Miles 2,075-2,189.1: Monson, ME through 100 Mile Wilderness to Katahdin (and back down to Baxter)
Monson, Maine is the beginning of the 100 Mile Wilderness (at mile 2,075). Within the first 10 miles, we passed by Spectacle Pond, Bell Pond, Lily Pond, Mud Pond, James Brook, Little Wilson Falls, and several other streams. Barren Slide, Barren Ledges, and Barren Mountain offered views of the remote wilderness surrounding us. The Chairback Mountains were tricky but short- Fourth Mountain, Mt Three and a Half, Third Mountain, Columbus Mountain, Chairback Mountain, and down to Chairback Pond. The Whitecaps were the last climbs before Katahdin- Gulf Hagas Mountain, West Peak, Hay Mountain, and White Cap Mountain. Our views of Katahdin were blocked by fog. Crawford Pond had a nice sandy beach but our favorite swimming hole on the whole trail was at Cooper Brook Falls. Cascades of ice cold water flow into a very deep pool in front of the lean-to. Jo-Mary Lake is a large lake with campsites available. The trail crosses and parallels stream after brook after stream. Nesuntabunt Mountain has a 16 mile line-of-site view to Katahdin, although we missed it due to fog, as we did at Rainbow Ledges. Finally, we crossed Abol Bridge and had our first glorious view of Katahdin! The 10 miles leading to Baxter State Park were flat and easy. We stopped to see “Big Niagara Falls” and “Little Niagara Falls.” Once in Baxter, we checked in with the rangers and began our 5.2 miles to the top. The trail passes the crystal clear Katahdin Stream Falls, up to a small slab cave, and straight up to the Tableland, a 1 mile plateau. One last climb and the 5,268 foot summit awaits! Katahdin is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail!
On Day 172, we summited Katahdin and concluded our thru-hike. September 10th will be a day we always remember and cherish.
Lunch in 100 Mile Wilderness at Little Wilson Falls… it’s kind of nice… don’t tell anyone.
Highlights and Surprises
The 100 Mile Wilderness is both daunting and desired by thru-hikers. On one hand, we must carry enough food to last 100 miles because of the remote nature of this section. There are no paved roads, little public access, and no resupply during this stretch (you can pay for a service to drop food in the woods for you, but we didn’t consider that). On the other hand, it is known for being “flat” and “easy,” a welcomed dream after weeks of difficult climbs.
We went over our food re-supply together to make sure we had the right amount. Our food drops had mostly breakfast and dinner foods, so we had to purchase lunch and snacks. (Our stash of junk food cost us $100 at Pete’s! Monson is a little overpriced, but then again, it’s in the middle of nowhere.) We had Little Rhino’s Mom take a few things out of the food drop before she even sent it, since we consistently had extra food in our boxes. In Millinocket, we took even more food out, leaving several pounds of rice, quinoa and other dry goods in the hiker box. It turned out to be the perfect amount of food. We received a little trail magic on the way, and had an extra day’s worth of food left at the end of the 100 miles. This was all done by eyeballing bags of dry food!
We started out relying on the NOLS calculated amounts based on our estimated calorie needs per day. Our estimates tended to be high. We’re not sure why, but it may have been that we relied more on snacks than we thought we would, and by purchasing/eating those we didn’t eat as much of our dried food. We are still glad we did mail-drops so that we could have high-quality, healthy meals. We stayed healthy, didn’t lose too much weight, and we didn’t even get tired of our food until after the halfway point! With that said, there are definitely some things we would change based on what we’ve learned. We will explore this further in the months after our hike.
