My right leg sank knee-deep in the black sulfurous mud before I completely toppled into the stuff. As soon as my friends got a whiff, they backed away from me to escape the stench and put some distance between themselves and my mud coated clothing. I can still pick up a whiff, a week later at home.
We’d just gotten back to a marked trail after bushwhacking Wolf Cub Mountain, north of Mount Moosilauke. Wolf Cub is a moderate bushwhack made harder because you need to hike for 3.5 miles on a steep, undulating section of the Appalachian Trail before you can start the off-trail portion of the hike.
We’d started our hike at the Kinsman Notch parking lot on Rt 112, climbing the Kinsman Ridge Trail (which is the Appalachian Trail) to the Gordon Pond Trailhead and down to the pond. It’s a pretty place but there’s some talk that the Gordon Pond Trail is going to be decommissioned because it’s in rough shape and difficult to follow. Gordon Pond is a good place to stop to get water if you’re hiking the AT and the section between Moosilauke and the Eliza Brook shelter is dry, which is often the case.
I was joined by Ken, Lisa, Katy, Heather, and another Philip on this bushwhack, a full house by bushwhacking standards. I have no idea why, but they keep coming back for more. Although, it is exhilarating to hike off-trail using your navigational wits and find canisters or mason-jars full of old journal entries left by previous visitors to the same mountain summit. I suppose it’s no different from geocaching in a way, except that we only use maps and compasses to navigate and not a GPS.
Earlier in the day, I’d tried to find the summit of Blue Mountain (North Peak), a small mountain 50 yards off the AT. I’d thought I knew where Blue Mountain was on the hike in, but we couldn’t find any evidence of a canister at the proper elevation and gave up looking as we started to drop down toward Gordon Pond.
Wolf Cub was a much more obvious target although finding its canister also proved to be difficult. The summit is at the end of a long ridge, with a sharp drop-off to the east. It’s one of those annoying mountains where the summit covers a relatively large flat area. This can make it difficult to find the canister, which is supposed to be at the highest point (except when the tree it’s bolted to has fallen over).
We started the Wolf Cub climb on the east side of the pond and whacked through dense pencil woods and blow downs before we gained elevation. We drifted a bit too far east and got hung up in some boggy wet bits as we headed north. More pencil woods and denser vegetation up until the final 200 feet of elevation. From there we hit lots of dense blow downs. At one point Ken remarked that they looked like fur waves. We finally clawed our way to the summit plateau but couldn’t see a high point anywhere that was higher than where we stood.
I would have been happy to crawl all over the summit to look for the canister, but everyone else was feeling pretty tired and beat up by then so we declared the summit “climbed”. I’ve since verified this using the inReach Explorer tracking device I used to record our route.
Still, I was disappointed about not finding the canister. Deflated really. I know it’s just a game, but I’ve got canister fever.
The hike back to Gordon Pond was far easier by comparison. We took a much better route back (although close to the exact back bearing) and came across a couple of herd paths where we made up a lot of time. Lisa led for much of this section. We speculate that she found the old section of the Appalachian Trail that ran past Gordon Pond before it was re-routed over Mount Wolf. If that’s the case, it looks like someone is brushing it periodically to keep it open.
We got back onto the AT and headed back to Kinsman Notch. I’d given up any hope of finding the North Peak of Blue Mountain at this point, but Ken encouraged me to go check out another stand of trees besides the same high point we’d passed earlier.
That’s when I found the mason jar, which is what they used to mark trail-less summits with before PVC canisters were introduced. I was elated. Ken and I signed the register (the rest of our group had hiked a bit ahead and waited for us) and caught back up with our group. We still had a long hike back to our cars, but I felt re-energized.
I definitely have canister fever, but it feels good to be working a peakbagging list hard again.