This article was originally published in the Spring 2017 edition of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Wilderness Matters.
Grafton Notch Loop Adventure: How I Discovered the Appalachian Mountain Club
Grafton Notch is one of our favorite places. My husband and I visited the area in the summer of 2015 and summited our first 4,000 footer – Old Speck. Our boys were off at camp and we felt free to do anything we wanted to do. And we wanted to hike. We climbed seven more mountains that summer, but our favorite was Old Speck. When our boys returned home, we all headed to Grafton Notch and spent the weekend hiking, cooling our feet in the shallow pools at Screw Auger falls, and relaxing by the campfire each night.
In our leisure hours that weekend, I read about the Grafton Notch Loop, a 38-mile trail complete with campsites, swimming holes, and sweeping views of the Mahoosuc Mountain Range and beyond. I became enamored with the trail and with the idea of backpacking. In the months that followed I read several books about backpacking and I pored over gear reviews.
The following Christmas had a distinct backpacking theme. A two-person tent and sleeping bags were tucked under the tree, along with a Jetboil stove, solar lanterns, water bottles and filters. Poking out of the stockings, maps of the Grafton Notch trail.
Soon summer arrived and we were ready for our adventure. When our work schedules prevented us from embarking on our trip as planned, we pushed it further into the summer, to the end of July. As it happened, that weekend was hot. Really hot. Without divulging the unfortunate sequence of events that unfolded, I’ll simply share what I learned: If you enjoy carrying a heavy pack up big mountains in oppressive heat and humidity but your partner does not, I strongly recommend leaving your partner at home when the mercury rises. Also, two person tents are designed for two people who are happy to be together.
After one night, we hiked out in silence. It was an ordeal we would later laugh about, but in the meantime I still wanted to hike the trail. I knew a few friends who would be up for an adventure like this, but none who could leave family and work obligations behind for a long weekend on short notice. I didn’t want to delay this trip any longer. So, when we returned home I ordered a single person tent and Googled ‘Hiking Groups in Maine’. Voila! Not only did I discover that the AMC offers backpacking trips, but the Young Members group had a Grafton Notch trip planned for the following weekend. I emailed the trip leaders and assured them that I could keep up with any twenty-year-old. I didn’t have any recent evidence to support this statement, but I wholeheartedly believed it to be true.
The next Friday I pulled into the trailhead and introduced myself to the strangers I would walk into the woods with. Our backgrounds were different but our goal for the weekend was the same. That first afternoon was a mix of light conversation and quiet contemplation. We were all appreciating the trail. When evening came and we took turns trying to hang the bear bag, hilarity ensued. Friendships blossomed. We laughed a lot that weekend.
Since then I’ve hiked many more peaks with those friends and with others I’ve met on subsequent AMC hikes. My husband and I still enjoy hiking together, but now I have a whole network of people who share my enthusiasm for hiking and backpacking. I’m grateful for that difficult night that my husband and I spent in our tiny tent, because it led me to discover the AMC and some very good friends.