Section 3 (AT in a Day)

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Maine 4 in Rangeley, Maine to US 2 in Gorham, NH - 77.9 miles

Section Chief: Mike Novello '99

Austin Brook Trail to Carlo Col

Hikers: Jessie Seymour '04, Gabe Perkins

When we heard about the amazing idea of hiking the entire AT in a day, we knew we had to conquer a piece of our beloved Mahoosucs, which our visible from our home in Bethel, ME. We settled on the section from Gentian Pond, a beautiful and rare pond which sits up high between the mountains, and Carlo Col.

We started hiking at about 8:30 am. The weather was chilly, foggy, and windy, but we were surrounded by peak foliage and good spirits. When we reached Gentian Pond, the fog was so thick we could barely see the other side. As we ascended Mt. Success, the winds increased dramatically. We couldn't see anything so we thought we had reached the top three times before we actually did. Our AT in a Day sign got rather crumpled as we posed for pictures in winds that we had to seriously brace ourselves against.

We didn't linger long at the top because we still had to get to our destination. We stopped for awhile to have lunch at the state line, then the Mahoosucs started to show their true colors. The trail turned steep and rocky as we descended towards Carlo Col, and the fact that they were wet didn't make it any easier.

When we reached an outcropping over the Col, an amazing thing happened: we got a view. The winds still hadn't abated, but the mountains opened up under a heavy layer of clouds that just skimmed the tops of them. It was our first glimpse of the gorgeous foliage surrounding us. We turned around and headed back over Mt. Success to get back to our car.

By the time we reached the top of the mountain again it was like a different day. Winds were still strong but the clouds had totally cleared, allowing for 360-degree views including Old Speck, Goose Eye, the Presidentials, and all the oranges, reds, and golds covering them. Beautiful!

It was a long slog back to the car, but despite darkness, coldness, wet-turning-frozen rocks, and a malfunctioning head lamp, we made it back to the car in one piece at the hour of 10 p.m. Note to self: next time, spot a car!

Very few other people partook in this section of trail that day, so it was a powerful experience to know that we actually weren't alone; we were joined in spirit by the hundreds of others on our simultaneous quest. The journey combined two things I love so much - the mountains surrounding my home and my distinguished alma mater - that I've almost forgotten about how sore I was the day after what turned out to be a 14-hour hike. Almost.

Can't wait to do it again! Jessie Seymour

Lake Mooselookmegunti, Maine

Hikers: Stephan Lanfer '66, Stefan Lanfer '97, Patrick Langetieg, David Powell

On my part, the DOC was a central part of my Dartmouth experience as I was a Ski Patrol all 4 years and a teacher for 3, active in winter sports and President of the Club in'65-6. I did most of my hiking in the last two years, but continued thereafter, so Stefan's introduction to the trails came earlier. He and his brother, Peter '98 attended the DOC 75th anniversary celebration after climbing Moosilauke that day. They slept through most of the long talks under the table. Stefan and his wife, Ashley Graves Lanfer '97, both rowed at Dartmouth, but did a lot of hiking at Dartmouth. They celebrated their rehearsal dinner at the Ravine Lodge where I was able to greet her father, Judson Graves '69 for the second time, the first being his freshman trip.

As for the hike, it was a new one for all of us. We had never been in that part of Maine before. We still don't know much about the first part as we were in a cloud after about .5 mile. The second half is fabulous, however. After a brief snow shower, the sun came out and we were able to enjoy the leaves at their height and still on the trees and lovely views mountains all around and Lake Mooselookmeguntic to the north with no apparent signs of civilization to be seen. The trail was a real challenge. It left the South Arm road immediately steeply and continued that way for most of the way up Old Blue. The wetness made the rocks and lots of roots very slippery. There might be a nice view from Old Blue, but it looked like the inside of a cloud to us. After a lunch break our two extra companions headed back and wished us luck on completing the next 7 miles before dark as it had taken us 2 hours for the first 3 miles and it was then about 12:30.

Luckily, the next 6 miles were relatively easy as we went down through an old growth red pine forest - which looked mostly scruffy - and over the 3 peaks of Mt Bemis. The main difficulty was getting around lots of puddles and slipping and tripping on the roots. The dogs continued to run ahead and return to check on the second or third hiker thus adding much milage and doing a lot of passing on the narrow trail. The shortage of good footfalls caused me to step on their toes at least twice.

