100 Mile Wilderness
Over the last few years, my friend since 5th grade, Discharge (his trail name after this hike), and I tossed around the idea of going on a backpacking trip. We had camped and hiked together numerous times over the years, but never been out in the wilderness for more than a few days at a time. After looking at a number of options, we settled on a section of the Appalachian Trail in Maine known as the 100 Mile Wilderness. It's the longest stretch of the AT without resupply points and takes most section hikers 8-10 days, though thru-hikers in "trail shape" will often traverse it in 4-6. After looking at the elevation profiles and layout of campsites and lean-tos, we decided to shoot for 8 days.
I would be using much of the same equipment from my Tahoe Rim Trail Thru-Hike. The major difference would be the food as there were no places to re-supply. Here's a spreadsheet of the food I brought. I brought 8 servings of the food above the first yellow line and 7 Mountain House meals (2 of each except the Beef Stew). My plan was to consume ~3000 calories/day and each day's food would way just under 1 kilogram.
20:17: I hopped on a red-eye last night and arrived in Portland, ME a little before noon. Discharge drove up from NJ the day before, picked me up at the airport and after a quick stop to grab a few last minute items from a local grocery store, made the 2.5 hour drive to Monson. We had booked a night at Shaw's before getting a ride to Abol Bridge, another 2 hours away.
Monson is a must stop for anyone hiking the AT as there's really no other town north of it along the rest of the trail to the terminus at Kathadin. In addition to Shaw's, there's a bar/lodge called The Lakeshore as well as a general store and a post office. For anything else one has to go to the larger town of Greenville 15 miles to the northwest.
We met a few thru-hikers at Shaw's, Nature and Athos, both NoBos (Northbounders), so they had already hiked more than 2000 miles and were only a week or so from finishing. After sorting through our stuff and filling up our packs, we went to the Lighthouse for dinner (pizza and buffalo wings) and then hit the sack.
7:42: We passed on the famous Shaw's all you can eat hiker breakfast since we each had extra food that didn't make the cut for the hike; plus we didn't feel as if we'd earned a big breakfast yet.
10:47: Dawn from Shaw's drove us up to the trail head at Abol Bridge. It's a roundabout drive as there are no real (non-logging) roads in the area of the trail. Forest covered much of the area we drove through, with houses sprinkled here and there. After exchanging cell phone numbers with Dawn and going over our itinerary and extraction procedures we took our first steps on the trail.
12:27: After about 3.5 miles of gentle up and down terrain we arrived at Hurd Brook Lean-to and met our first hikers, a SoBo (southbound) thru-hiker as well as a pair of NoBos one of whom went GA->NH last year and is finishing the rest now. One of the NoBos had half a gallon of freshly picked blueberries from a patch along the trail several miles away.
14:10: During the last 2 miles we steadily climbed about 750' to Rainbow Ledges. There were nice views of Katahdin and a few groups of hikers sprinkled about. I also found the patch of blueberry bushes, fairly well picked over, but I managed to scrounge up a few just to get a taste (nothing special).
17:05: We arrived at Rainbow Campsite after the gentle descent from Rainbow Ledges and then a relatively flat section skirting Rainbow Lake. We encountered Dragonfly, the SoBo thru-hiker from Hurd Brook Lean-to. It turns out he completed GA->VA already and then flip-flopped up to ME. There's also a couple from Abeline TX who were finishing their last section of the AT after several years of section hiking.
5:40: The night had been fairly warm, I didn't even zip up my sleeping bag.
9:06: We decided to stop at Rainbow Stream Lean-to after almost 4 miles and had a snack. The walk along the rest of Rainbow Lake, though quite flat, had the first serious boggy, root strewn sections which would soon become a familiar sight. We met a NoBo thru-hiker, Love-it o Leave-it. He hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1975 and plans on hiking the southern 1000 miles of the PCT again next year with one of the people with whom he thru-hiked it 35 years ago.
11:37: 2 miles from the lean-to we decided to take a dip in Pollywog Stream. It has been quite warm and extremely humid today. The water wasn't very deep but if one laid back, legs outstretched, it felt like being in a lake.
12:30: About 1.5 miles from the stream we stopped at Pollywog Gorge and had lunch. It really feels like one is in the middle of nowhere, nothing but trees and rocks as far as the eye can see.
