“Congrats on finishing the 67, that is probably the longest approach hike to finish on the Bigelows ever!”
Was what one of my friends, who had already finished the 67, emailed me when I sent him a email with the news. So how exactly did my son and I end up hiking 130 miles or so just to finish the 67 on Avery Peak in the Bigelows? Two years ago, my son and I did a four day Pemi Loop backpack, bagging 10 peaks to finish his all season NH48 on Bondcliff, so it seemed another backpacking/peakbagging trip was in order to finish up the 67. “The 67” being the 4000 foot or higher mountains in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont that qualify under the AMC Four Thousand Footer Club rules (scroll down after clicking through, there is a section explaining how a mountain is put on the list). After looking at a map, we noticed that almost all of the Maine peaks are along the AT, mostly between Rangeley and Stratton, with Old Speck closer to Gorham. Add to that, a request from my son to hike through the Mahoosuc Notch, and an idea was born: a backpack on the AT from Gorham to the Bigelows, picking up the remaining ten peaks along the way. With the peaks in Baxter done in early July, all we needed to do was backpack the hardest 130 miles of the AT, starting out near the end of July.
Well, that’s certainly easier said than done. Fortunately, it wasn’t our first long distance backpack, as we’d hiked the Long Trail last summer. At least we had some experience, but that still didn’t negate the amount of responsibility to get two of us through those miles. So, with a little more anxiety than usual on my part, we packed up and Ethan dropped us off in Gorham.
Day 1 Sat. July 26 Gorham to Gentian Pond Shelter
The climb felt hard to start! We had full packs and it really didn’t feel like we were making much progress. Maybe it was both physical and mental, but a couple miles in, we both felt more confident and by the time we were on Mt. Hayes, we were back in the routine of long distance hiking. During the day, we passed quite a few nice ponds, then Dream Lake and then it was an easy hike to Gentian Pond. We had space in the shelter, and then went down to the pond where we saw a cow moose and calf. The cow was swimming around the pond, eating plants, but the calf was on the shore, not sure about getting into the water. It was such a nice way to end our first day.
Day 2 Sun. July 27 Gentian Pond to Full Goose Shelter
We were treated to an undercast and a rainbow in the distance before we even left the shelter, signs that we were blessed and taken care of. Up hill out of the shelter, we hiked over Mt. Success, Mt, Carlo and then over some of the Goose. Weather wasn’t exactly the greatest, since we heard thunder and could see the clouds rolling in. Miraculously the weather was no worse than some rain. The clouds cleared out, and we could see the alpine section between the east peak of Goose Eye and North Goose Eye, our last climb. The alpine section was really nice in the sunshine! The trail was easier into Full Goose Shelter, but slippery because of the rain and not without one last challenge, a ledge so steep there were rebar steps.
Day 3 Mon. July 28 Full Goose Shelter to Speck Pond Shelter
We woke in a cloud and there was a high potential for rain. Today was the trip through Mahoosuc Notch and up Mahoosuc Arm, stopping at Speck Pond shelter, 5.1 miles away. It was to be a short, but not easy, day. We started with a climb over Fulling Mtn. which seemed relatively easy. We then descended to the notch. At first it was fun climbing over, around and in between the rocks. Then it started to rain and it wasn’t so much fun. We were close to the end, so we just kept going. The trail became trail again and we started ascending. And ascending some more. There was one brief level spot and then we started up the ledges, all the while, it was still raining. The first ledges, although big were fine, but as we got higher, the trail became a stream and the ledges so steep, they became cascades. At one point, we finally gave in and admitted that it was worse than Vermont. Most trail conditions do not equal some of the ones we’d seen in Vermont, but these were worse. We finally came to the May Cutoff junction and were very happy, because the shelter was about a mile away and we knew the worst was behind us. That mile went pretty quickly and once we saw the pond, we knew we were close. We were happy to get into dry clothes and relax, mindful that even though it was raining, we had a lot to be thankful for in the nice, dry Speck Pond Shelter.
Day 4 Tues. July 29 Speck Pond Shelter to Frye Notch Shelter
The day dawned a little better than the previous day, but only because it was not raining. The wind had picked up, meaning that the storm system was leaving. We waited a bit to see if the weather would improve and finally left around 8:30 with a revised plan to only hike to Baldpate Shelter. The clouds and wind were fierce, making the climb to Old Speck more difficult. We arrived at the summit, but it was too windy to climb the tower, even though the sun was trying to peek through. Down we went to Grafton Notch, hoping that the weather would improve, which thankfully, it did as we descended into blue skies and sunshine. We found out from some day hikers that there was quarter sized hail and tornado warnings from yesterday’s storm. We had no idea and were thankful for God watching over us. Once we got to the road, it sunny and good spot for lunch while drying out some clothes. We then headed up to Baldpate Shelter, where a camp group had already taken up residence. We didn’t feel comfortable with them, so we hiked the additional 3.5 miles to Frye Notch Shelter. While this added miles to our day, the Baldpates ended up being the highlight of the day. The open summits and the nice weather were perfect. We even saw a brown bunny in the scrub near the summit of East Baldpate. We quickly hiked the remaining miles to the shelter and enjoyed a nice night there.
Day 5 Wed. July 30 Frye Notch Shelter to Andover, ME
We got packed up and ready to go early so that we could get picked up by the shuttle at noon. The trail was nice and easy with very few ledges, which made for an easy hike down to East B Hill Road. About a mile from the road we passed a beautiful waterfall, with a stream crossing just above the falls. The water wasn’t too high, so it was easier to cross than it would have been the night before. One short uphill stretch and we were on the road. We had to wait a while, but our shuttle arrived and we got to town for night off the trail complete with clean clothes and town food!
So far, so good! More miles to come!