Into the Wilderness (Days 168 to 174, Monson to Katahdin Stream Campground)
Hey there! It’s been a few weeks since I last posted an update from the trail. Spoiler alert – I summited Katahdin on September 24th! The internet in Maine was really slow even in towns, and I couldn’t upload my pictures during my brief stays in town. I’m back home in North Carolina now.
This will be a picture-heavy update. I was worried about my phone battery in the 100 Mile Wilderness in case it had to last until Katahdin, so I wasn’t taking my normal detailed notes each day. If a picture is worth a thousand words, this post easily equals at least a hundred thousand words. I guess this is a full-length novel! Anyway, enjoy the photos.
Start: ME Route 15 / Monson, ME
Finish: Bushcamp near Long Pond Stream
AT Miles Hiked Today: 14.3
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 2,088.9
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 100.2
Reindeer and I had a great stay at Shaws! Clean bunkroom, and a really friendly staff. Reindeer and I both remarked that if we weren’t meeting people at Kathadin on September 24th, we would zero here and enjoy a full day of relaxing with the hikers and the staff. Thru-hikers, don’t miss Shaws!
For only $9, we could sign up for a breakfast of eggs, hash browns, bacon, and all-you-can-eat blueberry pancakes – And it looked like the entire house of hikers signed up! We had a really fun table of hikers. Lots of reminiscing about the trail, lots of joking – All of the other tables were empty towards the end of breakfast, but we were all still laughing and eating. I think that means we win breakfast, right?
So, I’ve been very complementary of almost every hiker I’ve described in this blog, but it’s important for readers to understand that I’ve been censoring a bit on some of the more – ah, eccentric – hikers we’ve met. The stories are great, but I was sharing these blogs in real time on the trail, and I didn’t want the hikers I talked about to come looking for me on trail! But, now that I’m back home, time to turn off the censorship, for your reading pleasure.
Reindeer and I were hanging out in the bunkroom of Shaws last night when a 20-year-old male hiker, who I’ll call “Chatterbox” (Not his real trail name!), came in and immediately started talking. And talking. And talking. And talking. Reindeer and I glanced at each other as we realized that this was going to be a problem – We’re both really quiet people, just trying to wrap up the day and relax in bed. But I understand we are in a hostel and we occasionally will have to interact with others. So, we politely tried to answer him. Every time we gave a short answer he would roll downhill for another few minutes, chatting and talking and talking and chatting. I would say something to Reindeer and from the other side of the room he would yell over “WHAT WAS THAT? WHAT DID YOU SAY?” Eventually I just got up and went outside. (Sorry, Reindeer, I couldn’t take it!) We went to bed an hour later, and he was still talking as I put in my headphones.
The next day the chattering continued. This kid just didn’t have a filter. In the words of comedian Mike Birbiglia, there’s no on-deck circle for his thoughts, it’s just BATTER UP! As I was looking for a ride back to the trail by one of the staff members named Poet, who comes up and wants to go to the trail as well? Good old Chatterbox! But, instead of letting us drive back to the trail, he pulls Poet into an in-depth discussion of his pack weight (which he brought up no fewer than 5 times the night before). Poet is generously nodding and listening. After 5 minutes, I walk to the car. Poet turns and walks away after me, leaving Chatterbox to chat after us.
Poet’s dad is in the driveway waiting for us to jump in the car, and as I’m climbing in the car, I hear from behind me “Hey, smell this!” I turn and see Chatterbox sticking his fingers under Poet’s Dad’s nose. No way, I think, There’s no way he just asked a grown man to smell his fingers, right? After a half second of silence (the longest stretch of silence since I met Chatterbox the evening before), he yells “LAVENDER, RIGHT? IT’S THE SOAP!” and happily jumps in the car.
Poet looks at me, and I look at Poet. We both shake our heads. It’s one of those rare moments where two people who just met are having the exact same thought: This kid is crazy!
We drive down to the trail, with Poet giving us advice for the 100 Mile Wilderness and Chatterbox interrupting him. As we pull into the parking lot, Chatterbox keeps asking what the weather will be like. “Well,” Poet says, “The next few days will be rainy and -”
“No!” Chatterbox interrupts, “I mean how will it be on my summit day? How will the weather be on my summit day??”
