Day 3, Pemigewassett Loop

Guyot shelter to Lincoln Woods parking area = 11 miles

We approached the car at the Lincoln Woods parking area just as a strong wind dumped real rain on us. Out came our umbrellas and 5 minutes later, we were sitting in the car, dry, sore, and spent.
We did 11 miles today.
We had left the car at 2 PM two days ago, and here it was 2 PM two days later. Not bad for 25 miles in the Whites, backpacking. The Whites are always tough, doesn’t seem to matter where you hike.

The day began for us before 6 AM, when brilliant light shot directly into the Guyot shelter.
Again the routine of boiling water, making coffee, and eating our cereals and milk. We were packed and walking by 7:15 AM today.
Back up the steep 0.2 mile to the Bondcliff trail, our path down to the Pemigewassett River 3,300 feet below. Going to be a big down hill of a day.

But not before a morning climb up to the top of Mount Bond, at 4,714 feet a lesser known but impressive 4,000 footer.

The sun was still bright, the views were astounding, and our eyes met for a knowing moment when Auntie Mame said, “how about a coffee break right up here? It would be perfect!”

We broke out the filter, did our morning boil up, and sat smiling within the ultimate coffee shop, the summit of Mt. Bond.

Even at this early time of day, the skies were darkening to the west, and we hoped to heck we’d escape rain, or worse, lightning. No matter, my morning pepperoni, cheese, mayo and bagel sandwich was just right for me. We’d make it.

Eventually we were back along the Pemi River, motoring along toward the car on an abandoned rail road bed. Here is what is was like to walk fast, on the flats:

After we made it to the car, I wanted to head the 5 miles west to Lincoln and visit with Chet, a young man in a wheelchair who ran a low key hiker respite/hostel in the residential section of town, a block away from Main St. MeGaTex stayed there on August 13, 2007 after a long 16 mile day where we had started from the larking lot on Rt. 112 at Kinsman Notch. It had rained all morning that day. If you want to read about what a 16 mile day is like backpacking this killer section in the Whites , go here, and it is all true:

The place was dark, no one was around, but I rang the doorbell anyway. A couple of large dogs started barking, and I heard a shout from the dark, and then Chet wheeled up to the door, in all his tie-dyed glory. Chet remembered me, and we shook hands warmly.
I wanted to leave Chet some funds to help put him right with the 2008 campaign, and handed him $40 , which pleased him to no end. There have been very few times when I felt so satisfied giving away my cash. Chet told us to go into the garage, and look around, where a new deck was now on the rear of the remodeled bunkhouse. No one was there, it was super clean, and felt like church to me.

I wandered past the 6 plywood bunks, the couches, and the desk. The new porch was beautiful, the yard was now fenced all the way around.
Auntie Mame was reading the graffiti on the woodwork when she called out, “Here’s your name!” And there it was, no here it is, along with the rest of the MeGaTex crew- Bird Dawg, Queso, General Lee, Richard Wizard, and Lifetraveler:

The AT thing makes so much sense to me today. The connections go on, the White mountains are here for as long as forever really reaches.

This Loop trip was major for Marcia and me. We did the same loop 38 years ago, both together then as well. We are even stronger now, in many ways. It took us one less day this time to do the loop. Back then we were in our early 20’s, and to be here now is a very hopeful thing. Morning soreness is with us now, but as V8 has so eloquently put it, we really are are just “ Born to hike”. At least for now, its good enough to me to just keep getting out and sleep, eat, and walk outside, for days at a time.

Day 2, Pemigewassett Wilderness Loop

Start at Thirteen Falls tent site, end at Guyot tent site = 7 miles

It rained during the night, and Marcia’s things got a bit wet from my lack of care in lowering the side walls of the Double Rainbow. I never woke up. Most of my gear was still dry except for a small wet spot of my shirt.
We wandered up under the public blue tarp, where I took my time firing up the wood stove and heated my coffee water. We both had cold cereal with powdered milk.
Eventually we packed up and left the site at 8:45 AM.
It was a gradual uphill of 2.6 miles to the Galehead AMC Hut, and the AT. We were hungry again. I bought a envelope of “ Java Juice” for $2, reconstituted it with some hot water and requested a bowl of hot soup, for another $2. It was just right. We were the only people in the Hut besides the Crew . They told us they had no clients the night before.
The grinding up hill came on as soon as we left the Hut. We had an 1100 foot elevation gain to make in the next 0.8 mile. This converts into very steep hauling. It was a slow 1 MPH plod to the top of South Twin mountain. Here were on top:

We ate our lunch on the top, out of the wind, in a sheltered spot beside a rock.

