#15 Thru-Hiking the AT: Crawford Notch, NH to Rangeley, ME

Above: Coal-powered rail cog climbing Mt Washington like it did in the 1800s. They only send the coal cog up once a day… the first trip. Biodiesel cogs make trips every hour. A one way ticket is $45. South side of Presidential Range is immediately behind.

Originally posted by Great Miami Outfitters on August 26, 2015

Posted by Great Miami Outfitters.
 This is the 15th blog entry of his trip. The adventure continues. Chris has 220 miles (or approximately 10%) of his thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail to complete. Chris “Pacer” began his 2015 Appalachian Thru-Hike on April 7, 2015.

#15. Crawford Notch, NH to Rangeley, ME

220 miles left…10% to go. 145 miles hiked this leg through the most difficult hiking on the AT. About 20 miles away from the 2,000 mile mark. Maine still has very tough work left for us.

Low 50s to mid 70s–temperature has been much higher than we expected. Cooler nights would be better, but very tolerable. Haven’t needed my cold weather gear yet.

Okay, so I’ve hiked all of New Hampshire on the AT and a good bit of Maine… a little compare and contrast. I think I may be suffering Stockholm’s Syndrome with New Hampshire. I was it’s captor for a couple weeks, and although I felt it was trying to kill me, it started to make sense. Survive the climb… enjoy a spectacular view… see if you can survive the descent. NH is full bore, unapologetic and unforgiving hiking–very much like its state motto: Live Free or Die. Maine has tough climbs too, but I don’t feel it wants to kill me. It does, however, want me stuck in the mud… very badly. Who knew Maine was a swamp. You wouldn’t believe how much mud is here. It goes on mile after mile… the mud bogs eat the bog bridges… they decay so quickly.

On 17 Aug, Pom Pom and Ethan picked up BigSky and I in Lincoln; we all enjoyed our quick break. Ethan dropped us off at Crawford Notch around 8:00, and we had a hard stiff climb of 2,600 ft to the top of Mt Webster. From there, we could start seeing a couple of the Presidential Mountains. We were now above tree line and stayed above tree line a couple days. Above tree line, there is only rock… no soil. Hiking is slow, but you have a great view if the weather is good. Our weather was great, and we could see so far… incredible views. We slowed our pace down through this stretch so we could enjoy the views more. The whole day was climbing. Between Webster and Mt Washington there was still 2,300 ft more to climb and several other mountains to crest: Jackson, Pierce, Eisenhower, Franklin, and Monroe… these are the Presidentials south of Washington. Mt Washington’s summit is 6,288 ft–the last mountain over 6,000 ft… Roan Mountain in Tennessee was our last 6,000 ft summit. We spent time on each mountain and took a lot of pictures… beautiful day.
That night, we wanted to get to Lake of the Clouds Hut; it’s only 1.4 miles away from Washington’s summit. A huge hut that houses and feeds 90 guests every night–it’s always booked solid months in advance. They also take on thru hikers for “work for stay.” Hikers do a few chores, and we get fed and use the community room as a bunk house. We got there at the right time to get choice assignments for the evening (chores in the AM would mean a late start for hiking… we didn’t want that). There are several trails to get people up to these huts and mountains. The AT always takes the most difficult trails. Day hikers and families usually take the easier trails. It was neat to see families that have been visiting the huts for generations. The kids are now the parents and visiting the huts. The huts have hiker journals that go back decades. The families search through the journals for their entries when they were kids… so it goes on.

There was about 20 thru hikers that night. We got to eat all the leftovers. Pom Pom, Big Sky, and I did some dishes and pots & pans for about 30 minutes… our work was done. Lights were out at 9:00 and all the hikers clambered for a spot to sleep. I set my clock for 4:15 am. I wanted to climb Washington in the dark and see if I could catch a sunrise.

Alarm went off and I looked up at Washington… it was clear. I quietly packed up and started climbing by the light of my headlamp. A few hundred feet short of the summit, a thick cloud formed on top–I was socked in a cloud. The weather changes faster on Washington than anywhere in the country… maybe it would clear. I got to the top and the clouds quickly passed but was filled in by another. I was soaked just from the passing clouds. I caught glimpses of the sun coming up; at times, I caught a quick great view. The highest recorded wind in the country was on Washington–231 mph! They started tracking deaths on Mt Washington in the 1930s; since then, 155 people have died on Washington… mainly cold exposure and heart attacks. In the late 1800s, a small hotel was built up there–such a harsh place, but people were fascinated with it. They also built a rail cog to get people up to the top. It’s so steep, the rail uses a huge center cog (like a bike sprocket) to climb the steep ascent–it still runs daily. I looked around at all this history while I waited for the others, and they came along shortly. Pom Pom’s friend, Greg, joined us for a few miles of hiking. We got to see the steam engine cog pass by on its way to the top as we descended–what a sight… so steep!

