9/14 Carlo Col Shelter (11)

October 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm

IMG_20130914_151416_067Today our friend Joe from home visited us on the trail.  He recently got ankle surgery and so we tried to plan around a section that wouldn’t be too tough on his ankle.  Unfortunately, we were ill-informed about the Mahoosuc trail.  Although it’s notorious for containing the ‘toughest mile of the trail’ followed by ‘the second toughest mile of the trail’ where the AT crosses through Mahoosuc Notch and heads up Mahoosuc Arm, we were led to believe that these areas are rare phenomenons in Maine.

Actually, while I was doing trail work in Washington I was appraised of the great trail maintenance in Maine, where preservation that allows accessibility although not necessarily convenience, or, in other words, conservation as it was intended to be, is a cornerstone of the state.  Something that we were not aware of is that there is a 30 mile section between Northern NH and Southern Maine (15 miles of which is in Maine) that is run by the AMC, or more accurately, neglected by the AMC.  This section was the most harrowing, difficult, exhausting portion of the AT by far.

IMG_20130914_120415_844For thirty miles, we climbed straight up wet rock slabs, waded through bogs up to our waist, and leaped off of cliffs.  We got used to dropping our bags off of ledges and spotting each other on tough bouldering problems.  As a person who rock climbs recreationally, I would not ever do in normal life the things this trail forces hikers to do without a crash pad or a rope holding me.  It was terrifying.

That being said, this is the section of trail that we asked Joe to join us on.  We assumed that the worst was over in the Whites and that he would take a side trail out before we did Mahoosuc Notch, a one mile boulder crawl through a steep ravine.  We turned out to be pretty wrong, and the day was a short, tough one where every steep climb or sudden cliff edge that we had to downclimb threatened to re-damage Joe’s ankle.  He was a good sport and didn’t complain even though it looked like we probably led him to certain injury, and we made it to the Carlo Col Shelter early.  We decided to stay there so that Joe could hike out the next day, rather than exposing him to more of the cruelest obstacle course we have yet to see white blazed.

IMG_20130914_092703_576Joe even heroically hiked us in beer!  We had a nice night where Talker, once again, showed up unexpected.  The shelter filled up pretty quickly with Invictus, Morris the Cat, Sly Fox, Rambo, and others who had showed up after us.  Everyone confirmed that they had seen a crew of kids with a couple leaders walking the trail today.  They had said it was their first hiking trip and they planned to be at the shelter tonight, but we didn’t see them.  At dark, we all wondered where they were but we assumed the terrain had been too tough for them and that they must have been forced to stealth camp somewhere.  We played cards and exchanged stories until we all fell asleep.

At one in the morning, we woke up to distinctly human sounds of distress.  One of the counselors we had seen earlier that day showed up at the shelter entrance with two backpacks.  He dropped them both and apologized for waking us but let us know he needed us to make room for some mildly hypothermic campers.  We all shuffled over and the shelter filled with whispers.  Then he said “there’s a kid who’ll be coming in and stumbling around.  Don’t worry though – he’s not hurt.  He’s just blind.”  This got everyone’s attention.

As it turns out, the for profit company leading this crew of young, inexperienced kids through the woods had arranged for them to hike a section of trail that they had not researched at all.  As a result, the counselors had their hands full trying to help the kids – one of whom was a really funny blind kid with the trail name ‘Daredevil’ – get through the different bouldering obstacles.  One girl had, as the counselor put it, ‘broken her knee, or damaged it badly’ and needed to be air lifted out.  Unfortunately it happened in a bad section of rocks that she couldn’t be removed from, and it took two days to get her out by finally using a stretcher with a winch attached to move her down and up the cliffsides.

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We were a little bit horrified by the whole experience, and felt like this section of trail should probably be condemned or bear a very grave warning for people who might have old injuries or who don’t have any rock climbing experience.  Overall, we were at a pretty serious low today, wondering at the very beginning of our last state if we could keep pushing on, and Joe showed up to help pull us out of our funk.  Everyone made it out safely, I should mention, including Joe’s ankle.  We’re pretty grateful that we have friends who have supported us so much and also that our first experience hiking was a little kinder to us than those kids stuck on the mountain.  Listening to their positive attitude the next day even though they were scared and sore made us realize that we had been griping way too much about what is essentially a vacation.  We are resolved to finish what we started in Maine.