Fall in Southern Maine Might Be My Favorite

Author’s Note: I finished my thru-hike in October 2023. Welcome to my very late trail update. I wrote myself daily notes along the way to remember what I wanted to write about. Longer days on the trail and then post trail life at home have delayed finishing my story. I have another adventure coming up soon that I want to write about, but I don’t feel right starting that story until I finish this one. I have four more blogs to go after this, and two of them are already written. Get ready to read about fall in Maine faster than everyone but the runners could hike it!

Day 185: 3,580 ft ascent, 10.3 miles

Erik and I originally planned to slackpack and stay at the Cabin for another night. The shuttle back to the trailhead was uneventful, and we quickly climbed out to Grafton Notch to the top of Baldpate Mountain. The climbs in this region were tough, with pretty steep slopes out of the valley. The best part about them should’ve been the expansive views we earned at the top. The fall leaves made the climb up beautiful, but the views at the top were non-existent. The Canadian wildfires had struck again, obscuring any views we should’ve had.

A fun AT sign at Grafton Notch

Canadian wildfire smoke obscured the views.

The trail: “straight up here please.” Us: “okay, yeah no problem, straight up a rock face sounds like a great idea.”

This sign looked ragged.

More views of the fall colors!

The leaves looked pretty now, but I hoped we would get through before they started falling in earnest. The wet leaves would make the trail extremely slippery.

Erik carried all of our supplies in his pack, allowing me to hike carrying only my hiking poles. The day still took us much longer than anticipated with the light load. We finished around 5.

We called for our shuttle back. As we were waiting by the trailhead, a camper was parked slightly down the road. It started sprinkling, but we weren’t too concerned even though we didn’t have any rain gear. A woman in the camper was concerned for us, and brought us out some handwarmers to keep warm.

It was one of the strangest acts of trail magic we had received. It was easily in the 70’s temperature-wise so we weren’t in any fear of freezing. And these weren’t just hand warmers- they were extra large warmers that maybe you sit on? I don’t know, but they fit across my lap. She had already broken them open and started them warming up, so we accepted them and waited for our ride back.

Day 186: 1,980 ft ascent, 6.0 miles

We had a full van back to the trailhead in the morning. A group of 3 guys were doing a 20 mile slackpack, covering what we did the day before plus what we planned to do that day.

The ponds in Maine are beautiful! Every time I got to one I looked across to see if a moose was in the water. I wanted to see one from a safe distance, emphasis on the distance part.

The weather was perfect, but our 6 days of food weighed us down. The terrain was gentler that morning but we were exhausted. Erik in particular was struggling, which was very unusual because normally I drove the struggle bus more than him. We had only made it about 6 miles by about 1:30 in the afternoon.

I’m sure Osprey made these straps for bags of chips?

We decided we were going to stop there for the day. Were we a little crazy? Maybe? It still wasn’t a guarantee that Katahdin would still be open when we arrived. Today was October 1st. I was projecting we would finish on October 19th, 4 days after the recommended planned finish date to make sure you finished. We knew we were in a race against winter, but we also knew we wanted to finish our hike true to ourselves. We stopped when we hurt so we could enjoy it when we felt good to go. So stop we did, after a six mile day. It would be a tough 5 days to get to our next planned resupply after that, so the break would do us well.

Erik spent the afternoon napping, I spent the afternoon eating and catching up on writing my blog. It hit me as I sat there how little time we had left on this adventure. I was motivated to keep going, but also thankful for how far we had been able to come.

The three guys from the shuttle in the morning passed us at about 5 in the evening. They would be cutting it close to finish the 4 remaining miles before dark. They seemed like they knew how to hike fast though so I wasn’t too worried about them. I figured there would be no chance we would ever see them again with their pace, yet another group to leave us in the dust.

Day 187: 4,710 ft ascent, 12.8 miles

We had one more day of steeper climbs before our maps showed things flattening out. Not flat (there is always more up on the AT), but not as many steep climbs. After the half day of rest the day before, we got an early start feeling ready to go.