A steep descent off Washington led to the other side of the Presidentials: Clay, Jefferson, Madison. After Madison, we had a looong descent to our tent site… about 3,000 ft. The next day, we climbed most all of that back when we ascended the Wildcats–very steep climb… steeper still descent into Carter Notch Hut. We had reservations like real people… we were very excited. Got our bunks, cleaned up, and got a great dinner. The crew cooked a turkey dinner with all the fixings. How do they get supplies up, you wonder? They each have a packboard they use to pack up and down supplies. Loads range from 40-80 lbs… crews are young and strong. The next morning, they had a large breakfast ready for us. We left the hut with full bellies, then climbed Carter Dome–wow was that a steep 1,400 feet. We were headed for a hostel in Gorham, NH… up and down all day.

Exhausted, but we made it at about 5:50. We had to immediately jump in the van so we could resupply–it left at 6:00. Quick but nice stay at White Mountain Hostel, and a couple section hikers joined us… Blazer and Snickers. Snickers is section hiking all the way to Katahdin. Blazer thru hiked in 2013 and is hiking to Monson where he’ll join friends on their hike to Katahdin.

The next morning, we were hiking out of New Hampshire and into Maine… our 14th and last state. We stayed at Gentian Pond Shelter where we heard a cow moose and her little one was routinely seen in the beaver pond. We didn’t see them though. We left Gentian Pond and headed for the Mahoosuc’s. The Mahoosuc Notch is famed as the hardest 1 mile stretch on the AT. As we descended toward the Notch, the faces of south-bounders told the story… they were either tired or scared or both. One lady was just hugging a tree as we passed by… she just didn’t want to move… she left the Notch terrified. Some said it took them 4 hours to complete the 1 mile stretch.

View from Mt Success after leaving Gentian Pond Shelter early Saturday morning. Great view of clouds far below…

It was instantly cooler when we dropped into the Notch… maybe 15 degrees cooler and it was immediate. The Notch was created when the side of the mountain slid into the gap creating a jumble pit of boulders. The AT weaves under, over and through these boulders. I just put away the hiking poles so I could use my hands. My rock climbing experience came in handy. There were several tunnels that forced you to remove your backpack…so tight to crawl through. There was still ice in some of these low places. The water was awesome to drink…so cold! We made it through with only a couple scrapes in 2 hours on the head–pretty good. We could hear spirited yelling not too far away. Turned out to be an orientation group of freshmen from Harvard. One of them got a serious ankle and shoulder injury in the Notch and had to be evacuated the next morning.

We were exhausted but had to climb up the Mahoosuc Arm the next morning… long, hard climb. Finally, the Mahoosucs were behind us. We descended 2,500 ft into Grafton Notch for lunch. Then, we climbed the 2 Baldpate Mountains. The second Baldpate was wild. It is a solid slab of granite several hundred feet tall and fully exposed. You have to trust your feet, poles, hands… whatever you’re using. If you tumble on the granite, you’re probably going all the way to the bottom–there is nothing to stop you. At times, the trail is fairly steep up the granite. I don’t know how people with a fear of heights do this section… don’t look down. I was a good ways ahead of the others, and Snickers said I looked like a mountaineer climbing up the granite–I got a kick out of that. I could see them way down below and they looked like ants–what a neat view. We stayed at the Frye Notch Lean-to that night and avoided a little rain.

A tunnel in Mahoosuc Notch. It was tricky descending to these low spots because the boulders were so large. Once you got to the tunnels you had to navigate dragging or pushing your pack, then figure out how to climb out. I really enjoyed the Notch–it was a big puzzle.

Decent terrain the next morning. We passed by Surplus Pond, and I could hear something that didn’t sound like a hiker. I was quiet and saw it–a young moose in the water eating the plants that grow under water. It saw me, and I backed away. I hoped it would stay a little longer so BigSky and Pom Pom could see it, but it moved out pretty quickly. That afternoon we had a humdinger… Moody Mountain… 1,300 ft in 0.8 miles. It was impressive! I looked across as we descended to the bottom to prepare for the climb, and the other side looked straight up; I had no idea how a trail could be over there, but it was. I lost count of the rebar ladders and tree steps we climbed. I think this is the steepest climb on the AT… the steepest I’ve ever climbed. The next day had much more reasonable terrain, and we got our miles back up, hiking 17 miles. A large thunderstorm passed over that night–lots of lightening and one bolt was very close–we were in tents. Our last day out was a short 9-mile, relatively flat sprint to a Nero break in Rangeley, ME. That morning, Pom Pom pulled out a Ziploc full of blueberries that she and BigSky picked the day before in 10 minutes… great breakfast treat.

