It is widely claimed that the most grueling single mile of the entire 2200 available along the Appalachian Trail is not the killer ascent of Moosilauke, nor the exposed knife-edge ridge of the Franconia traverse but Mahoosuc Notch a few miles south of Old Speck. And Mahoosuc Notch is largely level ground!
The Notch is a fine and grueling day hike in the Mahoosuc Range, or an obstacle course encountered by people hiking the length of the range. Either way, it is well worth the conciderable effort.
Sandwiched between Mahoosuc Mountain (a sub-peak of lofty Old Speck) and Fulling Mill Mountain, the Notch is threaded by a mile of trail winding through (litterally in many cases) huge piles of talus and boulders. Deep below, a creek can be heard rumbling and booming in subterranean cavities, but it only becomes visible at the lower (eastern) end of the notch.
Typically, Mahoosuc Notch is accessed via the Notch Trailhead on the Success Pond Road (see main page for directions). Ascend an easy trail through northern pine and spruce forest for 2.8 miles to the top of the Notch. The Appalachian Trail heads right and ascends steeply Fulling Mill Mountain on its march to Georgia. Ahead, the trail descends slightly and heads east.
Your mission is a seemingly easier one. However, looks are deceiving!
Towering cliffs rise on either side of the Notch and have been shedding rocks of all sizes over millions of years. Some of these rocks are the size of houses and they lie willy-nilly crammed into the narrow space of the Notch. The stream which rises near the top of the Notch can be heard rumbling along through the rocks at an unknown depth. The trail winds through this via the easiest route but the easiest route involves crawling under Winnebago sized granite boulders, stepping across mossy 20' deep chasms, scrambling up and down numerous 3rd-class drops, and traversing across steep rock slabs. Some people regard it as fantastic fun while others view it with horror. Getting through will take you at least an hour and a half. It is possible to do with a fully loaded frame pack, but it is a definite challenge.
The lower end of the Notch is a lovely glade where the stream finally emerges from the jumble of rocks and lies in a sandy, shallow bed. Take a break here and rest your feet. You're not done yet; you can either turn around and rethread the Notch, or continue up and over Mahoosuc Arm or even Old Speck itself.
The ascent from the lower (eastern) end of the Notch is a grueling climb up steep, rough trail on the slopes of Mahoosuc Arm. 1.5 miles of this (watch your footing, wet rocks can be slippery) leaves you on the broad, open summit of Mahoosuc Arm. Descend a third of a mile to the junction with the Speck Pond Trail. You can cut left here and descend back to the Success Pond Road or you can continue another 0.7 miles to the lovely Speck Pond itself.
Speck Pond makes a fine destination, but the summit of Old Speck is only 1.1 miles farther on up some spectacular, bare ridgelines. Concider combining this with the Standard Route to Grafton Notch and you've got a nice day or overnight hike. Otherwise, descend back to the Success Pond Road.
Nothing special. Sturdy shoes are a must for traversing the Notch. Camping is available at Speck Pond and there is a shelter and tent platforms. Bug repellant is a good idea in the summer months.