Thursday, August 22, 2013

Mahoosuc Traverse II - 8/17/2013

"Fastest known times", or FKTs, for the classic Presidential Traverse and Pemi Loop have been the subject of quite a lot of activity over the last few years, changing hands numerous times between a cast of a half dozen characters, though they have settled down recently as a result of Ben Nephew's reign of terror. While there's no shortage of natural, aesthetic routes to choose from in the Whites, attention has been focused on just a few areas. But there's another, less crowded route with an almost forgotten history of speedy runs in the Whites; the Mahoosuc Traverse.

By the numbers, the Traverse is just a bit more imposing than the Pemi Loop with a similar 30-ish mile distance and 10,750 feet of elevation gain (compared to 8,800). What sets it apart though is Mahoosuc Notch, a deep and narrow gorge filled with boulders to be clambered over and under. There are crevasses here that have swallowed moose whole, leading to broken limbs and a rather gruesome death for the poor creature. Much of the Traverse is shared with the Appalachian Trail as it crosses from New Hampshire into Maine and the Notch is reputed to be the hardest, slowest single mile of the entire AT. Heavily burdened backpackers have been known to take several hours of leaping, squirming, and crawling to pass through the Notch. Aside from that, the Traverse spend much time above treeline in beautiful alpine meadows, bogs, and ledges that make the trip entertaining from beginning to end.

As early as 1927 the Mahoosucs were run by Bob Monahan in 10 hours, 27 minutes. In "the late 40s" Albert List Jr. is reported to have run the range with Brooks Dodge in 10:15, peeling and eating oranges as they ran. For a while, this was the fastest time I could find, until Jeff List pointed me to an RMC newsletter article describing the adventures of Chris Goetze. In a summer of remarkable achievements, including the chopping of several hours off Herbert Malcom's record Hut Traverse time, Chris ran the Mahoosucs in 8:06:30 on August 28th, 1958.

And then... nothing for the next 55 years.

Last summer some friends and I did a casual run across the Mahoosucs and I wanted to return to see what kind of time a focused effort would yield. Knowing the terrain, I was quite impressed with Chris' achievement. Eight hours seemed like a stout but achievable time. And a record that's almost old enough for an AARP card? Now that's intriguing.

It's not clear exactly what route Goetze took or which direction he went (there are a couple minor variations possible), so I used my best judgement to choose the following:
  • Start at Grafton Notch State Park in Maine
  • Take the Old Speck Trail to the summit of Old Speck (4170')
  • Run the Mahoosuc Range Trail around the East side of Speck Pond and through Mahoosuc Notch
  • Continue on the MRT over the South peak of Fulling Mill Mountain (3395') with a short side trip to the summit of Goose Eye Mountain (3870')
  • Continue South over Mounts Carlo (3565'), Success (also 3565'), Cascade (2631'), and Hayes (2555').
  • Descend on the MRT (not the AT/Centennial Trail) to finish on Hogan Road in Goreham.

The distance and elevation gain of this route closely matches the reported 28.75 miles that Goetze did, while leaving out the snowmobile trails and dirt roads that provide access from the more popular parking area that's now located on Route 16.

To make a long report short, my day did not go as well as I'd planned. I made good time up Old Speck, reaching the summit in just over an hour, and ran down the spectacular steep descent to Speck Pond. Mahoosuc Notch went well enough, the rocks were a bit greasy, and I made careful but steady progress through the scrambles. Fulling Mill and Mount Sucess were great fun, as always. By the time I hit the ME/NH state line it was clear I'd been a bit slow on the first half,  which was to be expected with the big climb up Old Speck and the slow going through the Notch. As it turned out, the second half was far less runnable than I remembered. On the way up Cascade Mountain I began suffering from persistent cramps in my hip adductors and it when it became clear that I wasn't going to break eight hours, I took a ten minute rest at the summit. This was actually pretty enjoyable as I got to relax and chill out for a bit while I had a short chat with one of the many AT thru-hikers I saw that day. I jogged the remainder of the route, finishing up in 8:47:33.

