Appalachian Trail SOBO: Mile 0-59

The unfortunate part about hiking the Appalachian Trail Southbound is that you must begin with Mount Katahdin, or “Mother K” as the Northbounders call her. The climb up Mount Katahdin is arguably the toughest of the entire trail. On one hand, I’m glad to get it out of the way on day 1, but on the other hand, I will be attempting the toughest climb of the entire trail in my worst physical condition.  

Day zero began with homemade bread and granola for breakfast in Acadia National Park before making the drive to Monson, where Hazel (my hiking partner) and I would drop off a box of food at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel.   We wouldn’t see the box again until Jo Mary Road at mile 55 for a resupply halfway through the 100-Mile Wilderness.  Hazel’s dad met us in Monson and was kind enough to shuttle the two of us up to Katahdin Stream Campground, the “fun way.”  He chose to take the Golden Road, a well-maintained gravel road connecting Quebec to Millinocket.  However, the series of roads leading up to the Golden Road wasn’t quite as well-maintained, and it sure made for a bumpy ride.  Jagged rocks and deep potholes crowded the narrow road, but he was right, it sure was a fun trip up to Baxter State Park.  Upon arriving at the campground we were treated to delicious stir fry, sausage, and hoagies, the perfect carb overload before the big summit.  I spoke with a few other hikers who had climbed Katahdin that day, many of them warning me of how tough it would be.  I went to bed nervous for tomorrow’s big climb.  It would surely test my preparation, both mentally and physically.

Day 1 was summit day.  Hazel and I awoke around 6:00 a.m. and were graciously shuttled around to the Helon Taylor Trail to begin our climb.   The Helon Taylor Trail traverses the north side of Mount Katahdin via the Knife’s Edge, a narrow, rocky section of trail right before the summit.  Taking the Helon Taylor trail up would shorten our day by 2 miles and allow us to hike up and over Katahdin instead of taking the Hunt trail as an out-and-back.  The climb up to treeline was tough but gradual.  There is a long-standing joke that the East coast doesn’t believe in switchbacks, and this was my first taste of it.  Once above treeline, the trail becomes tougher to navigate, as most of the climb is hopping on boulders and traversing rockslides instead of following a defined trail.  Upon reaching Pemola Peak, only the knife’s edge lay between myself and “Mother K”.  The knife’s edge was beautiful and much more rugged than expected.  Mild winds and clear skies made for a beautiful summit. All this work and I was still at mile 0, however I couldn’t be more excited for the next 2,193 miles ahead.  Descending via the Hunt trail was tedious, but at least these miles counted on the AT.  More sausage and stir fry for dinner before a long night of rest.

On day 2 we woke up to the sound of rain.  I knew the Appalachian Trail would be rainy, but I wasn’t expecting to spend my first full day soaking wet.  We asked the ranger for a weather report and discovered that the rain would only last through late morning.  However, the poor suckers who chose to summit that day would have harsh weather on Katahdin, and we later found out that the view at the summit was nonexistent, a complete whiteout that day.  Within the first few miles out of Katahdin Stream, I realized why the AT is called “the green tunnel”.  The sun barely penetrated the thick forest and the trail was dark.  After a few miles, Hazel and I took a lunch break at a rock outcropping on one of several stream crossings.  We watched rafters float by before packing up and continuing on our way.  Our second night on trail was spent at Herd Brook lean-to with 10 or so other Southbounders after a 13-mile day.  At the lean-to, an older gentleman began talking to Hazel and me about what kind of crowd we should expect to see on trail: retired white men.  He went on and on and eventually slipped something like “you guys don’t fit in on trail”, because we’re young women, and there were very few women who thru-hiked when he did 20 years ago.  All I can say about this interaction is that there’s a new generation of hikers hitting the trail and he had better get used to it.  Eventually, he packed up and moved on with his nephew and we didn’t see him again.

Day 3 began with a 2.5 mile, 900-foot climb up to Rainbow Ledges, where I would get cell reception and call home.  I accidentally woke up a few of my friends not realizing it was 7:30 a.m. in Minnesota, my bad.  I then descended down to Rainbow Lake for a mid-morning snack of tuna and mango slices.  Rainbow Lake is beautiful and reminds me of the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota, where the lakes are remote, pristine, clear, and surrounded by wilderness. There were even a few canoes resting in various places onshore which are awfully tempting to take out for a ride, however, we figured if we took them out, we would never finish hiking.  From Rainbow Lake, the trail cuts up and away into muddy and rocky terrain, making for some hot, sweaty, and miserable hiking.  To be honest, I was pretty close to a mental breakdown, slipping on muddy rocks and roots in 90-degree weather.  Eventually, the trail descends back down to Rainbow Lake which provided a breeze for bug protection and much more enjoyable hiking. At the Rainbow Stream lean-to, I spotted a cow moose crossing a stream, the first of many I would see in the 100-Mile Wilderness.  Later that afternoon, we swam in Pollywog Stream to rinse off our dirty bodies and whatever hiker stink we had brewed up in the last 3 days.  Home for the night was a stealth site on the stream where I cooked an Andrew Skurka classic of red beans and rice with taco seasoning and Frito’s for dinner.  I’m ashamed to say that I’ve already given up on hanging my food at night.  The women from Alaska who we camped with weren’t too fond of the idea, as they carried bear-proof barrels into the wilderness to avoid any problems.   I’ve kept my food bag under the vestibule without any trouble thus far, and will most likely continue to push my luck until I’m not so lucky anymore.

