Not knowing exactly what to expect in the next twenty-mile section of Trail,
I decided to break it down into two equal parts since there was a handy road
access mid-way through. Turns out this section was easier than I expected and I
maybe should have gone the other ten miles today.
Probably just as well that I didn't - my knees were not happy today, so it's
better to not stress them any more than necessary to finish this adventure in
It's so hard to know what's coming. The AT guides aren't usually very
explicit, and hikers' opinions vary widely re: what is difficult and why.
For example, today I talked briefly with four older male hikers who were
going southbound. They are out for a few days of male bonding on the Trail. They
described the last half of today's section as "user friendly." I partially
agreed, since some of it was better trail than what I've seen previously in ME
or NH. But some of it was still pretty gnarly, in my opinion. It's not "user
friendly" compared to much of the AT south of New England..
The fellas asked me how I liked Mahoosuc Notch. I told them I was glad there
wasn't anything else that bad left before Katahdin. They said, "Au contraire!
Wait until you see the boulder maze on Saddleback Mountain! The boulders are
smaller, but they are tilted downward and are hard to negotiate."
Oh, great. Just what I need four days from now.
"Charlie Brown" came up to me while I was waiting for Jim at the end of the
section. He'd just done the next ten miles southbound and was waiting for
"Steady Eddie" to come 'round with their car (they're slacking again, now that
there is more road access). I asked Charlie if he knew anything about
Saddleback. He said other hikers he'd talked to about it indicated that it isn't
anything like Mahoosuc Notch.
So is it gonna be difficult, or not? Maybe it's easy for some agile folks,
but will be hard for me. How will I know for sure until I get there?
Meanwhile, it's very hard for me to give Jim accurate estimates of times to
pick me up after each section. Today I finished almost an hour earlier than
expected and couldn't reach him by phone to tell him. Oh, well, I got to rest
and talk to Charlie and Ed while I was waiting. They were very happy to see I
was OK after that long session on Saturday through the Notch and beyond.
I got an early start this morning at 6:13. Yesterday's winds brought in dry,
cold air; the temperature at the campground was only 49 degrees when we left.
Although there was some fog in the valleys early on, the mountains were clear
and sunny all day. There was only a light wind on top of the three mountains I
climbed - the east and west peaks of Baldpate Mountain and the lower Surplus
Today's section may have been relatively short in distance but it was long on elevation change:
a total of about 3,100 feet gain and 3,300 feet loss in only ten miles.
First thing this morning, I climbed 2,185 feet in three miles to the west
peak of Baldpate Mountain (elev. 3,680 feet). There was a steep ascent for a
mile, then a leveling for a mile as the Trail traversed the side of the
mountain, then another steep mile to the peak. This climb reminded me of the
grunt up Mahoosuc Arm with all of its rock slabs, large rocks to climb over,
Just what's needed to help destroy whatever cartilage is left in my knees!
From a rock outcropping on the northeast side I could see where I was going
next: down a bit, then up another 400 feet to the summit of Baldpate's
east peak (elev. 3,812 feet), shown in one of the photos above.
When I saw the rock slabs on the face of the mountain I figured that's where
I'd be going. I was right. Trail designers just love to send hikers up and down
rock slabs! Good thing it wasn't raining. At least the exposed rocks were dry
and they were easy to climb up.
The summit was mostly smooth, bare granite, too, reminding me of Stone
Mountain near Atlanta. I was able to run across the top and down part of the
mountain until it got too steep. To minimize the stress on my knees on the
downside, I zig-zagged instead of running as straight as the cairns and blazes
I took this photo from the top, looking back at several mountains I've
climbed recently, including Old Speck and the west peak of Baldpate. (I call
photos like this, "Been there, done that.")
Before long the drop became steep off the NE side of Baldpate's second peak
and I slowed to a crawl. I slid on wet rock and fell, but didn't get hurt. I
dropped 1,532 feet in less than two miles down to Frye Notch and a lean-to, Maine's term for a shelter. There were several wooden and steel ladders on
this side of the mountain.
Then began another steep ascent (about 600 feet in half a mile) to the peak
of Surplus Mountain. After topping out, the Trail became nicer for three miles
than I've seen in NH or ME - I could actually run it!! The 1,600-foot drop to
Dunn Notch was spread over three and a half miles, much easier on my sore knees.
And it was mostly dirt, not rocks. Still, I slid on some loose dirt and fell
again . . . (I lost count of all my falls long ago.)
At Dunn Notch I crossed a beautiful creek (West Branch of the Ellis River) at
the top of a large rock chasm. There were falls a short distance above and below
me. The AT doesn't go directly by either falls and I didn't take the side
trails to either one of them. In retrospect, I wish I had (since I got done
early). The falls are within a mile of East B Hill Road, if you're interested in
I was done in a little under six hours, a better pace than I've had lately.
This includes all stops. If I'd done 20.4 miles, it would have been at a slower
pace and a very long day again.
I'm glad I just did 10.3 miles, although it does slow my progress down and
that's frustrating. Where I stop is dictated in large part by road access, then
we consider the terrain. Unfortunately, there will be less and less road access
as we head toward Katahdin, and thus less flexibility.
SEAL OF APPROVAL
This is a pretty section and one I can recommend for running or hiking. Most
runners could run more of it than I did today (I'm tired!) and the views are
great from Baldpate. I loved looking north, south, east, and west to all the
mountains and the lovely white fog in the valley to the west (the folks under
it probably didn't think it was so lovely, however). This would not be a
good mountain to climb when it's wet, however.
I haven't signed any trail registers since entering Maine. The first shelter
today was off the Trail and someone was still asleep (at 9:50 AM!) in the
second one, which was sitting right next to the Trail. The register was partly
under the sleeping bag, so I wasn't about to yank it out. Other than this fella,
Charlie, and Eddie, the only other hikers I saw today were sectioners and day
Starting at Grafton Notch, the AT in Maine is maintained by the Maine AT Club
(MATC). (Say the last part of that sentence three times real fast!) So far, I like their frequent
white blazes and informative signs. The Trail was in great shape today, too (no
blow downs or overgrown sections of
the bog boards and ladders were in good repair).
I'm using my last set of ATC maps and guide book now. Jim and I like the
Maine maps/elevation profiles better than any of the ten previous sets and I
think the book is written more thoroughly than many of the others. Thanks, MATC.
BRIEF MAINE A.T. HISTORY
Benton MacKaye, a regional planner, forester, author, and philosopher from
Massachusetts, first proposed the concept of the Appalachian Trail in 1921. Four
years later the Appalachian Trail Conference was incorporated and the Trail was
envisioned as running only 1,700 miles from Mt. Washington in New Hampshire to Cohutta Mountain in Georgia.
By 1934, 1,900 miles of the Trail were completed. Under the leadership of
Myron Avery, chairman of the ATC from 1931 to 1952, the AT was extended to Maine
- Mr. Avery's home state.
In 1937, the final two-mile link was completed between
Spaulding and Sugarloaf mountains, and the AT stretched from Mt. Katahdin in
northern Maine to Springer Mountain in northern Georgia. I'll be hiking that
two-mile section in three or four days.
Thirteen percent of the Trail is in Maine.
Conclusion: if it wasn't for Mr. Avery, I'd be done already. Instead,
I have almost 257 more miles to go.
Just kidding! Maine's a beautiful state, and I'm privileged to be able to
hike and run here.