A Good Finish – Better Late than Never
Day 164: ME Rt. 15 / Monson to Barren Ledges (16.4 miles, marker 2,100.1)
Today was the start of the 100 mile wilderness. This is a section of trail I did with my father 30 years ago and ultimately inspired my thru-hike. I had forgotten how difficult the terrain at the beginning of this section was. Even though it does not show a great deal of elevation change, there are constant rocks and roots to step up and around, and lots of little ups and downs. After a good breakfast at Shaw’s hiker hostel, we got a shuttle to the trailhead and began our hike around 9:00 a.m. Throughout the course of the day, we ended up fording four rivers. Two of them were up to my thighs but the others were only calf deep.
By midafternoon I was feeling pretty spent, but after a nice snack break and some water, I was easily convinced by Pigpen that it would be both beautiful and better for our overall hike to make it up to Barren Ledges. It was a steep and difficult climb, plus we carried extra water because we were eating up top and have a ten-mile water carry the next day before our next water. At the top of the climb, we reached our second to last big pinnacle, the 2,100 mile marker.
In the end, I was pooped at the end of the day. I found a nice stealth site to set up at just passed the summit and went back for dinner with a view. It was a beautiful evening, and the view was spectacular. Eventually, the sun set and I headed back to my tent where I slept very well.
Day 165: Barren Ledges to Stealth Site along Gulf Hagas Brook (18 miles, marker 2,118.1)
I awoke a few minutes before sunrise and immediately got up, gathered my food bag, and headed back over to the ledges for breakfast. The full moon was still out, and I got the pleasure of enjoying an amazing sunrise while still having the blue moon. After breakfast I broke down my camp and hung out enjoying the morning views until Ronin and Pigpen were ready to head out for the day. Before heading out I had Ronin duplicate a photo my father had taken of me back when we hiked this trail together.
We hiked most of the day together, eventually summiting Chairback Mountain and then eventually down the Chairback Mountain Rockslide. I have actually been dreading this climb since I fell on Sugarloaf Mountain. My memory of this descent from the years prior was that this was a very steep and treacherous climb. I was very glad to have friends with me. Soon after all the climbs of the day, they paused for a moment while I kept going. Because we would be passing through The Hermitage, a national natural landmark where no camping is allowed for a three-mile section, we had decided to push for a longer a day and push past The Hermitage. I got to the west branch of the Pleasant River which delineates the start of The Hermitage, changed my shoes, and headed across, figuring Ronin and Pigpen would catch up to me as I was crossing. I got across and realized I left my shoes on the other side, so I headed back, got them, and then while at the water figured it was a good time to filter a couple liters for the rest of my hike and have a snack. This all took me a bit over a half hour, and i was starting to get cold. Just as I was ready to walk again, they finally showed up. So I took off at a casual pace to warm up, again expecting them to catch up at any moment.
Our intent was to hike to the next lean-to, but it was getting late and getting darker and darker. I finally had to break out my headlamp to see as I hiked, around the same time I exited the no camping zone. I began looking for a good stealth site where I could prep my dinner and wait for them. I was open to night hiking, but also aware this is a safer activity in a group, especially in bear and moose country. I made my dinner at a nice stealth site and they still didn’t show up. I then sent a message via my inReach that I was setting up camp there and called it a night.
Day 166: Stealth Site along Gulf Hagas Brook to Crawford Pond Beach (17.5 miles, marker 2,135.6)
Got up casually, did some stretching and had a good breakfast, and then I headed out. When I turned back on my inReach I got a message from Pigpen and Ronin that they also got tired and decided to camp a couple miles behind me. I had a few more mountains to climb, so when I got signal at the top of Gulf Hagas Mountain I let them know my intended destination for the day, Crawford Pond Beach. I then summited Hay Mountain and finally White Cap, where I finally got signal again. I got a message that they concurred about the day’s destination. This was perfect, as it would put us eight miles from Jo Mary Road, the place for our food drop the next day at 11 am. I texted Shaw’s Hiker Hostel to confirm 11 am for the drop and hiked on. Unlike when I did this part of the trail 30 years ago, you no longer need to carry six to ten days food. Shaw’s Hiker Hostel as well as a couple other services will now do food drops sixty miles in. For $90 they will deliver a five-gallon bucket. We split this three ways, making it reasonable. Before leaving White Cap Mountain I took a side trail to get my first glimpse of Katahdin and bask in her majesty. I eventually hiked down and continued my hike to Crawford Pond. On my way down I ran into a family with a young child. He had a small basket of flowers and gave me one along the way. I let him know I had walked a long way and was going to walk all the way up to the top of Mount Katahdin. I told him that the local Penobscot Indians worshiped the spirit of the mountain which they named Katahdin, and I let him know I would bring the flower there as an offering to the mountain.
When I finally arrived at Crawford Pond, there were already a few people camping nearby in the woods, but there was one beautiful flat space right on the beach no one was camping at. I claimed it, ignoring the comments that I was brave to set up and not worry about the tide. But hell, this is a lake, not the ocean, I should be fine. The sunset was gorgeous and the sound of the gentle lapping of the lake soothed me to sleep.