Before we set off a young man came upon us from the north- our first thru-hiker. He didn’t have a trail name yet, and had departed Mt. Katahdin on April 29. He was really ‘up”, pumped to be heading toward mt. Moosilaukee.
He said, “ After I go over Moosilaukee I can really get to move!”
I told him I thru-hiked the AT last season and after I told him I was uncle Tom, he said that he had read comments either by me, or about me in a number of registers in the shelters to the north.
We stayed up high on the AT , winding our way through the rocks and roots until we turned right in a rock field and headed toward Mt. Guyot , some 0.7 mile off the AT. We were now on the Bondcliff Trail.
The Guyot tent site is probably 0.2 mile off the Bondcliff trail, but has one of the best shelters around. It is clean, had double decks for sleeping, and a clear strong spring right in front. The scene is very alpine-like, and is spread over a steep slope. The shelter itself has a steep slippery ladder leading frm the ground up to the first floor platform.

There was only one other fellow in the shelter, a man named Scott, who came up from the Philadelphia area. We got along just fine.
We all cooked up in the shelter, and were cleaned up by 6 PM.

It was cool and there were no insects to bite us.

Marcia tried her hand at playing Barbara Walters and ran this 4 minute video of our daily summary:

Lovely end to the day.

Mounts Liberty and Flume, New Hampshire White Mountains

Mileage = 9.9

The book is wrong again. It describes this loop as “Difficult”, but Roy and I feel it should be up, or maybe downgraded to “Strenuous”. It all had to do with going up on the Flume Slide Trail. What a killer!
We knew it was going to be an interesting day when we saw a dozen Search and Rescue units in the parking lot at 7:30 AM at the Trail head. They were gearing up for an actual search, likely of a dead 49 year old guy, who was last known to be somewhere out in the area, rumored to have been despondent and intent on suicide. Pretty difficult assignment.
Our hike started up the Whitehouse Trail, then onto the Appalachian Trail via a yellow birch forest along the Liberty Spring Trail. Going up!

Not quite. For the first 1.5 miles the trail was gradual up, quite enjoyable. There were at least a half dozen serious stream crossings that we successfully traversed. The woods tested our skills when we reached the Flume Slide itself, the last mile before reaching Mount Flume summit. Not only was it very steep, it was wet, due to 100% humidity as well as leaking spring waters dripping from and flowing over the broad and unusually steep ledges. In places it was suicide to try and walk across those surfaces, surely inviting broken limbs in the event of a side into the scary rocks below. What we, and apparently several others that had gone before us, had to do was exit the slide itself and take to the dense woods on either side to carry out a form of bushwhacking through the puckerbrush that was almost as sorrowful as continuing up on the rocks. So glad that I had my tall gaiters on.
But a couple of Lara bars and a good while later we finally made it to the Franconia Ridge trail, then turned north to scale the summit of Mt. Flume at 4326 feet. We didn’t see squat for views. We were somewhere in the middle of an actual cloud, but it was calm and not too cold.

We didn’t even stop, but moved on toward 4460 foot Mt. Liberty, here there were 25 people sitting around having a grand old time. Half were members of the Seacoast (NH) day hiking club, and the other half were the rescue-the-probably-deceased-guy team. Roy and I ate lunch here where a black lab ate a piece of my cheddar cheese, but being a quick learner, I held onto the rest of my food.

Here’s a short video of Roy descending from the summit of Mt. Liberty:

Then onto the AT via the Liberty Spring Trail, where Roy drank deeply from that Liberty Spring. It was an unrelenting 2 miles of downhill that was never dangerous, but demanding of our total attention. I love my Leki poles.
We made it back to the car by 2:30 PM. Both of us were plumb done out for the day. These Whites kick ass.
I staggered over to the coin operated hot shower back at our Russell Pond campsite, and after lathering up and slathering off, I flipped the handicap seat down, and just sat, savoring the last of the hot water washing my sins of the day away.
The rain finally hit just as Roy and I were cooking up supper.

Luckily, we both had umbrellas in our cars, and we used them as they were meant to be used as we spooned out rigatoni, meatballs, red sauce, grilled red peppers and summer squash, Parmesan cheese, and poured red wine for our getaway. We carried our plates carefully down to my VW Jetta, where we sat in comfort as we savored those uncomparable epicurean delights.
After we ate, we rousted ourselves sufficiently to ferry various piles of forgotten objects into coolers, boxes, and ultimately our vehicles in preparation for a stress free night of sleep in the tent. You’ve got to have a tent that doesn’t leak when it is raining this hard. We happen to have one of those, tonight.

Franconia Notch Loop Hike

Mileage = 11.4

My brother Roy and I staggered into our campsite at Russell Pond at about 3:30 PM today. It was supposed to be a short day of 6.2 miles, but we ended up making choices that doubled it. So whose to blame? Neither of us, its the Polish way!
Camping with my brother Roy is easy. He gets up at 5 AM, even earlier than I do. We hike at about the same clip, enjoy a good honest day of exertion, both wear a rag on our heads tied into bandanas , just like me. We are sort of a matched set, like salt and pepper shakers.
Today we ended up on the AT again. Our original loop was, again from the Romano book, Loop Hikes .
We started out visiting The Basin, just off Rt. 93. The Basin is a carved recessed rock formation with a deep pool below it.

