First Step on the ATSiler BaldSelf Portrait in WhitesWhite Mountains

Bird Man's AT Journal

Trail Updates and Photos from the 2002 AT "Flip-Flap" Hike
© Bruce Nichols - 2002

Through the Notch

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Dear Family and Friends,

I'm taking my first "0" day of the trip in Gorham, NH. I've walked just over 300 miles South on the AT from
Mt. Katahdin, and will start through the Presidential Range of the White Mountains tomorrow.

The walking has definitely been a little more challenging since leaving Stratton, the town from which I last had access to email. I've been up over quite a few 4000 ft. peaks, usually starting from a valley that was at 2000 ft or less. The climbs have been long, steep, and unseasonably hot for Maine. But the rewards have also been great. High rocky [image] summits and ridges with impressive views of Mt. Washington and the long rolling hills of eastern Maine have paraded off before me at every turn [image]. Berries have been abundant and I've enjoyed blueberries and mountain cranberries at higher elivations and rasberries and blackberries in the valleys. I've met a few more hikers from my days in the south, including a fellow named Paul who is a student at Duke Uniersity who was one of a small band of 4 that I shared the trail from Damascus to to Waynesboro - about 400 miles. We didn't walk together often but ususally wound up in the same place each night and shared our days journey.
The meeting on the trail a couple of days ago was short but satisfying. Paul will be on Katahdin in a couple of weeks. I'll most likely be heading south through the green mountains of Vermont. I know there are a few more buddies from the south on the trail ahead of me and hope to have a chance to wish them well on their way to the northern terminus of this grand old trail.

The "Notch" mentioned in the header is Mahoosic Notch and is deservedly called the hardest mile on the AT.
I had my appointment with "the Notch" 20th. After leaving Stratton I did a couple of long 18 mile days
through the Sugarloaf/Saddleback region then spent two nights at a wonderful hostel in Andover, ME called the Cabin [image]. It's run by a couple who just love to "take care" of hikers. The meals there were family style and fantastic - especially breakfast which must be my favorite off trail meal. I slacked one day, carring just a day pack for a quick 10 mile outing, then returned to traverse the Chairback peaks, Old Speck Mountain, and spend the night at Speck Pond a jewel of a place and the highest pond in the state of Maine - and also a great swim at the end of a long day on the trail.

The weather forcasts when I left Andover had been for several days of clear weather so when I woke at
midnight in the shelter at Speck Pond and heard the patter of rain on the corrugated metal roof I began to
feel a bit of concern for my next days walk. The reason has to do with the nature of "The Notch" and the "South Arm" trail leading down to it. Rocks can be tricky enough to navigate when dry - but add a little water to the litchen and moss patina that often covers them and you'd think your vibram soles had turned into rollerblades. So raindrops on the roof did not make for a comforting sleep.

When I awoke at first light it was not raining but everything was damp and the mountain enshrouded in thick misty fog. You could see the droplets of moisture floating through the dim light. Still there was no point in waiting. I had an appointment, and I ate a quick cold breakfast, put on my shoes and started out. The South Arm is the passageway down to the Notch. It's a steep, slick trail that runs along long stretches of smooth rock bordered by rooty, knarled small pines. I picked my way slowly down this mile long descent staying mostly to the edges where more solid footing could be found and where I could grab onto trees to assist when necessary. About half way down it started to rain again.

The South Arm negotiated I now had to make my way through the mile long labarynth of Mahossic Notch.
The notch is a long very narrow valley bordered on both sides by steep granite cliffs. In the millenia since the glaciers withdrew from this part of Maine, cycles of freezing and thawing have slowly excavated blocks of stone from the cliffs above and gravity has born them crashing into the narrow valley. They now rest in a ragged jumble through which the AT squirms its way. Traversing the notch involves careful balance, occasional scrambling, a few tunnel like endeavors under piled house size boulders, and more than a few places where it is necessary to remove ones pack and squeeze under, over, or around narrow slots in the rocks. On a dry day this is a challenge. On a wet day it's an experience.