Poet glances at me, not quite understanding. “Well, I’m not sure, that’ll be next week -”
“Yeah, but what will the weather be like on my summit day??” Chatterbox interrupts again.
At this point, I see Poet just give up. “It’ll be sunshine and rainbows and you’ll see a unicorn at the summit” he replies.
“Oh shit!” I reply enthusiastically, “You mean he’ll see the Katahdin Stream Unicorn? The magical KSU?”
Chatterbox looks excitedly from me to Poet and back to me. “WHAT’S A KSU??”
I shake my head and walk away to enter the 100 Mile Wilderness. Please lord, let this kid not walk with me over the next few days. From behind me I hear him ask Poet “What’s a KSU???”
As I’m walking, from behind me I hear someone singing and coming up fast. But not just anyone! That is our good friend Chatterbox. He comes up behind me and announces without preamble that he has great lung capacity because he sings so much. “Great!” I reply. “Hey man, go ahead and hike ahead of me, I’m really slow.” He happily wanders off ahead. For the next few hours, I would be lost in focus navigating the trail and listening to the wilderness, when all of a sudden from up ahead I would hear someone scream some lyrics to a song, and birds would fly off in the distance. Oh, Chatterbox.
The 100 Mile Wilderness is an intimidating chunk of trail. I’m carrying 6 days of food to get me to Abol Bridge at the North end of the 100 Miles. 12 pounds of food is more food than I’ve carried since I did the Smokies in 6 days way back in North Carolina! I kept telling myself to keep my eye on the prize, to be careful, that my footfalls would be different with more weight on my back. So of course I’m being careful, and within the first half mile, I slip off a wood plank and land hard on my right shoulder, taking a small chunk out of my right shin in the process. How disappointing would it be to make it 2,100 miles and then get catastrophically hurt on the approach to Katahdin?
Today’s celebrity sighting is – Me? As I was hiking, a flip-flopper heading South stopped me and said “Hey, I know you! You’re Slice! I’ve been following your blog!” It’s cool to meet someone who reads the blog! Hope I was helpful, or at least entertaining.
I hit Little Wilson Stream just downhill from some amazing falls, and immediately got lost. I got across the stream and turned right instead of left, which allowed me explore down the river and see some cool rock formations that other hikers had built. Eventually I turned around and found the white blazes again.
We are so far North at this point in the journey. The leaves are really starting to change. I expect the hikers rolling through in early October will be treated to some fabulous views.
I crossed Long Pond Stream and found a nice bushcamp just up the trail. A few minutes after setting up my camp, our friend Chatterbox comes by, talking (surprise!) to (at?) a couple of non-thru hikers doing the 100 mile. They stop and talk to me for a while, implying that they might set up camp here as well. When Chatterbox shouts over he might set up camp here too, they sadly tell me they will press on. (It’s clear they are just trying to shake Chatterbox.) As the two other hikers move on, he looks back at me, then at the two hikers, undecided. I hold my breath. Please, Chatterbox, please do the right thing and get out of here. “I’m gonna keep going too, man, see you tomorrow!” I let out my breath. Whew, dodged a chatter-bullet.
About an hour later Reindeer arrived. He waited this morning to pick up a mail drop that never arrived in Monson, so he had to last-minute resupply at a local shop for 6 days worth of food – Ouch! The post office gave him a mail drop that another hiker never used, so at least that helped defray the cost. Shortly thereafter, Ranger showed up as well. There are 4 of us here tonight – not a bad crowd!
Start: Bushcamp near Long Pond Stream
Finish: Bushcamp a quarter mile short of Pleasant River
AT Miles Hiked Today: 15.8
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 2,104.8
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 84.3
We woke to find a small animal had pillaged Ranger’s food bag in the night! What a hit – With 5 more days ahead of us, every scrap of food will be needed. None of our other bags got pillaged, but we will have to be super careful with our bear bag hangs in the nights to come. Hang them too close to a branch or a tree trunk, and you might wake up to find half your food gone!
