I just got back from a fantastic weekend in the North Country of New Hampshire, hiking a 12 mile section (18 miles total) of the Mahoosuc Trail from Gorham, NH to Lower Gentian Pond. This was the last section of the Mahoosuc Trai that I had left after hiking from Grafton Notch, in Maine, to Lower Gentian Pond in late June.
The Mahoosuc Trail is tough and my hike this weekend was no exception. My original plan was to hike 12 miles from the Rattle River trail head just off Rt 2 in Gorham to the Lower Gentian Pond campsite on Saturday, and hike back the way I came on Sunday.
I arrived at the trail head at 6:30 am on Saturday, just as the sun was coming up. Daylight is only about 9 hours this time of year and I had to cover 12 miles of the Appalachian Trail to reach my campsite for the evening. The first mile of the trail was a road walk that crosses the Androscoggin River next to a low head damn. From there, the AT follows the Centennial Trail for 3 miles, climbing just under 2,000 ft, where it intersects with the Mahoosuc Trail.
I stared uphill following the white blazes. All of the leaves have fallen from the trees this autumn and I had to wade up the trail with leaves at mid-calf. This made walking a challenge because I couldn't see the roots or rocks below my boots. After a while, the treadway started to follow a jeep tail up the side of Mt Hayes and then the blazes stopped. This is not unusual. There are parts of the AT that are not blazed at all and you need to use common sense to follow the trail.
I continued up hill, passing a cairn which is always a good sign, and then the trail ended. Damn, I thought. I drove all the way up here and I can't find the trail. I thought about bushwhacking to the Mahoosuc trail, but decided against it. There is no one hiking this time of year and i didn't want to risk an injury walking through the calf-deep leaves. I was hiking solo after all.
So I turned around and descended the 500 ft I had just climbed, hoping to re-find the white blazes further down the mountain. Luckily, I did just that, but I had burned an hour and now only had 8 hours of daylight left to hike 12 miles. So much for arriving at sunrise.
Relieved, I set off at a brisk pace up the AT, walking through the late autumn woods, and eventually climbing the rocky carapace of Mt Hayes. Treeline was at 2,500 ft about 2,000 ft lower than in the Northern Presidentials, just to the south. But don't let the fact that the peaks along the Mahoosic Trail are under 3,500 feet fool you. This is a hard range to hike with lots of precipitous slides and cliffs, high rainfall, marshlands, wet boardwalks, gnarled roots and a trail that resembles an active stream bed.
Just before the summit of Mt Hayes (2,555 ft), the AT swings north and follows the Mahoosuc Trail. I'd been watching weather from the south slowly creep over the Androscoggin River and envelope the ridge I was hiking in thick cloud. The wind picked up and I could see mist blowing past me as I descended the 500 ft col between Mt Hayes and Cascade Mtn (2,631 ft).
Late autumn is a special time in these mountains. Vistas and cliffs appear that are normally shrouded by trees. You notice that the tree species on north and south slopes differ, as well as the depth of leaves under their feet. You see these changes without looking for them and startle when a wood grouse takes flight in alarm.
I refilled my water bladder at a small stream before ascending Cascade Mtn. Since switching to my Aquaguard inline purifier system, I'd noticed that it is difficult to fill a platypus in a stream without a secondary container to pour water into it. I never experienced this issue in the past because I always pumped water into the bladder using my First Need Purifier. So, I fashioned a water scoop from an old leaky platypus (the one that died on my last trip up Mt Garfield) by cutting it in half and at a slight angle. I learned this trick from Jason Klass and it works quite well.
After a quick snack, I climbed Cascade Mtn and hiked along its north face over bare ledges. By now it had started raining more heavily and the exterior of my Gore-tex shell was soaked. I continued along and down a steep slide to Trident col, a 500 ft decent, carefully using the roots and trees on either side of the wet rock to carefully inch myself down below treeline.
I arrived at the side trail to the Trident camp site at 11:30 am, 7 miles into my hike. Sundown is a 4:15pm, so I had 5 miles remaining and a little less than 5 hours to hike it. This was going to be close. I changed into rain pants, ate about 800 calories, and hoofed it up Wocket Ledge, an ascent of 1,000 ft. About half way up, I came to Page Pond, the first of four ponds along my route. It was misty but beautiful, quiet, and serene.
From here on the trail became quite wet and I put my puddle-dodging Long Trail experience to good use, passing by the junction of the Peabody Brook Trail and walking right past Dream Lake without even noticing it through the trees. By now, I was starting to feel chilled and was concerned about hypothermia. Temperatures were in the low 40's and I was soaked through, although my socks were miraculously still dry.
Just before Upper Gentian Pond, I heard a loud protracted snort from the bushes near the trail, which I assume was a startled moose. I didn't see him, but I did see tracks along the trail as I hightailed it past and away from him/her. That moose sounded awful close.
I descended the last 500 ft from Upper Gentian Pond to Lower Gentian Pond, arriving at the shelter at 3:30 pm. I thought about sleeping in the shelter, but decided that I'd rather sleep in my Scarp 1 tarp tent and test it out some more. I had packed the inner tent separate from the outer shell to practice setting it up in the rain, and this was too good an opportunity to miss.
Once I had made camp, I carried my stove, pot, and food bag down to the shelter to make dinner. I was low on water, so I hiked down to the pond and dipped my pot into it to get some water to boil but my pot bounced off the surface. The surface was frozen! I kicked a hole in the ice, filled my pot, and then hiked back to the shelter to cook a boil-in-the bag curry. This warmed me up quickly and I used the boiled, and now purified water, to make a pot of tea which I sweetened with several bags of sugar.
Revived, but still soaking wet and still a bit chilled, I got into my tent, stripped off my clothes and got into my sleeping bag. Then it started to rain and rain. In fact, it rained a full inch that night, but I was snug and dry in my Western Mountaineering Ultralight sleeping bag, nestled in the inner chamber of my Scarp 1, with my gear hung up or lying under the vestibules.
I managed to stay awake for another hour or so, but by I fell asleep by 5:30 pm and slept until 5:30 am when my watch alarm went off about an hour before dawn. The plan was to hike back the same way I hiked in the day before. However, after hiking a mile, I knew it was going to be a very wet day, boot-wise, from all of the rain the previous evening. The trail was awash and even the bog bridges were submerged.
In checking my map, I noticed a side trail called the Peabody Brook Trail that headed steeply north down the ridge to the Androscoggin River and back to my car. Taking it would shave 6-7 miles off of my exit route, but the topographic map showed that it was very steep. I decided to risk it. This turned out to be a great call.
The Peabody Brook Trail must be one of the prettiest trails I've ever hiked in the White Mountains. It is stunning. The first mile loops around the southern section of Dream Lake with views of Mt Adams to the south.
After a mile or so, the trail descends down a blue-blazed path and closely parallels Peabody Brook as it descends over 2,000 feet down a steep gorge. There's one waterfall after another in an area marked on the map as Giant Falls. Truly incredible.
Although steep, the footing on the trail is quite good, with very little wet ledge to contend with. I made it down the 3.1 mile trail and another mile back to my car by 11:30 am. The weather had cleared nicely by this point and we were experiencing 60 degree weather and bright sunshine. Not bad for November 15th. I was elated and made a mental note to hike back to the Peabody Trail and Giant Falls again next year. This is an area worth exploring further.