Our first night in the 100 mile wilderness, we were in trail magic heaven! I think one of the benefits of not over-preparing or reading every article on the AT is that you can still be surprised during your hike. Towards the end of our first day out, we came to a forest road with a huge painted sign that said TRAIL MAGIC, In Honor of Yogi Bear. We heard from two southbound hikers that there were hot dogs and hamburgers to be had, so we turned down the gravel road to explore. Bird Man and Scout do trail magic out of an old hunting cabin in the Maine wilderness in honor of Scout’s son, Yogi Bear. Scout handed us a printed copy of this article which tells their story. It’s a great story that will warm your heart. I imagine it’s hard for them to tell and re-tell every night, so the article tells it for them. Bird Man cooked us burgers and hot dogs for dinner, opened a cooler full of ice cold sodas and beer, and we had Oreos for desert! Lollygag’s favorite part of the meal was feeding Oreos to Scout’s dog. One minute you’re expecting to eat rice and beans for dinner, and then the next thing you know you’re feed Oreos to a dog! The trail is wonderfully unpredictable. As the sun was setting after dinner, Scout remarked that it was going to be dark soon and offered for us to camp in their yard, and a PANCAKE BREAKFAST! Of course we stayed! We discussed bears, bear hunting, and learned more about the history of Scout’s cabin. The only downside of all this extra food, was that we didn’t use our own food, and our pack’s didn’t get any lighter. Lollygag’s straps were digging into his shoulders like never before, but how could he complain?
Scout’s Cabin- trail magic! Yes, that is a bear skin hung on the ceiling.
30 Mile Day- Lollygag
For months, Andrew has had a desire to hike 30 miles in one day. If not now, when will it happen? We contemplated this several times but the timing was never right. We weren’t in a rush on the AT and never “needed” to do 30 miles. This was purely for sport. The 100 Mile Wilderness offered one last chance of flat terrain to meet his goal. Claudia realized that realistically she would slow him down in reaching his goal and probably would not enjoy the experience anyway. It sounded painful more than fun to her. We mapped out a section where we could do about 20 miles together, stop for dinner at a shelter, and Andrew could push on from there. On the big day, Andrew got up at 5 AM to cook breakfast, and we were on the trail by 6:15. We could have saved time by eating a cold breakfast, but today more than ever we needed a hearty portion of oatmeal! We kept a solid pace going, but still stopped for views, swam at Cooper’s brook, and played on the rocks at Jo-Mary lake. The terrain was flat and smooth all the way to Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to. We covered 19.5 by 4:30 pm, a new record for us! It was Andrew’s night to cook dinner, so he got food going while Claudia set up her sleep system in the shelter. We split up the gear after dinner- Andrew took the tent, stove, cooking pot, 3 snack bars, and all of the dry food. Claudia got all of the snack foods (since she had no way to cook), and the ground cloth in case she needed an emergency shelter. Andrew left Potaywadio at 6:15 pm to cover the final 10 miles.
When Andrew left, I made myself at home in the shelter. Someone had left a recent newspaper so I caught up a little bit and giggled at some comic strips. I journaled and read my Kindle. It was quite relaxing and I was at ease. No one else showed up to the shelter but I spoke to the couple tent camping nearby. When night fell, things changed. The mice declared WWIII! Typically, I have a phobia of mice. I have been forced to get past that being on the trail but it still gives me the heebie-jeebies to have them running around in circles around me while I’m laying on the floor. I would shine my light and slam my shoe on the floor while they would scamper away with little to no fear of me. I finally put in earplugs to drown out the noise. Eventually, I fell asleep but was awoken several times throughout the night to the mice trying to get in my food bag, which was hanging from the ceiling. Not a great night’s sleep but I was up early and ready to be back in my tent with Andrew.
The first 90 minutes of the evening hike went great! The sunset cast the mountains in Alpenglow, and I got a great view of Katahdin! After the sunset, the terrain changed from smooth to rocks and roots. The darkness and roots were compounded by a headlight with a weak battery. This slowed me down quite a bit, and I wasn’t able to get momentum going for the rest of the night. The highlight of the night was hiking around Lake Nahmakanta. On the beach I sat down, ate an oatmeal cream pie, reclined on my pack and took in the stars and Milky Way. As I went around the lake, I stopped at each opening to check out the stars. After leaving the lake, the trail goes through a series of ups and downs. It was disorienting to hike an incline without the horizon for a frame of reference. Just after the lake was Wadleigh Stream Lean-to, which would have been 29.7 miles for the day. I had originally planned to hike to a spring 0.5 miles after the Lean-to, so I could definitively say I covered 30 miles. By the time I got there I was ready to throw in the towel and round up to 30. The final miles were taking longer than expected, and I was very thirsty. It was a warm evening; why am I still sweating at 10:30PM!? Unfortunately Wadleigh stream was bone-dry, so I kept going to reach the spring and fill up on water.
