Category: Appalachian Trail ’13

The Madison Gulf Trail

The Madison Gulf Trail

There have been a moments so far where I have actively feared for my life. I was run off the road on a major highway when I was 20 by a man who wasn’t paying attention. In the 15 seconds that took, everything was instinctual because it happened so fast. I had no moments during the act to think about what was going on – only afterwards did I look back and reflect on almost dying.

The Madison Gulf Trail descent I did however, gave ample time to consider my death.

In the White Mountains, you spend the majority of your time far above tree line, exposed the whole time to the elements and the storms that routinely roll through.

But it is quite beautiful
Once you’re in the Presidential’s section, you’re exposed the whole way

Luckily there are Huts run by the Appalachian Mountain Club (here after referred to as AMC – or Appalachian Money Club) that allow thru-hikers to stop and rest at, dry out a little and sometimes, if you’re lucky, spend the night. By spend the night, I mean they take 2 hikers, let them sleep on the floor, do some sort of work for stay and require them to be out before any other guests are up. Or you can pay $124 to spend the night (prices vary by day of the week and whether your an AMC member, but it’s always over $100)

When we arrived at Maddison Spring Hut, Roadkill and I had been walking in the freezing rain, high wind and visibility out to 25 feet. It was 1:30 in the afternoon and we were already exhausted, Roadkill was near incoherent, hypothermic and we were both wet. We were able to get inside the hut, take our packs off and at least change out of our sopping wet clothes for a bit, but the inside of the hut was as cold as outside. At least we were out of the wind.

Two bowls of mushroom soup apiece and some coffee helped the situation, but we were still left with the weather issue. According to the forecast, hurricane force winds were predicted through the evening above treeline, with bad visibility, rain and lightning. Not weather you want to be above treeline for – and the descent from Madison was completely exposed for 2 miles, down the Osgood Path.

I looked at the maps that were available at the hut, and decided to ask the AMC employee there if there were any alternatives.

“Hey – I know it’s still kind of early, but what are the chances we can get a work for stay tonight at the hut here?”

“None- it’s too early and I can’t take you.”

“Not even if it’s a life threatening issue? I mean, we’re wet, frozen and she’s a bit hypothermic. You can’t make any exceptions?”

“Nope – best I can say is there is a campsite a mile away off the AT that you can stay at, it’s got trees.”

Now that would have been 45 minutes walk just for a campsite exposed to the cold and rain. The night before had been cold, the night before that had been frozen (as in frost on everything frozen) and if we were wet, that could be a death sentence.

“Ok then, if you won’t let us stay what’s the easiest way off the mountain? I know Osgood is exposed the whole way down… and if there is lightning and hurricane winds,  I don’t know how I feel about doing that all the way down. Do you have any suggestions?”

“Well you could go down the Madison Gulf Trail. It goes down to tree line really fast.”

“Have you hiked it before? Is it doable?”

“Sure I hike it all the time! Piece of cake.”

And right here was my first mistake. I took advice from someone who wasn’t a thru-hiker. I trusted someone who wasn’t actually hiking all day, and who I knew was probably spending most of his time smoking up. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s the same way I don’t trust day hikers measurements of miles or time.

“So all we have to do is take the Madison Gulf Trail and it’ll get us below treeline really quickly? And it’s not too bad difficulty wise?”

“Right!”

So we left Madison, putting on our wet clothes again, saving our dry stuff for the end of the day. According to the map, it was about 3 miles down the Madison Gulf Trail to reconnect with the AT. “No Problem!” I thought. “We can be in Gorham tonight if we want, it’s only 2:30!”

How wrong I was. My second mistake was not turning us around when we hit this

I should be dead
The first of many obstacles on the Madison Gulf Trail. For reference, the camera is being held level to where the horizon should be.

We couldn’t see more then 2 or 3 dozen feet. We slid and scrambled down wet boulders, the descent at more than 45 degrees, the rocks offering no purchase. There was no sign to warn us of this, the blue blazes were few and far between. It was hell.

