Day 161: Stealth site at Little Wilson Stream to stealth site at Fourth Mountain Bog
Today was pretty amazing. Lots of idyllic hiking through sun-filled birch, aspen, maple, and oak woods, and over a couple of gravel roads and a set of train tracks (hundred mile wilderness, like heck). I’m feeling tired these days, I think I’m falling way behind on my calorie intake again. After about seven miles of hiking, I came out on a gravel road with a sign nailed to a tree at the crossing that read, “trail magic, 1/8 mile this way” with an arrow. I looked at it, hard. It couldn’t really be a permanent trail magic spot, could it? There were a few notes added by other hikers in pen, “they have hot dogs!” and, “amazing!” I waited and pondered a few minutes, and Tuck caught up to me. I looked at her.
“Hey, this sign says there’s trail magic, do you wa–”
“Let’s go.” Tuck turned down the road and after a few minutes, we came upon a camp where Birdman was hanging out. He cooked us second breakfast. There were pancakes, and hamburgers, and omelet with real veggies, and cider and chips and soda and and and then he gave us pie. I thought I was going to have to roll out of that camp. That has got to be the most badass trail magic I’ve received to date. He offered to let us stay overnight, and charge our phones. It was such a tempting offer, but Tuck wants to push to catch up with some folks, so even though we both really wanted to we talked each other out of it and got going again. Birdman, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for the amazing hospitality. What a gentleman.
After we left the camp, we started the ascent up to Barren Ledges. When I got there, it was. My favorite. View. Of the entire hike. My phone pinged with a text up there, and it was Recon, checking in with me. I’m the last member of my original tramily out here. Silverback and Lassie finished on the third, and so now it’s just me. Recon sent me a really nice, calming, relaxing text, I think it read something like “Tick tock, see Katahdin yet?” “No,” I wrote back, “just shitty views like this one.” A few minutes later, he responded in true Recon fashion: “Man, why does anyone even bother?”
I truly wanted to stay there all day. If I could have become a rock on that ledge, I would have.
The rest of the climb up to the summit of Barren Mountain was a little taxing. I really am starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel here at the end, I think. But there’s some part of me that has become a hiking machine, even when it’s hard, my body just keeps going, and unless there’s a real physical impediment to forward motion, I just roll through it. Stuff like this, at the beginning, used to slow me down as I pulled myself over it, and now it’s just…take a step forward, use the momentum to push up, and I’m on top and over without a second thought. In that way the hike has become much easier, even as I’m tired, because now my body knows what it’s like not to be a total couch potato and can handle this stuff.
Tuck assured me that there was a stealth site at Fourth Mountain Bog, and as I kept hiking and didn’t see it, I got a little nervous. She was still behind me, and I was wondering, what if it’s not obvious, or really small, and I go right past it without realizing it? That kind of thought still crops up from time to time, even at the end of the hike, and I don’t know why because I’ve yet to come across a stealth site that was actually, you know…stealthy. If it’s on Guthook, chances are you can find it without missing a beat. So when I came across a big, open site in a pine forest, I knew I was in the right spot. The water there was pretty bad though. Another night to be thankful for Sawyer filters, but really, what did I expect from a stealth site at a bog?! Honestly. For dinner I had a bag of instant stuffing I got out of a free box, which on the one hand was great because it was hot and tasted like not ramen, but on the other hand was a little depressing because I essentially ate a bag of wet bread for dinner.
Day 162: Stealth site at Fourth Mountain Bog to Carl A. Newhall Lean-to
So, today was…eventful. Getting over the rest of the Chairbacks really took it out of me. It’s not exactly the toughest hiking I’ve encountered, but yeah, I’m definitely getting tired.
When Tuck and I woke up this morning it was freezing. The morning timeline is not well-paced when it’s cold. You do everything that you can do from inside your sleeping bag…cooking, packing whatever can be packed…and it’s slow like molasses. And then, when you’ve done everything you can at the slowest pace you can, whoosh, you race out of the bag, throw on your sweaty cold hiking clothes, hustle your tent and the rest of your stuff into your pack, and are on the trail again in maybe three minutes, haha. I was joking with Tuck as we were in the slow portion of the pack-up that this is probably the least stuff I’ve owned in my life, and on cold mornings when your belongings are between you and hiking your way to warmth it’s still way too much stuff. Like, I can get rid of this tent, right? It takes almost two minutes to pack it up. Let’s ditch it.
