5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Hiking the Appalachian Trail
Looking back at significant life events, I’m sure most folks would…
I was in disbelief after crossing the Maine State Line. Reaching the final state felt surreal. I had been warned that thru-hikers feel they’ve crossed the finish line and are often overwhelmed when they realize there are over 200 miles of trail remaining. I can now say the rumors were true.
After taking a few pictures with the NH-ME sign, Spider-Man, Rebel Yell and I hiked onward hoping to reach the next shelter before dark. Considering it was within a couple miles, we weren’t too worried about it. We watched the sunset at a point on the trail called ‘Carlo Col’, which was supposedly less than a mile from the shelter.After enjoying our first Maine sunset, we pulled out our hand lamps on and continued north. The guys were several yards ahead, and I could hear confusion in their voices. As I caught up, I realized what they were discussing. The trail literally dead-ended at a cliff. Sitting there at the cliff was Cookie. She was thrilled to see us! She had been worried she made a wrong turn and decided to sit there and wait in hopes another hiked would come along. We were all dumbfounded. How could the trail just…end? Feeling that we might have missed a turn, each of us went back looking in all directions for another way. When we returned back to Carlo Col time and time again with no other route found, we decided that the trail must literally go down the cliff. We all joked saying that we had heard southern Maine was rough, but wow! What a welcoming.
One by one we slowly slid down the rock face, helping one another. In frustration, Spider-Man threw his pack down the cliff. Watching it tumble was kind of funny, but nobody laughed. We didn’t say it out loud, but all of us knew that it would not be good to stumble and fall after seeing the beating his pack took. Over an hour later, we had all safely descended cliff. The worst part is we were still unsure if it was the right way. Finally, Cookie, who had taken the lead, shouted back that she saw a white blaze and a foot bridge. Hallelujah! At least we were headed in the right direction. Not far ahead was the shelter. As I unpacked my sleeping bag and spread it onto the shelter floor, I felt thankful. Thankful we were all okay. Thankful I was in Maine. Thankful for life and all of its adventures.
The following morning, I was the last to leave the shelter. Rebel Yell and I basically said our goodbyes, as he was planning to hike more miles than I was that day. By the time a thru-hiker reaches Maine, ‘the end is near’ mindset sinks in. You never know when it might be the last time you see a fellow hiker again. For several reasons, he was in somewhat of a rush to get to Katahdin, but I wanted to savor every last minute of my time on such an amazing journey. I hiked alone most of that day, thinking about what I might do after I finished the trail. It dawned on me that I hadn’t quite figured that out yet. At the beginning, I felt as if I had 6 months and 14 states to figure it out. Now here I was, in the 14th state, still unsure.
I was still lost in my thoughts when I noticed a sign. Then I realized I had reached it. The Mahoosuc Notch. From the beginning of the trail, I had heard about “the most difficult–or fun–mile” of trail, depending upon your attitude. Hiking with a partner is recommended in the Mahoosuc notch as it is best to have someone to hand your pack to and help push/pull you up through the boulders. I had always figured someone would be around, but nevertheless, here I was alone. I faked my best excited expression, took a selfie with the sign and pressed on.
I was honestly a little nervous because the sun was only a couple hours from setting. I had good intentions of reaching the notch earlier, but you know what they say about good intentions. Stranded in the Mahoosuc Notch for the night did not sound like an appealing experience. But, I risked it anyway and began my boulder scramble.
More often than not, thru-hikers like to time themselves going through the the notch so they can brag about their speedy trek in the next shelter log book. Since I didn’t have anyone to race, and I didn’t want to risk falling down a breaking a bone with nobody around, I challenged myself to not taking my pack off the entire trek of the notch.
I felt fairly confident in my ability to accomplish this challenge until I reached several tunnels in a row. Things got a little hairy. Most people say it’s easier to go over the ‘caves’…but, I call that cheating. So, I shimmied my way through the darkness. After a little over two hours, I made it through the the notch without removing my pack one time.
As a rounded the last few corners, I almost screamed when I noticed a person sitting on one of the boulders, staring straight at me. To my surprise, it was Rebel Yell! He had taken quite a while to get through the notch, as well. He decided to stop short of his original planned mileage, so he set up camp about a half mile north and had come back to wait on me. That night I once again camped with Rebel Yell, Cookie and Spider Man.
The following morning, we all left camp around the same time. We spent most of the day climbing the Mahoosuc Arm and Old Speck Mountain. There were several times we questioned if we had gotten off trail somehow and were aimlessly climbing the side of a random mountain. But, time and time again we came upon a blaze, assuring us that we had not strayed too far.
The trail finally dropped off into Grafton Notch. There, we found a parking lot and began dreaming of real food. Of course, that turned into hitch hiking. Luckily, a man we had passed on the trail came down from the mountain and offered Rebel Yell, Spider Man and me a ride to the nearest town. Noticing that we were seasoned hikers, the man asked us where we were hiking to. We had all grown accustomed to saying, “Maine.” After mumbing our typical answer, we all looked at each other and I said, “Oh yeah, we are already in Maine…” As a smile crept across our dirty faces, we all simultaneously laughed and re-answered, shouting, “KATAHDIN!”
Below are a handful of pictures from this stretch of trail:
Check back soon for another update–
Happy Trails 🙂