I got dropped off at the trail head, fully knowing and fully aware of the obstacles that lay before me. The Mahoosuc Range, so much of my thought since beginning was bent on this hurdle. I remembered doing this range in summer and it was rugged, slow, and taxing on the body. I specifically remembered the Mahoosuc Notch and the Arm. Those were what my thoughts had been focusing on. How was I going to safely manage this? Key word being “safely”. I am not usually actively considering safety measures when I hike. This hike, however, that has changed quite a bit for me. But I still feel that I am just hiking. I am not standing there looking at an obstacle and assessing all the risks and planning out all possible safety measures. I am extremely confident in my physical abilities and so far I have not batted an eye at what some others may consider a “danger situation”. One of the biggest safety concerns is hypothermia, and I nip that one in the bud by staying in constant motion, keeping my core temperature up. And so far, I have not had any situations concerning that issue come close to levels of imminent danger.
You know how you build something up in your head so big that it almost seems insurmountable? That’s what I was doing with this section. Your brain just has nothing better to do with it’s time while you hike ALL DAY LONG with little else to occupy your thoughts. The closer I got, the bigger it got. But now I was here. I was way more relaxed about it than what I could have anticipated. My routine of getting up in the morning and prepping to hike almost felt no different on this day than it usually does. “Muscle memory” kind of thing, I suppose. Rubber meeting the road never felt so normal. The hike in and out of Grafton Notch was basically the first time I experienced walking over top of other people’s footprints. Kind of felt strange. I was so used to being the only set of footprints that I forgot what it was like to be on top of other’s, it definitely changes the feeling I have while walking. Even though I wasn’t physically running into anyone (yet), it was like I finally wasn’t alone. I don’t want to use the word “tainted” but then again maybe I do. How dare they ruin this experience for me!! Haha just kidding. It’s actually great to know that other people are trying to get out and enjoy this incredibly beautiful winter landscape. It almost dumbfounds me that more people aren’t out in the places I already have been. Enough build up, lets get down to brass tax.
Once I left the footprints and trekked into untouched trail, I had passed Old Speck Mountain. The trail doesn’t actually go to the summit, and on this day I was glad. In the clouds and a constant snowfall, I am not too disappointed when the trail doesn’t keep going up. All I had to do was get past Old Speck Pond and climb to the top of The Arm, easy enough considering the initial climb up Old Speck. But then I stood at the top of The Arm and it was nothing but steeply slanted rock slabs covered in sheets of ice and snow all the way down to the Mahoosuc Notch basically. A one-two punch like no other on the trail. You couldn’t ask for less ideal conditions basically. Controlled and uncontrolled slides all the way to the bottom. It was relentless in how unstable the footing was, even with crampons on. Technically one crampon and one microspike, the extra bite from the more aggressive crampon was entirely helpful, I kept these traction devices on for the entirety of this rugged range.
And then, once I made it to the bottom I had The Notch to maneuver through. This is no small task even in summer. You can still find ice in there in June and July. Its basically like a cavern between two incredibly steep, rock cliff-sided mountains. The longest and slowest mile on the whole trail. Maybe the toughest. To some its the most fun. Certainly a challenge no matter how you slice it. Even on the hottest day you almost feel like you’re under the earth. It has the feel of being in a refrigerator or a cave. You can feel the cold billowing out of the massive crevasses between the boulders as you use your hands to climb up, over, around, under, and through them. Now picture it during winter. I somehow managed to slip, slide, and tumble my way through without any major injuries. I have heard stories of people getting caught and trapped in some of these crevasses and needed to be evacuated out with severe injuries. Thankful to have made it out with only minor bumps and bruises. But man was I ever soaked getting tossed around all over the snow covered rocks. It was a wet snow too. I was completely drenched inside and out. Making camp that night was a relief. Being warm in my bag at the end of the day is what gets me through most of my days. It is the goal everyday. Every morning I wake up and that is my mark, dry warmth in my bag. It is my haven. It is what recharges me to make it out again everyday. I can put myself through anything as long as I have that warm cocoon waiting for me.
I awoke the next morning realizing I had just tackled a major hurdle. But relief didn’t last long, I knew I had a blisteringly cold day ahead of. Temps reaching -20 to -30 with wind chills on the summits that stood in my way of my next mark, Gentian Pond Shelter. And it didn’t really get any less rugged for me. But it was a super clear day, I could see Moriah, the Carters, and Wildcats set in front of the Presidential Range. It was in view for every peak I had to summit on this day. Bittersweet because of bitter cold to have these views. Dealing with the ruggedness and the icy treachery while starting at the Whites, its like a piling on of reality. Can’t waste too much thought on it though, one step at a time.
It took me 12 hours to hike 13 miles that day and when I got to Gentian Pond Shelter I couldn’t waste much time with my camp chores. I had to get water and set up my sleep system before my core temperate began to drop. I had developed walrus tusks from the tips of my mustache because my facemask had frozen TO MY BEARD and had sagged pulling it down and exposing my upper lip and mustache. I couldn’t even pull my mask off as it was literally fused to my beard but I had to deal with these tusks at the very least. So I did the only thing I could think of, I chewed them off. And pretty sure I chewed some of the hairs off along with them. But I still had to get water. I walked down to the outlet of Gentian Pond and had to stomp through the ice to get through to the flowing water, a tricky task when you don’t want to fall in at the same time. It was deathly cold out. And being that I had stopped physically hiking I could already feel the body getting colder in my wet clothes. I didn’t even know at the time that my outer shell was frozen stiff, and so was the stomach and bottom rim of my wool fleece mid layer. Once I got back up to the shelter I struggled to unzip my shell due to its frozeness. But once I did I ripped off all of my wet, cold layers and put on four layers of dry and warm layers. A synthetic Polartec Power Dry waffle type base layer, a different wool mid layer, my down hooded jacket, and then my synthetic hoodie. I needed all of it. By the time I had changed into all of this, all of those wet clothes I took off were frozen stuff. I had to put that stuff on in the morning. Fantastic. I began boiling water immediately so that I could throw my frozen clothes in my sleeping bag with me so that they were not frozen in the morning. They likely wouldn’t dry by then, but they would just get soaked with sweat again anyways. What’s the difference. You gotta accept that shit sometimes. A constant acceptance of my circumstances. Will power. Mind over matter. Whatever you got tell yourself, whatever you wanna call it.
I made it through the night without being cold miraculously. I had a haul in front of me to get into Gorham the next day, but I made it well before dark and it was relatively painless compared to the day before as the temps were slightly warmer (still below zero though). I was comforted all day by the fact that I was going to get pampered by a hiking couple that reached out to me prior to my hike. Chris and Whitney (a 2014 AT thru hiker named Tip Toe) opened their home to me and offered any assistance in making my miles in the Whites a little easier. I was thankful to be getting picked up by them and quickly got to work on thawing out, drying out, and taking care of town chores before I would punch out the next day. The Whites were on deck. A two day window of perfect hiking weather would slightly alter my plan of attack for how I would handle them. To be continued…