MAHOOSUC NOTCH & MAHOOSUC ARM: 8/8/10
The rugged section of the Mahoosuc Trail through Mahoosuc Notch and up Mahoosuc Arm stood as the last significant hike I needed to do for completion of "redlining" all the trails described in the AMC White Mountain Guide. For this trek I had formidable reinforcements - Cath Goodwin and Pam Bales, two of the strongest, and nicest hikers in the Whites. Carol covered the store on this sunny-to-partly cloudy Sunday, and Cath steered us on the long drive up to Berlin and 10 miles out on the dusty Success Pond Road.
We were able to drive in 0.5 mile on a side road to the trailhead, though the second of the two bridges was a bit on the shaky side. We set off a little before 10:00 on the Notch Trail.
The Notch Trail is a gem: deep woods, easy grades and good footing for two miles along Shelter Brook up to the head of Mahoosuc Notch. So far this path has not been affected by the heavy logging that has run across the other western approach trails to the Mahoosucs.
The first of three crossings of the brook is a pretty spot.
Higher up the woods transition from hardwoods to open conifers.
In a little less than an hour we reached the Mahoosuc Trail. Pam and Cath, who I am grateful to for scaling down to my plodding pace, point the way to the Notch.
In less than 0.1 mile the fun began. The notch is a narrow passage squeezed between the cliffs of Fulling Mill Mountain and Mahoosuc Mountain. From here there was a mile-long "jungle gym" with nearly constant scrambling over, under and around an amazing jumble of huge boulders.
This section is known as the "toughest mile" on the 2,170-mile Appalachian Trail. A typical time for a hiker to traverse the notch is two hours. With plenty of picture stops and occasional cave investigations, we took more like 2 1/2 hours. There's no rushing through the Notch, nor should there be.
From time to time we could peer up at the cliff faces on Mahoosuc Mountain. Somewhere in this vicinity Cath and Pam spotted a vagrant hummingbird, perhaps wandering its way southward.
There were numerous caves and caverns along the way.
At times it was a little hard to figure out which way to go. In several places there were alternate routes that soon rejoined.
Another perspective on Mahoosuc Mountain.
You have to watch your step carefully through the Notch. There are plenty of deep holes between the boulders. Luckily the rocks were very dry all the way through; you would not want to do this in the rain. This is also not a suitable trail for bringing your dog. A rescue from one of the deep holes would be very difficult.
"X" marks the spot.
The sheer wall of Fulling Mill Mountain towers opposite Mahoosuc Mountain.
I had to remove my hefty pack a half-dozen times to squirm through tight places. For Pam, wearing a fanny pack weighing in at about 14 oz., that was not an issue.
Pausing before the next scramble.
This was a neat cavern.
I meant it when I said Pam was a strong hiker.
Pondering the next move.
This was one of the tighter spots. I had to crawl under to get through.
This was a particularly interesting passage.
After some more boulder-hopping, we abruptly emerged in this muddy, brushy clearing at the lower N end of the Notch. It was a normal trail again.
Recent beaver activity has forced a short bypass path to the L.
After a late lunch stop at a nice unofficial campsite, we followed a section of trail that angled up across the base of Mahoosuc Mountain through a magnificent hardwood forest. This is said to be old growth, and certainly looks it.
We figured this giant yellow birch must be 2 to 3 feet in diameter.
Another gnarled, ancient denizen of the forest north of the Notch.
The trail crosses the ledgy brook that flows out of "Notch 2," the high, sharp cut between Mahoosuc Mountain and Mahoosuc Arm.
The Notch-Arm trek features a one-two punch. After the strenuous struggle through the boulders, you face a cruncher of a climb up Mahoosuc Arm. We did most of the ascent in the company of these two youthful backpackers.
They kindly offered to take a photo of us.
On the upper part of the climb there is a long, steep section of slab. Like the boulders in the Notch, these ledges were dry, and the grainy surface provided good traction. Maybe not so much on the way down - a kilted backpacker we chatted with back at our lunch spot said he was searching for toeholds and handholds during his descent.
