The Toughest Mile

Hiking Mahoosuc Notch on the Appalachian Trail
By Michael Kodas, Andrew Weegar, Mark Condon, & Glenn Scherer
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Is Mahoosuc Notch really the"Toughest Mile of the AT?" Although selecting just one of the 2150-odd miles of the AT might seem impossibly subjective, every AT hiker will eventually hear the reputation of Mahoosuc Notch. Tales of this underworld inspire northbound hikers to hole up at the nearest shelter (Full Goose Shelter, 1.5 mi. south of the Notch) like knights preparing to enter a dragon's lair. Most of these hikers find that their battle with this monstrous notch is not, however, the "toughest mile" of their hikes on the AT. In fact, many find it to be one of the most enjoyable. A few, upon climbing out of this natural obstacle course, will take off their backpacks, turn around, and dive right back in to continue their explorations of its fascinating wonderland of caves and crevices.

Glaciers cut this steep-walled valley between Fulling Mill Mt. and Mahoosuc Mt. After the river of ice retreated, winter freezes quarried huge blocks of rock from the cliffs, and the blocks tumbled into the notch below, filling it with the house-size chunks of schist that have given this piece of the AT its reputation for ruggedness and put it on the National Register of Natural Landmarks. Hikers here must climb over, crawl under, and jump between these huge slabs and boulders. Many remove their backpacks and drag them in order to pass through the tightest squeezes. Some of the caves hold ice well into summer, and snow often makes the notch impassable even in June.

The gurgling of a small stream, the Bull Branch of the Sunday River, buried beneath the rubble, enhances the notch's air of mystery.For many northbound hikers, the Notch is the climax of a traverse of the entire Mahoosuc Range—a final challenge to their already taxed muscles. Hike #18, on the other hand, lets the less ambitious (and those who don't have a week to spare) sneak in a back door to the AT's wild ride through Mahoosuc Notch. The hike's route continues on to the summit of Mahoosuc Arm, one of the range's rugged peaks, and to Speck Pond, a high mountain glacial tarn and home to a beautiful campsite. From here the route leads back to Success Pond Rd., 2 mi. north of the starting point.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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