Henry David Thoreau visited this place in September of 1839. He must of stood right where I did, and wrote that “this pothole is perhaps the most remarkable curiosity of its kind in New England”. Samuel Eastman in his 1858 White Mountain Guide called this spot “One of the beautiful haunts of Nature, a luxurious and delicious bath fit for the ablutions of a goddess”. Pretty lofty observation, but we didn’t see any goddesses nearby.
Then we went up. Up to Kinsman Falls, then Rocky Glen Falls. Truth be told, we hiked in a stream bed most of the morning.

The weather was cool enough, low 70’s, but the humidity was 100%. Our shirts were quickly soaked from sweat.
We opted to extend our original route by swinging left up to the Kinsman Pond Trail, bypassing the AT. Kinsman Pond had a new shelter, at some 3,700 feet elevation.

We stopped there for a mid morning snack, but not for long, as the black flies were biting us like crazy. Humidity and water do that with them.
Our next decision was to extend the loop again. Instead of heading back down to Lonesome Lake Hut on the AT on the Fishin Jimmy Trail, we took the Kinsman Ridge Trail due east toward Cannon Mountain. We went over a series of rounded humps called The Cannon Balls. They roamed around the 3700 foot level, and were never ending.

We finally reached the last Ball where we looked across a deep valley out toward the summit of Cannon, with the big lodge on top. We were close to 3800 feet when we started a steep, unrelenting descent to Lonesome Lake.
We wanted to escape the flies and eat our 1 PM lunch at the Hut. We got there quickly, covering the 2 miles in less than an hour. It was pretty empty there, only three other people eating their picnic lunches in the big room. I passed on buying a $24 T-shirt.
Here we extended our loop a third time, and headed down the Lonesome Lake Trail to the Lafayette Place campground another two miles down. It was a much more gradual descent on this section.
We saw a number of parties heading up to visit Lonesome Lake from the LP campground. When we reached the crowded LP campground we worked our way through the crowded campsites to eventually start our final 2 miles push back to the Basin, where we started the day. It was easy walking, but we were tired . We were also surprised that there was nobody on the trail.
Roy surmised that folks who were staying at the LP campground were probably dismayed to learn that it was a whole 4 mile round trip from their site to the features around the Basin, so they probably took their cars. He and I stripped off our shoes and socks and soaked our aching feet for a very brief time in the ice cold clear waters of the Pemigewassett River.

Roy fell as soon as we started up from the mossy rock. Long day.
Just as we were about 5 minutes from reaching the car, he approached a big wet room sized ledge we had to cross, when he turned to me and said, “Be careful, this looks slippery.” The second step he took sent both legs out from under him and he fell on his left hip, hard. He was in big hurt, and I half expected him to have a broken hip. He was wincing in obvious pain and I encouraged him to just lay there and wait until he settled down. Some 5 minutes later I helped him up and we made it back to the car, tentatively.
Ibuprofen time.
Back at the site, we slowly put together a feast. I’ll let Roy explain.

Day 1, Pemigewasset Wilderness Loop, 8.1 miles

( trip taken June 18, 2008 )

Today marks an official revisit of a classic White Mountains ( NH) backpacking loop hike. The first time Marcia ( Auntie Mame) and I ( Uncle Tom) did this loop we were still young people, braving the woods as a couple for our first time, way back in 1970, 38 years ago!
This particular loop made its way into Jeffrey Romano’s 2006 publication, Best Loop Hikes; New Hampshire’s White Mountains to the Maine Coast . Much of the data from this report was taken from Jeff’s excellent guide to this hike. It is listed as a 2-3 day hike, which is just about right. Way back around the Summer of Love, it took us 4 or 5 days to compete, but that’s when I was carrying a 60 pound backpack and the concept of ultralight gear had not been even conceived.
Today should be easy. We started at about 2 PM, leaving the parking lot at Lincoln Woods where the Pemigewasset River crosses Route 112, on the Kancamangus Highway, itself a National Scenic Byway. When we left the car, I predicted we’d be at the tent site at 5:20 PM. Our destination was the Thirteen Falls tent site, 8.1 miles, but just 1000 feet higher in elevation, away. Although it was a sunny summer day, we only saw two other couples on the whole ascent, those in the first 3 miles.
The first 3 miles of walking was along a straight-as-an-arrow abandoned logging rail bed. At the end of that section was a brand new footbridge that led to an intersection where we took a left hand turn , picking up the Franconia Brook Trail. This section was another abandoned rail bed, but beavers dammed some streams and made our travel a bit slower.

We made many stream crossings, perhaps 10. Four of those were challenging, as there was considerable water flowing down Franconia Brook.