There were lots of big boulder jumbles on the trail today. Those are almost back to being super fun again, although I have to keep up my easy does it attitude around them. Coming down the north side of Third Mountain there was some fresh cut trail that was a lot of fun as well, and it was fun to hike on because the ground was not packed at all, very soft and springy! It was almost like hiking on a mattress. But then, just past Chairback Gap Lean-to was this absolute nonsense:
Thankfully, there was some amazing terrain to balance out the grumpy stuff. Hiking over the summit of Chairback Mountain takes you through some pretty amazing plantlife and rocky trail. I love this place.
So anyway, about five and a half miles from the lean-to, we had to ford West Branch Pleasant River. I got to the south bank, and Grizz and Louis were on the north side. He told me I could probably rock hop and stay dry, and I took a look at some of those angled boulders, several feet apart, and I thought about my currently impaired balance, and I sat down and switched to my camp crocs. Screw that, if I fell off a boulder and fell in I’d have to hike the rest of the day in cold, wet shoes and clothes, and I wasn’t going to risk it. About halfway across, the cold of the water hit my bones. I had to remind myself to breathe, and every part of my brain was telling me “get out get out get out!” but chill out brain, because we’re only halfway across and you’re just going to have to suck it up. Baby.
When I finished crossing I sat chatting with Grizz and Louis while I dried off my feet, changed my shoes, and had a snack. Tons of day hikers came by (I repeat, some wilderness), and we talked with them. Many of them fell in trying to cross on the rocks. And then Tuck caught up and tried to cross on the rocks, and she almost made it, but let her guard down at the last second and splashed in, which just sucks. She got over and said, “well, I’m done for the day.” She set up camp right there, just past the river, and told me she would catch up tomorrow. Since she can hike longer days than I can right now, I went on so I wouldn’t be a drag later. Apparently the Gulf Hagas Trail, which I passed a few junctions for, is pretty amazing, and if I had the time I would definitely stay an extra day and explore, but for now it will have to be a note for future hikes. Lil Grizz and I ended up being the only two at the lean-to that night, and had some more fun conversation. My headlamp is dying and I have no more batteries, so tonight is the last night I hike into the dark. Also, I put my foot into a mudpot in the dark and almost lost a shoe, so I’d rather not do that twice.
Day 163: Carl A. Newhall Lean-to to East Branch Lean-to
The first two summits today were tough for me again. Snacks helped. Some of the trail construction is really well done here, lots of beautiful stone steps. It must have taken so much work! On the summit of West Peak I saw my first gray jay, it came flying up and landed on a branch a few feet from me. I’ve heard they’re pretty tame, so I wasn’t too surprised by how curious it was about me.
After that it was Hay Mountain and White Cap Mountain. White Cap is supposed to be the first mountain where you can see Mount Katahdin…but it was so cloudy I couldn’t pick it out. I thought I might be disappointed by that but to be honest, I wasn’t. Partially because of this:
The long down-hill to the first shelter was lovely, lots of decidious leaf-strewn trail alternating with very quiet pine paths. And then, suddenly, I had to sit down. I got really choked up. It totally caught me by surprise, and maybe it will surprise you too, but suddenly, halfway down White Cap, for the very first time the entire hike, I thought, “Holy shit, I’m going to make it.” It completely floored me. I mean, I had always assumed that one way or another I was going to get there, and I had been saying to myself recently, “hey, almost done now, it’s almost over,” but that was the specific moment, that was the specific mountain, where it suddenly turned real for me. It was absolutely overwhelming, as the hugeness of everything I’ve accomplished suddenly settled in on me, and I realized, for real, for all time, what an incredible experience this has truly been, and I thought of all the hardships I’d overcome, all the times I could have quit and didn’t, and suddenly I knew exactly what I was worth, and what I was made of. I think that moment was the first time in my entire life that I didn’t take myself for granted, and knew who I was all the way down to the core, and was really, thoroughly, unabashedly proud of myself. For that one moment, I would do this hike again, I would do everything again. It was the most precious gift I’ve been given on a hike full of treasures.
