Appalachian Trail SOBO Miles 60-115
I was warned by several hikers that the terrain in the second half of the 100-Mile Wilderness would get much tougher, but the trail itself would have fewer roots and rocks, and that the mosquito population would drastically decrease as we climbed in elevation. A trade I was willing to make. The mosquitos were horrendous in my initial days on trail but nothing I wasn’t used to in Minnesota. After four relatively flat days on trail since Katahdin, I felt ready for some elevation.
On day six, I was up and out of camp early to begin a flat section before climbing up Little Boardman Mountain. Today would be a big day, testing our strength both physically and mentally. The climb up Little Boardman was short and steep, the trail was rugged and tough, again without switchbacks. The forecast predicted a high of 93 degrees today, and it was correct. Not only did we have over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, but we would be doing it in extreme heat. White Cap Mountain was on my radar for the evening. It is the highest point in the 100-Mile Wilderness and would require 2,300 feet of climbing to reach the summit. I dreaded this climb in the back of my mind, but I still had several miles to cover before I could begin the ascent.
From Little Boardman, we hiked down to the East Branch lean-to for lunch and a small nap. The power nap was certainly justified considering how tough our day had been and how much further we needed to go in the heat. After our slumber, we began the climb up White Cap Mountain. There were about 2 miles of flat trail before the steep section began. 1.6 miles of tough climbing at nearly 20% grade before reaching Logan Brook Lean-To. At this shelter was a beautiful stream that flowed into a crystal clear swimming pool, the perfect resting place on a 90-degree day.
Unfortunately, this shelter is notorious for its mice, and we opted not to stay here. One Guthook comment read, “Yep, mice still run this joint like the Black Eyed Peas.” After sitting in the shelter for five minutes in broad daylight, I saw a mouse scurry across the support beams. I certainly didn’t want to risk my food and tent being invaded at this shelter, so we decided to take another nap before moving on. I know, two naps in one day seems a bit excessive, but when it’s 90 degrees, all rules of hiking go out the window. I’m usually not much of a napper myself, and I didn’t want to waste any more daylight, but White Cap loomed 1.4 miles and over 1,000 vertical feet ahead, and I knew I’d need all the energy I could get.
The climb was brutal. Again, no switchbacks, and the M.A.T.C. builds beautiful stone steps into the trail, which I can only imagine took countless hours of hard labor, but I hate them. I appreciate all of the hard work they’ve done maintaining the trail, but these steps are the worst. I can’t entirely blame the trail, when the items on my back aren’t the most efficient either. I like to think I’m “moderately ultralight,” but we decided to stealth camp on the backside of White Cap at a dry campsite, so I needed to slog more than three liters of water up the mountain. While the weight on my back was tough in itself, I could only feel pity for the hikers I had passed carrying 20 days worth of MRE’s up the mountain. Their packs were surely much more of a burden to carry up White Cap than mine, and I shouldn’t be complaining. After the steep climb, we finally reached the summit, where the wind blew for what seemed like the first time all day.
The evening light made for a beautiful view, and the struggle was worth it. A one-mile descent brought us to our camp for the night, which was surrounded by dead trees. The wind blew hard over the pass at night, and I didn’t sleep well, partially in fear of a tree falling on my tent. It certainly wasn’t the smartest choice in campsites, but I didn’t have another 3 miles and 1,000+ feet of elevation in me to reach the next site. Dinner tonight was Andrew Skurka’s beans and rice again (hence my trail name, “Beans”), because it was the easiest cleanup at our dry campsite. Overall, it was a pretty tough day for our “easy start” in the 100-Mile Wilderness, but a good physical test that I was proud to pass. I know the AT will get much harder, but today felt like a small victory.
Day seven began with a short climb up Hay Mountain before a longer, steeper ascent up to West Peak. Both were reasonable climbs and good to get out of the way early. I called home again and was surprised to hear my parents awake and working at 6:00 a.m. After the phone call, I descended down to a shelter for a mid-morning snack of tuna and granola bars. Our next destination was Screw Auger Falls, where we saw many day hikers, or “muggles,” as thru-hikers call them.
Entertainment is often tough to find in the 100-Mile Wilderness, but reading Guthook comments left by Northbounders in years past has been a good supplement. One comment read, “What did Auger ever do to deserve this horrible name?” Hazel and I just laugh and joke that by the time NOBO’s get up to Maine, they’ve all gone a little crazy and start saying things like this.
Later in the afternoon I would ford the West Branch of the Pleasant River, which was ankle deep and very refreshing. An older gentleman stopped to ask about my hike, and he seemed very interested in the AT and what we were doing out here. He was very kind and eventually gathered his family around to listen to me speak about the AT. It’s always a pleasant reminder that there is a world outside of thru-hiking, and people really do appreciate the effort that goes into it.