By the second Bemis peak, after the short snow squall, the sun came out in full and we were walking on a lot of open rock areas which presented lovely views ane enormous amounts of lichen, some of it bright red.

So, we reached the last three miles with about 2 hours of good light left. That should be easy, but we knew the trail was not going to be easy and we were all getting tired. I had slipped at least 3 times on the rocks and strangely, probably because of the cold and just hanging at my sides for so long, my hands were quite swollen. Even the dogs were slowing a bit. The descent off of Bemis is quite steep with lots of long rock faces that needed frequent sitting and lots of using trees to help. Then, finally at the bottom, there was a stream to ford and then 700" to climb to get back to our car. The climb was relatively gentle until the last quarter mile which added an unkind test to our tired bodies. We made it to the road at 6:15. After a short time enjoying the fabulous view of the mountains and the huge lake, we got into our cars at 6:25 in the dark. We all knew that we had walked over 13 miles (more like 20 for the dogs) and would hurt tomorrow, but it was a wonderful day, and again, thanks for making it happen.

Stephan Lanfer '66

File:3 Mike Novello 1.jpg

Mahoosuc Notch to Speck Pond Shelter

Bob Rooke ’74, Bruce O'Mara '82, Jeff Toothaker

Planning for this excursion literally began the day I first heard that the Dartmouth Outing Club (DOC) had decided to hike the Appalachian Trail in a day of all things, in commemoration of its 100th Anniversary. It was just the sort of bold undertaking I would expect to materialize out of the fanatical minds of the Outing Club. I had been an active member and board member of the Cabin and Trail division for the four years I attended Dartmouth in the early 70’s and could very easily interpret this as that ‘voice crying to me out of the wilderness’, drawing me in to accept the challenge. My strongest and truest Dartmouth memories are all rooted in the Outing Club. Here was a chance for me to relive some of that joy and contribute to what I saw as a great cause.

Over the years I have hiked close to 400 miles of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.), actively maintained 100 miles of it, relocated and built 5 miles of it and through that all nurtured a spiritual love and respect for all it is and represents. There was no doubt in my mind that I had to participate in this momentous undertaking.

Although I could probably hike just about any section of the trail I wanted, I decided to lock in a section that I really wanted to do; one that would work with my vacation schedule, the time of the year, and my frame of mind. After breezing through my A.T. trail maps of Maine and New Hampshire it dawned on me that the one stretch of trail I had never tackled in the northern regions of the trail was the Mahoosuc Mountain Range in Maine. It looked to be a perfect solution to my dilemma. Not only would I likely capture the autumn colors at their peak, but by staying at my parents summer home in central New Hampshire I could schedule my travel times so they safely avoided the influx of camera toting leaf peepers….often a sure fire catalyst for hair pulling, nail biting traffic jams here in foliage central! I could drive north from my home in New Jersey a day or two prior to the hike on Columbus Day weekend, and leave very early in the morning from there the day of the hike. This could really work out!

But do you know what really sewed this up for me? The fact that this 3.3 mile stretch of the trail was reputed to be the most difficult section of the entire Appalachian Trail to do. I have hiked the Presidential Range and Mount Katahdin many times and found it difficult to believe anything could be more difficult than those areas. But because this route went through a notch I imagined the difficulty had more to do with the erratic placement of monster boulders and probably not elevation and exposure. It turned out I was half right.

Although I was only hiking a shade over three miles of “official” trail in this venture, it turns out I was going to have to hike more than 9 miles to accomplish it. I had to hike in to the A.T. using the Mahoosuc Notch Trail (2.7 miles), and out, to complete my loop, on the Speck Pond Trail (3.2 miles). In light of the fact that I had not been on any sort of extensive hike in a couple of years I thought it prudent to take along a partner. After explaining the underlying motivation of this adventure to one of my long time hiking buddies, Jeff Toothaker, he signed right on. That turned out to be easier than I thought it would be. In fact, he was almost as excited about it as I was.

I got very little sleep the night before I left to meet up with my friend Jeff, but that was okay. For the most part it was a good sort of angst keeping me awake, though it did not help much when I started to hear the patter of rain on the roof in the wee hours of the morning. At 4:40 a.m., October 10, 2009, I arose to get this thing underway. All of my gear had been packed the night before and loaded in my vehicle. I knew I was getting up early and did not want to have to rely on my brain misfiring, causing me to forget something crucial. As it was my day pack weighed in at 33 pounds. I had to bring sufficient gear to allow me to spend an unscheduled night or two…just in case the unforeseen happened….and extra supplies to supplement the ones my hiking partner may have overlooked. I could not help but feel over protective, but I attribute my high state of preparedness to the 10 years I worked for the United States Forest Service in the White Mountains and the numerous search and rescues I had to participate in. I vowed years ago I would try never to be on the receiving end of one of those ventures! This all accounted for the set of alloy hiking poles, compass, emergency shelter, extra provisions and clothing, firing starting material, maps, water purification gear, Swiss Army knife, rain gear, water, camera, first-aid supplies, watch, and cell phone I lugged along.

