Maine, Part 2
The 100-mile Wilderness and Baxter State Park mark the end of the NOBO journey.
With just over 100 miles before the end of my AT adventure, I sat on my bunk at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel in Monson thinking back to the fire tower at Albert Mountain in North Carolina that marked the first 100 miles.
My bunk (left) at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel in Monson.
I was still a newbie to thru-hiking, still getting used to the rhythm of trail life. The rocks and ladder on Albert Mountain were like nothing I had climbed before. Little did I know then what I would face 1,800 miles later in New Hampshire and 2,100 miles later in Maine!
Holy moley, only 115 miles left!
Only 100 miles of “real trail” before Baxter State Park and Katahdin.
My husband, Rollie, joined me in Monson and brought our resupply for the 100-mile Wilderness. His brother, who lives in South Portland, drove up for the day and watched, fascinated, as we loaded our packs with ten days-worth of food. He was no stranger to hiking, but also had never undertaken such a long-distance as we were about to embark upon.
To be fair, we could have taken Shaw’s up on their offer of a food drop. The hostel has access to the logging roads that traverse the wilderness and, for a fee of $90, they’ll bring food to a designated spot. But Rollie didn’t think that was necessary and I didn’t want to spend the money.
As our packs got heavier with each addition of ramen, tuna, chicken, cookies, jerky, pop tarts, drink powders, trail mix, granola bars, and on and on…I wondered if we should have scheduled the food drop.
Poet prepares to make an endless supply of pancakes after frying up loads of hash browns and bacon.
The next morning, Shaw’s filled our bellies (best breakfast on the trail, IMHO) and shuttled us to the trailhead. A bit of sunshine briefly broke through before mist cloaked the sun and hung in the air. Water poured down the trail from the last few days-worth of rain.
I can’t say we weren’t warned.
Into the woods I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.
We headed out knowing our first day would include a high water detour. The FarOut app showed the way and off we went.
Rollie, who had joined me for the first 50 miles in Georgia, a weekend in Virginia and a weekend in Massachusetts, had not experienced the trail that is Maine. He had not hiked the AT in mud, up and down steep rocks, or in rain. Having listened to me complain about all three since Vermont, he finally began to understand.
In the wilderness, the FarOut app seemed to load and update more slowly. Yeah, I know It works on airplane mode, but it still had a delay. Of course, we didn’t notice this until we had missed our detour turnofff by a half mile.
It’s okay, we told ourselves. We’ll still get to the Long Pond Stream lean-to before it rains tonight.
We met a SOBO who told us that the second part of the detour ahead was not marked well and held a half-mile of trail through ankle-deep mud. I had heard so much hyperbole from other hikers about trail conditions in the last 2,000 miles that I didn’t take his warning seriously.
When we hit the mud, I was glad I was wearing my Keen water sandals. As I sunk in—yup, up and over my ankles—I was grateful my trail runners and socks were staying dry in my pack. But…the mud sucked both my feet and any joy I had left that day.
We missed the second turnoff (the SOBO warned us) and ended up bushwhacking to find our way back to the trail.
Muddy from the knees down, our only regret was not taking a photo of our feet submerged in the brown goo that was supposed to be the trail. We found a creek and washed up a couple of miles from camp.
We managed to get the tent up a few minutes before the rain arrived. Rollie, still invigorated from his first day back on trail, walked around and made friends around the shelter site. I collapsed in the tent and ate the heaviest food to lighten my pack for the next day since I’d be adding the weight of a wet tent.
It can’t get any worse, right?
The next couple of days found us scrambling up and over Barren Mountain and the Chairbacks. The weather was decent and we made great miles.
Rollie called this “The Cliffs of Insanity.” The only good thing about it was that the boulders were dry–no rain that day!
We knew it was coming. We kept hoping and praying the hurricane would take a different track, but, no, it headed inland and straight for the Hundred Mile Wilderness.
We had spent the night in Carl Newhall lean-to and weighed our options. We could get out really early and take our chances in getting over Whitecap Mountain or we could hole-up for the day and zero in the lean-to as the storm passed. Others in the lean-to also considered the wisdom of not climbing to 3,643 in the midst of a hurricane. Everyone checked their food to make sure there would be enough since we were now adding a day by sitting around waiting for the storm to pass.
In the end, Dip and S.A.M. stayed in the lean-to with us while Pot Roast, LL and Eagle all opted to try and get over the mountains and back below tree line before the worst of the storm rolled in.
S.A.M dried his socks over the fire before the wind and rain of the hurricane doused it.
To be fair, the morning was quite nice—peaceful with some sunshine now and then. We built a roaring fire where we all managed to dry our clothes. But the rain and wind started by 11:30 a.m. We tried to shield the fire just to have some warmth, but as the day progressed, nothing kept the rain from dousing it.