Around 1:00 am I awoke to a bright moon, a breeze off the lake, and the sound of waves. I looked out of my tent and the water had advanced on my tent by a few feet. This made me a bit nervous. I got out of my tent and stuck a stick in the ground at the water level. I decided that if the water moved halfway from the stick to my tent (about three more feet) I would move my tent. After thirty minutes the water level has not moved, and I allowed myself to fall back to sleep.
Day 167: Crawford Pond Beach to Nahmakanta Lake (22.1 miles, marker 2,157.7)
The disadvantage to sleeping directly on the beach is that everything you have will be soaked in condensation by morning. Ronin and Pigpen never showed up, but did message that they got tired and stopped a couple miles short, and were planning on heading out at 6 am. I got going about 6:45 am, after packing up all my wet gear. As I had predicted, I stopped for a light breakfast and privy break at the next shelter, and they finally caught back up with me. We hiked together to Jo Mary Road, arriving 45 minutes before our drop time. We hung out with a half dozen other hikers all waiting for our re-supply. About the time the resupply arrived, so did a pickup truck offering trail magic. We all got our food as well as a really good ham and egg sandwich for breakfast before heading on.
Even though we took close to a three-hour break, we easily made up this because the terrain was very easy for the rest of the day, and we were able to move at close to three miles an hour for most of the afternoon. We arrived at Nahmakanta Lake close to 6:30 pm and decided to call it a day. We set up on the beach, this time knowing that everything would be wet… but not caring. It’s worth the beauty of staying on the lake. After an amazing sunset and some fun in the lake, we finally called it a night.
Day 168: Nahmakanta Lake to Hurd Brook Lean-to (22.1 miles, marker 2,179.8)
We all awoke to wet gear. We packed up and headed out, with the thought of finding a nice site to make lunch and spread out our gear to dry it out. We hiked much of the day through incredibly easy terrain without any luck for finding a good clear sunny space. We finally came to a sunny spot midafternoon that looked like it might work for a little while. While there, met a very interest woman, grey-j who lives completely off grid in Maine. She made us all a cup of tea on her wood burning stove and we shared interesting tales and experiences. We finally continued on until we arrived at Hurd Brook Lean-to right at dusk. None was staying in the shelter, so the three of us had it to ourselves. What seemed like a great thing turned into a mistake. It was too warm to sleep under my quilt but too many mosquitoes not to. Eventually, we all concluded this sucks, took some Benadryl, and passed out till morning.
Day 170: Hurd Brook Lean-to to Katahdin Stream Campground (13.4 miles, marker 2,193.2)
Got up, packed up, and headed out, feeling a bit like a zombie from the lack of sleep and the Benadryl. Thankfully, this is a relatively light day considering the easier terrain and the stop in the middle at Abol Bridge camp store for a shower, some snacks, and a couple hours to relax. As we crossed Abol Bridge, we also got an amazing view of Katahdin, the last big mountain ahead of us.
We also got a great opportunity to lay all our still wet items in the sun for a couple hours to dry. Refreshed, we continued on to Baxter Park. We visited Both Big Niagra and Little Niagra Falls and hiked on.
Ronin and Pigpen took a side journey to kayak, but I was tired and already had enough mosquito bites (they really like me) that I just headed to camp, enjoying little bits of wildlife along the way.
Upon arrival I discovered there was trail magic at The Birches, a hiker hut/campground that can accommodate 12, first come first serve. Though we had arranged a guaranteed spot at Katahdin Stream Campground, I headed over to The Birches for a hot dinner and some snacks and drinks and plenty of Moxie. Ronin and Pigpen rolled in a little bit later and we all eventually made our way back to the campground to spend our last night together and enjoy some dinner and drinks.
Day 171: Katahdin Stream Campground to Baxter Peak (5.4 miles, marker 2,198.4)
We planned to get going by 6:30 am which meant we were actually on the trail about 7:00 a.m. So far the day was going perfectly. There are many routes to the Summit of Katahdin, but the AT takes the Hunt Trail.
The first mile was an easy slope, and we were moving pretty quick. The next mile was a solid uphill climb, but nothing particularly difficult. Then the true steepness began, and I didn’t remember such a steep and treacherous climb. My father wrote about it, but I didn’t remember it that way. The memories of a 22-year-old are clearly a bit more fearless.
So I climbed this mountain. We climbed slow, we got to the top, and we celebrated with many other thru-hikers finishing their journey, and the photos, and the stories, and eventually having to head back down. But before heading down I took a long moment to reflect on the past six months and everything that went into this amazing journey. I expected tears, but instead just felt peace. I dug out the small flower I had carried from the boy a few days ago and offered it to Katahdin in thanks for my journey and with the hope of a safe descent.
There was an alternate route to the one we came up, the Abol Trail. This was supposed to be a bit easier. Still not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but easier. I ended up getting a bit ahead of my summiting partners as my knees were not wanting to go as slow as they were moving. Once at the bottom, I got a ride from the bottom of the trail (two-mile road walk back to the campground) to the camp where Angela was waiting to pick me up. As we got ready to head out, Ronin and Pigpen showed up. We exchanged hugs and farewells and then the hike was over. Angela drove me to the Appalachian Trail Hostel in Millinocket where I got a shower and then we went out for a local Lobster Roll Dinner. We now head for the coast, for a walk down my memories of years gone by, and an opportunity to enjoy some new ones.
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