SOBO Step I: Getting Through the 100-Mile Wilderness

The 100-Mile Wilderness is famous for being the longest stretch of the Appalachian Trail with no real access to a town. Just past the southern border of Baxter State Park (BSP), Abol Bridge marks the beginning of this remote section which travels south for—you guessed it—100 miles until the AT reaches Monson, Maine. At first, thinking about starting your thru-hike here may be intimidating, but I’m here to let you know that it isn’t really that bad – as long as you remember a few key tips.

10 things I wish I’d known before hiking the 100-Mile Wilderness

After summiting Katahdin, we spent the night back at the AT Lodge. Thus, we started Day 2 at the Katahdin Stream Campground parking area. The remaining ten miles in BSP were incredibly gorgeous and really enjoyable. However, we did have to ford our first river and met our first fellow SOBOs (three of which were heading north – by accident – and two of which were already suffering from bad blisters).

Little Niagara Falls in BSP

1. Download the Guthook app, or be familiar with your guidebook.

Pay attention to what’s around you. Ask people if you are confused. Don’t get turned around and head back the way you just came. The AT is well maintained and clearly marked, but keeping an eye on the Guthook app will make it so you literally cannot get lost (the app has a red line that indicates the AT and a blue dot that indicates where you are; if your blue dot isn’t on the red line, then you need to get yourself back on the Trail). If you’re more of a guidebook person, AWOL’s SOBO guide makes navigating the 100 a lot less intimidating.

2. Bring a quick-dry towel.

You will have to ford rivers. Your feet will get wet. Wet feet in hiking boots = blisters.

Also, don’t let this be the first time you put your boots on. Wear them around and break them in a bit before you start your thru-hike. Your feet will thank you, and therefore you’ll be able to thank your feet.

June & July are notably wet months in Maine. The first half of the Wilderness was muddy and buggy when we hiked through it in mid-July. Make sure that you have a second pair of socks and a bug net for your face (yes, you’ll look pretty funny but you’ll thank me later).

After hiking out of BSP, we spent our first night at the Hurd Brook lean-to. We were out of our skin excited when we arrived! Time to start the campfire, break out the whiskey, and start up a conversation with the NOBOs that were camped there, right? Turns out, no.

3. Thru-hikers go to bed early, and very rarely have campfires at the shelters.

Hiking tens of miles every day leaves you exhausted. Exhaustion does not adhere to staying up much past dark (if you can even stay up that long). We quickly realized this on about Day 4.

Okay, so we went to bed early that night and woke up the next morning ready to HIKE! The terrain of the Wilderness wasn’t too difficult and we were full of adrenaline, so we were practically flying down the Trail. It was still early when we arrived at the Rainbow Stream lean-to, so we decided to continue on. We thought we had to push all the way to the Wadleigh Stream lean-to, because that was the next camping area listed in AWOL. If only we had known that…

4. You can camp pretty much anywhere that has a flat spot.

You don’t have to limit your nightly camping to the designated shelters and sites listed in your guidebook. Stealth camping, which is what it’s called when you stay the night in a spot that isn’t an officially established campsite, will be your new best friend. Stealth sites are sometimes tricky to find, but they can almost always be found around bodies of water or in between two shelters that are pretty far apart. Another good indicator is any spot that has a “view” symbol in the guidebook. Solid tips for stealthing are as follows:

  • Camp at least 200 feet (80 paces) away from trails and water sources.
  • Be a quarter mile away from designated campsites/lean-tos.
  • No camping above tree line.
  • Always follow Leave No Trace principles.

The benefit of our longgg Day 3 was that a fellow camper at the over-occupied Wadleigh Stream lean-to recommended that we check out the side trail to Nahmakanta Lake…

5. The Wilderness is full of beaches

Make sure that you stop and soak up every.single.one. The whole AT will be full of beauty, but you won’t find a constant supply of beaches anywhere like you will in the 100-Mile Wilderness.

"Hi – yes, we'll take the room with the beach front view please."

A post shared by Emily (@emilyprit) on

6. Don’t try to pull big mile days or hike too fast

This is your first week on the AT. Your legs, feet, back, and literally every inch of your body are just getting used to this. Don’t push yourself too hard. We met plenty of SOBOs who were sprinting down the Trail and not stopping at any of the beaches (*gasp!*). Slow down, get into a comfy groove, and hang out with the other hikers around you. Is the group you were hiking with all day stopping a couple miles before you were planning on it? Then stop and set up camp with them too. It’s the friendships, not the miles, that matter.

