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Week Twenty Two: The Presidentials, improbable meetings, and on into Maine

Sunday September 4th, 1983
I hiked quite a respectable day. Got up at 5:30 am, hiked till 6:15 pm, and covered fifteen miles. This does not sound like much after reading about twenty and twenty-five mile days, but fifteen in the Whites is not to be scoffed at due to the fact that this is some of the toughest terrain on the whole of the Appalachian Trail. Oh, and yes, I had seen the "This area has the worst weather in the world" sign as I prepared to rise above treeline. I had seen it many times before - many times, but it was usually coated in ice and snow and quite unreadable. Today it was very legible, so I knew I had nothing to worry about.

In this section I passed two huts, and each is supposed to be a day's hike between them for average hikers. Every time I'd hit a hut I'd pig out on leftovers, and on top of Mount Washington I ate at the cafeteria. I had three ice cream sandwiches and two Pepsi's, but at the huts I ate nutritious hut food. The traverse over the Presidential Range was full of people peak bagging, but by early evening they had all gotten either down below tree line, or into a hut. I thought that ridge runners would clear the trail above treeline, but such was not the case at Edmonds Col. I was counting on the fact that being half way between Mt Washington Observatory and Madison Hut I would be in a remote enough spot to stave off the advances of those who would kick me off this part of the traverse. Just in case they were glassing the top I did not erect my tent until after dark.

I have elected to stay in a secluded spot, at Edmonds Col, which is two miles shy of Madison Hut, because I'm sure that the hut is full. Stealth camping, here I'm well above tree line which is very dangerous in bad weather, but I checked the weather forecast while at Mt. Washington Observatory and they called for a perfectly clear night as well as a perfect day tomorrow - so I'm giving it a shot.

The Milky Way is simply magnificent from this perch and I have never seen it with such clarity as I have here. Because of light pollution back home I just can't see the detail and sheer majesty of our galaxy with such detail and depth as I can in these mountains. A feeling of diminutive stature and utter non-relevance began to envelope me here. Humbled by its enormity and complexity, I watched the succession of nebulae perform their march through the evening sky. I thought to myself that my time here on this rock is so brief and inconsequential compared to the billions of years that these giants have frolicked amongst each other. I could not understand how anyone could believe that all this was just for us - such a small, egocentric, and petty way to view our place here.

Tomorrow I will continue to Pinkham Notch AMC Hut.

(Route 302 from Webster Cliffs) (Willard Mtn. from Webster Cliffs) (Mt. Eisenhower and Washington from Mt. Clinton)

(Mt. Washington from Lake of the Clouds Hut) (Lake of the Clouds Hut) (From Washington back to Lake of the Clouds)

(Northern Presidentials: Clay, Jefferson and Adams) (Cog Railway on Washinton) (Mt Washington from Monticello Lawn)

(Mt Adams from Mt Jefferson)

Monday September 5th, 1983
Obviously if you are reading this, you know that I survived the above tree line camp last night. As a matter of fact it was a bit on the warm side even though the wind did blow at a constant velocity all night.

Most of the day was uneventful. I hiked over to Madison Hut and was treated to a free omelet courtesy of the hut croo. The omelet was a leftover; perhaps they made too many. From there I hiked down to Pinkham Notch AMC Hut where I bought and ate a trail lunch for $2.00. I took advantage of the showers there; bathed myself, and washed my shorts and shirt by hand in the sink. I talked to a few people around the building before departing and hiking 1.9 miles up Wildcat Trail. At that point I found a nice place to camp - complete with a spring! How lucky I was to be all alone on the entire traverse of the Presidential Range which made it all the more special - just me and my thoughts.

I had been up Wildcat via that trail twice in the past that I remember, and both times in the winter. I knew that it would be a climb rather than a hike from experience. During the winter it is necessary to climb it wearing crampons. Being fairly intimate with this climb I also knew that there was a very small camping spot tucked behind one of the boulders halfway up the worst of the ascents. I figured that if I got tired I could set up a bivouac there even though I hadn't seen anyone camp in this spot before. I was pretty certain that few knew about it because there was no trash there and the moss had not been flattened or even been disturbed. As it turned out I was fit enough to get to the hut with ease, but chose to settle in and enjoy the solitude. In the past three days I think I have seen more people than on the entire trip. The Mount Washington Observatory was packed as well as all the huts that I passed. Plus, there were people all over the ridges. The only time I had the mountains to myself was early this morning, and unfortunately that didn't last very long.

A few days ago I bitched at the hut people. Well I take it back - they're OK and I have been treated pretty well. Oh yeah, I hiked about 11.0 miles today.

