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The Appalachian Trail

“Maine is deceptive. It is the twelfth smallest state, but it has more uninhabited forest-ten million acres-than any other state but Alaska.”

A Walk in the Woods

Bill Bryson

The first time I crossed the Appalachian Trail or the AT as it is also known, I was on the Mt. Washington Railway climbing to the summit. The second time I crossed the Trail, was 5.2 miles from it’s ending on the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park.

For the about 400 Thur-hikers, who have hiked the entire 2,200 miles in one season, this is the last part of their long journey ending at Baxter Peak at 5,267 feet. They would have started sometime in the early spring at Springer Mountain in Georgia and passed through 14 states. Through that journey, their elevation gain and loss is the equivalent of ascending and decending Mt. Everest. . . 16 times!

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I walked a short way on the AT, found a rock, sat down, and sketched. The sketch I created was a loose, gestural representation of the trail that stretched out into the woods before me. I used my dark sepia brush pen and I sketched quickly. I had to because I felt the first few drops of a passing sprinkle. The weather changes here at Baxter very quickly and I wanted to get the bare bones of my sketch down before the rain.

Now I can say that I have walked about 100 yards of the 2,200 miles of the AT. Well that’s a start anyway.

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Mount Washington Cog Railway

There is something about the sound of a steam engine whistle that turns this grown man into a child again. Better yet if the whistle echoes off the walls of a valley, covered in autumnal vestments.

I was waiting with anticipation on the platform as I heard the retort of the steam engine’s whistle down the line, announcing it’s arrival. The engine’s top speed is three miles an hour, so it would take a little while to pull into the station.

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Our brakeman Tommy, waving at the children and adult children as No. 2 Ammonoosuc, pulls into the base station.

The Ammonoosuc was slow but it could do what few other steam engines could do: ascend a grade of over 35% (most steam engines can handle only a grade of 6%). This is because the steam engine, now billowing smoke into the cold fall air, is a cog engine.

No. 2, Ammonoosuc, was pushing her red passage carriage which would push about 70 tourists up the three miles of track to the summit of Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast, at 6,288 feet. What was really amazing about our engine is that she was built in Manchester, New Hampshire in 1875 and she’s still running strong.

We loaded up and it would take about hour (three miles at a top speed of three miles an hour) to reach the summit. I got a quick sketch in of my carriage view, which caught the attention of a curious toddler.

With a long retort of the whistle we started up and not far from the station, Ammonoosuc was tasked with pushing us up the Spring Hill Grade at 35%. That means that for every 100 feet we travel, we climb 35 feet! But this wasn’t the steepest grade on the line. That was yet to come, just under the summit, at the Jacob’s Ladder Trestle with a grade of 37.41%!

Near the summit was the first of two times that I would be crossing the famed Appalachian Trail or AT. At Mt. Washington, this was the second highest point on the entire 2,200 mile trail. Near the rocky, treeless summit, the AT is marked with stone cairns so hikers will not loose their way in the frequent inclement weather of the summit.

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My sketch from the summit of Mt. Washington looking southeast, the highest peak in the northeast at 6,288 feet.

Once at the summit we had an hour to take selfies at the summit, take in the view, and sketch (well I was the only one sketching). I did one quick and loose sketch of the incredible view to the southeast in which I almost froze my face off (one must suffer for art) and one sketch of Ammonoosuc as she rested before our descent.

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One our descent, our brakeman, Tommy, was in charge of the wheel breaks of our car so we didn’t run into the engine on the steep grades. We were actually not connected to the engine, she pushed us up and then we glided down and Tommy made sure we didn’t put too much stain on No. 2. She was an old lady after all, just 144 years old this year!

We made it to the calmer weather of the base station where well all unpeeled from our layers, hats, gloves, and scarfs. Looking up I traced the snake trail of the cog line and reflected on the incredible achievement of having this almost impossible railway line built.