9/16 Baldpate Lean-to (9.3)

October 16, 2013 at 1:18 pm

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Today woke us up with a light rain on our tent.  We laid there and sighed with relief that we weren’t about to scramble through the notch in it.  However, that feeling didn’t last long since we both knew we were headed up Mahoosuc Arm.  We were nervous but excited; like the notch, we had heard a lot about it and we expected it to be steep, slabby, and tough.  As it turns out, we had psyched ourselves out a little; the climb wasn’t bad and for most of it we were able to just walk right up the slabs, which were fairly grippy and textured, even in the light rain.  We can see how it gets a reputation, because the eroded slab went all the way up the mountain like a scar.  It was a little intimidating if you thought about the possibility of falling, but we were able to calmly ascend.  Until after Speck Pond Shelter.

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The log book there was possibly the saddest we have ever read.  The general consensus seemed to be that Maine is hard, falling off rocks hurts, and we are all being tested.  We stopped a little too long to read our comrades’ uplifting words and grew freezing cold at that shelter in a cloud.  As we climbed again, a fine layer of rain started and the numbness in our hands rendered them useless on handholds, causing us to slip and fall.  Climbing up Old Speck Mountain, we entered a completely exposed area where we had to climb straight up a vertical arete on the side of the mountain.  The winds were gusting hard and kept catching our bags as we climbed hand over hand, and every time we looked to our sides we were greeted by nothing but grey clouds disappearing into an abyss.  It felt very unreal but also terrifying.  There we were, several thousand feet above the ground, hoping the wind didn’t succeed in prying us off the wet rock.

At the end of the climb I could hear Mark laughing, which meant that he had gone crazy.  We made it to flat ground and some scrubby tree cover and I turned to him and said that I was done.  I had reached the end of my patience, my perseverance, and my will to finish and all I wanted to do was go home with him and be safe and warm and alive.

Then the clouds cleared:

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…and we didn’t give up.

Today was the closest we have been to quitting yet, but it was also one of the best experiences of the trip.  While I was climbing the mountain, I wondered what could possibly prompt me to stay here.  I thought about how friends have had moments where they wanted to quit, and how it has felt like we’re all in this together, encouraging each other.  I thought about how if the people in my life were the most important thing to me, then I shouldn’t be out here risking my neck and being obstinate.  But at the top of the mountain, when the clouds finally cleared and we got to enjoy first hand the amazing view from Old Speck, the first and only view today in a sea of clouds, I realized that what we were looking for was actually in front of us.

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It sounds trite but we realized that the trail itself is why we’re here.  So few people get to see the things we saw this summer and have the experiences we’ve had.  The feeling of connection with the world as it moves and shapes itself, as if we are a part of that shifting, is really beautiful and we don’t want to lose that because we become wrapped up in our daily lives.  We don’t want to forget that when you open your door to the outside, no matter how cold, rainy, windy, or dark, there is something a little bit magical in the fresh air.  It’s true that in our normal existence we are content, but we know at this moment that when we return we will be missing the highs and lows as they are in nature; desolate and euphoric, the equilibrium here on the trail takes a shape that is much more extreme but also much more desirable.

Of course, after our epiphany on top of Old Speck, the trail immediately got better.  The hike down the mountain was pleasant and an old couple even gave us cookies.  We are now in MATC territory (Maine Appalachian Trail Club) and we are in good hands again.  We reached Grafton Notch – the first road crossing in Maine, where a lot of hikers before us have quit and where we considered joining them just hours ago – and we continued North.  The trail up to Baldpate shelter was beautiful as well, and for the first time in weeks, we fell asleep really knowing that the hardest was behind us.

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