Blueberries have been very abundant in Maine! On our hike in to Rangeley, BigSky, Pom Pom, and Blazer saw a large bull moose about 150 ft away on a side trail… he had a large antler rack. The moose heard them and looked back for a few moments–they are huge. We arrived early at 11:00 at the Rangeley Farmhouse Hostel. For dinner, we’re cooking steaks, potatoes, a big salad, and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream each… we’ve been talking about sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions, Gorgonzola crumbles, sour cream, bacon, on-and-on, for 3 days. I can’t wait until dinner!!!
Here in Maine, the cell phone coverage is very sparse. I love hearing back from you… my apologies in advance if my response back is slow.

Trail Tale:
Pony Puncher and Food Truck have been hiking together since early North Carolina… a couple very fit mid-50’s ladies. Pony Puncher is a nurse, and Food Truck is a retired police officer. Pony Puncher got her name while in the Virginia Highlands; she was tenting and late one night she heard an animal outside her tent. The big animal pushed into the tent, against the fabric… real hard. Not knowing what to do, she yelled and punched… turned out to be a curious wild pony that she punched in the snout… a proper trail name was given… Pony Puncher.

After a long day of hiking and a tough descent down the north side of the Wildcats, I arrived at the Carter Notch Hut. I stepped into the Hut to get my bunk assignment, and there was Pony Puncher with a frozen bag of peas on her shoulder. She told me what happened…

She and Food Truck were descending down a section of the Wildcats; Food Truck was leading and further down the descent than Pony Puncher. Huckleberry Thug and Trinity were behind Pony Puncher and were probably going to pass when they got to a safe spot. There are many places during this descent that involve long runs of steep downs… she was at one of these spots… it’s white knuckle climbing and you have to be very careful with the foot work. Pony Puncher said she had both hiking poles firmly planted… a foot slipped and she instinctively pulled back, trying to regain footing. As she did, her tent (hanging off the back of her pack) pressed against the rock right behind her like a spring.  She thought she had more room… as she pushed back, she was loading up tension between the tent and rock, and then the energy released and heaved her forward down the mountain. The only thing holding in place was 1 hiking pole… all the energy absorbed into the pole… it snapped. Pony Puncher was now in free fall, head-first down the mountain. Huckleberry Thug and Trinity said she disappeared out of their sight as she fell. Pony Puncher said she was “flying” down the mountain. Food Truck tried to scramble below her to help break the fall but was too far away–she said it was awful and felt helpless as Pony Puncher was falling. Pony Puncher could see that she was heading into a crack between 2 rocks… she was sure this was how she was going to die. She didn’t see it until she hit… she landed on a fallen tree that was laying across the crack.  She believes the tree saved her life.  Her right shoulder impacted the tree and her head actually went between the 2 rocks, not hitting either one.  If the tree would have not been there, she would have landed head-first in those rocks.

Everyone scurried to her and carefully pulled her up. Her and Food Truck’s training came into play… they pulled her shirt off and examined her. For all practical purposes, she couldn’t use her right arm, but it didn’t appear to be broken. There could easily be internal damage. They still had over 3 miles of hiking and the remaining steep 1,000 foot descent before they could get to the hut. Huckleberry Thug strapped her pack to his and started carrying both packs. She was going to have to hike with one arm and 1 pole down the steepest part of the Wildcats–after a terrible fall! She had to be terrified. But, there she was… in the hut telling me about it. I took a look at her snapped pole and found a way to remove the snapped section and extend the lower section–it was actually pretty strong and straight. She was back to 2 poles.

Banged up, but so fortunate… if the tree had not been there; if the tree had stumpy limbs like we see so many times (impaled); if she had been alone. The next day, she had to decide to hike an easier trail out and to town for a medical attention… or, hike the AT another 14 miles for medical attention. She opted for the AT and the very steep up and down continued. I heard she made it to town safely. Yesterday, I heard she was in the Mahoosuc Notch! She’s a hiking animal!!!

If you’re looking for any of my previous updates, you can find them at Great Miami Outfitters’ website: http://www.greatmiamioutfitters.com/info/category/all-posts/news-and-info

Until next time…


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