Super rainy today. We knew we were going up and over Chairback today, one of the more challenging mountain ranges in the 100 Mile Wilderness. The terrain today ended up being the worst in the entire 100 Mile! Plus we were still carrying tons of food weight, without the benefit of having a massive breakfast to power our legs as we did yesterday.
Not many pictures from today, as my phone spent most of the day in a ziploc bag. But look at that picture above. That was a descent we had to do. All the rocks were slick and one misstep means really hurting yourself. Late in the day I slipped and absolutely nailed my hip on a protruding rock. I was really scared for a second as a blast of pain went through my entire right side. Fortunately I was able to walk it off, but it’s dangerous out here, folks. The terrain combined with the rain made for, as Reindeer described it, “A bottom 20% day”.
We were sapped of energy towards the end of the day, but the weather started to clear around 3, which made the hiking less terrible. We were still shot mentally and physically, though.
As the day was winding down, we met a ridge runner who told us that the first 30 miles of the trail were harder than the next 70 miles. Spirits slightly buoyed, we found a great campsite about a hundred yards shy of the W Branch of the Pleasant River, which is a river we need to ford tomorrow morning. As we were settling down for an early bedtime, my ears perked up as I heard a dreaded sound – The sound of chattering coming down the trail. It’s our friend Chatterbox! The hiker he’s hiking with makes a beeline straight for our campsite, and Chatterbox follows. We sigh, knowing what’s in store for us tonight.
Chatterbox sets up about a foot and a half away from Reindeer, talking all the while about his day. I’m talking to the other hiker off to the side and Chatterbox keeps yelling over “WHAT WAS THAT? WHAT DID YOU SAY?” As I’m telling the other hiker about slipping and falling on the wet rocks earlier, Chatterbox hears me and yells “OH, THE PATRIOTS WON!” Now, at this point I’ve just been ignoring him, but I actually laugh and turn to him. “Dude, I’m sorry, but I need to know how me hurting myself today reminded you that the Patriots won. That is a huge leap.” He replies as if it’s the most logical thing in the world, “Football is a physical sport, and people get hurt, and you hurt your hip today.”
Oh lordy. This whole section of trail is becoming the Chatterbox show.
As we are hanging our bear bags for the night, Reindeer and I were talking about Ranger’s food bag being pillaged last night. “Oh!” Chatterbox yells over. “I know how to avoid that! You just sprinkle granola outside of your tent! That way their little bellies fill up and they won’t go after your food bag!” That sounds like a terrible idea! But, we can’t talk him out of it. So sure enough, he sprinkled a bunch of granola outside of his tent, attracting mice and bears and god knows what else into the campsite. But what can you do?
It’s full dark at 7:15, but Reindeer and I didn’t need an excuse to go to bed and opt out of the Chatterbox show. Good night!
Start: Bushcamp a quarter mile short of West Branch Pleasant River
Finish: Bushcamp a bit past East branch Pleasant River
AT Miles Hiked Today: 16.7
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 2,121.5
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 67.6
Today was supposed to be rainy all day as well, but it wasn’t raining as we woke up, so Reindeer and I quickly packed up and headed out. As we packed up, Chatterbox pronounced that the granola was gone from outside his tent and our food bags weren’t pillaged, so, “You’re welcome!” He also was super noisy in his tent starting at 5am, coughing and talking to himself. He yelled over to Reindeer if he saw his tent stake bag, before Reindeer was even out of his hammock. We’ll both be happy to leave this one behind.
Our first 5 miles were smooth as silk, up to Carl Newhall Lean-To at the base of the Whitecap range of mountains. On the way we met with the other hiker who camped with us last night. He was hiking along this morning when some kind of wasp stung his leg a few times. Guess he stepped on the wrong spot and got nailed for it. We checked if the stinger was still in his leg, and hiked on.
Since Whitecap was the highest range of mountains in the 100 Mile that the Appalachian Trail crosses over, we were expecting the ascent to be as difficult as yesterday. But, the terrain was beautiful, with nice steps built into the mountain. Score!