It took me 1.5 hours to drive to Gorham, NH where I met up with my hiking partner outside the backpacker’s hostel called “Hikers Paradise”. From its outward appearance I got the distinct impression it might have been better just to call it “Hikers Lodging”.

My drive over was completely in the dark, but it was in a dark more confining than normal. Temperatures had dramatically dropped over night down into the low 40’s and lowland fog had developed. Not only that, but moisture laden clouds had formed and anchored themselves over all of the White Mountain region in such a way that any new visitor to the region would never know there were alpine peaks to ogle, much less rolling foothills. Often times I had to drop my speed down to 15 mph the visibility got so bad. Beautiful fall foliage? There was none that I could see.

Regardless, after topping my car off with fuel Jeff and I set off to find a cryptic tertiary byway called Success Pond Road, an actively maintained logging road piercing the southern appendage of the Great Northern Maine Woods just north of Berlin, New Hampshire. It appeared on the State Gazetteer I had, but only as the thinnest of little red lines. Fortunately, the GPS unit I had in my vehicle was able to locate it, and with a few tricky little turns we set out on it. Jeff’s Dodge Caravan took the 12 mile drive a bit more harshly than my Toyota 4-Runner, but eventually we found both of the trailheads we needed to locate to make this plan work. I left my vehicle at the Speck Pond Trailhead, then we both drove back to the Mahoosuc Notch Trailhead to leave Jeff’s car and begin our hike. Originally I had planned on hiking the A.T. from north to south. But Jeff and another backpacker we bumped into at the Mahoosuc Notch Trail marker convinced me that it was easier on ones knees, and body in general, to hike the route south to north. Who was I to argue? We set out at 8:05 a.m. It was misty (wet). It was chilly (43). It was windy (10-25 mph). It was very slippery what with the heavy leaf fall over night, and there was absolutely no view. What more could hikers out on a grand adventure ask for?

Indeed, there were some attributes going on a woodland hike under conditions like these. The fresh, moist organic smells of newly fallen leaves intermingled with the primeval scent of the boreal conifers was sensually energizing. And secondly, the chill and prospect of a fairly cruddy day lying ahead helped to get that old adrenaline pumping and allowed us to really move out….until you forget about that first wet root hidden under a mat of colorful wet leaves! We sure were slipping and sliding, thank goodness for the hiking poles we brought along.

Despite all of the moisture in the air, it never really rained. However the heavy atmosphere precipitated a constant barrage of chilly drops constantly falling from the limbs and leaves of trees above us. In fact, with the wind blowing in concert with the heat from my body I never really got as wet as I felt I should have. It had been many months since Jeff and I had last had an opportunity to catch up on each other’s lives so we had plenty to chat about. Before we knew it we reached the intersection with the Appalachian Trail. We had covered nearly 2.5 miles in just under an hour: it was now 9:00 a.m. I hiked south along the A.T. 100’ or so just to create some official overlap with the hikers scheduled to hike that section of the trail. That done we headed north into the infamous Mahoosuc Notch.

Our spirits were high. We could not believe we had already knocked off the first leg of our trip. More importantly the trail ahead of us was heading downhill, a very pleasant relief from the moderate, yet steady climb we had just completed. If this was any indication, what in heavens name had I gotten myself so worked up about? Five minutes later I knew.

We were hiking along at a mighty fine clip until we rounded a blind bend and came face to face with an endless gauntlet made up of the gnarliest looking monster sized, jagged edged boulders I had ever seen. The winds seemed to instantly pick up and began to eerily whistle through the rocks. The ambient air temperature noticeably drop several degrees. If I had not known where I was it would have been easier for me to believe I was just beginning some awesome new ride at Walt Disney World. Yet this was real, and we had to get through a mile and a half of it, all of it challenging.

