I immediately regretted losing my head

Cohos Trail, Day Eight: Percy Loop Tentsite to Baldhead Shelter

Knowing we had a very long day ahead of us, almost 17 miles, we set an alarm for 5am, but then snoozed over and over. We were still up by 6:15 and on trail before 7, skipping coffee, for now. We would go by a waterfall that morning and planned to stop there for breakfast.

I was getting a little stronger and faster, and the the terrain wasn’t challenging, so we covered the 4 miles to Pond Brook Falls in less than 2 hours. Not bad!

The guidebook mentioned that sometimes round pools near the waterfall fill and become warm enough in the sun for a soak, but the ones we saw were shallow and stagnant, with bugs and detritus floating on the surface. Otherwise it was delightful waterfall to sit next to while sipping a hot beverage.

After getting back on trail, we soon spotted some very clear moose tracks in the mud.

The hiking was not yet very strenuous, with easy ups and downs, and long stretches of fairly flat walking.

We stopped by a feature called the Devil’s Jacuzzi, a bubbling cauldron in the Nash Stream that our guidebook editor likened to an eight-person hot tub. (Nilsen named it himself.)

We lunched on the rock near the water, while I debated whether the day was too grey and menacing for a dip. Finally, I decided it wasn’t and I would go in after we finished eating. The guidebook said not to jump because there’s a submerged rock in the center of the pool.

I slid in and panicked. The floor was slippery and uneven, and the water was unbelievably cold, and fast moving. It only came up to my hips but I couldn’t bring myself to dunk. With E’s help, I scrambled out over the slick rocks.

I immediately regretted losing my head, letting the shock of the cold water and the fear of not keeping my footing get the better of me. I could do better than that. I told E that I wanted to go back in.

I pulled my layers off again and, with a businesslike attitude, lowered myself back into the water, suppressing those internal alarm bells. This time I made my knees bend and submerged my head and torso. I even turned my back to the falls to feel the water pound against my shoulder blades, stronger than any Jacuzzi jet I’ve ever encountered. But it was still bracingly cold and I didn’t stay in long before asking E to help me out.

After leaving Nash Stream, the trail began to climb in elevation. We passed through open meadows filled with wildflowers and shrubs. We didn’t see any moose but there were moose tracks, moose poop, and moose beds in the grass.

We saved the hardest hiking for the end of the day. Somehow, we hadn’t realized how much elevation we would gain and lose climbing up the flank of Mt. Muise, even though the trail doesn’t go over the summit (there is no trail to the summit, otherwise it probably would). Our feet were sopping from wet trail. I even lost a shoe in a particularly sticky mud pit, but E fished it out with my hiking pole.

I was moving slowly, hoping to spot a moose where the guide said moose liked to hang out, but also because my energy was just about spent. Then I realized we were heading back downhill, which meant we were further from our destination than I thought, and I picked up the pace. I attacked the trail with a manic energy, until I threw my leg over a blowdown, but not high enough, and stabbed my knee on a branch. That slowed me down a bit.

The last miles to Baldhead felt endless. When I finally spotted the roof of the shelter I cried out—then immediately felt embarrassed because there were noises coming from within.

Diesel and Summit, two lean and wiry thru-hikers heading south, were surprised to see anyone else up there, but friendly. We thought about finding a spot to tent but there weren’t any good ones and they had scooted all their stuff to one side of the shelter to make space for us. While we prepared dinner on the bench outside they regaled us with stories from their first few days on trail, as well as their AT section hike, which they had completed over 8 years, and other adventures. Now retired, Summit was working on climbing the 500 Highest peaks in New Hampshire. When our guidebook spoke of hikers who bushwhack to viewless peaks like Mt. Muise just for the pleasure of writing their name in a register in the summit canister, that was Summit.

I wrote in my journal that night that I was cozy with E in the shelter and about to look at the stars, but I closed my eyes instead. When I woke hours later to go to the latrine, the sky was overcast.