Day 55: Pinkham Notch to Stealth site N of South Carter Mountain (9.7+2 extra mi)
Woke up at Ziko’s house and ate a delicious vegan muffin and banana for breakfast. We got a bit of a later start than I wanted. We had decided we would leave the house at 6:45 and Squeeze, El and I were totally ready to walk out the door at 6:45, but Fresh Feet needed his full morning hour plus to get ready. I was a bit disgruntled about waiting on him for 30 mins because I’m a much slower hiker in the super technical terrain and this morning was supposed to be one of the most technical climbs.
Squeeze dropped me off at Pinkham Notch at about 7:45 am, and then Fresh Feet drooped Squeeze and El off at a nearby trailhead (so they could skip the Wildcat gnar and have a more gentle/normal hike to meet us at camp), then came back to Pinkham, parked their car there, and caught up to me on the climb up Wildcat.
The plan was to meet up with the cousins at Imp Campsite, 13.1 mi from Pinkham Notch but a shorter hike from their trailhead (not the AT).
The climbs up Wildcat D and Wildcat Mountain were absolutely BRUTAL. The rocks were totally wet from the rain last night, and it was a misty morning, and we were both slipping and sliding all over the place. Fresh Feet instantly said he felt that these shoes (Brooks Cascadia) have much worse grip than the Hokas and now he can finally understand why I’m so afraid when stepping on wet rocks. I slip almost every single time. He took quite a few hard falls, as did I. My falls were maybe a bit worse and more frequent. It was draining falling all the time and my body was hurting from it.
We got to the summit of Wildcat D where there is a gondola running (from the ski resort). It was super windy and I was getting pretty cold, so I kept moving forward. Fresh Feet caught me and we walked together for a bit.
We got to a place that had a view and seemed like an overlook. We weren’t convinced it was the Wildcat Mountain summit because there were no signs and it was a very small viewpoint, but we knew the summit had to be near. We kept going, and it felt like we were descending quite a bit, so we checked Guthook to see how far we were. It said 0.7 mi from the summit. I kept saying, “no way! That HAS to be wrong” based on where we should have been. It just seemed way too far away. We kept going, Fresh Feet sped up a bit and I felt like we were going down and not up toward a summit. I checked Guthook again and it now said 1 mi away from the summit. We were going Southbound on the AT!!! NOOOOOO!!!! I shouted down to Jamie who didn’t believe me, but finally agreed that yes, we were somehow going the wrong way! The overlook had been the summit and the path was pretty confusing at that spot and so after looking at the view we took the same trail we came on down 1 mile.
We were both so frustrated! Wildcat had been our toughest climb yet in terms of technicality. It involved a lot of scrambling and was pretty scary for both of us. This was such a big mess up. We were averaging 1 MPH out here, barely, and to add an extra 2 hours to the day (2 miles on Wildcat), really put a dent in our plans to get to Imp campsite. It was so frustrating to have to repeat 1 mile of the same scary stuff we already had done earlier. We were both surprised at how we didn’t recognize the trail going the other direction - it was a whole new trail when we were headed down/south/wrong way!
Once we summited the second time, we knew we only had 0.9 mi to go until the hut. Having hoped on arriving around lunch/midday, we got there at about 2:30ish and totally demoralized. We ate some vegan potato dill soup, vegan chocolate cake, and some leftover oatmeal from the hut and I drank a Skratch while Jamie prepared his smoothie. I was walking outside the hut carrying both of our water bottles (which Jamie’s was open) and my crocs caught a rock and I launched forward and fell hard dropping both bottles and skidding my legs and arms (again). All morning I had been falling, and now to fall, hard, at the hut really sent me over the edge and I burst into tears and had a good cry.
Then we packed it up, knowing there was no way we were going to make it to Imp to see the cousins. We had a long and steep climb out of the notch, which wasn’t too bad for me because the rocks were mostly dry and it was pretty much all walkable.
We found a spot on Guthook that supposedly had a stealth site, so we decided to aim for that. We arrived and found a stealth spot for our tent and made dinner and went to bed early. We were both so incredibly beat from today. Our stealth site was also pretty cold compared to where we normally tent (we were at higher elevation). It is also extremely windy. We are glad the forecast seemed clear for a few days and we had good weather again today!
Day 56: Stealth site N of South Carter Mountain to Rattle River Hostel (11.5 mi)
Today marks 8 WEEKS ON THE AT!
