the sections I've been on before don't run through towns. We threaded through town, before stepping off the pavement, and getting onto some actual trail. Just into the woods, we stop to de-layer, and started northbound. I commented at some point during the day, about how this was a piss-poor way to prepare thru-hikers for the Whites, as the grades were easy, and the trail relatively soft. As with most of my words, I'd be eating them before the end of the trip.
|Velvet Rocks Trail|
|Velvet Rocks Shelter|
|Mike on Velvet Rocks Trail|
Redlining out the loop to Velvet Rocks Shelter, and looping back to our packs, we continued on, up and down, until we hit Trescott Road. Here was the first of many road crossings on this trip. Some were well marked, others not so much, this particular crossing had no signage on the northbound side. Here we met up with a local man, out doing some trail magic for southbound thru-hikers still trickling through, he introduced himself by his trail name Sooner or Later, as in he'll get to do a thru-hike sooner or later. Crossing a marshy area on a nice bridge, we plunged back into the woods, rising and falling with the terrain. At several points along the trail, we passed alongside and through old stone walls, a reminder of a bygone era of farming in the area. The forest we passed through in this section was definitely young, but picturesque nonetheless.
Climbing up through a large field, with a narrow, worn dirt track snaking through it, we soon reached the end of Hanover Center Trail, and crossed over Three Mile Road to Moose Mountain Trail. Our overnight stop was close, though not before the ascent over the south peak of Moose Mountain. Sweating pretty well by the time we reached the top, we took a break on the summit, which provided some nice views to the south and east. It had been an exceptional first day on the trail, decent temperatures and sunshine galore! Dropping off the summit, we briefly ascended a rise, when we came upon the signage signaling the shelter. I do love the DOC signs, and sense of humor contained therein.
|Hanover Center Trail|
|View east to Cardigan from Moose Mountain South Peak|
|Southeast from Moose Mountain South Peak|
|The Spruce Moose!|
Checking out the shelter, we were "directed" toward the tent sites, by the two hikers who had set up their tents IN the shelter. This would prove to be only our first encounter with this pair, but I'm getting ahead of myself. We decided on one of the sites, and I set off to find water. What I found instead, was a trickle. A properly placed leaf turned that trickle into something more manageable, though it still left me only being able to get about 2 liters of water to filter. It would be good enough for the night and the next morning. Getting my tent set up, we got to preparing dinner (see: boiling water), and got a small fire going. Not terribly long after it was fully dark, we retired, to be occasionally woken during the night by the sound of the rain on our tents.
Tuesday 9/16: Moose Mountain Shelter to Smarts Mountain
Peaks: Moose Mountain - North Peak (2303'), Holts Ledge (2110'), Smarts Mountain (3238')
Trails: Moose Mountain Trail, Holts Ledge Trail, herd path, Trapper John Shelter Spur, Dorchester Road AT section, Lambert Ridge Trail, fire tower spur, Daniel Doan Trail, tent site spur
Mileage: ~13.8 miles, ~4750' of gain, hiking time of ~9:55
New redlining miles: 12.9
I awoke to rain, hitting my tent, and the woods around us. Checking my phone, it was about 6am... so I closed my eyes, and drifted back to sleep for a bit. Nearing 8, I called across to Mike, who was also awake, hoping the rain would stop. We decided to break camp, and head over to the shelter to do breakfast, and get on the trail from there. Once un-zipping my rainfly, I realized that it wasn't raining anymore, and it was just water dripping off the trees. Also, my idea to not bring the inner part of my tent (just the footprint and rainfly) sort of backfired, because while I was covered, the water coming off the rainfly splashed back and up onto my sleeping bag. Good stuff. Heading over to the shelter, we were treated to a partial undercast and overcast, while we got breakfast going and packed away our wet bits for the day.
Passing by the still meager water source, we climbed up to the uneventful north peak of Moose Mountain, where we got a cloudy partial southwest view. The woods were misty and lush, though the green times are fast fading, some color is making an appearance. Filtering water before we hit the road (another scant source), we crossed, and began our undulating approach to Holts Ledge. Upon our arrival, there was a large group at the view point (about 10 people), a big surprise for Mike and I, as we'd only seen a handful of folks so far. We chatted with the group for a while, and helped them identify some lakes, about which their guide was unsure (they weren't on his map). They gave us some food, and left us to our devices.
|A newt on the move|
|Mike on Moose Mountain Trail|
|Sort of a view from Moose Mountain North Peak|
|Insect in a tree|
|View from Holts Ledge|
Off the ledge perch, we started down. Where the trail turns hard left, a herd path led straight ahead. Of course, we checked it out. It brought us out to ledges just to the north of where we had been, with better views! We even got a sneak peek of our afternoon's challenge (Smarts), and that of the next day (Cube). The path continued down to the top of Dartmouth Skiway, but we headed back to the trail.
Being a redlining adventure, we took all the short side trails and shelter spurs along the way, the next was Trapper John Shelter. Named for the fictitious "Trapper" John McIntyre, of M.A.S.H. fame, storied to be a Dartmouth alum. There is a pretty sweet fireplace and chimney at the shelter, a remnant of a cabin perhaps?