At the Cabin I'd met "Uncle Gus" who had managed a few days before to fall head first into a fissure between two boulders. His pack wedged and saved him from serious injury but it had taken him a full half hour to extract himself and he had scabs on elbows and knees to attest to his trials. This was on my mind as I started into the first section of rock. To add to the uneasiness, just as I was starting through there was a loud crack high up on the right cliff face and I heard the unmistakable sound of large rocks cascading down into the notch. After what seemed like a very long time the crashing ceased somewhere upslope and ahead of me lost in the trees that blocked most of the view of the surrounding cliffs.

I started cautiously, and remained so through the entire section of trail. And in this I think there was an advantage. If the rocks had been dry, I might have been a little less cautious in seeking hand and foot holds as I went through, and it's usually when one's guard is down that things go amiss. I'd actually falled down twice the day before on relatively flat, dry trail when in moments of inattention I'd managed to catch my feet on small but
stubbornly unyeilding roots. Fortunately the landings were soft I could only laugh at my inattention.

The Notch was a differnt matter. A slip in the wrong place could definitely have serious consequences. Roots and rocks that normally are the bane of the trail actually became my friends offering hand holds and foot placements as I scrambled along. I think that some of the rock climbing skills I developed when I persued that sport in the 70's were also a big asset and offered me opportunites to navigate some areas much more quickly than I might have without that experience. I think I became a bit more comfortable with the situation as I made steady progress over the succession of obstacles the notch presented. Still, it was with some relief that I came through the final boulders and out onto the typically rocky pavement of the regular trail.

Just before I exited the notch the rain had stopped and flecks of blue began appearing in the cloud cover overhead. As I climbed up the steep trail that exited to the south, sun would occasionally break through and
splash the damp dim forest with brillant greens and browns. As the clouds blew away, the droplets on the ends of the evergreens would occasionally glint in rainbow hues. And when I reached the first rocky crest I could see that the mountains were being set free of their misty vestments by a brisk and rising wind.

For the rest of the day I climbed up and down wonderful waves of the rocky Mahoosic range. On the summits I could see Mt Washington slowly approaching to the South West as I walked on. Around the horizon to the North, East, and South the mountains of western Maine sprawled like some gigantic storm tossed ocean frozen in time. On one peak four ravens played in the gusty updrafts, soaring up on outstreched wings then folding them close to their bodies and plummeting downward then spreading their wings agin and soaring back up. It reminded me of the book "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" in which the main character, a gull, performs a similar manuver. Two of the ravens also did a little aerial jousting. Flying at one another, tangling talons and wings and tumbling a bit before making smooth recoveries. I couldn't figure out if this was some kind of mock fighting or just a wild avian dance in the rolliking wind. It certainly was a joy to behold.

I ended the day a bit sore and tired after a long, knee aching descent of Mt. Success. And now have taken a day off in Gorham to recover, eat a whole lot, and get ready for the long rocky climbs and descents of the Whites.

I did sneak in another 21 mile slack yesterday from Pinkham Notch back to Gorham over the Carter-Moriah
range. Eight pounds in a borrowed day pack made the journey much more delightful than the 30 I would
otherwise be carring. Enroute I had lunch with a trio of weekend hikers who were headed in the opposite
direction. They offered me fresh carrots and string beans from their garden in Freeport. After the woman
and her nephew walked off the man accompanying them told me she was Joan Benoit Samulson, a former winner of the womens division of the Boston Marathon and, I believe, the gold medalist in the first running of the women's marathon in the Olympics. You just never know who you are going to meet on the trail.

My next serious mail pick up will take place in Hanover, New Hampshire in about 8-10 days. After the
Whites, the going should be considerably easier and I hope to pick up the pace on my way south. I'll send
additional emails when opportunity presents. Till then I wish you all the very best of life.

Peace, Blessings, and Love to All,

Bruce "Bird Man"

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page created - 11/09/2002
updated - 11/22/2002
All text and photos © Bruce Nichols