Eight hours is indeed a very stout time, one I have a newfound respect for. It might be within my capabilities on a good day, but I haven't been doing enough real mountain running to be that strong this summer. Only four weeks of recovery since Vermont 100 certainly didn't help things either. Excuses, excuses...  One thing is for sure though; Chris Goetze was a mountain badass by anybody's standards and his record will live on. For now.

A few pics:

A 12 oz salute to Mr. Goetze

Mahoosuc Notch and the Presidentials from Old Speck (pic from last May)

Mahoosic Notch (pic from Wikipedia)
Ledges and Bog Bridges on Mount Success (pic from last May)

The memorable sign that marks the finish on Hogan Rd. You can't miss it. (pic from last May)


  • 1:02:24 to summit of Old Speck
  • 1:20:16 to Speck Pond
  • 2:03:16 to entrance of Mahoosuc Notch
  • 2:32:18 to exit of Notch
  • 3:00:35 to  Full Goose Shelter
  • 3:36:23 to Goose Eye summit
  • 4:25:50 to ME/NH state line
  • 4:59:24 to Mount Success
  • 5:43:30 to Gentian Pond
  • 7:05:09 to Trident Col
  • 8:09:21 to Mount Hayes
  • 8:47:33 to Hogan Rd.


  1. Great, now I'm not going to be able to get "DANGER: Power Anal" out of my head all day. Awesome run; that steep descent into the Notch must have been quite a flight!

    1. That descent is pretty steep, but it's on exposed bedrock that has a gritty texture so your shoes stick really well. You kind of break out of the trees and get a chance to cool off in the breeze with a view to look at on the way down. I got a nice undercast there Saturday.

  2. Great job, Adam, on what sounds like a really tough trail. I hope to run it someday, thank you for the report for persuasion.

  3. Adam, Thanks for the report on this undoubtedly classic route. Was thinking of doing it myself sometime in the next week or so, depending on the weather, so extra beta is great. The idea of a bike return from Gorham to Grafton Notch is also intriguing, as I know a bunch of other people have done it (Alex MacPhail being the pioneer of it and other such things).

    As well as the RMC newsletter, another place to find info on Chris Goetze's exploits is in the December 1958 issue of Appalachia, in which his father Klaus published an article entitled "Far and Fast." It describes Chris's training and running during August of 1956 (I think?), which was remarkable as you say. "Far and Fast" has splits for Chris' hut traverse, "Swan's" (Randolph-Pinkham) traverse, and the Mahoosucs as well. As far as I can tell, you ran a more or less identical route to his. If you're interested I can send you an email with .jpg files of the article, or it's easy to find in the Highland Center library.

    Chris was definitely a badass; I'd be curious about how much running in Limmers slowed him down on the downhills, as he seemed like an absolutely manic uphill hiker (his uphill pace is approximately on par with George Heinrichs' 12h38m traverse, but George was much faster downhill). The fact that he was psyched on doing repeats up and down Lowe's Path as a seventeen year-old makes me wonder whether he'd be some sort of mountain running prodigy were he alive in this day and age.

    Cheers, Scott

    1. Scott, sorry for taking so long to respond. Many thanks for the additional info on the Appalachia issues! I'll have to check those out next time I'm at Crawford.

      I know Tim Seaver has done the bike return method on the Mahoosucs, but I wasn't aware that MacPhail had also done it. That was my backup plan for this trip, but I lucked into a ride at the last minute thanks to Eric Ferland.

      As for beta, I found enough clean water sources to get by with two 20 oz bike bottles. I chose my sources with discretion, never skipping a good one, and all is well with my GI tract 2+ weeks later.

      I'd like to take another shot at breaking 8 hours, but getting the daily mountain-specific training is always a challenge when you're not packing loads up to huts.

      Good luck!