100 Mile Wilderness, pt. 2: AT Days 131-133
Carl Newhall Lean-to to Antlers Campsite, 26.9 miles
I woke up at 5:00 and was hiking by 5:45 with my game face on. The sun was shining and I was ready to have a big day on trail. The first task at hand for the day was traversing the Whitecap Range, the final multi-mile traverse on the AT. I quickly began climbing and reached the summit of Gulf Hagas Mountain, before reaching the summits of West Peak, Hay Mountain, and then finally Whitecap Mountain, at an elevation of just over 3,600 feet. This traverse was easier than the Chairbacks, and the smoother terrain and mellow grade between peaks helped me make great time.
It was a long but very gradual descent off the ridge down to Pleasant River at 1,200 feet. I was 10 miles into my day by the time I reached the river, and I was pleased to see I had hiked these 10 miles by 10 AM, feeling proud about the good time I was making. The hardest part of the day was behind me, and the elevation profile, with the exception of a couple small hills, looked flat basically all the way to Katahdin. I made my way through wide-open pine forest, constantly scanning for moose, before a short but steep climb to the summit of Little Boardman Mountain, elevation 2,000 feet.
At the base of Little Boardman lies the sandy beaches of Crawford Pond, the perfect spot for a swim and lunch break. We were 15 miles in for the day, and it was only noon, so Jackrabbit and I took our time at this oasis located literally right off trail. After the siesta, we had about 12 flat miles remaining to Antlers Campsite, which many hikers familiar with the area have spoken highly about. The remaining miles were extremely enjoyable; not only was the trail completely flat, but it was very smooth with very minimal rocks and roots.
For the first time in what seems like forever, I put my legs on “cruise control” mode for an extended period of time, and quickly made my way through the scenic lowland forests of Northern Maine, hiking close by to the shores of several lakes along the way. Despite the constant presence of mosquitos that became very noticeable immediately following Crawford Pond, this was definitely one of my favorite hiking days on trail. I felt very strong at this point and had tons of energy, covering the 12 miles to camp in under four hours. Antlers campsite is a large tenting area in a pine forest situated right on the shores of the massive Lower Jo-Mary lake. This campsite was one of the nicest I’ve had all trail, despite the large group from a summer camp making plenty of noise at camp throughout the night (unfortunately, this was a common theme all throughout Maine).
I watched the sun rise over the lake as I ate my breakfast, preparing for my final full day of hiking on the Appalachian Trail. The first three miles of the day started off with very similar terrain as the final 12 miles of the previous day, before more rocks and roots soon started to make an appearance. Four miles in, on the shores of Pemadumcook Lake, I caught my first view of Mt Katahdin on the horizon line. With the end goal now in clear site, I had mixed emotions as I hiked down the trail, but feeling mostly excited that all my hard work was soon to pay off.
Roots, rocks, and lakes were certainly in abundance today. The terrain was mostly all flat, but not quite as easy as the previous day had been. I was also not nearly as energized as I was the previous day, but the 24 miles planned for today had to be hiked in order to set me up for exiting wilderness the following afternoon. Another swim and lunch siesta at the sandy beach of Nahmakanta was hard to pass up. It was 85+ degrees outside, very hot for Northern Maine. I felt like falling asleep and staying at the beach all day, but that idea wasn’t feasible based on my food supply. I pushed on, and a steep climb to Nesuntabunt Mountain provided more excellent, up-close views of Mt Katahdin. 15 miles in, I was feeling pretty drained, but continued to push on past more lakes and through extremely rocky and rooty terrain.
Three miles out from camp, the clouds quickly rolled in, unexpectedly dumping heavy rain for a good five minutes before dissipating. The clouds continued to linger, so I hiked quickly to have the chance to set up camp before it started raining again. I was greeted to some light rain when arriving to the dam on the shores of Rainbow Lake, the final campsite on my thru-hike. Mt Katahdin is clearly visible from this campsite, and I soaked in the views of the massive peak on the horizon line before it became fully engulfed in the clouds.
It was the final morning on trail, and I took my sweet time with my morning routine as I watched the sun rise over the top of Mt Katahdin. The first several miles of the trail today followed the shores of Rainbow Lake, before shortly ascending up to Rainbow Ledges. There was an abundance of wild blueberries on this ridge, and I enjoyed several handfuls before descending the ridge. The remaining miles were flat and rather uneventful as I made my way through more rocky and rooty terrain, mostly in pine forests.
I soon caught up to Jackrabbit, and we hiked together through remainder of the wilderness, soon arriving to the sign letting us know we were exiting the 100 mile wilderness. Spirits were through the roof; we had essentially hiked the entire trail, and all that was left now was 15 miles of trail; flat 10 miles of hiking through Baxter State Park followed by climbing Mt Katahdin. We arrived at Abol Bridge just past noon, which is home to two campgrounds and a general store, the first sign of civilization since Monson. I hung out at a picnic table at the campground with my fellow hikers, enjoying some celebratory beer. Months of putting in hard work and putting one foot in front of the other led to this exact moment, and damn did it feel good!
My dad, who drove the nine hours from NY to take me home (what a legend, right?), picked me up at Abol Bridge, and we drove to the Big Moose Inn where he had reserved a room for us. A shower, a good meal and a bed was exactly what I needed, and I was feeling pumped that tomorrow was the day I would be climbing Mt Katahdin to finish my dream of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.
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