Near the top of the climb there is a spacious, open view ledge a few yards to the R of the trail. I had been here a couple of times when climbing Mahoosuc Arm (which used to be on the New England Hundred Highest list) from the other side, so this is where I connected the lines to complete this section of trail, and, the last significant piece for my White Mountain redlining. (I won't be completely satisfied until I revisit - soon - the Landing Camp Trail in the Kilkenny area. When I hiked that trail in November 2006, parts of it were a swamp and there were so many blowdowns I couldn't tell where the trail supposedly ended at a former junction with the abandoned Upper Ammonoosuc Trail, especially since it was getting dark. As best I could tell from maps and Google Earth I think I came up 0.1 to 0.2 mile short of that spot, though I'm not entirely sure. So put an *asterisk* on it til Landing Camp is redone.) EDIT: Landing Camp Trail was redone on 8/13/10, with my brother Drew, including what turned out to be about 0.2 mile that I had come up short on in 2006. The many blowdowns have been cleared, though the trail is extremely wet in places, even in a dry summer. The big surprise was the gorgeous open meadow on the bank of the Upper Ammonoosuc River a short distance north on the abandoned Upper Ammonoosuc Trail. Great views of Mt. Weeks and evidence of moose beds and otter trails and slides. Post to follow in a day or two.
For the occasion, Pam broke out some of her awesome blueberry cake, which had filled approximately half of her pack. Thanks, Pam - what a great treat!
Cath brought out a "redlining proclamation" she had prepared on her computer, complete with a map of today's journey, and read it aloud like the heralds of old. (Thanks, Cath - it's now framed and on display!)
What a great viewing perch - one of the finest in the Whites.
From here we could gaze down into Mahoosuc Notch, with Goose Eye and other Mahoosuc peaks beyond.
A closer look at the Notch.
Mahoosuc Mountain is a wild and impressive peak.
To the SE you look out over the remote headwaters region of the Sunday River. The Sunday River Ski Area and golf course can be seen in the distance. Down on the slope of Mahoosuc Arm we had met a group of Outward Bound kids who had bushwhacked up to the Mahoosuc Trail from this area.
To the E is Sunday River Whitecap, the crown jewel of the western Grafton Loop Trail. Well worth the 6+ mile trek in to it.
Good times with good friends.
After an hour spent soaking up the views, we headed across the flat top of Mahoosuc Arm. Just before the May Cutoff junction an open ledge offered a view N to Old Speck and many distant North Country ridges.
We turned L on May Cutoff, no time for the longer loop down to Speck Pond and back up.
Bog bridges led across an open alpine meadow.
The true summit of Mahoosuc Arm, which was bumped off the New England Hundred Highest list during a peak reshuffling a few years ago; a more recent USGS survey had dropped its elevation from 3790 ft. to 3765 ft., and a higher peak (I forget which at the moment) replaced it.
On to the Speck Pond Trail for our descent.
We passed through some fine fern-rich fir forest on the upper part. Pam and Cath checked out a tree with an unusual burl.
No trek on the west side of the Mahoosucs is complete without some logging along the way. In a half-mile section the trail first crosses the top of an open brushy area, then cuts across several skid roads that run up the slope. Nothing here, though, like the wholesale cutting seen last week on Carlo Col Trail.
Through the trees we got a glimpse of Success Pond, its shores dotted with many camps. After a descent along Sucker Brook and a long flat runout on the lower part of the trail, we reached Success Pond Road and followed it and the spur road two miles back to Cath's car.
Along the way we had to do a pack comparison. Guess I've never been a devotee of the "go-light" philosophy.
Many thanks to Cath and Pam for their great company on this memorable trek, and for the thoughtful gifts they brought. Thanks also to the many friends and family members who I have hiked with on these trails over the years. And special thanks to Carol, who has trekked many of these miles with me, and who on other occasions has shuttled or carspotted me and also waited patiently at the car while I was off on some of those networks of short, little-used trails. I couldn't have done it without your love and support.