The hostels in Andover offered slack packing services, and after 9.7 miles almost killing me the day before, I was ready to take them up on those services. The proprietors of the hostel had assured me that I had completed the hardest part of Maine. They also went on to explain how half their jobs was convincing hikers not to quit the AT right there and then after conquering Mahoosuc Notch and Arm. I hadn't considered quitting, I merely entertained the idea that I may just die of sheer exhaustion if the terrain didn't abate somewhat. I was glad to know that I wasn't going to die just yet.
Since we were only going to go 10 miles (without full packs) we had slept in a little and took our time eating breakfast. (Canned raviolis for breakfast. The breakfast of champions!) Then we loaded into the shuttle back to Crawford Notch to begin the hike over Baldplate Mountain.
It was a clear, sunny day, though still pretty cold. I began hiking in tights and a thermal for the first time since Galehead Hut (at 4000 feet) We started with a steady, gradual 1000 foot climb, then it leveled off, followed by another 1000 foot climb. It wasn't long before the tights and thermal were in the pack and I was traipsing along in shorts and a t-shirt.
As we neared the summit of Baldplate, the terrain changed from forrest, to those 3 foot tall trees at treeline, to exposed slabs of rock at precarious angles. The last part of the climb was all on exposed rock, making our own switchbacks to find the most reasonable way to the top. Careful hiking. But, oh, the views!
Baldplate summit was marked by a giant cairn and had gorgeous views of Mahoosuc Arm from the day before (It's rather rewarding to look back on yesterday's climb and say "Damn! That's really steep! I'm a rock star!") and of a series of lakes to the west. We descended slightly and came to a flat, table top area of the mountain where we ran into several people eating, napping, lying in the sun. And were treated to 360 degree views of the landscape below! I immediately fell back in love with Maine, mesmerized by her beauty. (Maine would later prove to be like Naomi Campbell, achingly beautiful, but apt to throw a cell phone at your head when you least expected it)
The descent from Baldplate was much like the climb: steep pitched rock slabs that necessitated slow going. Well, maybe necessitated is the wrong word, because we were passed by a couple hikers who were practically running down the rock slabs, letting gravity just pull them along. Of course, I witnessed each of them take at least four face plants using this method to descend. I continued to go slow, my goal revolving around avoiding injuries, not speed. I'd save the face plants for after I got home.
Eventually, we dropped below treeline and the terrain leveled out somewhat. We reached Frye Notch Lean-to, where we stopped for lunch. Before long, we were joined by Wilson, Mother Teresa, Peaches, CodeWalker, Violet, and Carbon. They had whipped out the cell phones before we had and snagged the last spots in the Cabin. Or thought they had. Half of them were tenting out in the yard at the Cabin. It sounded like the food there was really good (although I have a hard time believing that ANYTHING could top canned ravioli for breakfast!) but they were further from town than we were. (a 5 minute walk from the downtown area of Andover. And by downtown, I mean two restaurants and one general store)
The remainder of the day from the shelter to East B Road was relatively mellow. Some rocks and roots were thrown in for good measure, a nice waterfall, and Outward Bound group who, for some reason had chosen to eat lunch sitting right in the middle of the trail - you know, the usual stuff. We finished up and got back to the hostel by 2:30. We showered up and the rest of the afternoon to play with. We did laundry, cleaned our gear, made phone calls, and tried to use the computer but were disappointed (though not surprised) by the slow internet connection in this part of Maine. Subaru bought some local beer and enjoyed it on the front porch, I had a hard blueberry lemonade or two and read. We fought for control over the porch swing's arc and speed.
Then, at 5, we wandered over to the Red Hen Diner. Two other hikers at the hostel, Pacemaker and Runner Up, had told us there was an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. That sounded great! So at precisely 5:00, six thru-hikers arrived at the diner. We started in on the salad, pacing ourselves. A wave of locals came in, ate their fill, and left. While 6 thru-hikers continued to eat. A second wave of locals came in, ate their fill, and left. While 6 thru-hikers continued to eat. A third wave of locals came in, ate their fill, and left. As 6 thru-hikers were finishing up and preparing to leave. Luckily, the staff of the diner were used to hikers and thought it was funny watching how much we could all put away.
Back at the hostel, we got ready for bed. We had moved from the bunk house into the main house (which was a bit warmer) and were happy to see that Long Skirt was our roommate! Grizzly, the Professor, and Sparky were in the bunkhouse. And Lentil had arrived, picked up a package, and moved on.
Great day! And another slack pack was in store for tomorrow.