Every surface was glistening with moisture from the mist. At times we were given a brief yet dramatic view of the ledges and cliffs that rose far above us on either side, but on that day it was a very rare treat indeed. As I scrambled through crevasses and stood on knife like edges of huge boulders looking down into seemingless bottomless chasms formed by this jumble of huge sized talus, I found myself praying we did not have a mini earthquake at just that time. Although these stones were far too large for us to wiggle, it would take but a flick of Mother Natures nail to send them helter skelter about us and tumbling down out of the mists from far above. Sometimes it is not so funny the things your mind conjures up, but it did keep me moving!

Did I mention just how poorly the path through this maze was marked? That added a not so desirable dimension to this adventure. Appalachian Trail By-Laws call for the 6”x2” white trail blazes to be visible from one blaze to the next. Not so in this consortium of giant boulders. More often than not I had to make a “best guess” assessment of the options before me as to which pathway to take. Heaven help you if you go the wrong way in there, you had to work for every foot you advanced. The last thing you wanted to do was retreat under these circumstances. As it was I had to remove my pack on three separate occasions and push it through orifices in front of me in order to proceed. At other times I could be but 10 feet ahead of Jeff, yet not be able to see, or hear him at all.

We laughed a lot working our way through. I do that sometimes when I decide it is best not to cry. You had to use every muscle group possible, in countless permutations, to successfully negotiate Mahoosuc Notch. I can recall the shock I first experienced when I pulled myself up and over a gray monolith, only to begin lowering myself down into what appeared to be a sacrificial pit strewn with large ribs and vertebrae once belonging to a large mammal that I prayed had not been human! The smell of rot had long since dissipated but the violence of what must of brought those bones to bear in this place still lingered, especially in their orientation and in my mind. Close examination led me to believe they once belonged to a moose. I expect it had been wounded in a hunt and in its flight for safety fell from the heights above the notch to its death below, here among the boulders. I cannot imagine how utterly disgusting it must have been to have to climb all about that splattered mess the first month or so after that plunge. Believe me when I say that there was no way to avoid the spot: everyone that has entered the notch since it happened has had to go through it.

The further in to the Notch we got the colder we got. I could not move fast enough to ramp up my circulation to counter the cold and before long my hands and fingers began to lose sensation. I expect the fact that my backpack straps were pulling into my shoulders and slowing circulation to my hands had something to do with it to. It surely made it more difficult to grasp a hold of those rock edges. One beneficial thing that I did notice was that despite the wet nature of all the surfaces we were scrambling on, I had very little trouble with my boots sliding along rock faces and slipping out from under me. I expect it had to do with the type of stone we were walking on. Most of it had small sized feldspar inclusions (phenacrysts) incorporated into them. The softer matrix rock wore away leaving the harder mineral exposed affording a skid resistant surface. Whatever the reason, it saved both our butts, literally, several times.

Due to the nature of the type of climbing and scrambling necessary to get through the notch I was unable to use my hiking poles. Over the years I have learned that telescoping poles can be just as much an attribute as a scourge. Here in the notch they were nothing but a major hindrance and it took awhile to figure out how to transport them through safely strapped to my pack. Even compressed they were too long for my liking and continually got hung up on over hanging rock ledge, and/or kept me from squatting and lowering my center of gravity as low as I really wanted to go. Eventually though we made it through the notch, unbruised, unblemished, and not the worse for wear. It took us a little over an hour; it was now 10:15 a.m. Bear with me as I relate to you just how wonderful flat, boulder free, open forest looked at that moment. Although we really wanted to plop down and take a well deserved snack and drink break it was still too cold, wet, and windy to do so. We figuratively patted ourselves on our backs and trudged onward, though now in more of an upwards slant than down. I had forgotten in the press of completing the notch that looming before us was a 1.5 mile steep climb to the summit of Mahoosuc Arm, our next challenge. Strange name is it not?

After re-tightening boot laces and deciding that I could now safely extend my hiking poles for use we trudged on. It was not long though before I really began to feel the workout I was giving myself, principally through my legs. They were not used to this sort of beating and started to get rubbery with a mind of their own. They did not want to be stressed out any more than absolutely necessary and really balked at having to be used for taking large steps. Possibly of even more concern was the fact that I was not as motivated to squat and lower my center of gravity we necessary to keep from falling. You see, I had forgotten that there is a quarter mile stretch of trail I had just entered aptly named Mahoosuc Notch #2! Here again we had to contort our bodies to the wiles of the rocks and try to stay nimble. Psychologically I was less prepared for this challenge than for the first and tried to get through it with less physical commitment on my part. It worked to a point.