Dropping down to the Lyme-Dorchester Road, we soon came to a sign on the trail, as we passed through a field. The few hikers we'd seen had mentioned that we should stop by Bill Ackerly's house for free ice cream, and the sign spelled out exactly that! When we came up onto his porch, Bill saw us and came to the door to greet us. He invited us inside, where he gave us ice cream, some coffee, and had us sign his log book. The temptation to linger, chatting with him, was palpable. We eventually had to pull ourselves away, thanking him for his hospitality, returning to the trail. Before we did this, he had a scale, so we weighed our packs. Both turned out to be in the 40 pound range, though I imagine this was tougher on Mike than me, seeing as he's about 40 pounds lighter than me! This section of the AT is referred to as the Dorchester Road section, and can be completely avoided by walking on Dorchester Road... but we didn't have that option, unless we wanted to come back for it! At least the section was pretty, though it undulated a bit much for our liking at that point in the day.
|Temptation to linger|
|A random place for a mileage marker|
Having asked several hikers about water on Smarts, we had been assured that there was water not far from the summit. So when we reached the bottom of the Lambert Ridge Trail, I thought about filtering water, even though it would slow our ascent. In hindsight, I should have. The climb up Smarts wasn't bad, but on tired legs, with heavy packs, it was somewhat torturous. Reaching some ledges, we got a view up to what we still had left to climb, and in the low angle sunlight, it looked a long way off.
|Towers of power|
|Lambert Ridge ledge views|
|It's still far away...|
Of course, by the time we got to the steepest section, it was time for headlamps. We checked out the tent site, and then the tower (which is closed for repairs), before heading over to the cabin. Much to our chagrin, the same two tents were set up, IN the cabin! Pissed, we set out looking for water, down the Daniel Doan Trail (per the signage). Once we got to the water sign, we were confronted with mucky looking, shallow puddles, and no flow. Dejected, we headed to the tent site, which was a wise choice indeed, as the night was clear, and the view south was great, the stars twinkling overhead. Setting ourselves up by headlamp, we checked our water situation, and both had enough to cook dinner and breakfast with, leaving about half a liter for the descent off the mountain in the morning. It would have to work! Dinner was had, and we retired soon afterward.
|The Milky Way|
Wednesday 9/17: Smarts Mountain to Ore Hill Privy (and Campsite)
Peaks: Mt. Cube (2909'), North Cube (2880')
Trails: J Trail, Kodak Trail, Mt. Cube Trail, North Cube Side Trail, Atwell Hill Trail, Ore Hill Trail
Mileage: ~13.6 miles, ~3100' of gain, hiking time of ~8:54
New redlining miles: 13
Waking to dim light, and rustling from Mike's tent, I unzipped my tent, to see that the sun wasn't yet up. Putting my shoes on, I stepped out, and was greeted by valley fog, and clear skies above. It was going to be a good day! Water boiled, and added to the breakfast pouch, made for a nice core warmer while it re-hydrated, it's like I had a very warm food baby. Deciding that with the abundant sunshine, we would try and dry some of our wet gear, and we set ourselves to the task. Another late start to the hiking day, but worth it to have somewhat drier gear to deal with that evening!
Leaving Smarts, we checked out the tower in the daylight, and then headed down J Trail. I didn't take a single picture of the trail, though I recall it being pretty, as water was of the utmost concern. Mike nearly ran out before we reached the stream, just before the road, and I DID run out, though just barely. We took a long break at the stream, filtering, soaking our feet (COLD!), and putting some water into our bodies. Starting back out, we headed down to the road, and were soon on the Kodak Trail up to Mt. Cube. Though long, the trail was broken up by the Eastman Ledges about 1/2 a mile in, the spur to the Hexacuba Shelter (which is indeed a hexagon), and more ledge as you near the peak.
|Smarts from the Eastman Ledges|
Over brilliant ledges of smooth quartzite we climbed, until we crested the summit of Cube, which sports great views to the south and west. Here we ran into the first two people of the day, a couple just leaving the summit. We took a decent break and had lunch just off the summit, before heading over to another mandatory spur trail, out to North Cube.
|View back to what we'd been over|
|West view toward Sunday Mountain and Vermont|
|Northwesterly view toward the spine of the Green Mountains|
I preferred North Cube to the main summit, mostly because it looked forward toward Moosilauke, instead of backward toward Smarts. It's also very picturesque, with more beautiful quartzite ledges. We hung out here for quite some time, and spotted some tempting camping spots... but there were still miles to go, if we wanted a shorter last day.