I planned to use my trail guide, which showed two small hills before the spring, to make sure I didn’t pass the spring. I went up and down the first hill, and then started up the 2nd hill. The second hill started to seem much longer than the first. At 11:00 pm, still going uphill, I started to wonder if I passed the spring. The trail kept going up, and I kept sweating and getting more disoriented. I could see how just a few things going wrong can cause someone to panic. I finally decided to set up camp at the next flat spot I could find and worry about finding water in the morning. At 11:30 pm I found a stealth spot complete with logs to sit on and a campfire ring! I was never more thankful for a flat spot. I mixed up a hammer recover drink (Thanks hiker box!) and settled in. I had imagined myself contemplating being alone in the 100 mile wilderness and reflecting on the hike, but when I laid down I immediately fell asleep. In the morning I had just enough water to dissolve an instant breakfast drink. At that point I was out of water and still dehydrated. Further, I couldn’t eat anything because I only had dehydrated foods. Luckily, our friend Sponge Bob came by mid-morning. We caught up for a few minutes, and then he asked if I had any TP to spare. We negotiated a trade of a few wet wipes for 1/3 liter of water. The trail provides! I drank a few sips and then made oatmeal. When Claudia got in, we had lunch at my campsite, and hiked about 200 yards to the top of Nesuntabunt Mountain. I had hiked 2 miles past the last shelter and climbed a mountain, a 31.5 mile day!
On September 9th, we arrived in Abol Bridge, the Northern end of the 100 Mile Wilderness! When re-supplying at the store at Abol Bridge Campground (100% markup on everything, but it’s the only option for hikers), we glanced at a weekend forecast but didn’t think about it too hard. Abol Bridge wanted $50 for the two of us to camp, so we decided to hike south a little and find a stealth spot. We found a dream spot on the shore of the Penobscot River with a view of Katahdin! After dinner as we were laying in our sleeping bags, firing up our kindles, Lollygag sat up with a start- the weather forecast. . . It said Saturday (tomorrow) was clear, and Sunday was 70% rain! We are planning to summit on Sunday! He was a little hesitant to share this with Little Rhino. She might be thinking what he’s thinking and actually want to do it. If we wanted to have a clear, dry day on the summit, we needed to summit tomorrow. We discussed the logistics: get up at 3:30 am, hike in the dark, cover 10 miles before the 10AM cut-off, and then start up Mt. Katahdin. Tomorrow would be clear. Sunday would be a mess. Of the 4 days we had seen a view of Katahdin from the trail, it was “socked in” 3 of those. We’d heard the views were great and wanted to sit on the summit and soak them in. We couldn’t decide so we just went back to reading. This was one of the more difficult decisions we faced. We really did not want the hike to be over. We didn’t feel ready for it to be over on Sunday, much less TOMORROW. Why would we rush to the end? At the same time, we wanted to enjoy our time Katahdin. After about 20 minutes, Little Rhino chimed in. “Should we go for it?” Silence. . . then finally, “I guess so.” That was it!
September 10th was our big day… we followed through with our plan. We woke up early and hit the trail by 4 am. We thought it would be straightforward but we found ourselves lost within minutes in the pitch dark. We were on a gravel road looking for a turn off onto the trail. After searching for 20-30 minutes we backtracked and finally found it. What a relief! Once we were on the trail, we found our stride and set a good pace in the dark of night. Our headlights shone bright and the sun eventually rose. By 9 am, we had completed 10 miles and were greeted by rangers doling out summit permits in Baxter. The ranger station has small backpacks to use for slackpacking. We swapped out our heavy packs and headed up the trail. The further we went, the steeper the trail. We were growing weary when we hit the treeline. The view was spectacular! We were above the trees and everything below was mountains and ponds for as far as we could see. From there, the trail became even steeper to the point of using our hands and feet to climb up the rocks. A few spots had rebar hand holds to assist in climbing. We were so grateful to be doing the summit in clear weather, as this could have been dangerous and slippery in the rain. There is one false summit to reach the Tableland area, a plateau covered in rare plant life. From there, one can see the summit 1 mile away. We embraced the flat terrain before one last climb to the top. We saw Blue Sky, Redwing, and Lightning on their way down. Honestly, the top was anti-climactic. There were a lot of day hikers on the summit, creating the biggest crowd we had seen in weeks. There’s no ceremony, awards, or applause. Our friend Big Foot greeted us and we were all a bit stunned. Papa Monkey and his 12-year-old daughter came later. Some hikers began to figure out that we were thru-hikers finishing the most significant hike of our lives. At that point, we were hugged, welcomed, offered beer & whiskey (not allowed in Baxter), and struck with a rapid fire of questions by folks that want to thru-hike in the future. We started to relax and spent the next 2 hours on top celebrating our accomplishment. Papa Monkey carried his daughter’s saxophone to the top and she performed the Star Spangle Banner in honor of September 11. When we were ready, we turned around and hiked the 5.2 miles back down to the park. Miles no longer “count” because our goal was met.