Day 164: East Branch Lean-to to Antlers Campsite
Tuck caught up to me last night, by the way. Today will be our last day together, though. I need to slow down, and she wants to try to catch up to some friends. My ankle has been throbbing all through the Chairbacks and I need to pay attention when it’s trying to tell me something. I’m sad to be saying good-bye to her, though. It was wonderful to reconnect with her after such a long absence and she’s great company. It’s also strange to think that I’ll be finishing this hike alone; I’ve made so many wonderful friends on this trip, and it’s a little bewildering the way events on the trail separate you. I’ve dwelt on that before and it was a pity party so I’m not going to do that here. But yes, from here on out, I’ll most likely be camping without the company of the people I’ve grown to love. It’s a bit of a downer, but adventure is adventure and I’ll treasure the time I’ve had with all of them. I’m glad I’ve met everyone out here and had the time I’ve been able to share with them. Right. So I saw a lot of cool things today. Maine is continually amazing me with how gorgeous it is. Here, have some photos! It’s one of my last days on trail so I pretty much over-documented everything and now you have to suffer through the slide show.
Antlers campsite, when I got there, was pretty phenomenal. If you are planning a thru, plan to stay at this place. You won’t regret it. It’s right on Jo-Mary Lake, and I set my tent up right on the beach, totally worth it. In a few years when I do this again, I’ll try to make it here when it’s warm enough to go swimming. This is also where Tuck and I said goodbye. She’s pushing on ahead tonight. Good luck to her, and I hope her summit is awesome!
Day 165: Antlers Campsite to Wadleigh Stream Lean-to
I woke up really early today and watched dawn on the lake. The loons have been calling since about four am so I’ve been up, snuggled in my warm sleeping bag and listening to them. When there was enough light to see by, I broke camp and got moving, and I had no idea what was in store for me this morning but, uh, it ended up being pretty busy.
I’d gone about four miles when I reached Pemadumcook Lake, and this, for the record, is where I got my first look at Katahdin, and wow, what a mountain. It’s…wow. It’s the end, right there! It was really a sight, but I didn’t dwell long, because suddenly I smelled a campfire. “Oh, that’s funny,” I thought, “I wonder who stayed here last night, and whether I know them?” Spoilers, it wasn’t a campfire. Or rather, it was. Once.
When I walked out onto the shoreline, however, I made a nasty discovery. It wasn’t a campfire, it was a forest fire. Yep. The shoreline was smouldering for about 150 feet, with several areas outright blazing. I whipped out my phone, and like a miracle I had service for the first time since the Barren Ledges. I called the forest service and reported the location of the blaze, and the dispatcher let me know that rangers and firefighters were on their way. I stood there looking at it for a minute, and then decided I was going to stay until they got there. The breeze was blowing hard off the lake and the rain that was predicted for the day wasn’t showing up. I figured, I can’t hurt, right? I don’t exactly have firefighting equipment but I have my three-liter Platypus (and you know what? If ever there was a reason to get the largest size water bag, this is it). So I spent the next two and a half hours trotting from the shoreline to the fires, dumping water on the flames, and running back to the shore again. By the time the emergency team was there, I had most of the big blazes out, but little torches kept popping up everywhere, and the bigger ones were so hot they kept reigniting after I moved on to a new one. I was exhausted, and covered in soot (and I discovered a few days later, burned on one of my legs). Firefighters, you guys work hard. The crew inspected the site and found a fire ring about twenty feet back from the beach. According to them, the fire probably ignited the roots of the pine trees around the ring and was spreading underground, maybe for three days or so, before the wind today brought it up where people could see it. The person who set the fire probably doesn’t even realize they did. I remember some fellow hikers complaining about rules around fire rings in the beginning of the hike, and asking why they should have to use only established fire rings at shelters. I guess this would by why, guys. If you don’t know what you’re doing, stick with the fire rings set up by the trail clubs and rangers. Here’s what some of the damage looked like:
The rest of the day was uneventful, thankfully. After I gave my information to the ranger in charge, I hiked on, although it took another hour for the adrenaline to wear off, and the smell of smoke stuck with me until the end. The rest of the trail was extremely flat. I had planned to make this a really big day since it was so flat, but what with unexpected delays, ha ha, I only made it a little over 13. I met an English hiker at Wadleigh Stream Lean-to and chatted with him for the evening before turning in. Tomorrow is my last day in the HMW, and then after that it’s Baxter State Park and Katahdin. Three more days.