I depended on my extended Leki trekking poles to help with balance on the sometimes slippery rocks.
There were wet areas on the trial as well, including one black muckhole obstructed by a large fallen tree that required me to get down on my hands and knees and crawl under. When my hat fell off my head it became instantly mud encrusted and unwearable.
At some, Marcia gave me the lead.
I told her, “You have a beautiful smile.” Later, I leaned that she though I said, “You had some beautiful miles”. At least she heard a compliment, and not a complaint.
Eventually we came closer to a series of loud waterfalls, and at exactly 5:20 PM we arrived at our destination.

There were only two other tents occupying earth platforms at the Thirteen Falls tent site. We set up our little tent, got water from the stream, and cooked up Brad Purdy’s excellent “Curry in a Hurry” dehydrated mix. In a tree nearby, a wood thrush was singing sweetly against the sounds of falling water.
We talked a bit with the other backpackers who were camping nearby. One of the men told us that he had visited the Galehead AMC Hut earlier in the day where he was told that they had no customers the night before. Zero.
We cleaned up after supper and placed our food bags in the bear proof lockers by the caretaker’s tent. He came over later and collected $8 from each of us.
I felt so reassuring to me to engage in the routine at the end of the day. It was settling to run though the things that need to be done to be comfortable in the woods: washing off grime, eating, making a bed space, jotting down notes, and listening to the sounds of nature as my head rested down for the night.
Best of all was to be in the uplifting presence of my wife, who has now hiked just about half of the 2,175 mile Appalachian Trail . She now understands why I need to be out here again.

Day 3, Maine Memorial Day weekend, 2008

12 miles 

       We squeezed out our last day on the GLT by mid afternoon, and reached our vehicle  just as the predicted rain started to fall.  Truly, our trip was blessed by the best two day window of weather out of of the surrounding 10 day stretch.  

     I awoke before the two hammock hangers and probably rousted Rangoon with the smell of wood smoke emanating from my paint can wood stove. 

Sure, it takes me longer to get my water boiled than a flame thrower Jet Boil or even an alcohol stove, but I like using dry fire wood, which was in abundance around our camp site.  I keep learning how to improve the efficiency of working the little firebox, which seems to do best with the steady addition of pencil thin pieces of fuel, at the rate of a couple of sticks every two minutes or so.  It does require close tending, an ancient ritual that is foreign to us in modern America, but which is no doubt the morning routine of millions of others of us today scattered throughout the globe.  

     I measured out three spoons of ground coffee into my MSR filter, placed it in my Orikaso folding mug, poured the boiling water in and soon, I was in breakfast land, sipping hot joe and munching down a couple of crumbled strawberry icing-glazed Pop Tarts. Yum.

     We still had some work ahead of us today.  

     First, we had to work our way up some 600 vertical feet to the Town Corner campsite, then ascend another 600 vertical feet to the summit of Long Mountain at 3,021”.  I was pulling myself along at the back of our little pack this morning,  enjoying the heck out  of the meandering trail,  when at some point the trail designer must have tired of moving the angle of the path to and fro up the hillside and proclaimed, “Let’s get this over with!”  We headed straight up.  

     I looked at the map again , and there it was.  A perfectly drawn straight line that headed up the last half of the ascent to the top of Long Mountain.  The trail was following the yellow paint parks that define the town line between Newry and Andover.  I kept plodding on, slowly but surely,  and made it up eventually, and appreciated that Tso and ‘Goon waited for me a couple of times on their own measured pull up the mountain.   

It was then down, down,  down, eventually down to a low point at some 1600’,

which might have been Chase Hill Brook. 

Here is 5 minute movie of Rangoon and Tso walking on the flats before we head up:

Then the last final challenge up to the top of Puzzle Mountain, at 3,080’.  Can you say, “Dig deep?”   I downed my final bottle of 5 Hour Energy and hoped like hell it could click in, soon. It’s not easy gaining 1400 feet of elevation in a mile.   

     We spent the bulk of the time from noon until about 2:30 PM,  walking and eating up the rest of our food, knowing that we’d soon be in the car, and destinations known.  Thankfully the last half mile of ascent had something resembling switchbacks laid down ahead of us to assist our throbbing calve muscles.  The humidity was rising as we completed the day, and with it clouds of black flies then proceeded to fly into our mouths and eyeballs.  I even slathered bug repellant that I got from Tso.  

The last couple of miles were fairly easy a descent back to the lot on Rt. 26. 

So, in the end, we did it.  I apparently misread the Maine Sunday Telegram article written by Carey Kish about hiking the Grafton Loop Trail, where he says “ Two days is too fast.”  We ended up doing the Loop in a 48 hour period , plus 5 hours.  Only he was talking about half the Loop.  No matter.  It wasn’t so bad, no really, it was pretty good.  

What can I say about hiking with these two men?  I can’t say enough.  It was a glorious return , occasionally humbling, but mostly  deeply satisfying experience to be back in the woods with these two respected veterans of last years Long Haul hike.  Rangoon, Tso,  and I just work together well, and we enjoy each other’s company immensely.  There does not seem to be much that we can’t do, day after day.  We’re planning to keep doing it.  


