Sunday August 8th, 2021, 0600-1730
Speck Pond Shelter to Dream Lake, SOBO AT mm 288.6
6000 gain, 6742 loss
As I suspected, I had a hard time getting to sleep in the shelter. Everyone was really quite but there are always the stirrings of people going to the bathroom and rustling around in their sleeping bags and on their pads. My legs and feet were also aching. It was a very still night, not even rain. An alarm woke me and I was surprised to see that it was already past 5 am. It was still so dark out, the area covered in thick fog. I really did not want to get out of my quilt but old habits drive me on.
For once, I wasn’t the first out of camp. A fast NOBO was driving to do the whole trail in under 90 days, which is really impressive considering this was his first thru. We talked the night before about what it takes to hike the trail so fast…lots of early starts. I left about 5 minutes after him, both going opposite directions. His parting insight: I wouldn’t want to descend the Mahoosuc Arm and then go through the notch when it’s wet….good luck!
I expected this day to be much worse than all the others, so I was pleasantly surprised when some things weren’t as bad. Namely the weather cooperated. Expecting all-day rain and thunderstorms, I was shocked when the sun started coming out. It turned the gloomy day around completely. But the descent of the Arm was exceedingly treacherous, as was most of the rest of the day’s many, many many ups and downs. The Arm was a 1500′ drop on wet slab…nothing I hadn’t already seen but the first of many gut punches this day. In a particularly harrowing instance, I foot-skiied and butt-scooted about 10 feet before regaining full control. I call these semi-controlled falls. Luckily I only suffered some skid-marks on my hands.
Then came the infamous Mahoosuc Notch. This is a mile-long narrow gorge filled with house-sized boulders. It’s so deep that snow and ice lingers in the crevasses well into August…I actually saw some. Why the AT takes this route is beyond me but it is what it is. In true NZ fashion, the route goes up the stream bed, choose your own adventure style. One must pick the best way over, under, and through the eons of rocks of chaos. It said to take some a full day and be the toughest mile on the AT. The overall grade is not steep but the slant of the boulders is. There are deep chasms in between, beckoning the missteps of uncoordinated hikers. I’m quite certain I heard the cries of orcs and perhaps the stirrings of a Balrog. Drums in the deep.
I began this stretch early in the morning, with all the strength and energy I had for the day. I left it 1 hour and 20 minutes later, with wobbly legs and arms, feeling somewhat beaten. By all accounts, I did well. I didn’t have any bad falls and didn’t even get too scraped up or covered in mud. I had to take my pack off twice, shoving it through small openings in front of me. It helps to be a Twig in this scenario. Other parts involved (what I would consider) class 3 moves where midway up a boulder, I had to push off hard and jump to grab a handhold. Miss it and you tumble all the way down to the bottom, 10-15 feet or so. And of course all this is with a pack trying to drag you down. Halfway through, I actually felt like crying. I didn’t see a single soul in there and given my direction, it was hard to find the route at times. I think it would be a lot easier heading NOBO, being able to look down slightly on the trail.
I wish I had some good pictures and videos of all my toilings but again, I was all alone. I finally met a NOBO just as I got to the end, who informed me that I was through. I looked at his much bigger pack and shuddered at the idea of moving it through that mess. I was reluctant to say anything about the notch but I think the look on my face said it all. Then I met another all-girls group who made me forget any of my self-pity. They looked like tweens, all smiles and tough as nails. I’m glad that I hadn’t met them in the notch because I would have felt like a total wimp.
I met a few more NOBOs that I stopped to talk with, including Late Start, Smiles, and Diva. Smiles actually recognized me, as she’s friends with Jetpack, a lady I hiked with on the CDT. She and Jetpack started together but Jetpack had to take a few days off due to a foot injury. Hopefully I’ll see her soon. Smiles was a breath of fresh air to talk to, also a triple crowner. We had fun lamenting the trail and dreaming of the PCT. Diva came along soon after and was surprised when I guessed his name (which Smiles had told me). He lives in Asheville NC and invited me to contact him when I make it down there…if I make it down there. All the chats put me in a much better mood, able to enjoy the day. More than anything, I was so happy that the rain held off. It’s the first time that the forecast has been wrong in a good way.
I went up and over another steep, rugged series called the Goose Eyes, something like 3 peaks in total. They all blend together. There were many open alpine areas and I popped the brella, not for the rain but for the sun. I didn’t stop for much of a break all morning, anxious to finally make it to the Maine-New Hampshire border. Maine seemed determined not to release its grip on me. The going was so slow…some of the slowest terrain I’ve yet encountered. There was a seriously scary ladder and rock scramble to negotiate…about 50 feet vertical altogether. Another rock slab had a group of teen-aged girls in a bit of a pickle. One was halfway up and had become frozen with fear. Her cohorts coached her on and eventually she was able to get past. We all cheered and it was great to see how positive they all were. I take for granted just how technical and scary this can be if you haven’t done anything like it before. Heck, I’ve even been trembling on several occasions, including the big ladder.
This is the trail, straight up this wet slippery rock.
I finally made it to my second state this trail. I had been thinking I would play Roar by Katy Perry when I got there and wouldn’t you know it, that very song randomly came on my playlist at the exact moment. “Pushed me past the breaking point, held me down, but I got up, already brushing off the dust.” Thanks for the ride Maine but I’m moving on. 14 days. I think I redeemed myself. Hear me roar.New Hampshire rewarded me with, you guessed it, a climb to Mount Success. Hey, at least the name had a positive spin and was very fitting. I took a long break up there, contemplating life and what I’d just accomplished. I felt so tired and had only gone 12 miles for the day. I figured I would stop at a shelter that was in another 3 miles but per usual, decided to go a bit farther. I wanted to get to Dream Lake…it sounded like just place I needed for a good rest. And I was right. The lake itself wasn’t near as nice as those in Maine. I tried to go for a swim and sunk into thick, black muck up to my thighs. But the campsite was quiet and out of the way, all to myself. Tomorrow, a long-awaited town stop and rest was needed.