The next morning began with another climb, 3.7 miles up to Nesuntabunt Mountain (I don’t know how to pronounce it either).  I took a longer break at the summit before heading down into some confusing terrain.  The trail became rugged and tough to follow, in classic Maine style. The descent was steep and a break was well deserved at Wadleigh Stream lean-to, where I devoured more tuna and several granola bars.  I’m starting to see a pattern in my trail lunches, and I’ll probably be sick of them by the time you hear from me again.  After the snack break, it was time to hike onward towards camp.  We stopped for another break at a brand new shelter, one that can sleep 8 hikers.  The shelter was beautiful, however, a massive tree had fallen on the shelter fairly recently, leaving several holes in the roof.  Clearly, the M.A.T.C. isn’t messing around with the quality of their shelters, because a tree of this size could’ve done some serious damage.  We met up with a few other hikers at the “holy” lean-to and started an afternoon bonfire before heading on to the landing on South Twin Lake.  

Camp for the night was on a beautiful, glass-calm lake.  We started another bonfire during supper time before two canoers paddled up.  They were on a multi-day loop, paddling through the 100-Mile Wilderness.  They opted to stay on the lake with us that night, and we chatted around the fire until bedtime, which is usually before 8:00.  Another woman, “True Grit”, camped with us as well.  True Grit is a northbound section hiker who suffered a head injury in the 100-Mile Wilderness last year.  She is an older woman who shared stories from her lifetime of hiking with us.  After learning of her adventures, Hazel and I decided to give her a new trail name, “Granny Badass”.  No, we did not address her by this to her face, but she is probably one of the coolest women I’ve ever met, and I aspire to live a life like hers.  Dinner tonight was mashed potatoes and gravy with dehydrated venison burger, mushrooms, and mixed vegetables.  It was delicious.  I’ve been reading several trip reports and they all seem to mention how beautiful the sunsets are, however, I can never stay awake late enough to see them.  I am, however, very much enjoying my 11+ hours of sleep every night and am willing to sacrifice a sunset for some extra Z’s.  

Day 5: Bog bridges, so many bog bridges.  Last night’s lakeside campsite was beautiful and we decided to take a late morning.  For breakfast, I ate granola cereal, a classic meal for hot and humid mornings.  Today’s hiking was relaxing, we only needed to hike 10 miles by 3:00 to meet Poet, from Shaw’s Hiker Hostel for our resupply.  After six miles we took a break at Antlers Campsite on Jo Mary Lake, where we were joined by 5 other hikers.  The lake was beautiful and shallow, perfect for a mid-day swim in good company.  Eventually, it was time to fit my swollen feet back into my shoes and continue on to our resupply point.  I’m grateful for the resupply at mile 55. Otherwise, I’d be carrying 9 days of food through the wilderness on weak legs.  Not only did Poet supply us with five more days of food, but he also brought cold soda and honey buns.  It was our first taste of trail magic, and it was exactly what we needed. 

I sent back my gloves, puffy, and two extra dinners with Poet.  He warned that the second half of the wilderness would be much tougher, and I didn’t want to be carrying any extra weight.  After the trail magic, I hoisted on my pack, which was heavy again with another 5 days of food, and hiked 4 miles to Cooper Brook Falls, which would be home for the night.  Cooper Brook Falls pours into a beautiful swimming hole, where I dove in and washed off my awful “hiker stink”.  The swimming hole was exactly what I needed after a long hot day of walking.  Tonight’s dinner was Hamburger Helper, with ground venison burger that my dad dehydrated for me before I left (thanks dad).  It is my all-time favorite backpacking meal, and it was the perfect ending to an awesome day on trail.  Crossing over into the second half of the 100-Mile Wilderness is an amazing feeling.  I’m starting to get into the groove of thru-hiking and I feel much more confident and capable than I did 4 days ago.  That’s all for now, I’ll be posting about the second half of the wilderness in the near future.  Thanks for reading!

-Ellie (Beans)

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Comments 16

  • TaffyUK : Jun 13th

    Thanks, nice write up.

    More women the better I say.

    Reply
  • DaddyLonglegs : Jun 14th

    You will see a wide variety of hikers on the AT. You’ll also do a lot of climbs harder than Katahdin! Enjoy it all and relish the opportunity.
    Happy Trails,
    DLL

    Reply
  • JhonYermo : Jun 14th

    First thing this morning. 0520, I read your beyond excellent SOBO posting. Well done A+ just great. Well written.
    “you guys don’t fit in on trail”, because we’re young women, and there were very few women who thru-hiked when he did 20 years ago. All I can say about this interaction is that there’s a new generation of hikers hitting the trail and he had better get used to it.”
    Sorry there are old coots like that. This old coot feels completely differently. Perhaps you might have told the old fool about ANISH and told him to STFU until he could do half as well.
    Other than the coot, sound like you had an excellent experience. Looking for more of your SOBO adventures.