14:55: We stopped briefly at a vista on Nesuntabunt Mountain, around 2 miles from the gorge, overlooking Nahmakanta Lake. There were tiny colored boats along one shore near what looked like a built up campground.
16:20: After a relatively steep descent we made it to Wadleigh Stream Lean-to and decided that was enough for the day. We had contemplated trying to get to State Campsite, another 2.5 miles away, but figured we could make the distance up on another day. Most of the time I'd been hiking my t-shirt has been soaked through.
Much of the trail has been covered with rocks and roots, it's definitely more rugged than most trails I've hiked in the past. I've been trying to eat all the food I packed for each day, but I'm a little behind on the tuna consumption. This lean-to is full, as are the campsites around it; most of the people are in a group of first time backpackers doing 6-8mi/day.
20:12: As it turns out, Dragonfly is here as well; even though we're not hiking at the same pace we seem to cover the same overall miles/day. We set up camp about a two hundred feet from the lean-to, right off the trail as it was the only clear, flat spot we could find.
7:24: After hiking for only 30 minutes, we decided to stop on the shore of Nahmakanta Lake at a sand beach to re-arrange stuff and try to dry some of the clothes I washed yesterday; they didn't dry much overnight. The humidity has been brutal for me as I have several blisters developing on my feet and each day my t-shirt gets soaked with sweat by mid morning, staying that way for the rest of the day.
12:52: This had to be one of the highlights of the trip, Padawadjo Spring Lean-to. We ate lunch and partook of the best tasting water ever (according to Discharge). The terrain from Wadleigh Stream Lean-to has been mostly flat.
14:38: At Lower Jo-Mary Lake we stopped at another sand beach, this time going for a swim. I tried to do more laundry and dry clothes as the sun was out and there were some warm boulders. Here we met Snowman, a NoBo thru-hiker who setup his inflatable sleeping pad as a raft, anchored it to a rock and took a nap while floating on the lake. There were also some more blueberry bushes scattered about but the berries were all dried up.
16:25: We arrived at Antlers Campsite and shortly after setting up our tents a big youth group showed up. Today we formalized the concept of "Deuce 4 Deuce". Moose, bear etc. seem to enjoy crapping right in the middle of the trail and humans are supposed to take a dump at least several hundred feet from the trail; so it's as if we're trading turds. They poop where we walk and then we return the favor.
20:32: I just overheard a guy in the tent closest to me talking loudly about free-balling, which was exactly what I wanted to hear. To round things out, there's also a nutty lady here who sometimes hikes barefoot and wonders why her feet have cuts. She went to sleep outside, no tent.
7:38: It rained last night and I got out of the tent at 3:17 to grab some clothes which had been hanging out to dry. I wonder how barefoot hiking lady fared with no tent...
10:35: The last 7.9mi stretch from Antlers to Cooper Falls Lean-to was probably the fastest segment we've hiked so far. We had some food and met up with Dragonfly again. He was at Antlers last night as well apparently.
16:18: The East Branch Lean-to and surrounding area was even more crowded than Wadleigh. We setup our tents in part of the path to the stream. Nature and Athos from Shaw's passed by us on this stretch. They've covered about 55 miles in the time we've covered 45.
Nature took a detour to Whitehouse Landing. It's kinda neat as you walk to the end of a pier and sound a horn and the owner comes and picks you up in a boat. However, since this was a long hiking day for us we decided not to add the extra 2 miles round trip just to have a hamburger and some ice cream.
19:52: It rained a bit more and we had dinner with Dragonfly. The stream here does not have good water, it clogged up the filters pretty quickly and had a weird taste.
9:45: It rained overnight and was drizzling while we were packing out. As soon as we started hiking it poured for about an hour. Dragonfly met us again at Logan Brook Lean-to, about half way up our largest climb of the hike to the summit of White Cap Mountain.
11:45: We ate lunch with Dragonfly near the summit of White Cap Mountain. There were thousands of rock steps along the way and we were now about 2400' higher than when we began the day.
15:17: Instead of continuing on to Carl A. Newhall Lean-to, Discharge and I decided to call it a day at Sidney Tappan Campsite. It had a spring, lots of empty campsites and the sun was out. I did some laundry and made another attempt to dry some clothes. A guy from Washington D.C. doing a NoBo 100mi segment like us showed up a bit later in the day. While we were talking to him by his tent a chipmunk stole one of Discharge's protein bars that had been left out at our site.
