Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Mahoosuc Traverse

Looking up towards the clouds and the climb of Old Speck Mtn.

My plans for attempting a Hut Traverse again this year are most likely put on the back burner until next year. Between trying to balance family, work and adventures in the mountains and only having a few weekends to choose from to run the route, I ended up deciding to wait until a more favorable time to try to complete the run. That's when another opportunity came my way.

Adam Wilcox, fresh off running Western States 100 and the Hardrock 100 a couple weeks apart, mentioned that he might be interested in putting in an FKT attempt on the Mahoosuc Traverse the same day I had open for the Hut Traverse. The route is mostly along the Appalachian Trail North to South (except the last 3 miles where the Mahoosuc Trail splits to the right), 30 miles, about 10,750' of climbing, and some of the worst footing I've ever seen. This was going to be Adam's third time running the route and since he just lowered the Pemi Loop FKT from 6:27:48 to 6:14:34, I figured the pace was going to be very fast right off the bat. I decided to join him and my plan became to see how long I could keep up with him, meeting up at the finish to gather the cars. He has a great report on the history of the route here. The time that he would have to beat was one that Ryan Welts and Ben Nephew had run last year in 7:45:17.

I feel like I've been making some improvements this year in my climbing ability, and I'm getting more comfortable on steep, downhill running. Driving up the night before and staying with my friend Chris and his brothers in Franconia made the morning's drive to Gorham, NH/Bethel, ME more tolerable. Heading over to Bethel to drop my car we made pretty good time and were ready to start our run at around 6:30am. A total guess at my projected time to finish was around 9 hours, then we would have to go back to Maine to grab my car and go our separate ways.

The run started out well with the 3.4 mile climb up to the route's highpoint, Old Speck Mtn. at 4,170' and then drops a bit before making the descent to Mahoosuc Notch. Mahoosuc Notch was a jumble of boulders the size of houses and cars that the trail climbs over, under and through before starting the steep climb up the other side of the notch. Among the whole route, this section was most intriguing to me as I haven't experienced anything like it in the past - and it definitely did not disappoint. We moved through pretty quickly and said hi to the many AT thru-hikers.

Old Speck Pond, all socked in

Somewhere around mile 11 or 12 I backed off a bit as Adam pulled ahead, then I began to run at a slightly slower pace still keeping my mind in the game for a sub 9 hour finish. I was pretty surprised that I got to where Adam said it would be about halfway and it was about 4 hours 15 minutes into the run, that gave me a little motivation to keep pushing the effort. One thing that I've found with these longer mountain runs, is that I definitely go through a lot of different emotions. If I'm really trying to push it, like I was on this run, I find that it's a lot like a race and there are clear low and high points that I need to just accept and overcome. This one was no exception as the footing was decent in some spots and there were some areas that really slowed me down, not to mention the fact that there are not a lot of bailout points along the route. In the direction we traveled, once you leave the car and you're past mile 13 or so, you are better off just finishing it out since the toughest part is in the beginning.

Things were starting to clear in the valley below

In the clouds along the open ridges

The rolling open ridges of Mt. Carlo and Goose Eye went by smoothly and I just worked my way across the miles of bog bridges that are present along the route. The blackest mud I have ever seen can be experienced up on the ridges on the way through, as well as varying levels of disrepair of the bog bridges. Some consisted of just one plank and nail heads sticking up while the other side was buried in the mud. It definitely made for a change of pace and rhythm along the way. Before I knew it, I was arriving at the last two peaks which are more wooded and quiet. I was especially excited to get to Mt. Hayes and only have 3 miles to go to complete the run. I took a few minutes to sit at the last peak and get ready for the final downhill of the day and the short run out the car, reflecting on a great section of trail along some mountains that I would like to get more familiar with in the future. Even though the footing was tough in spots, I felt like the last 20 miles went by smoothly and I would definitely recommend the traverse to anyone interested.

Skies started to clear at the end of the route

Some nice slabby running through here

Page Pond

Looking at Mt. Hayes, the final peak of the day, from Cascade Peak

Map of route with splits of the first 13 miles
Elevation profile with pace line

Splits for the run:
Summit of Old Speck (mile 3.4ish): 57 minutes
Speck Pond: 1:14
Goose Eye Summit: 3:07
NH-Maine State Line: 4:14
Page Pond (mile 22ish): 6:53
Cascade Peak Summit: 7:30
Mt. Hayes Summit (mile 27ish): 8:07
Finish: 8:49

Equipment used:
Bunch of honey stinger gels and a few bars
Filtered and unfiltered water
Inov8 Roclite 295s - did really well on the wet rocks, as always
DarnTough Herringbone socks - not a single blister despite the feet being wet from mile 1

Next thing I'm planning on is a group run up in the Whites, maybe around 30 miles. After that, I'll be attempting my first 100km race in October at the TARC 100 which is my main focus for the fall. I might attempt a Pemi Loop again, this time as a fast run, and maybe another mountain run if I can manage to find the time. It's really up in the air, as I haven't committed to anything - just looking to work on gaining strength from the mountains as much as I can.


  1. Good one, Jesse! Great photos!
    It was good seeing you at MMD yesterday and congrats on your run, it was a tough route. I feel beat up today!

  2. Thanks Steve! Same to you, nice to meet Deb as well. That was quite a route, congrats on your time as well.