As an added benefit, Reindeer was able to get some service on the top of a mountain, enough to show the rain was going to completely miss us! Our spirits immediately lifted. Not getting soaked is such a spirit-lifter. The terrain stayed smooth almost the entire day, except for at the top of Whitecap, where we caught our first sight of Katahdin as the clouds came in and out of the summit.
One quick aside – As we all know, pooping in the woods kind of sucks. You have to drop your pack, bushwack off trail through lots of brush and branches, try to hide from hikers coming up the trail, dig a hole, then squat and do your business, all the while trying not to get your own crap on your shoes or hands. So when hikers hit the holy grail – a privy directly on trail – we rejoice! My god, how beautiful a stinky privy can be! It happened this afternoon, the privy near East Branch Lean-To was almost directly on the trail.
Reindeer and I crossed the E Branch Pleasant River and found a few spots about 100 miles away from the river. We set up camp, ate dinner, then went to soak our feet in the river. What a difference today was vs yesterday – The terrain was easier, the weather was nicer, and only now was I realizing how emotionally and physically drained I was yesterday.
Because it was just us at the campsite, we felt no guilt in going to bed at 6pm. We both lay down, relaxing and talking through our tarps. So much reminiscing going on right now. Lots of sentences start with “Hey, remember when…” Guess it’s just that time of the trail where nostalgia starts to kick in.
Start: Bushcamp a bit past East branch Pleasant River
Finish: Bushcamp near the Nahmakanta River
AT Miles Hiked Today: 22.1
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 2,143.6
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 45.5
We had big plans for today, and the trail cooperated! We got 12 hours of rest last night in almost perfect silence, and our legs were feeling good.
Early in the morning, the trail started following Cooper Brook at a slight downhill, with super easy terrain. The trail stayed that way for over 10 miles! Almost no uphills, just nice, flat trail. We were covering about 4 miles per hour for a while there. In the afternoon we took a few nice long breaks.
Late in the afternoon we found a giant turtle! Reindeer put his trekking pole near it to see if it would snap, but it just growled and walked away.
We cleared 12 miles by 12pm, probably the first time we had done that in the entire trail. We reached our goal of 19 miles and decided to keep going, as it was only 4pm. We cruised on to over 22 miles on the day and bushcamped.
We climbed into bed and were relaxing when we heard footsteps approaching. “Hey! Who do we have here” said a familiar voice. Ah, our good friend Chatterbox was back in action! He decided to press on, thank goodness.
Folks, it gives me great pleasure to announce that was the last time we saw Chatterbox. But I realized that this is a beautiful form of symmetry. Reindeer and I met on day 2 of our thru-hikes at Gooch Mountain Shelter because of an overly-chatty older gentleman camped next to us. That got us to start talking, and the rest is history. So I love that chatterboxes both started and ended our hike.
Start: Bushcamp near the Nahmakanta River
Finish: Rainbow Lake Dam
AT Miles Hiked Today: 17.2
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 2,160.8
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 28.3
More great weather today! We only needed to do 17 on the day, so it was more relaxed than the last few days. The elevation profile was tame.
As we were walking along the river in the above picture, I turned a corner and saw a moose not 10 feet away! He jumped when he saw me, and scampered back into the bushes. It was really cool to see a moose – the first I’ve seen since I was in high school in New Hampshire. He was a bull, medium sized, probably only a few years old.
Reindeer and I took plenty of long breaks today, including at the beach above. As we were relaxing, a loon popped up nearby and started eating a fish. Nature is awesome.
When we got to the summit of Nesuntabunt Mountain, an overly-friendly squirrel was running laps around us, trying to get us to toss some of our snacks his way. I managed to get a shot of him looking at us! It was fun and also slightly weird to have him running around us for 10 minutes.
A clearing in the trees on our way down provided our first clear view of Katahdin. And my god, it was beautiful. 6 months of walking and our goal was in sight… The feelings were a bit overwhelming. Look how it dominates the landscape around it. What a badass mountain to finish this hike!
Our campsite was on the shores of Rainbow Lake, overlooking Katahdin. It was, hands down, the most beautiful campsite we have camped at on the trail. Reindeer and I soaked our feet in the water and enjoyed the solitude the lake provided. The lake was too silty and shallow to enjoy swimming at our campsite, but it was still beautiful to behold.
