Mahoosuc Notch: The Most Fun on the Entire Appalachian Trail

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I crossed the border into Maine a week ago. I’m in the last state! Done with the White Mountains—those sucked! In the home stretch. I even have a schedule to summit Mount Katahdin. When? I’m not going to just tell you that in the first paragraph. Read on!

The White Mountains

The White Mountains in New Hampshire were stunningly beautiful. Amazing views. But they also fucking sucked! These are the steepest and most dangerous trails in the entire Appalachian Trail. For some reason, these northern states refuse to use switchbacks. Switchbacks are where the trail zigzags up the mountain so the trail isn’t as steep. They make the trails safer and easier to ascend and descend and also help prevent erosion.

Despite the lack of switchbacks, I saw more hikers in the White Mountains on the top of Mount Lafayette on Memorial Day than I have the entire rest of the Appalachian Trail combined. The photo below is just one direction. It was like that all around me with new groups constantly rotating in. We also got buzzed by two huge gliders that were circling the peak, playing in the updrafts. Awesome!

The Presidential Range

Shortly thereafter starts the Presidential Range in the White Mountains. This includes Mount Washington, which holds several adverse weather records. Just a few months prior on February 4, 2023, Mount Washington broke the coldest wind chill recorded in the USA: -108°F (actual temperature of -47°F with 89 mph wind). It also holds the record for the fastest wind speed ever observed by man.

I was fortunate and had good weather crossing the Whites. No snow or ice on the really steep parts. I made it through the Presidential Range with a spectacular sunset on top of Mount Washington and amazing sunrise farther along the next morning. Note that the haze is the smoke from the massive wildfires burning in Canada hundreds of miles away.

I’m in a group chat with other Calendar Year Triple Crown hikers, like Anita who passed me back in Front Royal. Here’s Woobie in ski goggles the day he summited Washington, Anita with a two-inch snot-cicle somewhere in the Presidentials, and then me. My weather was slightly better. 🤣

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Despite being mostly lucky with weather (with a few exceptions like the Worst Conditions Yet), it has recently turned foul. 10 days of rain every day. Everything has become saturated. My rain jacket and pants…soaked through. My pants and shirt…wet, cold rags clinging to me. My underwear…damp. My socks…dripping wet. My shoes…literal buckets of water.

It all started at the tail end of the White Mountains. I was on the summit of Mount Hight. Weather forecast said thunderstorms in three hours. I’m looking around at blue skies thinking, “Where? I can see for miles in every direction. There’s no storm. Pffft. Stupid forecast.” (Cue ominous foreshadowing music.)

I’m cruising along with plans to hike to a shelter many hours away still. I go down Mount Hight and start up the Carvers, which are three peaks along a long ridgeline. Headphones in, blasting music in my ears.

What was that? Was that thunder? I pop out a headphone and listen. Nothing. Oh well. I keep cruising.

More rumbling. Hmmm…headphones out. Oh, that is thunder. I can’t see anything because I’m in the “Green Tunnel” with trees blocking my view. I finally get to an open area. Hmmm…dark clouds over to my right, but the wind is blowing that way. Those clouds can’t come over here.

More hiking. More rumbling. This time from my left. More Green Tunnel then finally a view to the left.

Yikes! Dark clouds to my left and right now. I’m well into the Carvers now about to be trapped on a ridgeline during a lightning storm. I check the map. No other trails. It’s either back the way I came to an intersection where I’d still have to hike several miles to get to a trailhead, or push on toward a shelter just beyond the Carver mountains.

I push on. Thunder gets louder. The blue skies peaking through the leaves above me become gray. I’m moving my little feet as fast as they can go.

I get to the side trail to the shelter just as a few drops of rain start to fall. This side trail goes for what seems like an eternity as the looming downpour hovers overhead. I finally get the shelter. Safe! Or rather, safe-ish. Still on a mountain side in a lightning storm, but at least I’m in a dry shelter and somewhat protected.

I setup camp. I cook. I eat. Still no rain. Just the sky grumbling. Pffft. Stupid forecast. It’s not going to rain. And right then the skies unloaded a torrential downpour.

It rained all night. Lightning claps got closer and louder. One was scarily loud and close. But somehow I managed to drift off the sleep.

