Those who have hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) know its most rugged and challenging terrain is found on the trail’s northern end, in the mountains of New Hampshire and Maine. Many people are familiar with the White Mountains and Presidential Range. But unless you have hiked the AT or live in New England, you have probably never heard of the Mahoosuc Range.
I first hiked the Mahoosucs during a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2006. I returned in the summer of 2012, with the ambition of once again conquering the Mahoosucs signature feature, the Mahoosuc Notch; notorious as the AT’s “toughest mile.” What I found was a four day hike well-worth taking, with or without the notch.
The Mahoosuc Trail
Guy and Laura Waterman, who wrote the definitive guides to hiking history in the northeastern United States, described the Mahoosucs as a “rambling and rugged spine of middling sized peaks.” Thanks to such faint praise the Mahoosucs have been relegated to a kind of obscurity and solitude, overshadowed by their better known and loftier neighbor, the Presidentials.
The Mahoosuc Range stretches from the Androscoggin River in northeastern New Hampshire to the southwestern edge of Maine. It is traversed by a 31 mile long section of the Appalachian Trail, known locally as the Mahoosuc Trail. The highest elevation in the Mahoosucs is an unimpressive 4,180 feet, but do not be fooled; this is an arduous trek. Hiking from West to East requires climbing over 10,000 feet (combined) over 10 peaks. There are lots of ups and downs here. It is a tough hike over rugged terrain.
Hiking the Mahoosuc Trail
The Mahoosucs reward the hiker with abundant treasures. Even when low clouds obscure the breathtaking views, the alpine zones are the stuff of hikers’ dreams. The fresh fragrance of balsam firs permeates the air making it smell like Christmas all year long. At some points the path cuts through scraped -clean bedrock. In others, heath-shrubs and wild blueberry lie low against the ever-present wind. The alpine bogs are lit up with vividly colored grasses and mosses. Moose make their presence known with their dinner plate size prints. The Mahoosucs may not get the publicity of their more imposing neighbors to the east, but hiking there is an extraordinary experience.
My hike began with a gradual 3.2 mile ascent of Mt. Hayes, a minor 2,550 ft. peak near Gorham, NH. On the summit, I indulged myself with a couple handfuls of wild blueberries, which were plentiful and delicious. I went off-trail for a bit and found some decent, though limited views from the eastern ledges before heading out towards Cascade Mountain where I watched the fog disapate around the mighty Presidentials from the 2630 ft summit.
I met some interesting people at campsites along the way. At the Gentian Pond campsite, just below Mt. Success I met a pair of guys from Indiana, Rocket and Sloop, who had begun section hiking the AT in 1991 and walked a portion of the trail every year since then. I enjoyed the company of these veteran backpackers while we ate reconstituted vegetable soup for dinner and watched a moose feeding at the pond for an hour or two around dusk. The morning brought an ascent of 3,665 ft Mt. Success and fantastic panoramic views of Goose Eye Mountain and Old Speck.
For three days I went up and down; always with great views, wildlife and very few people. On the third day I reached the Full Goose shelter, 1.5 miles from the fearsome Mahoosuc Notch. I will save the story of negotiating the notch’s rocky labyrinth for another time. Suffice to say it may not be the AT’s toughest mile, but is definitely the slowest.
After emerging from Mahoosuc Notch, I ascended the steep and rocky trail up Mahoosuc arm towards Speck Pond and Old Speck, the tallest and final mountain in the Mahoosuc chain. This was the end of the road for me. The observation tower at the top of Old Speck affords stunning views in all directions, from the lofty Presidentials to the south, to the nameless peaks of northwestern Maine to the north.
Spending the night at the Speck Pond campsite was one of the highlights of the trip. For my money, the breathtakingly scenic Speck Pond is among the loveliest places in New-England.
The next day I was on the way home towards a much needed shower, rest, and a sit-down dinner. I hiked 31 miles in four days over some rugged and beautiful terrain. What a trip. I can’t wait to do it again.