We got on trail a bit late but I slept a lot. I had gone to bed with almost all of my warm clothes on, and shed my puffy jacket and buff at some point in the night. The earplugs helped with the very loud wind. We had a few more summits to go and then a gnarly descent down to Imp Campsite from North Carter Mountain. It was maybe one of the tougher descents. The rocks were slippery and it was pretty vertical most of the way down. It involved a lot of scrambling and I even slid on my butt a few times.
We ran into the cousins just before getting to Imp and took a break to get water and eat a bar.
We then climbed Mt. Moriah with a lot of false summits and beautiful views. After Mt. Moriah (the last of the White Mountains), we had a verrrrry long descent. It was steep at first and slowly became more gradual, but was killer on the knees. Squeeze was dealing with some IT band pain and the relentless descent was no help.
We ended the day at Rattle River Hostel, I think one of the nicest hostels I’ve been to in terms of cleanliness, and we decided to call it an early day and get a much needed shower and some long rest.
Day 57: Rattle River Hostel to Stealth tenting on NH-ME border (16.4 mi)
I woke up super early this morning and got on trail by 6:40 am. Climbed for a few hours up to Mt. Hayes. The view through the trees was spectacular this morning as you could see the clouds hanging over the valleys and well below the mountains. The rocky outcrop summit and false summit were pretty and had nice views.
Mid day today Fresh Feet stopped to get some water and I pressed on. I ended up walking with a group of 3 NoBo-ers and we got to a pond and it was incredibly confusing as to where the trail went. There was a trail around the pond and we started to take it since it was the most obvious, but then the trail seemed to get worse. My entire foot sunk in a mud pit - UGH. By the time we got out the Guthook app and looked at the map and got back on trail I got super worried that Fresh Feet had passed us during that time and would still think I was ahead of him. I pushed the pace a bit to see if I could catch him (if he happened to be in front of me).
It turns out he was still behind me (phew!) and had to run for a while to catch me. We took a break at the Gentian shelter spur trail to have pm smoothies.
We then had some difficult climbing to get to the next water source and we met up with a bunch of hikers there. It was the last source for a while since the Carlo Col shelter was way off trail and a very difficult path to get there. We then climbed Mt. Success, which was steep and slow going, but very walkable. I didn’t mind the climb so much. The descent looked less steep but pretty jagged on the elevation profile, but it was much more technical than the climb. It was pretty hard for me and took us a while! We got to the NH-ME border where we set up our tent in a stealth spot with Blue Bear and Pidge.
After eating dinner, we noticed our tent was under a dead tree that was partially fallen and was barely being held up by a very small and shaky branch. We decided to move our tent to the trail just to be safe (and ensure an early start!)
Jamie spent a few moments memorializing his friend who took his life earlier this summer by writing a message on birch bark and looked up and saw an incredible rainbow. It was a special moment for him.
Day 58: Stealth tenting at NH-ME border to Speck Pond Campsite (10 mi)
Woke up early-ish but later than I wanted to. I slept pretty well because Fresh Feet and I switched sleeping pads and his air mattress pad is such a game changer! Warmer and much more comfortable (can’t feel the roots and rocks underneath like you can with my z-rest). Now that he had a taste of what it is like to sleep on my pad he has a bit more compassion for my low quality sleep.
We started the day right at the beginning of Maine and I got an early start (6:40 am). Maine is gnarly. Super rugged and wild. The trail is difficult in a whole new way out here. There is so much boulder scrambling and the miles are slow and tough. I think they are slower than the Whites in some cases.
We climbed multiple goose mountains which were tough because the rocks were wet and slippery from being in a cloud. The summits were big rocky outcrops with no view because we were in a cloud. There were lots of marshes on the tops as well. The weather was misty and gloomy. The clouds were dripping, but not raining, but it was enough to make the rocks slick and the mood grim.
At about 11:30 am we got to Full Goose Shelter (6 mi from the border) where we took a break and got water for smoothies before facing the Mahoosuc Notch (famous for being the hardest mile on the AT)! We bid farewell to Blue Bear and Pidge who would surely move through the Notch faster than me.
We descended down into the Notch, which took a super long time as well because it was gnarly and steep! We took a short break before the Notch and I drank my smoothie. We had been warned not to do the Notch in wet weather, so luckily it wasn’t exactly raining and it was now just overcast (we weren’t in a drizzly cloud because we were now at lower elevation), but it was still dark and quite overcast. Before going into the Notch we made sure to put everything inside our packs so nothing was dangling free on the outside to fall into a crevasse. We put our poles away too.
