Day 74 – The Mahoosuc Notch

Today I hiked the single hardest mile of this trail but I would not call it walking. In the late morning I arrived at the coveted, feared and revered Mahoosuc Notch. It is a mile long stretch of the trail nestled so tightly between two mountains that snow, ice and and a Jurassic look linger and accumulate. With there being snow every place else on the trail (it snowed last night), the Mahoosuc notch was going to be a challenge. I crawled through a small hole in the pile of house size boulders and entered the vaunted stretch. I had to pick my jaw up off the ground. It looked like I had walked back into the ice age. Everything was white, dreary, and frozen. There were crevasses, ice coated rocks and icicles stretching many feet. This mile of trail looked like an impossible task. I slowly worked my way around open ice pits leading down deeper than I could see. Slipping into one of these would be quite a problem. I managed to avoid the icy crevasses only to sink up to my waist in snow nearly every other step. Once stuck up to my pack I would lean forward and claw my way back to the surface. This pattern of narrowly skirting the icy depths and dragging myself out of the deep snow drifts continued for nearly the full mile and I was soon exhausted. At the north end of the Notch I had one final challenge. I needed to duck beneath two semi truck sized rocks balanced perfectly, turn my body 180 degrees and carefully work my pack burdened body out of the notch. I was ready until I found both rocks coated in the slickest ice imaginable. Now I had to find a way to climb out from under these rocks 12 feet vertically to make it out of the notch. I dug deep into my bouldering (rock climbing) skills and jumped right into the problem head on. My first step was to wedge myself between the two giant rocks with one traction device clad foot on each of the two rocks to bridge myself. Now the only way to continue upwards towards the light was to find a hold for my hands. I found a notch on each wall about the size of a nickel. This was just big enough to fit each index finger into. Now was the crucial moment of deciding if I felt comfortable briefly putting all my weight onto two fingers wedged into the ice. I went for it and gained the two feet which was all I needed to reach the top of the neighboring rock and roll out of the Mahoosuc notch. Just as I rolled over I heard the unmistakable clink of a falling plastic bottle. It bounced a few times and as I peered down into the notch I saw it carefully balanced on an iced hole that lead deep into the rocks. I took off my pack and did the similar contortions I performed to climb out of the notch in reverse to try to rescue my only water bottle. Just as I reached the bottom the bottle shifted and was gone forever as it clinked down deep into the depths of the unknown. It was a wasted effort. I had made it through with no major issues but I should not have let my guard down. On the climb out of the notch to the Mahoosuc arm somehow my tent became dislodged from my pack. Another fun back track began when I realized what had happen. I found it luckily. The rest of my day involved a lot of sliding through slush down to grafton notch. In all today I lost one sock, broke one trekking pole, ripped my rain pants, bruised my tailbone and lost one water bottle. Amazingly all these occurred after the Mahoosuc Notch with the exception of the water bottle. I arranged to go into Bethel to replace and fix some gear I have had issues with as well as a couple of the above items and the owner of the outdoor store went above and beyond and allowed me to stay in the small cabin near his house!