A stream hop.

The animals of the trail really stood out to me today. There were toads everywhere. The squirrels seemed extra-aggressive as they were racing to collect their winter nuts. We saw plenty of moose tracks, but still no moose.

Erik filling up water in a spring at a shelter.

We felt like we pushed all day again, but miles still weren’t coming as fast as we had hoped. Campsites were farther apart than we would’ve liked, and stealth sites couldn’t be depended on. We had to end the day earlier than we wanted to make sure we got a campsite that would work before dark.

The three guys from our shuttle a few days prior ended up at the same shelter that night. It turned out they hadn’t gotten an early start from the hostel and ended at the same place as us. We didn’t really communicate with them much, but Erik and I were amused we were keeping pace with them.

Day 188: 3,380 ft ascent, 17.8 miles

The terrain was getting easier- the climbs weren’t as steep and the tread was easier walking without as many rocks and roots. Between the trail and the weather we were able to get back into higher mileage that we were used to before the White Mountains. We walked alongside plenty of ponds all day, which helped contribute to the flatness of the trail. The fall colors across the ponds was an incredible sight. I read about nightmare stories from other hikers about bugs along the ponds. Being late helped us again- there wasn’t a black fly or mosquito around.

Sunrise from our tentsite.

We were on the trail hiking with the sun coming up over the ridge.

The three guys passed us about mid-morning. I again thought that would have to be the last time we would see them. They just moved so much faster than I did. 

We couldn’t have asked for better weather. Temperatures were 15° above average, with highs in the 70s and lows around 50°. Erik and I knew we had to take advantage of the weather window while we had it. The forecast was supposed to hold steady for a few more days, but there was a hurricane heading up the coast that could be headed our way. Yes, in Maine. And yes, the second hurricane (or remnants of) that could be hitting us in the northeast on the trail (looking at you Hurricane Lee). We needed to enjoy the perfect weather while we had it.

Campsites were tough again with our timing that evening. We crossed the road that heads into Rangeley right at dusk. The only hostel in Rangeley was already closed for the season, so we would be headed on to the next town. Typically we don’t like to stay near a road crossing for safety. We made an exception this night. We found a flat spot right off the wide gravel road the trail had temporarily become less than a quarter mile past the road. It would have to work. It was right beside a stream, so the water could drown out any nighttime semi truck traffic from the road. We had to use our headlights to set up the tent. Sunlight was disappearing at about 5 minutes a day, which was painful as we needed every second we could get.

Day 189: 4,360ft ascent, 13.4 miles

We started the day with a long climb up to the Saddleback Mountain Range. The Saddlebacks were above treeline. Once we climbed up to the top of the first ridge, we could see the next few ridges we would be hiking over in the distance. I really loved hiking like that, being able to see the progress as we hiked. Maybe that means I need to hike more out west? I just know my corner of Tennessee at home doesn’t have views like that. I’ll let my pictures do the talking here.

The stream we slept by the night before.

See the top of the next mountain ahead? That’s the next picture. We would hike towards the right after we hit the peak.

Another rock hop. I read multiple comments in my guide app about this crossing being wet. I was glad we were hitting all of these streams at low flow!

We set up our tent that night at a spot where the forest road crosses the trail. We didn’t look to see where the trail left that area, we just set up our tent and went over to the nearby stream to soak our feet. The trail had been pretty empty that day, we hadn’t seen another person all day. At nightfall we got into our tent.

Not long later we heard some voices… it was the three guys! Apparently they had gotten a ride into Rangeley and had gotten behind us again! Our tent turned out to be set up in the middle of the trail path, so they made some commotion as they skirted around our tent and continued on. I wondered yet again if we would see them again. It had been awhile since we had hiked around others consistently, a stark contrast to the beginning of the trail.

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Comments 1

  • thetentman : May 13th

    Love the pics. Thx.


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