Maine, Day 2, Memorial Day weekend, 2008

Day 2, 14 miles
Day 2 on the Grafton Loop Trail (GLT) found the Maine Train greeting the day off The G Loop.
We rousted ourselves in the cool morning temps a mere stone’s throw from Spec Pond, lying at an elevation of 3,500 feet and said to be the highest pond in Maine, bordered by thick woods. Yesterday, we passed up the Slide Mountain campsite on our press to the top of Old Spec, 13.3 miles from the start of our hike. We felt we had enough gas in the tank to make it to the Spec Pond campsite, approximately 1 mile off the GLT, descending on the Mahoosuc Trail, which is also the Appalachian Trail. It would require a mile backtrack this morning, making up even more elevation before we started new ground. Here’

s a short morning video of Rangoon and General Tso at the shelter taken just before we start walking in the morning:

On the section from Old Spec headed downhill we encountered snow, some four feet deep in places:

Our first major landmark was the upper parking lot at Grafton Notch State park, but not before we took a side loop trail out over The Eyebrow. The Eyebrow trail features numerous rock outlooks, views of sheer faces and a beautiful beech grove near the lower part of the trail.
     We were motoring along this trail when we spotted a family of four sitting near the top of the Eyebrow taking a break. As I approached them, a red haired , ten year old boy called out, “ Hey, its Uncle Tom!” Some glimmer of familiarity started to register from deep in my consciousness, and I slowly realized I also recognized his father . Myles was a fifth grader at South School, where I had given a talk/ demonstration/slide show of my AT thru hike. Maybe my efforts to reach out about the Trail played some part in this Rockland, Maine family’s decision to do hike their own hike on this Memorial Day weekend?
     Soon, Tso, ‘

Goon and I were hanging out, eating snacks at the picnic table in the parking lot. The lot was filling up.

     First, we observed a large family group of Asians heading toward the trail, dressed in new hiking clothes, and chattering away in words we did not understand. Next , we talked with a sightseer from MA who thought he was headed to Vermont, but instead found himself in Maine, product of a serious wrong turn. He joked about his appreciation for Maine, specifically, about his appreciation for the outhouse at the edge of the lot. He thanked us Mainers for allowing him to make a “ deposit” in out great state and promised to come back again sometime. Then we talked up a young , obviously pregnant woman who joined us for a few moments of talk before she and her friends headed up the Eyebrow. We shared some safety concerns with her and wished her well.
     Next, we headed North up the AT, where we’d be spending the next 4 miles climbing toward the East Baldpate summit at 3,812 feet. On the way up, we stopped for a snack at the Baldpate Lean-to, the only lean to that was actually on the whole GLT loop. I remembered snacking here last August.
     The views that came next are some of the best on the AT. After one reaches the West Baldpate summit at 3,680 feet, you look out over an expanse of a mile and a half toward the exposed ledges of East Baldpate. If one looks carefully enough, and your eyes are good, you might even make out human forms against the ledges far off in the distance. Between there and here, you look down over the winding trail ahead and see the cuts in the low Trail, elevated wooden walkways, and may even see a permanent ladder silhouetted against the sky. It is also very satisfying to move so quickly across what appears to be perceived as a very long distance, and be there in no time. Here’s a video of Tso and ‘

Goon resting after the climb up to West Baldpate with a look over toward East Baldpate:

We had a steep descent off the summit of East Baldpate

as we headed toward Lightening Ledge below at 2,644 feet. We negotiated a section that was so steep that metal rungs were employed to descend. More snow.

     Views west are plentiful. Ever present in the western skyline are the snow capped summits of the New Hampshire’

s Presidential range.

     Our destination at the end of our first full day of hiking was the Knoll Campsite. All the sites on the GLT have earthen pads, and outhouses. A side trail led to a Wight Brook swimming hole, which I didn’

t visit. We located a suitable spot for the guys to put up their hammocks and me my tent.

Knoll campsite
     It was the usual routine of boiling water, eating, and even hanging out.
Rangoon and I threw a line up high and hung all our food bags from the limb of a tree.

     We had neighbors. At some point as we were setting up , a group composed of two couples and a single woman from the Boston , MA area settled in nearby. As darkness fell they invited us over to their campfire (for the record, open fires are not permitted at any campsites on the GLT). No matter, we sat near it, grilled some marshmallows, and assembled a couple of Someore’

s . Turns out that one of the women was the ex-girlfriend of Gabe, a fellow mountain biker I know who lives down the street from me in Hope, ME.

