So when all was said and done, we choose New Hampshire.
Our plan was to hike 4 days on the AT (Appalachian Trail), just North of the Presidentials in an area called the Mahoosuc Range. It begins just north of Rt 2 in Gorham. We had two cars, so we planned to drop one down in Gorham and then take the 2nd car North thru the town of Berlin and then drive out about 20 miles North of where the first car was left.
Thursday morning found us waking in central Vermont. We spent the morning picking up gear, gorp and other last minute items. We dropped the first car at our southern terminus (Gorham, which is about 25 miles north of Mt. Washington) at about 2pm. We then drove up to Berlin and began searching for Success Pond Road which would take us past a couple of trailheads that would lead us various points on the AT. The first problem was that Success Pond Road didnt have a sign.
We drove through the town of Berlin a couple of times, admiring a beautiful face of rock face that towered above the town and looked like great friction climbing. Unfortunately, Berlin is a paper mill town. A huge smokestack constantly churned out a sulfur smelling cloud, which apparently has degraded the quality of the rock over time. But Id still like to check it out.
Success Pond Road ended up (40 minutes later), as an unpaved logging road. The top speed I could muster in my 18 year-old Saab was 25mph. Luckily, the trailhead we were looking for (Carlo Col trail) was only 8.2 miles up. Note that none of the trailheads were marked by the road, so it was necessary to have an odometer target.
We didnt get on the trail until 4pm, but the Carlo Col shelter was only about 1½ miles away. The hike began as a gradual uphill passing over and back on a brook. But after about ½ mile, it started getting steeper and steeper.
On the trail, there was an abundance of fresh Moose droppings, and I was hopeful that we would encounter some. The trail continued a relentless climb, and we arrived at the Carlo Col site at about 6pm. The trail was a great warm up for me, as I hadnt been out on the trail in over a year. It made me sweat and made my hips sore from the waistbelt.
So we arrive at Carlo Col, and AT site with a shelter and 8 tent platforms. There was 1 person there. We set up our tent, made dinner with our new MSR stove. It was a BIG improvement over my old propane/butane stove. The MSR (whisperlite) is fueled by white gas. It burns much hotter, and getting a big pot of water to boil takes about 1/3rd the time.
We opted to sleep in our tents each night, preferring them over the shelters. The shelters (enhanced lean-tos), though in very good condition, didnt seem to offer as much fresh air. They also seemed pretty well stocked with mosquitoes. During the trip, we encountered a number of AT thru hikers (Maine-Georgia). To a one, they stayed in the shelters. Since the shelters are spaced quite regularly along the trail, it make the a tent and attractive option, rather than a necessity.
We awoke the next morning (Friday), broke camp and headed south toward the peak of Mt. Success (about 9:15a). Again, the hike up was steep, but shortly after leaving the campsite, we were experiencing beautiful views above the treeline.
Now the peak of Mt. Success is only 2.2 miles from the Carlo Col Shelter. But it took the 3 of us about 3 hours to get there. Thats how steep the hiking is in the Mahoosucs. Unlike the Presidentials, where you typically climb up above tree line and then follow a ridge, the Mahoosuc Trail offers hiking that entails big climbs followed by big descents.
So after a seemingly endless morning, we ended up getting to the top of Mt. Success and having lunch. The views were terrific. We could see all the way up and down the White Mountains chain. Big rolling green hills in all directions. We didnt stay long, as the rumble of thunder prompted us to get off the summit. The rain began falling about 15 min. later, and continued for the rest of the day. The hike down seemed just as long as the hike up, with one exceptionally long steep descent that seemed to go on forever.
--Have mentioned that the terrain here was steep?
We arrived at the Gentian Pond Campsite at about 4pm. In about 5 hours of hiking, we had only covered 5.2 miles. And I was really beat. I guess the fact that I was soaked had something to do with it, as the rain was steady from the time we left the summit. I looked forward to changing into some dry clothes, eating, and feeling better. Regrettably, this didnt happen. Not having hiked in a while, I didnt realize that as I hiked in the rain, everything in my pack was getting soaked. I neglected to bring a rain cover for the pack. Now ordinarily, this wouldnt slow me down, because inside the pack, I usually stash some dry clothes in waterproof stuff sacks, for just such an occasion. But when I opened my pack, I realized my beginners error. My waterproof sack was stuffed with
my raingear! Arrgh! Oh well, at least the sun had come out and my sleeping bag was still dry.
The Gentian Pond shelter and campsite are among the nicest Ive seen in the Whites. The shelter is set in a narrow saddle between two highpoints, and it overlooks the valley where Gorham sits. About 100 behind the shelter is Gentian pond. A tranquil pond with exposed rock faces about 500 above the water. It looked like good swimming, but it was a soggy evening, and a cursory read of the shelters guest log had mention of leeches, so I wasnt anxious to dive in.
My buddy Glenn was having a hard time with the terrain. Even with poles, his knees were taking a beating. My girlfriend, whos an acupuncturist worked on the knee for a while, but it didnt seem like we were going to be able to take another day of this. Our plan was a 6-mile day through similar terrain to the next shelter, and then another 6 mile descent on Sunday to take us back to the first car.
Saturday morning dawned with clear blue skies and lots of sun. The view from the Shelter was sublime. Moisture from yesterdays rain filled the valley with clouds. Only our ridge rose above it. We ate breakfast while watching the fog rapidly burn off. By now, we had all silently agree to bail on our itinerary and head for the valley. Glenns knee had not improved much, all my stuff was wet, as was my girlfriends and this was her first exposure to overnight camping (quite an introduction).
We descended to the valley floor in about an hour. That left us on a dirt road along a stream. On the banks, thousands of orange and black butterflies went about their business. We followed the road, which followed the stream for about 2 ½ hours before reaching the highway and without ever seeing a vehicle. We caught a ride in less than 5 minutes, in a 1969 Chevrolet Imperial and were back at the 1st car in short order.
The Mahoosuc Ridge covers some tough terrain, but it more than makes up for it in views, great campsites, and few visitors. On our way back through Franconia Notch, the parking at all the trailheads was overflowing. On a 3 day outing, we encountered about 6 groups of hikers.
The trail just north of Carlo Col is called the Mahoosuc Notch. Its reputed to be the hardest mile on the entire AT. Based on what I saw in the Southern Mahoosuc, Id believe it.
I highly recommend this area for a camping trip. I think its views beat those of the Presidentials, and the area has a real wilderness feel to it. Some suggestions: Prepare. We would have been much better off if we had beefed up our endurance prior to the hike. Running, and carrying a loaded pack around the Preserve for a few days would have helped. Also, bring poles. Everyone we encountered carrying any kind of load had the poles. They all agreed that they couldnt imagine doing this section without them. Lastly, travel light. Try to pack only what you know you need for warmth and comfort. I ended up carrying an extra two days of food we didnt eat, and it really make a difference.
This kind of trip on the AT requires 2 cars. But I understand that there is a brand new loop trail in the area of Grafton Notch, only 10 miles away. Info on the AMC web site.