7. The Wilderness isn’t really that Wild

We saw people 24/7. The name of this section can bring up dreams of darkness and the fear that you will enter into this secretive and windy trail, only to emerge 100 miles later to finally see sunlight and human beings for the first time in a week. This simply isn’t true, especially in June & July; SOBOs will be starting, section hikers will be aplenty, and NOBOs will be finishing up their thruhikes. Trust me, you will be surrounded by other people.

Additionally, there are several dirt logging roads throughout the Wilderness, so if worse comes to worse and you need to head back to town earlier than expected, you will be able to call for a shuttle (Shaw’s Hiker Hostel in Monson offers shuttles to/from many sections in the Wilderness).

8. You’ll get cell service.

Albeit, I can only personally vouch for Verizon but if you’re planning a thru-hike and don’t have Verizon you should probably just switch now anyways. The best cell coverage will obviously be on the tops of mountains, but we had coverage for a majority of the Wilderness (and for the entire Trail, for that matter).

So have no fear, you will be able to post those amazing Instas that will make your desk-bound bffs at home more envious than ever.

9. Did someone say FOOOOOOD DROP?!

We did our food drop through the AT Lodge. The night before we left to start our hike, Ol’ Man gave us a big blue bucket with a piece of duct tape across the top. We filled it with our food for the second half of the Wilderness and then wrote our names across the top. We gave him a daily estimate of when we thought we would be at the designated road crossing and he left it in a pre-determined spot for us to resupply at when we got there. THIS WAS A LIFESAVER and is the one thing I most recommend for your first week on the Trail.

*Pro tip: add something heavy to your food drop that you wouldn’t want to carry with you but that you can enjoy when you get there (i.e. a big Gatorade or a can of Spaghettios).

10. There’s a hostel, if you need it.

I told you, the Wilderness isn’t *that* wild. At mile 45.7 you can take a side trail to a dock, and from that dock you can call White House Landing (they are reservation only). We didn’t stay there, but we know hikers who did and they had no complaints. Plus, it’s a good option if you’re low on food, fuel, or just dragging more than you thought you would be.

Overall, it took us a little under seven full days to complete the 100 Mile Wilderness. We were carrying four days worth of food when we left BSP and had four days worth of food in our food drop. The last five miles into Monson left me completely exhausted and Waterboy had to basically drag me the rest of the way out of the woods. But as soon as I laid in a real bed for a much needed nero at the Lakeshore House and I was full of cheese and beer, I felt lightyears better and was ready to tackle the rest of southern Maine.

Smile is not an accurate representation of my feelings at the time we reached ME 15

Overall, the 100 Mile Wilderness is one of the most gorgeous and memorable sections of the Appalachian Trail. Yes, some of the terrain is difficult (especially when it’s your first week on the Trail) but it’s not too bad, and I hate to break it to you but the rest of Maine will be harder. Soak it up and enjoy the journey – afterall, you’re out here to disconnect from the fast-paced ‘real’ world and to spend more time in the outdoors one. Let the 100 Mile Wilderness be an amazing and memorable way to start your thruhike. SOBOs aren’t considered badass hikers for nothing!

And when you get to town, don’t forget to treat yourself to a brownie sundae from Pete’s Place.

*All roads that run through the Wilderness are privately owned and the road names vary depending on the map and the local use.

Related

If you have any other questions about the logistics of the 100-Mile Wilderness, leave them in the comments!
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Comments 2

  • TBR : Jul 18th

    Food drop … that’s cheating! Ha, ha, not really, but, wow, what a luxury.

    When I hiked the 100-mile stretch, it was the first of October … I did not see another soul.

    First night at camp, it sure felt good to eat some food and lighten the groaning load.

    This was a beautiful part of the hike. I remember it well.

    Reply
  • Nevis Beeman : Jul 22nd

    I really enjoyed reading this and showing your pics to my friends & Family.
    I’ve terrific memories of hiking the “100mile wilderness” August 2012. SoBo.
    (I’d flip flopped via Canada due to US immigration issues)
    I recall finding a beat up old pair of tennis shoes (in Millinocket hostel) just to wade the rivers in; Years later a NoBo hiker I passed with out even saying hello to somewhere along the 100 mile wilderness, turned up on Nevis, (West Indies)
    where I live, and we sat under a coconut tree just trying to work out just where we had passed each other ….Thank you Emily !

    Reply

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