|Gorgeous quartzite ledges|
|Moosilauke looking distant|
The walk out to 25A was pretty decent, even passing by a couple of old cellar holes. We crossed the road, talking to a couple of dudes in a car, who were looking for their friend, who was purported to be behind us. Turning onto Atwell Hill Trail, Mike turned on the jets, and I wouldn't see him until we hit Cape Moonshine Road! Making up time he says! I was grateful for that, arriving at the road only a minute or two behind him, and with daylight to spare. Climbing the last 0.6 miles, we took the short spur to the Ore Hill Privy (and Campsite), where we ran into the same two folks we'd run into at Moose Mountain Shelter. They introduced themselves as GB and Rerun. Rerun was two days away from finishing her AT section hike in Franconia Notch, having injured herself in 1997 on her thru-hike attempt, and finishing up the last 1400 miles by flip-flopping a couple of times. GB is her brother, and was there to support her during her finish. Good stuff. We got set up, made dinner, had a rip roaring fire, then retired in preparation for our shortest day of the trip.
|Fungus on Atwell Hill Trail|
|Evening glow on Ore Hill Trail|
|Ore Hill Trail|
Thursday 9/18: Ore Hill Privy (and Campsite) to Glencliff trailhead
Peaks: Ore Hill (1854'), Mt. Mist (2220'), Webster Slide Mountain (2184')
Trails: Ore Hill Trail, Wachipauka Pond Trail, Wachipauka Pond Spur, Webster Slide Trail, Town Line Trail, roadwalk, Glencliff Trail
Mileage: ~11.1 miles, ~3050' of gain, hiking time of ~7:07
New redlining miles: 9.7
Waking to a once again deflated sleeping pad (still haven't found the leak...), we got up and got breakfast going. GB and Rerun took off a while before we did, but this was still to be our earliest morning on the trail. I decided to finally check out the privy, and indeed, it is worthy of being listed on the sign! Complete with double doors, a throne, and a "logbook", it's a backcountry shitter worthy of a king or queen. Of course, I signed in the logbook, "+1, would poop in again", after laughing hysterically at some of the other entries. Well played DOC!
Taking off with lighter packs, we first had a meandering ascent up to the unmarked highpoint of Ore Hill, past a small unnamed pond. It turned out to be a solid morning warm up, and before we knew it, we were crossing 25C, and starting on one of the final legs of our journey, the Wachipauka Pond Trail.
|Mike on Ore Hill Trail|
Like any self-respecting New England trail, this one also climbs over anything in its way, in this case it was 2200' Mt. Mist. Cloaked in hardwoods, there is a worn summit sign, and no views. It was still pretty enough to warrant a short break. Descending into the bowl that Wachipauka Pond inhabits, there was a restricted outlook out to Hurricane Mountain, with the pond visible through the trees.
|Looking out over Wyatt Hill to Hurricane Mountain|
Down to a four-way junction, the AT continuing straight, Webster Slide Trail going left, and a wide unsigned pathway leading right and down... this must be the way to the pond. Following it, we shortly came out to the shore of Wachipauka Pond, and a large group of people. Some of them recognized us, having seen us on Holts Ledge two days before, small world! Thinking on it after the fact, I'm pretty sure the gentleman I spoke was Willem Lange, notable New England writer and outdoorsman. I'm kicking myself for not realizing it sooner! The views from the pond were excellent, well worth the drop in elevation to reach.
Instead of breaking at the pond, we chose to get away from the crowd, and climbed back up to the junction. Since we wanted lunch, the packs stayed on, and we went straight on the Webster Slide Trail. What starts off gently, soon turns steep and somewhat loose, clinging to a sidehill, before leveling out near the summit. At the site of an old shelter, we checked out the woods below it, which were open and provided some views. Taking a seat, we ate, and were briefly visited by four of the group from the pond.
|Webster Slide Trail, don't let it fool you|
|View out to Carr Mountain (I believe)|
|Overlooking Wachipauka Pond|
Heading down, I took a wrong turn, and fortuitously took us down to a signed viewpoint to the southwest, which sits at the top of a steep slide. Returning to the trail, we descended the way we came.
|Cube and Smarts through the gap between Mt. Mist and Ore Hill|
|Very steep at the top of the slide!|
The end in sight, we motored down Wachipauka Pond Trail, passing the group of four from Webster Slide, and meeting up with the rest of the group at the crossing of Rt. 25. Down to Town Line Trail, the crossing is pretty washed out, but following a herd path upstream got us across, and intersected the trail on the other side. Climbing a bit, we checked out Jeffers Brook Shelter, and bid farewell and congratulations to GB and Rerun, before hitting the road. A short walk past a field, and up toward Glencliff trailhead, we took the link from the road, and were on Glencliff Trail proper in short order. A sharp left, and we were at my waiting car... trip done!
|Out to Rt. 25!|
|A particularly nice bridge on Town Line Trail|
|Stream on Long Pond Road section|
|Wyatt Hill and Webster Slide Mountain|
The drive back to Hanover was pretty long, but we soon found parking, and went into Molly's Restaurant for beer and food. When we were done, we drove across the bridge and found Mike's truck unmolested on the streets of Norwich. Success! More than three hours later, I was home, to a shower, and a bed that wouldn't deflate during the night.
The biggest thing to come out of this trip, is this: The AT must happen... MUST!
Total mileage: ~52.0 miles
Total elevation gain: ~14,250' of gain
New redlining miles: 47.3 (per the spreadsheet)