The trail has helped us live moment-to-moment. We know we aren’t in control and we feel more at ease trusting in God about our future. With that said, we hadn’t made plans for when we got to the bottom… where will we stay? How will we get there? What will we eat? As luck would have it, a man approached us asking…. are you thru-hikers? Do you like steak? Beer? Yes, yes, yes! “Rhino” and his friends have come to Baxter every fall for 15+ years. He’s in charge of finding thru-hikers to spoil for the night. They had even rented an extra lean-to which we were able to stay in after dinner. They prepared a campfire, steak, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, garden grown tomatoes, and even a dutch oven baked pineapple upside down cake! A perfect end to a long and satisfying day.
View of Katahdin… or lack thereof.
Favorite Recipes of the 20th & 21st 100 Miles
Cream Cheese Changes Everything
2 cups rice, 1.5 cups black beans, 2 oz dried sun gold tomatoes (from our garden!), 1 oz dried cabbage, 2 tsp Honduran spice, garnish with cream cheese and olive oil
3 cups potato flakes, 1/2 cup spinach, 1 Tbsp garlic powder, 2 tsp salt, generous oregano (also from our garden); Saute cashews in olive oil until brown (smells like the fair in a good way)
Top potatoes with sauteed cashews and serve with Triscuits for dipping or crushing.
Where We Stayed/Mileage
Birdman & Scout’s- trail angels (14.2), East Chair Back Pond (14.4), East Branch Lean-to (18.1), Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to (Claudia- 19.5 and Andrew- 31.5), Rainbow Stream (Claudia- 18.2 and Andrew- 6.2), stealth near Abol Bridge (15), Baxter State Park!!! (15.1 + 5.2 miles back down)
Claudia saw another moose! At 7:15 am, I was walking alone to meet Andrew after our night apart. I heard something in the woods ahead and out pranced a moose! We saw each other and she ran up into the woods but I was able to get a good look and enjoyed the experience immensely.
Andrew is 90% sure he saw another black bear. It scampered into the woods very quickly. He also saw a pine marten! Pine martens are very curious, friendly, and fluffy.
What We’re Reading
Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham (Claudia) and Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum and The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe (Andrew)
Trail Beta for Future Hikers
- Get cash in Monson because everything past it is CASH ONLY (Abol Bridge & Baxter)
- Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to has the best swimming hole on the entire AT! Definitely stop there to camp or just take a dip. (Mile 2,129)
- Antlers Campsite is on the edge of Jo-Mary Lake. It didn’t line up with our hiking itinerary that day but it looked INCREDIBLE. We stopped there to snack and explore. Some people even zero there, which I’d recommend if you have enough food. (Mile 2,137)
- Potaywadjo Spring is super clear with a sandy bottom. It was stunning. (Mile 2,141)
- Abol Bridge is wildly overpriced! The staff wasn’t friendly and didn’t seem to like thru-hikers. We paid over $5 for a regular sized jar of peanut butter. Try not to shop there if you can wait.
- Check in with a ranger when you get to Baxter. The whole process can seem confusing but it’s not too bad. The Birches is a lean-to that is only for NOBOs preparing to summit and costs $10 cash per person. Most thru-hikers have some other plan A or plan B so the Birches actually seemed underutilized as a result (sleeps 12 but only 4 people were there the day we summited).
2,189.1 miles later and here we are!
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