Day mileage: 16.5
AT total mileage: 1,934.6
Time: 8 hours
Sleeping nearby to the parking lot at Grafton Notch was an interesting idea. Having been in the woods for a few days with no road crossings of any kind, it was quite strange to hear logging trucks lumbering (see what I did there?) by at all hours of the night. Waking up at a decent hour I headed out to our picnic bench and ate breakfast while Legs and Santa woke up. A few day hikers trickled into the parking lot, each asking how far we had hiked. Ten minutes or so before we departed for the day we were approached by a man named Hydro who invited us over to his pick-up truck for soda and fruit before we began our day. It was an awesomely pleasant surprise to have trail magic, as usually it dwindles in the north. Standing by his truck I passed on the selection of Pepsi-Co products, being a Coke guy and all, instead choosing a cold Samuel Adams Summer Ale. Paired with fresh cherries and a banana it wasn't exactly the most healthy of meals, but I wasn't all that concerned. Hydro is from southern Maine and owns some hydro-electric facilities, is a very avid hiker and is eager to attempt the Appalachian Trail when he sells his business. We talked for quite a while before finally pressing on at nearly 10 AM.
The climb out of Grafton Notch wasn't horrible, a moderate and only somewhat rocky climb that many day hikers and families use regularly. We powered up the 2.5 miles to the shelter we had originally aimed for the night before, running into NOBO hikers Gentle Spirit and Mary Posa who were friends of the two I hike with. We stopped there shortly before beginning the 1,000' climb to Baldplate West and East peaks. The east peak is known as one of the most popular hiking destinations in Maine due to the 360 degree panoramic views of the mountain ranges, although after the strenuous climb up we were mostly fogged in, save for a few intermittent moments of clearing where we could see lakes off in the distance. With wind chill being a key factor we didn't linger long, instead pressing on towards the slippery and rocky bald faced descent off the east peak. From the summit's elevation at nearly 4,000' we would drop to just over 2,000, stopping at a newer shelter for a quick lunch. We passed many southbound hikers, each eager to hear about the trail ahead and equally eager to give us their opinions of Maine. Climbing a few hundred feet out of the Frye Notch shelter where we ate, the trail went up a rooted and rocky section before making the descent into a riverbed below with gorgeous waterfalls where we would ultimately find the back road into Andover, ME. Our goal had been to be here a day or two earlier but the terrain and weather threw an unexpected curveball into our mileage plans. A practically deserted road with no cell service to speak of, we waited nearly 40 minutes for a single car to pass, a large construction pick-up which we were able to get a ride the 8 miles into town with. I was exhausted and slept for most of the windy drive, waking up as we pulled into the General Store in Andover center. The plan would be to resupply for a few days, get a hot lunch, and get back to the trailhead to push another 10 miles for a day total of 21.
The resupply was rather expensive, as I spent nearly $40 between a few days of snacks and two hot lunches. A box of raisin bran cereal cost me $5.75 for a 13 oz box, just to give you an idea. That being said however, it was absolutely the only option for food, so I paid the price they asked. For lunch the three of us got the 'special', two 8oz burger patties with four slices of cheese and bacon. I also got a buffalo chicken parmesan sub to take on the trail with me for dinner. Returning back outside with our hot lunches to eat at a table they had on the covered deck, we watched the sky downpour and lightning crack in the distance. This really boosted moral for hiking, let me tell you. We became rather lethargic as a group, and didn't end up hitching out of town until nearly 1800hrs.
Our ride out was with a woman named Gloria, and was an... adventure... of its own. The windshield was spidered in a few places, a result of her having hit a moose recently. She offered me to lower the sun visor if it made me feel better to not see the cracks. The drive down the windy and poorly paved road was unnerving from my vantage point in the passenger seat as she swerved around trying to answer the phone. I literally reached for the steering wheel at two separate occasions as she looked away in order to avoid driving off the road or into an oncoming car. Regardless, we arrived back at the trailhead around 1830hrs and began an elongated climb out of the road gap. The plans of 10 miles had been dashed due to timing, so we agreed that 6.5 to the Hall Mountain shelter would be enough. After hiking for an hour or so together we came across a dilapidated cabin next to a pond, practically gutted with obvious remnants of heavy drug use over the years. We decided against staying there, as I'm sure there were dead bodies somewhere in the walls. After we left, Santa hiked on quickly to avoid any more exposure to the rain, and I stayed back with Legs at a pace she was more comfortable with. The darkness settled in and we donned headlights, struggling to keep with the trail as it became foggy and overgrown. The two of us eventually arrived at the shelter near to 2200hrs, finding the tiny structure occupied by 5 hikers with plenty of space for two more to squeeze in had they been conscientious of other people's needs. Southbounders are not yet keen to the game of Hiker Tetris in shelters, as their groups are so small. We set up Legs' tent in the rain, a large tarp-tent that dwarfs my own, but provided somewhere dry to stay.
Tomorrow we'll hike on. At some point I'll leave this group to continue my trek to Katahdin, a hike that will now have a bit of a challenge in the mileage due to my procrastination of leaving the group and also due to the lower than expected mileage recently. Terrain has been frustrating and challenging, but I'm hoping to either become more accustomed or at least more tolerant of it. We shall see.
Onwards & upwards, drenched with rain for the 3rd day in a row.