But we did get to treeline quickly. I saw the tree come closer out of the fog and rain and thought “oh thank you God. Trees, all this stupidity is over now, no problem.”

It was the beginning of the real hell .

Once we were in the trees the trail got different. Not better – sometimes worse. The rocks and roots and trees were at an angle, everything was wet and there were more than a few times we weren’t sure whether we were still on the trail. We’d be teased by a blue blaze every so often, just as we were teased by flat trail every so often. Every 20 minutes or so, the trail would level out, we’d walk on normal dirt and I’d give a sigh of relief. The end was here, finally! No. Not at all. Just a tease.

Not even the worst
We did this for 4 hours. Hell. This isn’t even the worst part – I wasn’t able to get my camera out for the worst parts.

The worst was yet to come. The part that almost killed the two of us was yet to come.

We saw a nice flat spot – perfect to camp in even below us. We finally climbed down to it – YES! The end! Where does the trail go? Oh, here is a blue blaze down to our left. We followed it.

Right to a a 50 foot drop down a waterfall.

There is no way this is the trail, but there is a blaze here! How do we get down? We were standing on top of a cliff with a 50 foot drop, a waterfall and no visible way down.

There looked to be handholds in the middle, where a large house sized boulder jutted out of the face. There were trees on the right side, maybe the path was there. I took my pack off and decided to investigate. I was able to spider climb the 10 feet to a small depression just short of the edge, and it did indeed look as if this was the way to go.

“Ok Roadkill, I think you can butt slide down here slowly, get to this depression and then slide over to the right and get down. I’ll stay here, spread eagled to help you.”

She started to slide down, slowly, hands splayed on the rock trying for any bit of purchase. Then she started to slide faster and I saw her face – she had no control.

10 feet isn’t that far. Not really. She started sliding and I saw it in an instant – she’d go over the edge and fall 50 feet. Die.

My hand let go of it’s tiny hold in the rock. My arm shot out and somehow got between her back and her pack, and I grabbed her straps. She stopped inches from the edge. I saved her.

My heart started beating again.

She slid over and was able to get down to the trees on the right. I breathed again. Now it was my turn. I had to climb up and get my pack, and try and slide down the way she had. Without loosing control. Without someone to catch me.

I started butt sliding. I slid faster and lost control as well. I was going to go over. That would be the end of me. I somehow jammed my right foot into a crack and stopped my slide.

My left foot was over the edge.

Roadkill finally got to breathe again when I got down. This is what the drop looked like from the bottom.

I'm lucky to be alive
Roadkill should have been dead. I should have been dead. Neither of us would have been found for weeks. We would have been just another two names on the list of people who perished in the White Mountains

We finally got to the AT as darkness fell. I was exhausted. I was angry, tired, hungry. I was spent.

I sat down just past the Osgood bridge and cried.

I should be dead. Roadkill should be dead. We wouldn’t have been found for weeks probably. No one used this trail. We found out later at the AMC visitor center that this trail wasn’t meant for descents – it clearly said to ascend it only. Not to take heavy packs on it. Not to do it when wet, or in bad weather conditions, with wind or rain. Pretty much not to do it ever.

And we were sent down it by an AMC employee.

I’m lucky to be alive, and I was lucky to have saved the girl I was in love with life. We both should have been dead.

We made it to Gorham the next day. I spent most of the day either in the hotel room trying to stop shaking, or eating at the Chinese buffet.

It was as close to death as I’ve ever come. I have no desire to repeat it.

Journey to the Northern Limits

Journey to the Northern Limits

One thing I have a lot of from this trip is video. Moments that I was able to save. They tell only snippets of what happened, but sometimes when you string them together, they tell more of a story then you ever thought.

So this is an attempt at a story. Just like these writings are trying to tell a story. I hope you enjoy it

Talker and Slap Bets

Talker and Slap Bets

I had a story about a hiker named Talker awhile ago. When we were in Lincoln, NH and Spoon and Chuckles’s family put a feed on for us (all organic, all local spaghetti dinner!) which was delicious. In the process, we heard lots of stories. One of them, was about slap bets Talker had lost.