Throughout the evening as my mind would wander, I caught myself staring at Katahdin. There it was. That is the end. No other long trail in the USA provides such an amazing end to the hike. The PCT turns a corner and you see a little monument. The CDT certainly doesn’t have anything like Katahdin. Wondering why so many hikers to NOBO on the AT? It’s because of Katahdin. And I couldn’t stop looking.
Start: Rainbow Lake Dam
Finish: Abol Bridge
AT Miles Hiked Today: 13.2
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 2,174.0
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 15.1
Last night I pitched my tent directly on the bank of the water, so I woke up, rolled over, and was greeted with this view.
The first 5 miles of our day were running alongside Rainbow Lake, on rocky but mostly flat terrain.
We pulled over at the North side of the lake to enjoy one last view of the water before climbing out. As I was waiting for Reindeer a sea plane flew in and landed on the water.
From Rainbow ledges we caught another amazing view of Katahdin. Every time I see it I have to sit down and stare. The miles are starting to get comically low. 21.2 miles to Katahdin? That’s less than I did two days ago, along Cooper Brook. Jesus.
On our way out of the wilderness, a wasp came up and stung Reindeer on the leg. One last gift from the Wilderness Gods!
We came out of the 100 Mile Wilderness and crossed Abol Bridge. And, there was Katahdin, the base of which was only 10 trail miles away.
We ate at the decently good but extremely overpriced restaurant attached to Abol Bridge and registered at the state campground nearby. Since we arrived before 1 we had plenty of time to grab a 6 pack of beer. As we drank, we listened to the river flowing nearby and reminisced about the trail, town by town, section by section. So much of this trail has been done with Reindeer by my side.
It only occurred to me near the end of the hike how lucky I was to have a friend to experience this crazy adventure with. I started the trail solo, met Reindeer on Day 2, and he became my best friend for the last 6 months. And now here we are, at Abol Bridge, the last big challenge behind us, drunk off of 3 beers and high off the memories.
Start: Abol Bridge
Finish: Katahdin Stream Campground
AT Miles Hiked Today: 9.9
Overall AT Miles Hiked: 2,183.9
Miles To Go Until Katahdin: 5.2
The restaurant attached to Abol Bridge camp store had an AYCE continental breakfast, so we swung by, filled up, and headed out for our last 10 miles to the base of Katahdin.
Baxter State Park built The Birches specifically for thru-hikers entering the park intending to summit Katahdin the next day. The sign up form is located at a kiosk on the way into the park, and is first-come-first-serve for the first 12 thru-hikers who sign up. After those 12 sign up, hikers need to go into Millinocket, pay for a campsite at Katahdin Stream Campground, or figure out something else to do. (It’s a huge fine to stealth camp in Baxter State Park, with fines in the hundreds of dollars!) Reindeer and I were #1 and #2 on the list, fortunately.
What an easy day of hiking we had. The park is so well groomed, so flat, and so beautiful. We meandered down the path slowly and still managed to clear 2mph as we hiked.
Weather report for tomorrow looks amazing! Today would not be a nice day to summit, but mostly sunny with 5-10mph winds tomorrow? Sounds perfect.
It was completely smooth sailing to Katahdin Stream Campground, where we checked in at the Ranger Station and made our way over to the The Birches. We were the first ones there, so we settled into one of the shelters and built a fire to entertain ourselves for the rest of the day.
Eventually other hikers showed up, one of whom had hot dogs. So we roasted hot dogs on sticks and enjoyed the warmth the fire provided. Tonight is supposed to get really cold!
A former thru-hiker stopped by and dropped off two roast chickens and two bottles of champagne for the hikers!
The selection at the camp store was disappointing yesterday, so Reindeer and I both bought cans of Chef Boy-R-Dee for dinner, and we heated them up in the fire. That made them marginally better! First can of Chef Boy-R-Dee that I’ve eaten in more than a decade.
Reindeer and I settled into bed around 7. Tomorrow, we wake up at 5:30 and climb Katahdin.
Until next time, happy trails!
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