    Reply
  • Fried Squirrel : Jun 14th

    Sorry. From an old section hiker that is one of the stupidest comments I’ve heard from the trail. We,ve met all kinds and more than a few wingnuts but what awful place is he from saying such misogynistic crap. Then I had a wicked thought. After a while it became a ritual for us to read the hut logs and post messages to trail friends, thank angels and so on.
    If you happened to catch his trail name post a chiding comment in a hut log book. Maybe he will end up being given a new trail name by the community.

    Reply
  • thetentman : Jun 14th

    I’m an ‘old coot’. You go girl!

    Reply
  • pearwood : Jun 14th

    Ellie,
    Go for it!
    You described my number one reason for planning NOBO for next year. This old guy doesn’t want to start with the toughest part of the trail!
    Blessings,
    Steve
    https://thetrek.co/author/steven-tryon/

    Reply
  • lindm0120 : Jun 14th

    Just found your posts and have caught up with what you have written so far. Looking forward to following you and reading about the rest of your journey!

    Reply
  • Mack : Jun 15th

    Ellie,
    Very well written! You describe just enough detail to clearly describe your travels, without boring us with the non essentials 😉.. I look forward to your sharing ‘the rest of the story’!!
    As for the old man…enough has been said about him…maybe he will read about how he came across, and realize his mistake.
    From an 80 year old man who supports your side..if we must take sides.. Mack

    Reply
  • Rich : Jun 15th

    look forward to reading more of your posts, my favorite AT book has always been Barefoot Sisters Southbound, so enjoy and be safe.

    Reply
  • Sarah Chappell : Jun 15th

    Excellent blog post, Ellie! I am a female long distance section hiker who is working on finishing up the North Carolina section and half of the Virginia section this year. There are so many more women on trail every time I go! It sounds like you’re getting a good handle on things. My only suggestion is, if you do decide that you don’t want to hang your food anymore, just don’t put it right in your tent vestibule or anywhere near your tent. Maybe try to lodge it somewhere at least 200 feet away from you and it’s back until you’re able to get a hold of a canister? ? There is nothing more terrifying than having a fairly large bear right outside your tent investigating you, it happened to me once and I didn’t even have any food in or around my tent, I can only imagine what would’ve happened if I had neglected to put my food somewhere else that night! I would certainly have a canister by the time I hit Virginia. The Shenandoah section, and especially the Smokies lately, seem to see a lot more bear activity than the rest of the trail. I wish you good luck and a wonderful time. And I hope to continue checking in on your adventures here when I can. I love the way you write about your days and nights on the trail!

    Reply
  • Jim Adams : Jun 15th

    Great write up. I’ve read
    many stories from hikers on the AT but you are my first SOBO. I’ve done 2 thru hikes NOBO and your perspective is refreshing. BTW, I hiked in 90 and 2002 and 1990 was about 30% females and 2002 was about 40%. I have many female friends from my thrus.

    Reply
  • Dianna : Jun 15th

    There were “old coots” on the trail 30 years ago and I suspect there will be old coots long after you and I are gone.

    On the flip side there will always be “Granny Badasses” as well. If the lady you met on the trail was anything like my Granny Badass she probably would have been tickled at the trail name. (My grandmother hiked the Wilderness for the last time at 72. One of her regrets was that she never completed the trail).

    I look forward to following the rest of your adventure! Have fun, stay safe, make memories!

    Reply
  • James B : Jun 16th

    What a great read! I have been considering along walk myself, I guess I just wouldn’t know where to begin? It will probably be from my front door 🤣 in Texas when I do decide though, I’m going to run away someday! I like Google maps walking dilly dally, just whistling along without a care in the 🌎

    Reply
  • Skeeter : Jun 16th

    Please reconsider hanging your food to protect the bears. I know it takes a few extra minutes when you are tired. I know it seems unnecessary. But once a bear recognizes that he can get food from a human, it will forever associate an easy meal with human scent. The next person could be seriously hurt and the bear will be killed.

    Reply
  • Adrian Suskauer : Jun 17th

    Hang your food. You have no good reason not to, it will result in waste that you’ll have to toss, damage to your gear, and food-habituated wildlife. I don’t care how lazy you feel. You’re doing a disservice to yourself and the ecosystem. It’s bad LNT. We thru hikers have to be an example to the other people in the backcountry, and by not hanging or storing the food in animal-safe containers, you’re being a bad example. Sorry to be harsh, but as an AT thru hiker I know how much other people pay attention to our example. Do better.

    Reply
  • Alec : Jul 25th

    Yes! Please hang your food, or store it in a bear canister. You’ll wind up regretting it if you don’t, especially through NC/TN. Aggressive bears come into camp expecting food, probably because some hikers have left theirs available to wildlife. If everyone’s food is hung or in a canister, they may get a little cranky, but at least they won’t get their bad habit reinforced.

    Having said all that, I’m an old retired white man and backpacker myself. That’s the second story I’ve read of an old curmudgeon acting like that. That’s embarrassing, but I think the exception, not the rule.

    Reply

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