People who haven’t hiked a long distance trail like the Appalachian Trail always talk about mileage, pack weight or weather. Those who have finished a long distance trail, they all talk about the people and the experiences they had with them. People make the journey.

These are trail people. They understand you, and you understand them. They get it – all of it. Sometimes it feels like they can read your mind. You live with them everyday and share everything.

Even on the bad days, a day with your trail family is magical.

Talker, Trail Days and Pop-Tarts

Talker, Trail Days and Pop-Tarts

Talker always holds a special place in my heart.

Talker and Anime Hair
You never would guess that this is the face of someone who is incredibly intelligent and wise. It looks more like he stuck his finger into a light socket… You too can have this hair, after only 4 days of not showering!

I met him in passing just north of Erwin, TN while I was hanging out with Rob Bird, but I never actually talked to him until Kincora Hostel. He had been hiking with Johnny Thunder, Burgundee, Saga, Delorean, Skittles and Rambo. They are all pretty awesome people, but Talker is special.

Talker is a wonder person: intelligent, witty, mature and incredibly funny. But he does have a tendency to get involved with silly silly bets. Bets that no one has a chance of winning.

One of those took place in Damascus, at Trail Days.

Our medium of exchange was slap bets and ice cream novelty bets. You could bet on anything and we routinely did. Everything from how many nutri-grain bars one could eat (Saga got to 12 out of her 25 she thought she could do) to where you would end up that day.

At Trail Days, Talker tried the impossible.

A handful of Pop-Tarts
Somewhere near pop-tart 6. Photo Credit to Chuckles

Talker took a slap bet, thinking he could eat a 100 pop-tarts.

To be fair, he probably wasn’t in a sober state of mind when this bet was proposed, but he took it without a second thought. The bet was as follows: 100 poptarts before 10pm. He could get up at anytime and start eating, there would be a mix of flavors and they didn’t have to stay in his body for longer than it took to swallow them. He could purge himself anytime.

All this for the opportunity to slap Johnny Thunder.

Talker got up around 8am and decided to make an honest effort to start. He started with fruit flavored toaster pastries around 9am. He didn’t have any water to start, which was the beginning of his downfall.

“These feel like rocks in my stomach. Like a giant brick of awful”

After only 5 pop-tarts, I think Talker started to realize that this might be a bad idea. At 7 he decided it was time to pound some water.

“I need to drink like a gallon of water. Something. Because this is terrible”

At pop-tart 11 he decided he need to puke. He tried. He really did. But he just couldn’t.
“It feels like they are all glued together in there.”

He had consumed strawberry, blueberry, confetti cake and found that he couldn’t get rid of them. This didn’t bring any hope for finishing. He shrugged his shoulders however and decided to press on. Right on into a new box. Of Cinamon.

3 more pop-tarts, more water and another attempt to remove pop-tarts from his system yielded no results.  Pop-tart 14 seemed like a terrible idea to have tried to eat.

“If I stand on my head, maybe that’ll help with the puking right? Gravity will help…”

It’s worth a shot right? He got up against a tree, had two people hold his legs and tried to shove his fingers in so he could puke. No joy. No option but to keep going.

He opened a box of fudge pop-tarts.This was a mistake.

Talker somehow managed to eat 17 pop-tarts. We later figured out that if he had eaten all 100, he would have consumed something in the neighborhood of 22,000 calories, enough sugar to put himself into diabetic shock and acquire type 3 diabetes and probably would have been the most miserable human being on the face of the earth.

All this to slap Johnny Thunder

Talker with the Waterfall
Talker is eating pop-tarts again! At least it’s while looking at a waterfall, and not someone drunk passed out in a folding chair at Trail Days!

“I’ll never eat pop-tarts again”

5 months later, Talker was again eating pop-tarts in the Hundred Mile Wilderness. He had found the strength to eat those deliciously terrible toaster pastries again. I don’t envy him them.

Johnny Thunder redeemed his slap in a most wonderful way, but that’s a story for another day.