We spent the afternoon watching the trees whip in the wind as rain and small limbs pelted the lean-to, grateful we were not facing the storm at the top of Gulf Hagas, West Peak, Hay or Whitecap Mountains.
The next day dawned bright and sunny and we summited those four peaks easily and with amazing views, finishing out the day covering 18 miles to Mountain View Pond.
As we rounded the top of Whitecap, I had my first glimpse of Katahdin. I was not prepared for the emotions brought on when the mountain came into view and the tears flowed freely. There she stood, only 60 miles away. I had come 2,138 miles and I was almost to the end of my journey.
All that lay between me and Katahdin was a few more small mountains and a lot of water and mud.
The land between me and my goal held only a few small mountains, nothing higher than Little Boardman at 2,009 feet. BUT, the landscape did hold water crossings that would test my endurance and sanity.
Sketchy water crossings
The East Branch of Pleasant River turned out to be easier than it had been hyped up to be, so that was all good.
Three crossings all came in quick succession from brooks exiting Mud Pond—the first of which was on bog bridges—cool! The second was full-on in the water, knee-deep and swift, but someone had rigged a rope to hold onto, so that was super helpful. The third…a SOBO warned us that the only way to cross this was to walk in waist-deep water while holding a narrow log. But…Eagle had shot us a text advising that we cross via a log jam about 50 feet downstream.
We decided to try the log jam. It was slow going as we tested each log and maintained our balance. In the end, we made it across and to our goal for the night: Potaywadjo Spring lean-to.
The rain started before we even arrived and continued all night and into the morning. That rain on top of what had come courtesy of the hurricane made for the scariest water crossings I experienced on the entire trail. This resulted in a short mileage day, not making it to our goal of Wadleigh lean-to.
Twitchell Brook took over the trail on both sides of the brook.
Twitchell Brook was the first crossing, and the bog bridge over the brook was almost pointless. The trail itself had become part of the brook and both ends of the bridge were in the rushing, muddy water. We sloshed our way onward, hopeful that the creeks hadn’t risen too much overnight.
All hope was dashed as we arrived on the bank of Nahmakanta Stream. The water was too deep and swift to attempt to cross by fording. (Weeks later, I checked the USGS water data website and found that the depth of the “stream” was 6.5 feet on the day we crossed.)
Nahmakanta Stream was more of a raging river than a stream.
We spent the next 15 minutes walking up and down the bank in search of a safe crossing. Rollie located a fallen tree and decided to straddle it and try scooching across. As his legs dangled in the frigid water, I watched him work his way forward, inch by inch, trying his best to keep his balance.
The water just inches below the log tugged at his legs. The far end of the log was actually submerged. After about ten minutes, he finally made it to the other side. He quickly turned around and yelled across the roaring water, “Stay there! Don’t try to cross here. We’ll walk upstream and find a safer spot for you to cross.”
We did find another spot where the creek was much wider but still involved crossing in the same way he just had. Only I got to wade in thigh-deep water to the base of the fallen tree and figure out how to swing one leg over without falling in.
Too scared to take pictures
I kid you not, this was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, and I raised three daughters to adulthood. I spent about 40 minutes on that log scooching inch by inch. At one point, I just didn’t have the strength to get over the 2-inch spikes that were once branches. In my mind, I decided I’d probably be on that tree for the next 27 years and I thought, Well, I’m going to die here. All I could do was cling to the log for dear life.
Rollie saw my plight, scooched out, took my pack (which was a real production while clinging to a log in the middle of the raging river) and we both slowly headed for shore. I honestly don’t know if I would have made it across without his help and encouragement. It’s more likely that I would have spent the night on the opposite shore hoping the water would go down overnight.
Walking NOBO, I had been following Nahamsha on her YouTube channel. She started NOBO just a few weeks before I did, but I figured I’d never catch up. However, when she got to Maine, she arrived in time for the rainiest June in history. The result was that many hikers got off trail to wait until water levels decreased. Some SOBOs chose to skip down south and return to Maine later.
Rollie, Stretch, Nahamsha and me.
Nahamsha and Stretch came toward us and Rollie recognized her first. We chatted for a bit and she laughingly said she took 77 consecutive zero days and was finally back to finish Maine. She picked her hike back up going SOBO.
A waiting game
Waiting is exactly what happened when we got to Prentiss Brook. I could hear the water long before we arrived. Rollie looked up and down the stream and said, “I’ll find a way across.”
Me: “Nope, I’m done. No more scary water for me today.”
Him: “But we’re only a mile-and-a-half from the lean-to.”
Him: “There’s gotta be a place we can cross safely.”
Him: Walks up and down the side of the brook looking for a crossing
Me: Looks for a place to pitch the tent
Him: “You’re right, it’s too deep and fast.”
Gorgeous sunrise over Nahmakanta Lake, just a few feet from our tent.
Things are looking up!
We awoke the next morning to a lovely sunrise, the brook’s water level had dropped two feet and we easily crossed. The remaining water crossings were easy.