The next morning, the rain had stopped. However, it was so humid and foggy that I literally saw clouds of fog come in through the entrance to the shelter. I packed up.

Even though the rain stopped, everything is now wet. All the trees and bushes along the trail are wet. The trail is muddy. The sky is overcast, so there’s no sun to dry everything out.

It’s been like that for the past 10 days. But it gets worse.

Although the thunderstorm has passed, the overcast skies drizzle all day long with occasional showers. The trails have become lakes and actual rivers using the trail as their riverbed. And in numerous places, the trails are overgrown. No big deal when it’s dry, but when they’re wet, it’s like trying to walk through an automatic car wash with the brushes beating against you. A mile-long carwash.

And the trails. Oh, Lord. This area is already boggy when it hasn’t been raining. If you have never been in the middle of a bog, let me explain one to you.

Bogs appear to be pools of water between mossy, sometimes grassy land. This is all lies. Deceitful, lying bogs. The pools are just a thin layer of liquid above decomposing organic matter. If you disturb this, perhaps with a trekking pole or worse yet, your shoe, you realize that the decomposing matter has the texture and smell of chunky diarrhea. Yes, it’s as appealing as it sounds. Several times my foot sank and chunky diarrhea spilled over and into my shoes, squishing between my foot and shoe as I walked. Furthermore, the decomposing matter apparently has no bottom. It simply becomes so thick that your pole or foot stops sinking from the friction rather than making contact with something solid.

Usually trail maintainers install raised planks through these bogs to help hikers avoid sinking in the chunky diarrhea. Unfortunately, in the wet bog environment, these walkways quickly rot, collapse, sink, and become unusable. So what can you do to avoid the watery traps?

Maybe the mossy, grassy land, right? Wrong.

The land in a bog is more like a squishy sponge. You step on it, and you sink three feet. You realize that the “land” isn’t even an island but is more like a pool float floating on the surface of a vat at your local sewage treatment plant. And you’re trying to stand upright on this pool float. That rarely ends well.

Welcome to my life for the past 10 days.

Caving Above Ground

All this foul weather and flooding was occurring as I was approaching the dreaded Mahoosuc Notch. I had heard horror stories about Mahoosuc Notch. One mile that takes some people two hours to complete in good weather. Yikes!

Fortunately, I crossed through Mahoosuc Notch during one of the brief respites of bad weather. Still overcast, once or twice a little drizzle, but no pouring rain.

Even so, I actually took 2–3 hours to get through Mahoosuc Notch, but that’s because I was having a blast! In my opinion, it’s the most fun section of the entire Appalachian Trail. It’s like caving above ground. As an avid caver for the past 35 years, award-winning cave photographer, cave conservationist, cave educator, cave rescue trainer, you should know that when I say “It’s like caving above ground” that’s the highest compliment I can give.

Mahoosuc Notch is a whole playground where you scramble over and under huge boulders size of couches, cars, even houses. It’s tucked away in a deep valley and has its own microclimate about 10 degrees colder than the surrounding region. Still has remnants of snow and ice visible in some of the photos. A couple of places were so tight that I had to remove my pack to fit through. Apparently some people hate this section. I loved it as you can tell from my big grins in the photos.

Scramble to Finish

If you don’t know this yet, I realized that I’m too slow to complete the Calendar Year Triple Crown. Thus, instead of hiking all three trails (AT, PCT, and CDT), I’m “only” going to hike of these two trails in this year: the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail.

Despite that, I am currently in a scramble to finish. I stupidly booked plane tickets without giving myself a buffer in case of, say, bad weather that turns trails into bogs. I didn’t even allow myself time to update my blog. Yes, you’re reading this because instead of getting much needed sleep, I have been furiously uploading photos and typing away all night. Already the sky is starting to brighten from the impending sunrise. Ugh. After 10 days of rain, I should be happy to see the sun.

My planned summit date for Mount Katahdin is June 27, 2023. That said, I am pushing myself hard to try to get one or two days ahead. If so, I might be able to even squeeze out one more blog entry before I summit. Regardless, I’ll post a big blog entry a few days after I summit with a summary and lots of unreleased photos and videos. Stay tuned for that!

Huge thanks to everyone who has been following along, especially to those who reached out and expressed support. Almost there! Just a few more days!

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