Day 162: A Walk in the Park
When I woke, JW was back sitting on the granite slab waiting for the sun to rise behind Katahdin. A huge backpack sat upright on a boulder 10 feet to his left. I walked around it expecting to see my midnight visitor sitting on the other side, but it stood alone. The pack was completely full, overstuffed even, with a tent, a pair of shoes, three different stuff sacks, and a fanny pack strapped to the outside.
I scouted around and saw no one besides JW. Had the hiker abandoned his load and hiked on? If it had been my pack, I’d certainly have considered dumping it as soon as I saw how close I was to Katahdin. While cooking breakfast I saw something move behind some scrubby pines growing along the edge of the granite slab. A scruffy large man climbed out of a hammock he’d strung across the trail where it re-entered the woods after leaving the summit.
The guy had a tent strapped to his pack but had hammocked last night. He walked over, wearing a quilt and dragging a sleeping bag, and carrying a gym bag stuffed with clothes and gear. We watched as he pulled out canned food and a small wood burning stove. He had so much stuff I half expected to see him pushing a shopping cart. Or two carts.
He introduced himself as Teacup and said he had been hiking the 100 Mile Wilderness. He’d been lost for the past two days until he caught a view of Katahdin, headed towards it, and stumbled across the AT last night at Rainbow Lake. Then he offered us coffee, tea, and protein bars, explaining that he’d brought way too much food. No kidding. He must be the only hiker in the 100 Mile Wilderness with more food than he wanted.
I think if I’d met him at midnight on the streets of his hometown of Brooklyn, his dreads and huge tangled beard, as well as his tattered clothes would have made me give him a wide berth. But I’d have missed meeting an interesting character. On the AT, he seemed to belong, confidently and happily hiking his own hike. JW chatted him up over breakfast, learning his story and sharing ours.
On Our Way
Teacup was still working on his breakfast as we left. We had only six miles and no climbs until we reached Abol Bridge, where the AT enters Baxter State Park, so JW set a brisk pace. After Abol Bridge, we had another 9.9 miles across Baxter to the base of Mount Katahdin. We’ll tackle that tomorrow.
As we sped along, catching partial views of Katahdin through the trees, JW wondered out loud if we’d see our wives at Abol Bridge. “Such a romantic,” I thought, until he said that if they were there, we could dump all our camping gear in the vans and slackpack the last 9.9 miles. A romantic after my own heart.
Moose Tracks at Abol Bridge
When I crossed the bridge over the Penobscot River, I saw Northstar’s van parked in front of the Abol Bridge Store. I heard that the store closed yesterday for the season. But when I walked up, Alex waved and called out that the store had stayed open to clear out their inventory before winter. I did my part by relieving them of their last scoop of Moose Tracks ice cream, the closest I may get to a moose in Maine.
Northstar said she’d found a great campsite just downstream of the bridge, right on the banks of the Penobscot with a great view of the mountain. It sounded perfect, but we had some hiking to finish before we could check it out. We dumped almost everything out of our packs except our water and took off, after arranging for Northstar to come get us in a few hours.
Northstar also told us she’d shuttled a van-full of thru hikers from Abol Bridge to a hostel in Millinocket yesterday afternoon. They all planned to summit the next day, skipping the 10 miles from Abol Bridge to the base of Katahdin. The pressure to finish is real. Hikers have been blue and yellow blazing in their rush to finish. I’m happy with our decision to hike all the miles and take our time.
Baxter State Park
We left the bridge and headed into the park. Like your high school prom queen, Baxter State Park knows it’s beautiful, so it doesn’t have to be nice. If you want to visit Baxter, you gotta know the rules. In addition to all the normal park rules like staying on trails, not littering, no collecting, and leaving no trace, Baxter has a few of its own peculiar regulations:
- Rule #1 – You don’t just drive into Baxter on a whim. You need to buy an entry permit in advance, if one is available. The $5 permit is in addition to the $16 per day park entry fee.
- Rule #2 – Even if you got an advanced entry permit, if you don’t pull up to the gate by 7:05 am (being in line doesn’t count), your permit is cancelled and can be handed to anyone waiting in line who doesn’t have one.
- Rule #3 – Don’t bring your Sprinter Van. Vehicles over 9 feet high aren’t allowed. Our RAM ProMaster is 8 ft, 11 in high and barely made the cut. Alex’ Sprinter wasn’t allowed in. That’s just as well because…
- Rule #4 – No dogs allowed. Not just loose free-range dogs, even dogs on leashes aren’t permitted. You can’t even have a dog in the car when you swing by to shuttle a hiker in and out of the park. Some dog must have done something really bad, because this park seriously hates dogs.
- Rule #5 – Thru hikers must arrive in time to get a Katahdin permit from a ranger. Getting the permit involves standing in line, and not clicking online, while a ranger handwrites all sorts of information about your thru hike in a logbook and then hands you a paper receipt that must be turned in at the gate when you leave the park.
- Rule #6 – No boondocking. That one makes sense, but since we couldn’t bring our dogs to the park, we couldn’t camp there anyways.
Fortunately, we’d been traveling with Alex and JW, so Alex could watch the dogs while Northstar shuttled us out of the park in our not-too-tall van.
The 10-mile hike from Abol Bridge to Katahdin Stream Campground was a walk in the park. The smooth wide trail mostly followed the rivers and avoided any steep climbs. And if we got bored with the rushing rivers, dramatic waterfalls, and Fall colors, we had a huge mountain that loomed high above us.
The trails were full of leaf peeping day hikers and a few thru hikers. At one point, a pair of elderly hikers approached us at a muddy plank crossing and asked JW if this was the way to Big Niagara Falls. He assumed they were joking and told them to keep going until they got to Buffalo, then take a right towards Canada. They looked a little confused, but said thanks, and kept going.
A half mile later we came to the sign for the turnoff to Big Niagara Falls. JW had no idea Baxter State Park had its own Niagara Falls. He felt terrible that he’d sent a pair of wobbly old hikers off in the wrong direction. He almost turned around to go get them. I told him not to worry, the rescue helicopter we’d just seen had probably picked them up by now. NOTE: No elderly hikers were harmed in the making of this blog.
At the Foot of Katahdin
When we got to Katahdin Stream Campground and waited for the Ranger to reappear, I took a peek inside the lean-to where thru hikers leave any gear they don’t want to carry up the mountain. I saw packs belonging to Just Try, Sauce, PBJ, Beans, BAM, and others who must have still been up the mountain at 2:00 p.m.
The ranger told us to plan on 10 hours to get up and down the mountain. Given that we’d been told that the 100 Mile Wilderness might take us 10 days, I took their estimate with a grain of salt. But if our friends hadn’t made it down by 2:00, then it might take at least seven hours. We’ll know for sure tomorrow.
The Night Before THE Day
Northstar arrived just after we picked up our summit permits from the Ranger and took us back to her river campsite below Abol Bridge. She wasn’t wrong. It was a fantastic site. Perfect for sitting and watching the river and clouds speed by, the mountain, and the colorful woods around us. Gus and Northstar took a bath, this time without a stinky mud bog.
We sat around JW’s fire pit until hiker midnight, then made it an early night. We had to be in line at the front gate by 6:30 am.
5.2 miles to go.
- Start: Rainbow Ledges (Mile 2177.2)
- End: Katahdin Stream Campground (Mile 2193.2)
- Weather: Boring perfection.
- Earworm: Promises (Eric Clapton)
- Meditation: Providence
- Plant of the Day: Roots
- Best Thing: Baxter State Park
- Worst Thing: Only one scoop of Moose Tracks left at the Abol store.
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