17.2 miles, 1927.3 overall (Pine Ellis Hostel, Andover, ME)
Again I get out of camp around 7. I want to get some miles done early today so I have some time in town this evening. However the morning starts out with a big climb up and over the Mahoosuc Arm. It is a 1600 foot climb straight out of camp with more of the climbing up and over rocks. It takes me almost an hour to do. At the top is a short downhill to a shelter and I stop there for a quick break, finding Yellowtail and Sunroof just about to get moving for the day. It is becoming common for me to run into them in the morning. They usually hike just a bit past where I do in the evening but due to their late starts they start behind me in the morning.
By the time I leave the shelter it is 9:00. Two hours have gone by and I’ve only done 1.5 miles. I do the short climb to Old Speck mountain quickly and head downhill to Grafton Notch. I expect that if I’m there by 10-11ish I might see Hawk, Wiffle, Gumpy, Pepper, and Smiles. They had planned to get to Grafton Notch yesterday, stay at the hostel in Andover last night, and slackpack from Grafton Notch to the next road today. When they slackpack they usually get started around 10-11. However it takes me a long time to get down the mountain due to the tough terrain and by the time I reach the bottom it is just past 11:30. I think for sure they have started by now.
As I reach the parking lot at the bottom I hear talking and I wonder if there’s some trail magic. I put the thoughts aside, figuring it is probably dayhikers getting ready for their hike. When I get there though I find Hawk and Peeper talking to Talks-a-lot, a section hiker I haven’t seen since Tennessee. Turns out she is doing her last section of the AT. Hawk and Pepper inform me that only Hawk went to the hostel last night but he brought a shuttle this morning which picked up Gumpy and Pepper’s packs so they could slack with Hawk today. Wiffle and Smiles went to the hostel for a nero. Hawk tells me that if I hike fast enough I can catch the shuttle back to the hostel with them. I’m worried about keeping up with them when they are slacking and I have a full pack but Hawk says Gumpy has just started so I should be able to keep up.
With that we start the climb out of the notch up Baldpate. Finally, a climb I can really get into! The trail is well-graded and I don’t have to rockhop or climb up the mountain. I stop off at a stream to fill up on water and then at the shelter I stop for lunch. I know this will put me a little behind the slackpackers but I need the calories after already hiking 7 miles today and because my legs were so heavy yesterday, something I’m guessing is due to not eating enough protein lately (due to skipping my lunch of fish tortillas). Lunch takes 30 minutes during which I run into some sobo’s who just started in Andover. They say their plan is to make it as far as they can. After watching them for a few minutes and listening to them I wouldn’t put my money on them getting too far.
The rest of the climb up Baldpate is a little tougher but not too bad. It turns out to be one of my favorite mountains so far. The first peak has a great view and the climb up the last couple hundred feet of the second peak are up a slab of granite bedrock. I find myself wishing I could camp up here but my mind is set on getting into town today. I decide to add “summit camp with a view” to the list of things I want to do before I finish my thru-hike which at this point only has “on-trail zero” left on it besides the obvious “summit Katahdin.”
The trip down Baldpate is steep for the first several hundred feet. I feel like I’m falling behind the slackpackers, but I can’t go any faster on the rock slabs. I reach the shelter on the downhill at almost 3:00 and check the register. Gumpy came through at 1:40 and Peeper came through after him. I worry that I’m an hour behind and need to make up some time.
The rest of the trail to the road is a much more gradual slope and lacks the rock that slows me down. I pump up my speed, going faster with music in my ears. I feel like I’m in the south again with the switchbacked trails that I could fly down. I don’t even notice when the forest switches from conifer back to deciduous as I lose elevation. I’m focused on the time and getting to the road before 5. With a mile left I run out of water and, although I pass a stream, I don’t stop to fill up because it would take too much time and the rest of the trail to the road is flat. I arrive at 4:45 and find Hawk, Peeper and Gumpy all waiting. It turns out Hawk and Peeper only arrived 10 minutes ago. Over 10 miles today I was able to keep up with the slackpackers. However my legs and especially my knees don’t like me for it and I’m glad I’m heading into town.
The shuttle arrives at 5 and the driver has lemonade – best idea ever! When we arrive at the Pine Ellis hostel there are hikers on the porch. It turns out they are waiting for the owner to get back to see if there is space. I start to kick myself because I opted not to call and make a reservation. I hope I’m able to get a spot but I start to check the data book for other options. I call the other hostel in town to find out if they have space. When the owner arrives we talk about options. The 3 other hikers want to stay together if possible, but Pine Ellis only has 2 beds. The other hostel allows tenting so all 3 can stay there. They opt to move on, leaving me with a bed for the night. What luck!
The rest of the night is filled with showering, laundry, and eating at the general store down the street where I also take care of resupply. Wiffle picks up some beers and I have one while sitting on the porch. I’ve decided that since I don’t want to slackpack that my best option for tomorrow is to zero. My only worry is that it will delay me in getting to Katahdin. My plane ticket is booked now so I have a deadline, and whatever I don’t hike tomorrow will have to be made up later. Still, my knees need a break. So tomorrow I’ll be zeroing in Andover on the Appalachian Trail.