Appalachian trailblazers are psychotic

3 min read 7 Comments

I now have two mantras that run through my head on repeat: 

“I do not fall”

“I am strong. I am fit. I am healthy.”

catherine stuck in mahoosuc knotch while backpacking the appalachian trail

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve said, “WTF?”, “This can’t be the trail”, “Seriously?”, or simply scream out loud “No!” to the so-called path in front of me.

The Appalachian Trail in these northern states has consisted of jagged rock piles, jumbled boulder fields, slippery rocky river beds, slabs of steep smooth slate or granite, clusters of tangled roots, or my personal nemesis, steep rocky waterfalls (the trail is literally a waterfall in places). Did I mention the rocks?!

crazy rock terrain on appalachian trail with arrow to point the way

There have been many times when Ken and I wondered if the people blazing this trail were inherently sadistic or merely drunk.

steep rock slope trail on appalachian backpacking adventure

In some places, it needlessly wanders in haphazard directions that make no sense. In Connecticut we finally had a little reprieve from the crazy terrain and were walking along a lovely flat(ish) river trail. Suddenly, the AT veered uphill to the right instead of continuing alongside the river. After a bit of uphill climbing, then back down, the trail rejoined the river side path. For no apparent reason, the architects of the Appalachian Trail want hikers to always suffer just a little.

Perhaps they think we won’t feel accomplished unless we earn it?!

appalachian trail difficult terrain covered in tree roots

Being told to go a different way in order to avoid tragic losses was equally terrifying and entertaining.

Surprisingly, this sign was only spotted towards the end of New Hampshire as we headed up Mousilauke Mountain. It could have been at the base of every mountain! Thankfully, I was finally feeling more confident by this time and scrambled up without an issue.

avoid tragic results danger sign on appalachian trail

The notorious Mahoosuc Notch in Maine was the site of my second rock climbing induced anxiety attack. Although much more minimal than my reaction to the first day on Katahdin, this area threw me for a loop. At times a fun challenge and considered the slowest mile on the entire Appalachian Trail, it was interesting, but definitely not my favorite part.

rock jungle in the mahoosuc knotch on appalachian trail photo by catherine grisez

Other areas were as intense and often scarier than a haunted house (for height challenged folks like myself anyway). But in some cases the trail at least offered some assistance.

metal ladder rungs in rock on appalachian trail photo by catherine grisez

wood ladder assist up steep rock on appalachian trail photo by catherine grisez

knotched rock path on appalachian trail photo by catherine grisez

nervous catherine on steep section of appalachain trail hike with metal bars to assist

Metal rungs and a handrail, but still steep and anxiety inducing.

steep rock trail with wood steps attached on appalachian trail

When man-made efforts weren’t involved, trees were very helpful offering assistance with branches, trunks, and roots. I made a point of thanking every tree that helped me in even the smallest way. Of course I may have cursed a few that tripped me along the way too.

tree root assist while backpacking on the appalachian trail

catherine assisted by tree while backpacking on the appalachian trail

After falling a bunch and generally beating myself up for not feeling athletic enough for this experience, I suddenly had the awareness- “I’m already doing this!”

There is no point in feeling bad about something you are making happen. So I decided to switch my thinking. That’s when I started chanting the mantras above in my head, especially “I am strong”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said (out loud) “I don’t know what to do here.” Then promptly started moving forward. As long as I’m making progress (no matter how slow), I call it a win. 

Yours truly, conquering fear of heights and dislike of rock climbing, one mountain at a time. 

ken high above showing rocky path on appalachian trail

Ken high above showing where I’m headed.

I hope I can retain this lesson... when I don’t know how to move forward in life or the studio, action is better than contemplating endless possibilities. If I didn’t choose to push past fears and move forward, I’d still be looking confused and sad somewhere in the middle of Maine. 

No matter the challenge, forward motion is progress!

I’d love to hear what challenges you are conquering in the comments below!

ken backlit by sun between rocks on appalachian trail


7 Responses


March 07, 2021

Bravo Catherine! There could be no better time for you to be out in the extraordinary wild focussed with every fibre of your being in the moment. ?

Emily Austin

March 07, 2021

Incredible accomplishment, Catherine!! You are so brave and a major badass.

Jamie Huff

March 07, 2021

Excellent philosophy and way to go getting through the challenges and hurdles! This is an amazing trip. I found this free poster a month or so ago and thought you might like it too… I printed it and have it by my desk. ?

Rossiter Kathy

March 07, 2021

What an amazing adventure! Kudos to you!
Give me a nice wide mostly flat trail!

Danielle VenHuizen

March 07, 2021

I love this! What an adventure. Thanks for sharing your stories!

Shannon Hughes

March 07, 2021

So appreciate the insights, photos and latest update. I’m so proud of what you have accomplished.

My latest challenges: separating the nice-to-do tasks from those that are critical (a continuing challenge) and not beating myself up when I don’t tackle all that I need to.

Keep the life lessons coming.


March 07, 2021

Wow! Climb on!

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