     It was a satisfying day, and we continued to be pleasantly surprised about our ability to do relatively serious miles , walking right onto part of the most rugged hiking in ME. Part of my success, for sure, was my afternoon dose of a 2 ounce bottle of 5-Hour Energy. My friend Chris swears by the stuff, and I have conctinued to be amazed by the support if gives me when i need it the most, in the afternoon. Could it be the 8333.0 % minimum daily requirement of the trusty vitamin B12 in there ? Here a photo of my good friend and AT benefactor Clarkie, who has even been known to buy the stuff by the case!

     I was beat . My tent was beckoning me, and the experience of sliding into my familiar down bag on top of my reliable and comfortable Big Agnes air core mattress was all I needed to drift off, surrounded by the wilds of the Mahoosucs.

Day 1, Grafton Loop, 2008

In the past year, I’ve walked in tears, I’ve walked in awe, I’ve walked in sweat, I’ve walked over ice, but this weekend, I walked in glory.
Initially, it seemed that the idea of this hike was vaporizing me, hanging on my horizon, never really real. General Tso, Rangoon, and I set up this weekend adventure a couple of months ago. We wanted to hike together, something we had missed doing after the three of us spent our last day together on the AT as a trio on May 10 during our thru-hike in 2007. But now it was time. We were fortunate enough to squeeze the best of 3 days out the the neighboring 10 on the Memorial Day weekend.
The car aimed north, up to Bethel, in the western Maine mountains last night, after the three of us rendezvoused at Bikeman, Tso’s work place, in Woolwich, ME. Our digs for the night was the Bethel Village motel, located through Wingfoot’s Thru-Hikers Handbook. Cheap, walking distance to a supermarket, and hiker friendly.
The evening quickly slithered its way along in typical AT town fashion, where we hit the grocery store about 8 PM and bought all kinds of food and drinks that we proceeded to attack in our motel room in downtown Bethel: junk food, including REAL Whoopie Pies, kettle chips, and beer. The TV sat silent. We were fine with catching up on old time, places, and horizons.

On Saturday, I was ready go go at 6:30 AM, but there was no apparent rush from Tso and Rangoon, who were content to zzz away the hours as the morning inched on. We eventually collected our gear, found a breakfast diner off Route 2, and then rumbled north up Route 26 for 12 miles to the lower parking lot for the Grafton Loop Trail ( GLT), where we shouldered out backpacks and launched into the great outdoors at 10:15 AM. Well, almost the great outdoors. The trail head for the western half of the GLT is a 0.6 mile road walk south back down Rt. 26, where a prominent sign beckoned us into the newly cut trail. By the way, the map is wrong, in placing the parking lot on the western side of 26, heading north. It’s actually on the eastern side of the road.

We weren’t sure exactly how many miles we had to do. The new trail connects to 8 miles of the AT at two points on either side of Grafton Notch to create a giant loop, 43 miles in length. The design is intended to connect a series of scenic peaks, woods and streams with a trail that will provide a 3- to 5-day, semi-wilderness experience for backpackers, while also providing an alternative route to AT hikers, drawing people away from the heavily used AT. We did it in a little over two days. It was not an easy backpack.        Nope, anything that has 8 miles of the AT from this section of Maine is going to be tough. I have hiked all 2,175 miles of the AT. The 48 mile slice from the Maine border to Rt. 17 outside of Oquossoc is the toughest section of all, and we were doing 8 of those miles.

The GLT is a historical mini- event in the Northern New England backpacking world. For the AMC, the Grafton Loop Trail west leg was the first major trail constructed by the club since the building of the Centennial Trail in the Mahoosucs in 1976.
The eastern half was completed by the Maine Appalachian Trail Club. The trail is beautifully laid out, and rock stairs are occasionally evident. We are even provided the relatively rare experience of holding on for deal life through grasping metal rungs on particularly dicey mini-cliffs.

“This is probably the longest stretch of loop trail in the State of Maine,” noted Steve Spencer, designer and recreation specialist for the Bureau of Parks and Lands in the Maine Department of Conservation. Steve also did the design work on the Wright Trail to Goose Eye Mountain, which quickly became a popular and heavily used trail. According to literature published by the Maine ATC, the estimate of the cost of this trail was initially $7,000 per mile, with reduction in that cost to be provided by the volunteer force that turned out to construct the actual trail.
“We put in over 15,000 hours of professional trail crew time and over 10,000 hours of volunteer trail crew time to get this done,” said Andrew Norkin, AMC’s director of trails and recreation management. “Our biggest challenge was the terrain of the Mahoosucs. We spent a lot of time making sure our work done on Sunday River Whitecap was of a high standard, because it is an alpine peak. At the time, there wasn’t any trail up it, except bootleg trails,” he said. Those volunteers deserve a huge shout out.