(Three views near Thunderstorm Junction) (The Airline Trail)

(Madison Springs Hut)

Tuesday September 6th, 1983
A strange chain of events lead to a bizarre meeting today. I got up at 5:50 am feeling quite tired and drained. My body was telling me that it needed a rest. I had a headache, but had no aspirin left. By the time that I got to Carter Notch Hut I was pretty tired. It is now after Labor Day, and the hut was relatively empty. Today was the first day of caretaker service at the huts, which meant that it would cost only $6.00 to stay as opposed to the $26.00 that the weekend warriors have to pay during the summer months. With all of these things considered, I decided to take the day off and rest. I hung around, slept and read all afternoon. At about 3:00 pm, I was sitting out in front of the bunkhouse when I heard a noise. I turned around to see Jim Moore walking up the trail toward me. If you recall at the beginning of this journal, he was the guy that Dia and I hiked up the approach trail to Springer Mountain with. What are the chances of me meeting him now?

Jim had taken a carpentry job here in NH and when asked by his boss if he would like to hike for the weekend he had jumped at the opportunity. They had hiked up the Greenleaf trail which is not steep but long. His boss was bragging to Jim about how the flatlanders couldn't handle the trails in NH but the NH residents were tough and could. Well Jim had left him in the dust and he had gotten to the hut well before him so when I caught wind of the braggart and that Jim had beat him to the hut I decided to go down and feed him a bit of humble pie. I quickly ran down the trail until I found him sitting on a rock, panting. I told him that I had come to help and promptly relieved him of his pack and ran back up to the hut. About a half hour had lapsed before he got up to the hut and thanked me for helping. Sometime later I told him that indeed I was one of those flatlanders coming from a state whose highest elevation was only slightly higher than the mound of trash in the Central landfill in my state. We all got to know one another and had a good time. I still can't get over the coincidence. Very strange!!!

Tomorrow I'm back on the trail to Katahdin (The big "K"). Robert and Janet, who are day-hiking this section, found out from Jim that I was at the hut and stopped in to say "hi" before continuing on.

Wednesday September 7th, 1983
The normal croo had left the hut to a caretaker who would man the hut until closing which meant no elaborate breakfast meal to mooch this morning. I said good-by to Jim and his friends and began the climb out of Carter Notch. Upon my arrival at the top of Carter Dome, I took off my pack, sucked in a huge breath, and "rooster crowed" down to the hut, where Jim answered with an owl hoot. When we were together in Georgia one night we heard loud owl hoots all night long, so perhaps he was reminiscing of the night that we all spent together nearly two thousand miles before. I smiled and laughed a little while still thinking about the coincidence, then lifted my pack upon my shoulders and continued on. I was to never see him again.

I had a black cloud follow me all the way to Imp Shelter. I ducked inside the shelter just as it started to rain, but soon it stopped and I continued northward on the trail.

I arrived at Rattle River Shelter about 4:00 pm and it is now about 7:00 pm now and no one else is here but me. I guess it's safe to say that I will be staying here alone tonight. I am actually only one and a half miles from US Rt. 2 which leads into Gorham, New Hampshire, but rather than going into town this evening, I will hit the grocery store one mile east of the A.T. tomorrow and move on. A town stay is nice, but Mahoosuc Notch is within reach and my feet are itching.

Felt like I had a pretty good day.

Thursday September 8th, 1983
Within what seemed like only a few minutes, I had reached the highway and had located the grocery store this morning. I restocked at the store in a campground one mile east of the AT on US Rt. 2. I don't recommend restocking there, and probably should have gone into Gorham if I had know that. They didn't have shit there. I only chose to resupply there because it was closest.

From Rattle Rive Shelter, I hiked fifteen miles today to Gentian Pond Shelter. On my way out of the valley back into the mountains, I did hang out at Wocket ledges for a while to rehydrate and munch on trail mix. I felt at peace in this part of the world with vast expanses of wilderness at my feet populated with a thick, lush, hardwood and boreal forest that stretched out before me.

I caught up with Damien (Paul Nichols) again. Tonight I am staying with some people who hiked Mahoosuc Notch recently, and they said that we'll be lucky to hike ten miles a day through this section, we'll see. They were not thru hikers and I scoffed in silence at their prediction. By now I had taken with a grain of salt the predictions of others as to the mileage that I could do. They had no idea what shape I was in now. I must take into account the way my legs have been feeling lately though, recently they always feel tired and I don't know why. With only one more state to go and three miles left in New Hampshire, I've come a long way!