Day 166: Wadleigh Stream Lean-to to Hurd Brook Lean-to
I got up super early again today. It was another slow hiking morning, though: I should have made myself eat more breakfast. It rained last night, too, so everything was quite slippery. Nesuntabunt Mountain started my day, and I was a snail. But I really enjoyed it, lots of pine trees and huge moss-covered boulders. Gnarled, mossy roots covered the sides of the mountain.
Once I was over that, I spent a long time hiking alongside Pollywog stream. It was lovely, but rocky (shocker, I know). It’s nice to hike next to streams, and this one is full of little waterfalls as you go, so it was a pretty relaxing morning. After passing Rainbow Stream Lean-to the trail took me alongside Rainbow Lake, which is pretty damn idyllic. Blue waters, blue sky, golden sun. Not much to dislike there. And yes, I looked for moose. I stopped for lunch near Murphy Pond and I saw my one and only pine marten of the trip, as well. It was so cute! But it was also really shy, so I couldn’t get a photo of it. I watched it swim across the stream once to take a really wide path around me, basically like a large brown ferret.
The last climb of the day was up to the top of Rainbow Ledges, which has a nice view, but I liked the path more. Look at how cool this place is. Solid rock, and hundreds of years of lichen growth on either side. I think this white lichen is caribou lichen but I could be wrong, I’m no expert.
Towards the end of the day I saw Red Bear going south. I met him briefly in the Shenandoahs and then lost sight of him, I guess he flipped up recently. We compared notes and said our goodbyes before going our separate ways. I got to Hurd Brook Lean-to around five and settled in.
Okay, it’s like three in the morning now and I need to make a note here about the mice in Hurd Brook Lean-to. They are demons. From hell. One of them attacked my food bag while I was sitting right next to it outside the shelter, making dinner, and when I put it up on one of the critter hangs they made a freaking mouse ladder out of their own bodies to climb down to get at it. I got up and put it inside my sleeping bag with me, which I have never done once before on this entire trip. It’s not good hiking etiquette, but I’m the only person at this shelter, and you know what? I’m pretty sure I can scare off a hungry bear but I can’t scare away these damn mice. I’ve never seen a shelter as bad as this one. UGH.
Day 167: Hurd Brook Lean-to to The Birches
The mice pooped on my Platypus mouthpiece and crawled inside my pack to eat holes through my pack liner. Bunch of little so and so’s. I’m excited now to get to the end, but I kept slowing down because I also don’t want this crazy trip to be over. As I was coming up on Abol Bridge, I met a sobo who just started yesterday. Good luck to him! I hope the winter is mild…When I got to the boundary of Baxter State Park, I was immediately greeted with this view of Katahdin…best one so far, and nothing on fire so I got to actually enjoy it.
I signed in at the info board, but didn’t see Tuck’s name so I hope she made it okay. I also passed Lil Grizz as he was slack-packing out, going south: he finished yesterday. I mentioned that I was considering taking my full pack and gear up and he talked me out of it, gave me some great info on the climb, and we said goodbye. I feel like my life is mostly goodbyes at this point, oh well.
When I stopped for lunch at the Daicey Pond Nature Trail parking lot, a woman pulled up and got out of her car. Her name is Nancy, and apparently although she is a local and comes here all the time, I’m the first thru hiker she’s ever met. She asked if I was hiking with anybody, and I’ll admit I sighed a little inside when I said no, as I prepared for the usual barrage of depressing questions like “aren’t you scared,” but she surprised me by immediately saying, loudly and with great emphasis, “That is awesome.” Thanks, Nancy! I really appreciate the people I’ve met on the trail who have been enthusiastic instead of doubtful. It means a lot to get support like that.
When I rolled into Katahdin Stream Campground and signed in at the Ranger Station, it was raining. Tomorrow’s weather is supposed to be ugly, but I’m going to climb that mountain no matter what. I got settled into The Birches. Dinner alone was very quiet, again. It’s hard to believe that by this time tomorrow, I will be done.
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