Our last mission of the day was Chairback Mountain, another steep, 20% grade ascent. We planned to camp halfway up the climb, at East Chairback Pond. The climb was tough, but only for 1.5 miles until the pond. We went for an evening swim and had the pond all to ourselves, it was beautiful. After the swim, we sat on the shore to watch a cow moose feed on aquatic vegetation for nearly an hour. She eventually filled up and walked towards the shore into the woods, and we decided it was time for dinner. Tonight’s feast was mashed potatoes and gravy with mushrooms, venison burger, and mixed vegetables. I thought I was hungry enough to add another serving of potato flakes but I guess not, and it was a battle to force down the second serving. There weren’t any mosquitoes at tonight’s camp, but the deer and black flies surely made up for it.
On day eight, we had five peaks to climb, and it would be another long day. After looking at the elevation map, I only deemed three of them “tough” because of their steep grade. It doesn’t make the day any shorter or easier, but hiking is a mental game, and I’m getting pretty good at it. The day began with Chairback Mountain, including a rockslide for the last 200 yards before the summit. I could complain about how poorly maintained this section of trail is, but I think the M.A.T.C already received enough negative feedback in the Guthook comments. Next was Columbus Mountain before we descended down to West Chairback Stream for a snack and water break. The climbing surely wasn’t finished, as we began climbing Chairback Third and Fourth Mountains, both steep and rugged like the ones before.
In between Chairback Third and Fourth Mountains, I got turned around. I must’ve been hiking with my head down, because all of a sudden the trail became overgrown and mossy. It clearly didn’t see regular foot traffic like the Appalachian Trail I know. I looked all around and didn’t see any sign of a trail, but I saw an old wool sock hanging from a tree. This was ominous, as I checked the GPS and saw that I was way off of the trail. I can’t imagine why someone would leave an old sock on a tree in the middle of nowhere, and there weren’t any signs of a campsite either. I looked around a little more before deciding to go back and retrace my steps on the overgrown path. I eventually saw a white blaze and found myself back on the AT. It turns out I had been walking north when I should’ve been heading south. I’m still not sure how this happened, I was just happy to be back on trail.
To make matters worse, I lost my spoon, so I would be eating tonight’s mac and cheese with whatever makeshift utensil I could find. My destination for tonight was the shelter at Cloud Pond. Once I was back on trail, it was a straight shot to the campsite, where we once again had the pond to ourselves and enjoyed another afternoon swim. The pond provided just enough wind to keep the bugs away, and it was the perfect ending to an otherwise stressful day.
I was woken up on day nine by a strong, cold wind. For the first time, I saw the sunrise. It was a beautiful pink that I watched through the thin wall of my tent because it was way too chilly to get out. I ate cold cereal out of a ziplock bag inside the tent and eventually it was time to get out. We began a speedy ascent up Barren Mountain to text Shaw’s and let them know we’d be pitching a tent in their yard tonight. Because of the cold and forecasted rain tomorrow, we decided to push a 20 mile day and hike into Monson for a shower and hot meal.
Barren Mountain was chilly and we decided to keep moving. The forecasted high today was only 66 degrees, perfect hiking weather. After a long descent, we reached the 100-mile marker, a small victory for Northbounders and a monumental achievement for us Southbounders. Today would consist of two “fords” on Big Wilson and Little Wilson Streams, and several small climbs. When the trail descended into deciduous forest, it became covered in leaves and tough to follow. After yesterday’s incident, it wasn’t a very comfortable day of hiking. On the climbs, the trail transitioned into coniferous forest, which was much more open and easier to navigate.
A Baxter State Park ranger warned us about Big and Little Wilson streams on day two, quizzing and lecturing us about how to ford these crossings. When the time came, however, they were both a simple rock hop across. I can imagine in years with more rain how these could potentially become dangerous crossings, but we had nothing to worry about in such a dry season. At 17 miles, we took a long break in a shelter before pushing on into Monson. I ate my last few snacks so that I wouldn’t be carrying any extra weight into town. 20 miles is a long day for us just starting out, and it was another small victory I’m proud of. Upon reaching Shaw’s we were greeted with a cold soda and a warm shower. Around the campfire, Hazel earned her trail name, “Snips,” because she gave several hikers a haircut after some hot days in the100-Mile Wilderness.
We walked with 10 or so other hikers to a lakeside restaurant where I devoured one of the thickest quesadillas I’ve ever seen, along with a side of fries. The walk back to the hostel was miserable with full stomachs but we made it in good company. The following morning we were treated to an all-you-can-eat breakfast of bacon, eggs, potatoes, and blueberry pancakes. Unlimited breakfast is a dangerous game to play with hungry backpackers, but I certainly appreciated it. It was exactly what I needed after a rough nine days in the wilderness, and the company made my experience in Monson 10 times better. Thanks for reading!
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I envy you the steps. But not the heat. Makes me glad we did that section later in the year.