17:22: Dragonfly passed through earlier today and we exchanged e-mail addresses. Since he was planning on staying at Carl Newhall and then Cloud Pond Lean-to the following night, it seemed unlikely we'd see him again.
7:18: It rained a ton last night and I was woken up a few times by thunder and lightning. We decided to try and make it to West Chairback Pond in order to make-up for covering so few miles yesterday. We've also heard reports that the spring at Chairback Lean-to is dry, so camping there is not really an option anyway.
10:40: We forded the West Branch of the Pleasant River river after passing through Gulf Hagas, adjusted our footwear and ate. We considered taking one of the side trails at Gulf Hagas but didn't want to add more miles at this point in case there was no place to camp at West Chairback Pond, forcing us to push on to Cloud Pond Lean-to.
14:00: Indeed, the spring at Chairback Lean-to had dried up. We also discovered what the map described as a "steep talus slope" at Chairback Mountain was just jargon for a bunch of big rocks.
16:05: Upon arrival at West Chairback Pond we met Leroy from FL. He had gone ahead of his hiking buddies and they had not caught up yet. There were plenty of campsites and it looked like good moose habitat.
5:30: I did not see any moose yesterday evening and all is quite this morning. I did see and hear a loon and we played with some Mink frogs. It sprinkled a bit last night, but nothing too bad; the tents were already setup. It’s also worth noting the Beef Stew Mountain House meal is by far the worst tasting one (it's actually better dehydrated).
8:15: We left camp a bit late as it was sunny again so we tried to dry out some more clothes. Leroy's friends never showed up and they had the maps, so Discharge gave him his maps as we could share mine for the rest of the hike. We planned on going the extra 4.5 miles from Long Pond Stream Lean-to to Wilson Valley Lean-to so that our final day wouldn't be 15+ miles.
17:30: Today was fairly difficult as we had to travel over four mountains. To make matters worse we somehow got lost right after leaving camp and ended up having to backtrack a ways uphill. Guess this hike will end up being a bit more than 100 miles...On the bright side, at least we finally had some good weather, sunny, cool and not humid. The summit of Barren Mountain had the best views of the trip so far. In a surprising turn of events, we ended up catching up with Dragonfly again as he had not made it as far as planned in the last 2 days due to the weather.
5:03: Last night was by far the coldest of the trip. It was the first night I zipped my sleeping bag up completely and wore my long sleeve shirt, which had previously only found use as a pillow. Setting up camp somewhat close to the privy (~100ft) wasn't too bad as I'm sure my own smell rivals that of the privy at this point. Not having taken a shower in 7 days with only a few rinse-offs in streams/lakes coupled with some humid days and the inability to do much laundry due to rain has opened up a whole new world of body odor.
13:45: Discharge, Dragonfly and I hiked together most of the day and shared a ride back to Shaw's once we hit Highway 15. Since we were keeping track I’ll note neither Discharge nor I alone had the urge to deuce every day of the trip, but Discharge managed the feat on days 2-8 and I on 1-6 and 8; so the critters of Maine felt the love daily.
17:00: The first item of food I had in Monson was ice cream, Lobster Tracks (vanilla ice cream with red candy and caramel). I also of course took a shower. I have never seen so much dead skin and hair accumulate in the drain (which I of course cleaned out thoroughly). All three of us went to the Lakeshore for dinner and I had a peperoni, bacon and tomato pizza. We discussed at length Dragonfly's decision to end his trek after this segment. Apparently completing a thru-hike was not the goal, it was simply to de-stress; and after 1000+mi of hiking, that had been accomplished. We'll drop him off in Portland, ME and he will head home to NE from there.
12:32: We all had triples for breakfast, 3 each of french toast, eggs, bacon sausage and hash browns and headed out around 8:30 arriving at the airport just before noon. My phone is still loading over 200 e-mails. It feels so strange not to be outside right now, trudging through the wilderness, looking for the next white blaze.
I waited 6 months before looking back over my journal entries. In the meantime, Love-it o Leave-it has invited Discharge and me to climb Mount Shasta this July; Leroy mailed Discharge a new set of maps and we have an open invitation to visit next time we're in FL, we've e-mailed with Dragonfly and now have a hiking partner next time we're in NH and one of the day hikers I met at Wadleigh Stream Lean-to found me via the photos I posted on Flickr.