My watch’s altimeter register 720’ at the trailhead. The first mile of walking was nice. Ranroon front, Tso      We’d never see this elevation until we reached the car again. It was still cool out. Ample water was evident throughout the loop, present at all of the campsites. There are two on this western loop, at Sargent Brook and Slide Mountain, but we passed them on our quest for some decent mileage on this first truncated day. I never carried more than a quart of water all weekend.
I started out riding caboose, following Tso and the Goon.
After leaving Rt. 26, the path crosses the Bear River on an out of season snowmobile path, complete with suspension bridge. Then it crosses two fields and enters the woods, following an old road south. Out first high point was Bald Mountain, some 3.2 miles from the start. The trail was graded nicely, considering the fact that we were still headed toward the top of 2730’ Stowe Mountain. Eventually we got there, with rewarding views from open ledges skirting the summit.
We remarked on the excellent foot path. The trail is so new that it still retains that cushiony feel each time we stepped over the ground. Someday the footpath will be packed and hard, like any heavily used trail, but right now our feet and knees were loving it. The trail then shot toward a traverse of Sunday River Whitecap.

We had no goals for the day, other than putting on some good miles. Doing the math, the whole loop is 40+ miles long, and we were putting in at 10 AM on Saturday, coming out two days later on Monday, so we needed to average 13+ a day, which should not have been too bad. Except, today offered big elevation gains on the uphills, a tough pull any day of the week for a seasoned hiker, let alone ones who were out of form.
Wait, now I know why the first day was tough. It would actually demand that we ascend close to a mile in direct elevation gain, coming up over three major mountains.
After Sunday River Whitecap, the trail skirts the slide on Slide Mountain, descends into the upper Bull Branch (of the Sunday River) valley, and finally climbs the southern flank of Old Speck to reconnect with the AT.

We surprised even ourselves by reaching the Spec Pond Campsite by 6 PM or so. There were a half dozen people hanging around the lean-to when we arrived. One couple with a tent was set up in the lean-to. When the group realized that at least two of us were considering sleeping in the shelter, most retreated to tent platforms, except for one woman who slept in the lean to with her dog by her side.

“ Hey, I don’t even remember whether I stayed at this shelter. I am drawing a blank,” I said.
Tso offered, “Here is the register.”
I didn’t think it would be reflect last hiking season, as the shelter registers I had read in Virginia a week ago were all from 2008. But, there was my brief entry, on August 23, 2007, written at 9:30 in the morning as I was was just passing through. Later I remembered that MEGATEX spent the night before I reached here last year at a campsite “au sauvage” at some flat spaces at the north end of Mahoosuc notch, well out of range of the stench from a decomposing moose carcass smack dab in the middle of the trail at the entrance of the Notch.

I decided to sleep in the shelter, as did Rangoon. Tso was in his hammock. We slept really well. I downed four ibuprofen before bed, as I felt my body needed some cushion from the day we just completed .  More oscilloscope profile hiking ahead of us tomorrow.

Hiking the AT in VA, day 3

May 20, 2008 –  12 miles traveled

Awoke to cloudy skies, but no rain. I was out of the tent first, where I was immediately hobbling around. My calves were tight, sore, and protesting.   Right, this is what would happen , after leaping right onto the AT with the Speedy Sisters and downing 16 miles yesterday?
I retrieved our food bags from a tree limb and successfully fired up my little paint can wood stove. I like screwing around with the idea of carrying no fuel, and gathering up twigs and shreds of fallen birch bark and cooking on the little fires I make in the stove. In the morning , I love a hot cup of fresh brewed joe, and use Rock City ( Rockland, Maine) coffees exclusively. I have a small MSR drip/ screened funnel ,that takes the three spoons full of ground coffee that I place in my Orikaso folding cup. Gotta have it! My standard trail breakfast is a packet of 2 PopTarts, usually tallying about 420 calories right off the bat.
V8 was up and cooking in her own single Rainbow Tarptent. Auntie Mame was soon up and at it as well.
Twin Double Rainbows?

We were on the trail by 8 am. We soon passed by the campsite/ spring to the left of Symmes Meadow, a real attractive place, and one where I would have preferred to spend last night. But V8 did the right thing, encouraging us to get off the ridge to a lower elevation, as there were thunderstorms predicted for the night that thankfully never materialized.
At mid morning we veered left to visit at the Rice Field shelter, where Auntie Mame and V8 were pleased to reconnect with some thru-hikers they knew.   There was a young man there who was planning to replace his boots with a pair of Merrills. He was telling everyone that Merrills were great, but that was not the experience of the people I knew who hiked in them last year.   I heard many complaints about the poor customer service from Merrill, and did not want to get into it with him, so I kept quiet and let him “ Hike his own hike.”
Another young man told me he had cut off the straps from his Leki poles “for safety”. I shut up about that too, and permitted him to hike his own hike as well.