(Androscoggin River from Wocket Ledges)

Friday September 9th, 1983
Well, today was a big nine miler, but at least I'm in Maine now, my last state. The guidebook also says that this is the hardest section of the AT and I believe it and the hikers from last night as well. I don't recall ever making note of the time of entering any state, or even just the idea of passing into another state. By now exact time was irrelevant. All I needed to know was what part of the day it was, whether it be morning or early afternoon, or even late afternoon. These were the only approximations that I needed to conduct my life out here. It was nice to arrive at a destination, but not as crucial as knowing all that I needed to survive was coming along with me. I did not carry a watch on my wrist, but only had an alarm clock/radio buried somewhere deep in the recesses of my backpack. The only thing that kept me in temporal lock step with the rest of the world was this log book. Each day I would enter into my journal an account of my journey and in turn each day this book would remind me of how the world outside of nature was moving at a different pace than me.

I had no idea what was in Maine when I reached its border and this was by design. At the onset of this journey I saw this as an adventure. I had read a book about the nuts and bolts on how to prepare for this trip, but that book only painted with a broad brush; describing sections of this trail and this was all that I wanted to know. I wanted to be surprised. This made the trip an adventure, so not having knowledge was important to me. Recently, the section through New Hampshire had been very familiar, but its beauty made up for my intimate knowledge of the A.T. through this state. I wanted Maine to be like the rest of the trip for me in that it would once again become an unknown. Yes, of course I would peruse the next days hike, but no more than that. I had planned where my mail drops would be, but the miles between would remain an unknown by my footfalls until trodden upon.

I am really looking forward to Mahoosuc Notch, one of the wonders of Maine. I've been hearing about this place ever since Vermont. Mahoosuc Arm, the climb out of the notch, is supposed to be real tough also. Tomorrow I will hit both, and then it's on to Grafton Notch. I have decided to resupply at Andover, Maine for I do not have enough supplies to get to Stratton thanks to the poor grocery at the campground I stopped at last.

I'm staying at Full Goose Shelter tonight with the crew from last night plus Richard Kozon, who's been ahead of me from the beginning. Richie was a fast hiker so I don't know how I caught up with him this time. I remember Richie telling me long ago that he wanted to learn to play the flute while hiking the trail, and planned to practice after a full days hike. Holy crap where did he think that he was going to Tanglewood? He had carried the instrument for a long way before giving it up as a bad idea. Those damn things may be small, but are heavy!! Come on Richie a little bit of reality please!!

Beautiful day today - cool temperature, sunny and breezy. Couldn't have it better!!
It's less 275 miles to the big "K".

I encountered a Spruce Grouse along the footpath today. I couldn't believe that I could get so close to a bird and not scare him away. There he stood right in the middle of the trail with no apparent worry that I would try to eat him. Even when I got to within a few feet of him, he practically would not budge until the last minute. He finally had to give trail, and then he only flew a few feet to a low branch and looked at me. This was the first spruce grouse that I had ever seen.

(Sign indicating Maine State Line) (Spruce Grouse just past Maine State Line)

Saturday September 10th, 1983
The Notch was cake; although, I did take a good spill. Hiking through the Notch was the only time that I timed myself while hiking. Mainly because I did not believe that I could be forced to a pace of only one mile per hour, but it turned out that was the pace I maxed out at. Regardless, it definitely was not as bad as the impression I was left with by others telling me about it.

The Notch is a narrow corridor between two mountains and inside are huge boulders which have fallen into the "valley" making it difficult to navigate. The majority of the rocks were very slippery as most were covered with moss, which made the notch quite dangerous. I "turtled" while trying to go up and over one of the boulders instead of taking my pack off to go in between two of them. It was damp, dank and dismal in the notch. There were huge crevasses between some of the boulders which were ice filed, even at this time of year that belched frigid air into the warm humid atmosphere. While hiking through I occasionally could feel the frigid air blast up from the recesses below as it flowed over my hot body. It was as if the earth was breathing ice.

I stopped for a water and GORP break before hitting "The Arm". The horrific, mind breaking climb out of "The Notch" that was drummed into my head from weeks earlier never happened. Mahoosuc Arm was much easier than I was told as well. Before long I topped out, and followed around the shoreline of Speck Pond to the Speck Pond Shelter arriving around 12:00 noon. I ate lunch at Speck shelter, while watching a beaver swimming around in the pond, and having a chat with the shelter girl who was up to her shins in shit - literally! She trudged back and forth in her boots, wading in feces tediously mixing it with hay to make compost before spreading it around the area. This was one of her final duties before closing up camp for the season. She said that someday she would like to hike the trail too. Being a bit early still, I decided to move on to Grafton Notch Lean to where I am now. There was a fire tower on Old Speck a short distance past the shelter, but it was too socked in to bother to go up. Paul and Rich got in to Grafton Notch about a half hour after me.

The day was overcast and dreary. I am relieved that the day, and this part of the trail is over.


Gonzo! Appalachian Trail Journals ©1983