This is the classic route many Dartmouth students walk each year from Dartmouth's campus along the AT northbound over Mt. Moosilauke to the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge. The route covers something like 52 miles and 15000+ ft of elevation gain.
I forget who first told me about the Dartmouth 50, but I heard about it shortly after moving to the Hanover area. It immediately reminded me of the Four State Challenge, as a local testpiece point-to-point on the Appalachian Trail. This one was clearly harder, though.
There does not seem to be another recorded unsupported effort, though surely a number of AT through-hikers have done essentially the same thing, and rumors abound of Dartmouth Nordic team athletes running it in fast times.
I tried a version of this route with Jeremy Merritt last year, but bailed at Cube, severely dehydrated, and surely undertrained. This year, I'm stronger. When I saw a good forecast for the first weekend in October, I knew it was my last best shot - with daylight getting ever shorter.
As has so often been the case this year, the weather gods did not favor me. Instead of partly sunny, I ran through fog, clouds, and rain for the first half of my run, and the trails never really dried out. My shoes had that discouraging slurp even past 40 miles into the run.
I set off at about 4:14 am from the Dartmouth Outing Club at Robinson Hall on Dartmouth's campus, where a friend said he started when he did The 50 as a student. I quickly ran the roads to the AT trailhead behind the Coop, switched on my headlamp and entered auto-pilot. I knew the trail from Hanover over Mt. Cube - about 50 km into the route - quite well.
Things went relatively smoothly; I heard forest noises, and saw thru-hikers/backpackers tents in awkward spots too close to the trail. By the time I got to Moose mountain, it was too foggy to see with my headlamp on my head, so I had to hold my headlamp in one hand, and both trekking poles in the other.Things were wet. I constantly felt like I was carrying too much water, having filled at a stream I could see on the map, only to find runoff trickles everywhere.
By the time I got down Smarts Mountain, things started feeling more bleak. My hip flexors had felt sore from before mile 7, and now my IT band was beginning to rub painfully by my left knee. I dawdled at creeks and at the summit of Cube and at another creek, wondering what I was doing out there. I looked at my phone to see if I had enough service to call for a ride and bail. The mind-games of long, solo outings were running their course in my brain.
Fortunately, I did not have service, so I plunged on, now into the unknown. Jeremy told me that the section from Cube to the base of Moosilauke was much harder than it looked on the topo, so it was with some dread that I set out beyond Cube, feeling like I had wasted too much time in self-pity.
In a nice turn of events, that section of the AT is actually probably the most runnable of the whole route! The hills are almost all gentle, and the trails mostly softer soil (mud), leaves, and conifer needles. I made an unfortunate navigational error at 25C after chatting with a friendly local trail runner. At the parking pullout on the road, I misinterpreted a blaze on a power line utility road gate, and took the power line cut for a few hundred yards before turning around and correcting. Despite the navigational blunder, I made good time through this section, considering how my legs felt, and soon was at the base of Moosilauke and onto Glenn Cliff trail.
From the river in the Oliverian Notch to the top of Moosilauke, the trail climbs about 3000 ft. That's a big climb so late in a long day, and it hit me hard. I kept good pace for the first, lower angle bit, but when the terrain got rockier and steeper up toward the summit ridge, I slowed to a crawl. Fortunately, all the running I've been doing propelled me forward once I hit the flatter sections of the ridge, and I moved steadily toward the summit after the death march of the steep climb.
It was cold and windy and in the clouds on the top of Moosilauke, somehow a fitting end to what I thought would be a beautiful day. I tried to run down the mountain, but with all the rocks being rounded and polished by so many footsteps and so wet from the rain, I moved barely faster than a walking pace. My fiancee had hiked up partway to meet me, but this being an unsupported effort, we just exchanged a few words as I trotted past her.
I finished as I started: by headlamp. After just shy of 14 hours and thirty minutes on the move, I caught the beautiful sight of the lights from Moosilauke Ravine lodge and did my best to pick up the pace and run all the way to the end.
Started: 04:14 am
AT TH in Hanover: +00:05:36
Moose Mt. Summit: +02:13:14
Dartmouth Skiway: +04:00:19
Smarts Summit: +05:51:42
Cube Summit: +07:34:20
25C crossing: +09:55:55
AT leaves High St. in Glenncliff: +11:49:23
Moosilauke Summit: +13:29:07
Ravine road in front of the Lodge: +14:29:30
I took a few small wrong turns, all corrected by backtracking to where I missed the turn, and continuing where I left off. I accidentally stopped tracking for about one second while putting my jacket on at treeline on Moosilauke, but restarted promptly - hence the timing difference between Garmin and Strava tracks of 1 second.
It would be fairly easy to knock significant time off this effort - it was a learning experience for me, and I'm sure I could do it at least an hour faster with good conditions and what I know now.
I used trekking poles (thanks Jane for solid advice!), and all my gear in a UD race vest.
I carried two BeFree 0.6 L softflask filter bottles, and probably could have gotten by with one.
I had a small med kit with Ace bandage, some bandages, and a space blanket.
I carried a Houdini jacket and some event mitten shells. The BD Sprinter headlamp is great!
I ran in some very new Hoka Torrents - my first pair are pretty beaten up, and I was happy for the fresh cushion of the new shoes.
I had about 4000 calories of food with me, and it was mostly too sweet... I need better fueling options. But I did not bonk! I had a 5oz Gu flask with some homemade energy gel, some extra gel packets, some granola bars, some shortbread cookies, a bunch of snickers bars, some shot blocks, and cheese & peanutbutter crackers. I lusted for salt & vinegar potato chips.
This was my first 50-mile day! It was also the most vertical gain I've done in a day - by about 20% on both counts. This gives me newfound respect for folks running 100s and 200s. As Courtney Dauwalter says: "You're fine. This is fine. Keep going."