The rocks in the Notch were mostly dry. You could see where others had gone before because certain boulders and edges were worn away from it being the most common route. Luckily, the Notch had arrows and blazes to help some with way finding of a good route. Fresh Feet was having the time of his life. I wasn’t as scared as I thought I would be, but it was just slow going. A LOT of bouldering.
It took us just over 2 hours to complete the Notch and now we had the Mahoosuc arm (a VERY steep climb of 1500 Feet/Mile) for 1.6 miles. It was mostly sheer vertical slick rock slabs for the last 0.7 mi, which going down would act like a slip’n’slide today. I was behind grateful the whole time to be going up it not down!
We were pretty exhausted when we got to the top, but had 1 mile left to the shelter.
We set up our tent on a platform, washed in the pond, had DELICIOUS ramen w tomato sauce and powdered coconut milk. We even had dessert! (Chocolate chia and dehydrated blueberries in warm water - yum! Jamie had three tortillas full of the dessert mixture.
I was just so relieved to have the Notch behind me. Phew.
Day 59: Speck Pond Campsite to Andover, ME hostel (15 mi)
I woke up early and hit the trail at 6:20 am. I summited Old Speck Mountain, Which was tough, but doable and short. Luckily it was first thing in the morning when I was feeling my freshest so it didn’t feel like a big deal.
The descent was super long but gradual and not too technical, so I finally felt like I was moving again! It seems like it had been days since I had actually hiked on a trail with rhythm and aerobic movement. Another hiker, trail name Jesus, met up with me and we chatted during the descent making the miles fly by. The weather today was clear and sunny, which made for better spirits and views.
At the bottom, in Grafton Notch, Fresh Feet caught up and we began our climb up Baldpate Mountain. The first half of the mountain was my type of climbing. Enough of a grade to work me, but not too steep. I enjoyed the sweat and momentum. The second half of the climb was much steeper and involved a few rock staircases. All in all, a pretty nice climb for Maine! The descent between the two Baldpates slowed me down a bit as it was boggy and slippery. The second Baldpate peak was super exposed and rocky making for lots of views, cairns, and an epic summit. It would probably be nearly impossible to summit this in the rain or if the rock slabs were wet at all. Grateful to have good weather today! We took a break and ate some bars and fresh blueberries on the north face of Baldpate East Peak.
Then we descended to the next shelter (only 1.5 mi) to get water to make our afternoon smoothies. The descent was a little steeper and more technical and we slowed a bit. Filled up with water and calories and continued on our way. Just after the Frye Notch Shelter, we climbed a small hill, Surplus Peak where I called our hostel for our shuttle, the closest place to the trail head with cell service.
The last 4 miles down to the road were super easy and gradual. We even did some running (which our legs are feeling now!). There were some gorgeous waterfalls 1 mile before the road.
We got to our hostel and opened our resupply box (THANK YOU ALLANN AND BILL!) and walked to the general store/cafe for an early dinner. They actually had veggie burgers and avocado! We also got vegan breaded mushrooms and marinara sauce.
The hostel is ok, but it isn’t really a place we want to hang out, so we will post pone our zero day a bit more (we had planned on taking a zero day here). We are sore and tired, but forced to sleep in tomorrow as the shuttle doesn’t leave until 7:00 am to the trail head.
Am I having a good time? I am asked this sometimes and the answer is complicated. This isn’t a vacation. It is a struggle. It is grueling work each and every day. We have had three zero days this entire time, which means I am waking up at 5 am, usually sticky, muddy and gross, and then walk/climb/hop/scramble for 12-13 hours each day. Just like with any event (marathon or bike race) it isn’t exactly “fun” when you are pushing yourself to the absolute edge, but the sense of accomplishment after such hard work leaves me with a feeling of pride.
I am glad I am doing this trek (I think), because it is very challenging and I think there is growth in challenge, making me stronger and mentally more resilient, but I wouldn’t classify it as “fun.” Like any practice, it is a lot of grueling work that may not be instantly gratifying. I am living in the woods without a shower or rest, pushing myself to the edge physically, mentally, and emotionally each day, so I don’t expect to be whooping with excitement each day. There is plenty of testosterone out here and dudes in their early 20s that are “having the time of their lives! Bagging peaks and crushing mountains man!” for which this is “easy”, but that is not my experience. I have met some women and we share the same sentiment, but they are few and far between.
I know Maine and New Hampshire are the toughest parts of the trail, and southern Maine is particularly gnarly and wild, so it is just one day at a time out here, crushing the gnar as best we can without any major falls.