From Rice Field shelter, the trail stayed on the 3500 foot ridge for another 3 miles of glorious hiking conditions when it started its descent down into the industrial waste hole that you have to pass through to get to Pearisburg.
Reluctantly, I remembered this stint well , even though I came through it from the other direction last year. You first see the chemical plant from the top of a field, and it looks close but no. The Trail swerves over a landfill, then the entrance to the dump, and goes up and over two hills that were humid, slimy, and slippery underfoot. As we approached the highway, a train was thundering in front of us, there was the whine of the traffic on the highway, and there was a lot of industrial noise and smoke emitting from the chemical plant. It was pretty funny. I laughed to stifle the negative reaction welling up from inside me.
We then walked through the property of the chemical plant, went under the highway, and then walked our way back to our car at the Rendezvous motel, which was booked solid. Brenda, the owner, found us a reservation back up at the Plaza Motel, where we settled in for a stint in the “shower world”.
I was in awe at the amount of packing, unpacking, repacking, cataloguing, and fretting about food and gear that the twins were handling. They are big on resupply, and bounce boxes, and this is all part of that deal. I started my thru-hike with a bounce box, but eventually gave it up after I realized that I was the only one of MEGATEX who had subscribed to the practice.
It was somewhere around here last year that I remember General Lee asking me , “Why?” regarding the bounce box deal. He said , “Just buy what you need when you get to a place that sells stuff”. No more worries about delayed deliveries, or the extra work dealing with the packing and unpacking.
“ Fugget aboud it! “ worked fine for me.
V8 and Auntie Mame heading up Rocky Gap
So tomorrow I drive the twins back to Rocky Gap and fly back to Maine, where I get two days off and then continue hiking on the AT, this time in western Maine with Rangoon and General Tso.
I love this retirement deal. Some one has to do it.

Hiking the AT in VA, day 2

May 19, 2007   distance traveled  16 miles
Pine Swamp Branch shelter

Day 2 found the floating family up and at ‘em. No rain now . Warmer. But what a storm we experienced in our tents! One of those thunderclap lightning strikes hit right near here, at about 2:30 AM .   Hugely loud, heart pounding close, and thankfully the the storm moved along the ridge past us. Mame and I called out to V8 to be sure she wasn’t toast. It was heartening to hear her response of “ I’m OK.”   Sheesh!
But up here in this 4,000 foot world, it still wasn’t warm. Since we were up at altitude, our first steps were met by something I have not seen for almost a year, the phenomenon of walking high up on a thick green ridge, stepping on a relatively rock free footpath, one that serpently entwined through the countryside to let the discerning backpacker ooh and aaugh at the large boulders, rock escarpments, and ancient ones that on encounters here in this part of Virginia.

This AT is not listed as a National Scenic Trail for nothing. I called out to the twins, “ Look at how the Trail winds near this tree”, and “Whoo!  We just passed so close to that rock formation.  Nice!”They put up with my babbling Trail commentary .
I find I capitalize the word “Trail “ when I refer to it. It is a different sort of trail that I walk on, one that has earned the status of “ Trail” . I feel that people cheapen it when they refer to it as just another “trail”. Come on people, we have laid so much consciousness and hope on this one footpath that it is one of the only places that has earned the sweat, fears, crushed dreams, and redemption that has marked it as the real “Trail!”
Eventually we passed the Pine Swamp Branch Shelter, now roofless. In 2007 the roof was crushed on April 17 during a thunderstorm, with the tree still laying upon the ravaged cover. Rangoon, Bird Dawg, General Lee, and The Captain joined me last year spending the night inside the shelter. We squeezed into the flattened bunks.   Here’s what it looks like now.
After passing the shelter, the Trail ascended about 1,500 feet in altitude. I decide to start first, and was shocked at how easily I made it up to the top, mainly because the ascent was fabulously switched-backed.   Here is a shot of me waiting for V8 and Mame, at the junction of the Allegheny Trail up on Pine Swamp Ridge.
These manicured switchbacks are limited to the south. Up in New England, you will literally weep, as the elevation goes straight over rocks and roots for over 2,000 feet.  Numerous times . And once you are up to altitude , you have no 14 mile ridge walk, like here . You go up, you go down.   Wait, maybe you have one more place where this happens . In New Hampshire, but that is scary, exposed, fraught with danger, and home to some of the worst weather in the world.

One of my Trail mentors, Crazy Horse, told me to make a laminated paper and hang it off my pack with my vital statistics on it when I approach the Whites.  It can get that bad there.  I’m talking the White Mountains, specifically the Presidential Range. A place where MEGATEX’s own Rangoon, found himself in that mystery world and backpacked over 26 miles in one day. The man will be a legend for the rest of his life.   Many will reminisce about his phenomenal achievement, which will grow huge as the years pass.
Eventually we reached the end of our walking day, with V8 suggesting we move off the ridge , as more lightning and thunderstorms were predicted for the evening. She found two relatively flat spots off to the edge of Symmes Meadow on an old road.

Double Rainbow tent on 4,000 foot ridge
We put up the two tents and ate as quickly as we were could. Water was an issue for me. I had none. I found a wet effluent area nearby that I morphed into a adequate water source by digging away some leaf muck , and then took one large curly dock leaf and jammed it into the mud above to create a spout that I used to collect ground water.