It was a day of serious contrasts. It was…
Speck Pond is beautiful. I made a point of seeing it again before heading out. Very peaceful and refreshing. I was aiming for Frye Notch Shelter, 10 miles further on.
I never made it.
The first thing I noticed was just how tired my legs were. The second thing I noticed was just how steep Speck Mountain was. Neither condition changed, except to get worse…
I have climbed many mountains along the way, and I am not exaggerating when I say that Speck was the most terrifying. I was not at all prepared for it. This was not hiking, this was freehand rock climbing, almost straight up, clinging to cracks in the rock, trees, roots, pine branches, anything within reach, literally crying in fear, begging God to not let me die. There was nothing below me that could remotely stop my fall if I slipped, except the ground far below, and I was utterly terrified. Once I gained the top, I had to sit for about 30 minutes until I stopped shaking. It was like that. This was far worse than the Mahoosuc Arm, which was long and annoying, but not all that technically difficult.
Sitting up on top, I knew I needed to make a short day of it. I’d done a lot of climbing and scrambling the past few days, and it was telling. Plus, I am running low on food and need to resupply. I had cell service on top of the mountain, and contacted the hostel I was planning to stay at tomorrow; they had space available, and could pick me up at Grafton Notch, about 4 miles down. So that was settled.
In contrast to the ascent, the descent down Speck evoked a fairyland – all golden sunlight and green moss, with tall, spindly pines. I got some good pictures. The trail was still rocky, but on a scale of ‘there are large rocks in the path’, not ‘the path is one large rock’. All the same, my legs refused to go fast at all, and it took literally hours to reach the Eyebrow Trail, 2.3 miles down, and make the cell call to the hostel for the shuttle to come as arranged. At one point, I lay down on a horizontal slab of stone, ate a snack, then pulled my rain jacket over my face to keep the flies off and relaxed. I think I even dozed off. It did wonders for my energy level though.
A lot of rock steps later, and the trail paralleled a stream with waterfalls for a while, I reached the road at Grafton Notch – ME 26, I think. My ride was waiting, and I was off to the Cabin – a wonderful hostel run by hikers Bear and Honey.
As my luck turned, they are also hosting famous AT legend Warren Doyle and his Expedition group – he holds the record for most thru-hikes of the AT. 13, I think. With a celebrity such as this at the table… Tonight was steak and lobster night!
Now, I am not fond of lobster (bad experience from early adulthood), but I had been daydreaming just this morning about the steak my sister-in-law had served me. STEAK. I ate two, plus potato salad, corn on the cob, hot rolls, salad… And peanut butter cup ice cream over a hot brownie for dessert. Indeed, I picked a perfect night for a nearo!
McGyver/Scott was also here – he was the one who hiked with me in the rain and wind over Goose Eye Mt., and I was glad to see him again. Technically, he is two days ahead of me, but there are three possible connection points to Andover. He is at the one farthest north, I am at the one farthest south.
So tomorrow, after breakfast, which I eagerly anticipate, I will slackpack from the Andover connection furthest south to the one on the middle, a 10 mile chunk of trail, then return to the hostel. I will possibly repeat this between the middle and farthest north for another 10 mile stretch, but I am not sure. Tomorrow I want to, because I will be climbing the east and west peaks of Baldpate Mt., which will be another tough mountain, and I want minimal weight when I do.
Seldom has a shower been so welcome. Aside from the utter drenching three days ago, who c h was bad enough (my socks NEVER dried), all the scrambling around Mahoosuc Notch, the Arm, and Speck ground dirt into my hands and under my fingernails. And as for the rest of me… I kept thinking back to the Star Trek episode where some red shirt dies because he got bruised or something. If that had been me, I would be dead about twelve times over, counting bruises, and about eighteen, counting scrapes. Yeah… Kneeling on sharp, unyielding rock and using that kneeling position to pull yourself up leaves a mark.
For some reason my left foot has decided cramping up is a wonderful thing to do tonight. I don’t agree. And the medication I had in a supposedly waterproof plastic bag is mush; fortunately I have another bottle that is still good, so no real harm done.
I have a camper to myself tonight instead of a bunk in the common bunkroom. Ah, comfort AND privacy. Bliss!
I hike on!