If you find yourself leaping from rock to rock, making instantaneous moves and decisions, the last thing you want to do is second guess yourself, or worse, change your mind mid-air. I did it any way gliding over a 9 foot drop between two rounded, wet, leaf covered boulders. The jump was too far, my not knowing whether or not I would come to an abrupt stop on the other side three feet away, or slide right off the top of the rock I hoped to land securely on. I put my pole out to stabilize my landing, but my momentum kept carrying me forward. I bore down on my pole for all it was worth to break my stop. The pole permanently buckled under the strain before allowing me to regain my composure to stop safely, just in time. I sat down after that and mentally regrouped. My body was telling me something and I knew I had to listen. I ate a couple of energy bars then proceeded on in a much more contained, refined manner upwards. The climb up was truly miserable under the conditions we had. The trail, as far as we could tell, followed a stream bed most of the way up the mountain. There were very, very few blazes along the way to offer consolation that I was indeed doing the correct thing. Most of the time through this section the only notion of confidence I had at all was the fact we were climbing up: I knew we had to at least do that to get where we were headed! This section of trail is in desperate need of blazing. The stream bed was flat bedrock, with very few lose stones, but its steepness and slickness made it very difficult to scurry up except at a snails pace. There were absolutely no views, not even up or down the trail. The clearest thing I could see 90% of the time was the five or six feet of trail in front of my nose.

At about 11:30 a.m. the trail rounded off over the top of the mountain and we gained a bit more speed. There were no scenic vistas to be had on the summit, just what was close about us. The wind was howling, temperatures and wind chills were biting, and the moisture laden clouds were so dense I could almost scoop handfuls of the stuff out to store in my pack. We had been making great time, all things considered, by the time we reached the trail junction with the Speck Pond Trail. Even though it was still nearly a mile to the pond and shelter, reaching the top of Mahoosuc Arm re-energized us enough to continue moving on. This new terrain was very much like a muskeg crisscrossed with many old rotted puncheons that at one time may have helped one keep his boots dry. Today they helped us keep our boots wet. The fact that I was down to just one hiking pole (the other had snapped in two the next time I put weight on it) did not help matters; hopping from spot to spot I felt like I was trying to cross the marsh using a pogo stick.

Ten minutes later, negotiating a downhill right had turn at a fairly steady clip I almost ended up in Speck Pond. There it was, 5’ in front of me with foot high waves grabbing at the shoreline. I knew it was out there some where but had not expected it to appear so soon. If I had been in any more of a daze I would have walked right into it. What made this possible was the fact that the water color and dense fog cover were nearly identical in color. It was almost impossible to differentiate the interface between the two. How discouraging. I could see that the pond was quite sizeable, and I expect spectacular to view on most any other day, but that all had to be left to my imagination on this mission. For what it was worth, I did learn that this is the highest body of water in the State of Maine. We followed the trail around Speck Pond to the Speck Pond Shelter. There, at noon, I met up with another Dartmouth graduate from the class of 1982, Bruce O’Mara? who had come out with a buddy to hike the section of trail Jeff and I had just done!

For some reason logistics concerning the hiking of Mahoosuc Notch never really did gel out despite all the planning that went into this vast undertaking, even though I repeatedly told folks from day one I was going to be doing it. But you know, this news at this time did not even faze me. The section was now completely done and documented with several photographs taken along the way. The thing that pleased me most was how glad they all seemed now knowing that they did not have to hike the notch.

After snapping a few “reunion” pictures and eating a quick lunch we all headed out on the Speck Pond Trail: 3.3 miles to the Success Pond road. It turns out the chaps we intercepted had not adequately arranged for return transportation when their day was done. Tying in with Jeff and I solved that problem for them. The hike out was jarring to my oldish bones. Jeff was gracious enough to loan me one of his poles so I had two to work with. It really helped. At 3:00 p.m. the clouds lifted (of course) and some sun began to break through. Unfortunately we were well below any expansive views, but we did get to see some bursts of illuminated autumn color. Even just that little bit made it all worthwhile. It also served to make me realize really just how much we had NOT been able to see all day. I reached the road and our vehicles at 3:30 p.m. I had been on the trail for 7.5 hours just to hike 3.3 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Every minute of it was worth it though. By the time I got back to my starting point on Newfound Lake from earlier that day I had put in a good 14 .5 hours to complete the trail.

Bob Rooke ’74

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