The day was filled with more mud and capped off with heavy rain at Rainbow Spring campsite (I barely got the tent up and our packs in the vestibule before the worst of the rain began). Even though I’d had my fill of wet clothes and muddy shoes, I slept peacefully in the knowledge that we would arrive at Abol Bridge campground the next day—translation: showers, laundry and resupply—before heading into Baxter State Park.
I was so exhausted coming out of the wilderness that I actually thought I was smiling for this picture.
Seeing the 100-mile wilderness sign at the north end of the park was a huge relief. Walking on Golden Road found me sighing with contentment. Stepping onto Abol Bridge and seeing Katahdin just 16 miles away—pure bliss.
One night of rest and recovery out of the elements.
We rented a cabin for the night (which consisted of six bunks and nothing else, not even electricity), got laundry done, showered the nine-days-worth of wilderness sweat and grime from our bodies, resupplied for the next two days and ate two subs each.
Remaining food after the wilderness: One carnation Instant Breakfast. One small York Peppermint Patty. One little tube of maple syrup and maybe about a dozen chocolate covered espresso beans. About two ounces of granola and one Nature Valley Everything Bagel granola bar. Nine gummy bears. A few packets of Orange Crush flavoring for water. An ounce of maple bacon jerky. One hot apple cider mix and a couple of tea bags. That’s it.
We planned our food pretty well–this was all that was left in my food bag after the wilderness.
Ranger “Donald Duck”
The next morning, we arrived at the park boundary at 6:45; the ranger, trail name Donald Duck, arrived promptly at 7. We were the first two on the list for the Birches tent site. We ran back to the cabin, packed up, had breakfast and entered Baxter for real at 9 a.m.
The weather was absolutely gorgeous and by 1:30 p.m., we were at the Birches. Other hikers steadily arrived throughout the afternoon until the site had a full complement of 12.
What can I say about the final night on trail?
I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend those final hours with around the campfire reminiscing about the whole hike. Waffles, Trekking Pole, Lips, Sunshine, Hopper, JJ, Oracle, Queenie, Chicken Man, Tenderfoot, Rollie and me. Each had something to ask or share.
“Who else got noro in Virginia?”
“How did you get your trail name?”
“I met Nahamsha in the wilderness.”
“I spent weeks off trail because of an injury.”
And the question that got everyone going…“Did anyone else meet Strange Bird?”
To top it all off…
Trail magic came courtesy of a Trail Angel named O.G. He had a backpack cooler filled with Coca Cola, beer and apples. More about him in my next and final Trail Angels post.
September 23, 2023
We were up at 5 a.m. and on the trail by 6:30. The weather: spectacular.
The spur of Hunt Trail (the AT in BSP) was the toughest climb of the entire trail for me (and remember, I hiked the White Mountains in the rain). Boulders, a couple of bits of rebar, steep drop-offs, fantastic views…all of it was exhilarating yet terrifying.
Hunt Spur…To give you an idea of scale, the itty bitty dots are people.
I was grateful to arrive at the Tableland. From there, I could see the summit.
Ahhhhh…the summit is within reach!
The closer I got to Baxter Peak, the more emotion welled up inside. But, I’m an introvert and don’t like attention on me, and there were a lot of people at the summit (beautiful weather, a Saturday morning) so I controlled my emotions.
I summited at 11:09 a.m.
Yeah, I cried a little and, yeah, I kissed the sign. Rollie took my photo and then I touched the cairn that is the actual top of the mountain. We had someone take our photo together.
Rollie & me–I was so blessed to have him with me!
We spent a little over an hour in the sun as college kids and families summited and picnicked. Seven of our campsite friends summited while we prepared to head back down the mountain and we cheered them on.
Sunshine arrived a few minutes after this photo was taken, but clockwise from top are Oracle, Lips, Queen, Hopper, myself (Fortune Cookie), Chicken Man and Tenderfoot.
We still had to get down the mountain…
We headed down at 12:30 p.m. We took Abol Trail because we had already seen Hunt Trail and 1) I don’t like to backtrack, and 2) I wanted different scenery. I hoped it would be an easier trail, but it scared the bejeebers out of me. It was just as steep and rocky as Hunt Trail, but over all, a little shorter.
We made it to Abol Campground at 4:10 p.m. and Longshot was waiting to take us back to Shaw’s.
My adventure was over at long last, exactly six months to the day that it began.
3/23/23 to 9/23/23
PS–Back at Shaw’s, I caught up with Pot Roast, one of the three from our campsite who hiked up and over Whitecap in the hurricane. I asked him how it was.
His answer: “Traumatic. You made the right call by staying put during the hurricane.”
He went on to describe howling and whipping wind, rain that stings at 60mph, and being barely able to keep his balance as he ran across the summit hoping to get below treeline before being blown off the mountain.
I told him I was glad he made it. We congratulated each other on summiting Katahdin.
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