The Complete Hiker Trash Guide to the 100-Mile Wilderness
Disclaimer: This Guide is based on my 2021 thru hike and my experiences in the Hundred-Mile Wilderness. None of the following constitutes legitimate advice. Your experiences may vary.
The Hundred-Mile Wilderness is the name given to the final section of the AT (if you’re NOBO; SOBOs do everything backwards and should not be trusted). By this point, you’ve hiked over 2000 miles before stopping in Monson, ME, the “last town on the AT.” The town is small and friendly, and the miles ahead are said to be flat and easy. We found the former to be true, but the first 45-odd miles of the section challenged us more than we anticipated, especially after rain came our way.
Preparations in Monson
When we arrived, Monson was still under various COVID shutdowns and restrictions, but we made do. Shaw’s Hiker Hostel was at double super capacity and was exactly the type of party atmosphere we expected. Fortunately, we had already booked a room at the Lakeshore House. The calmer, quieter hostel had a restaurant and bar we hit up for dinner, saving us from having to walk anywhere. Resupply options were limited to the gas station and Shaw’s, which wasn’t terrible, but it would have been nice to have the general store open, too.
Regardless, we did our resting, drinking, eating, and then got to resupplying. It would be 100 miles to the Abol Bridge Camp Store, and we were going to do it without paying for a supply drop halfway through. We planned for a five day carry and took our wallets to the shops. The gas station provided us with Pop-Tarts for breakfast, candy bars, various protein bars, and my favorite deconstructed lunch requirements: packets of nuts, blocks of cheese, and miscellaneous meats. You can get a nice number of calories out of that pairing and don’t need to worry about tortillas or bread. I kept dinners simple and stuck to ramen and instant potatoes plus fixings. What more could you want? By this time, our meal planning was down to a science, and we had exactly five days of food plus a handful of candy bars each.
We were set, but that was just the beginning. Here are 10 sure-fire steps to success in the Hundred-Mile Wilderness:
Step 1: Pack Just Enough Food
100 miles is a simple 5-day trip. 100/5 = 20, and you’ve been crushing 20+ mile days for ages now (ignoring New Hampshire). 5 days is perfect, so take 5 days of food. Hell, you might even finish early, so you definitely don’t want to take extra food.
If you average 2 pounds of food per day, that’s 10 pounds of heft added to your pack. If you’re an ultralighter, you just doubled your pack weight, so you might need to book a physical therapy appointment when you get done.
For reference, our typical food carries were for 3-4 days, and sometimes with a pitstop for hamburgers in the middle to stretch things out. The most food I carried was an amount that could have lasted 7 days, but that’s solely due to not taking inventory and shopping while hungry. 5+ days is a heavier carry, as evidenced by many hikers opting to pay for a food drop halfway through the Wilderness.
Step 2: Don’t Worry About the Weather
If you’re getting ready to leave town and realize that 70+ hikers are holed up at Shaw’s waiting for some big rain to pass, roll your eyes at them and keep going. You’ve been rained on a lot over the past months and it’s not worth concerning yourself with some worrywarts trying to prolong their last hurrah at the best party spot in town. Press on. How bad could it be?
Step 3: Make the Miles Up Tomorrow
Day 1 went well, and we made it about 19.2 miles to the Cloud Pond Lean-to despite a late start. We snagged the last three and a half spots in the shelter and the rain was throwing it down by the time we got comfy. With the small, ratty pine trees as the only foliage, it is needless to say that no one hung any food bags. I will gripe that the walk from the AT to this shelter is a slog over slick rocks, deep puddles, and a generally dismaying environment. I was also tired and hangry, so there’s that.
Hiking in the rain can seriously dampen your spirits. When your mileage drops below 2mph, you feel like a bad hiker. But this is part of the plan because you can make up those miles tomorrow. It’s simple: hike what you can today, and make up the difference later. Don’t entertain questions about how, or when, or how much food you have. There’s always a tomorrow.
We slowed down considerably when the conditions got muddy and wet. Day 2 tricked us with some afternoon sun, but OH BOY did the rain come at night. We stayed near the Carl Newhall Lean-to, having only made it 15.5 miles despite toughing it out all day. My tent had a stake slip out of the mud, necessitating a wet, midnight re-pitch, but we all stayed mostly dry and it never got too cold.
Step 4: Don’t Get Hypothermia
Remember, it’s going to keep raining on you, and then it’ll get cold just to mix things up. This is designed to give you a break from the summer heat you were complaining about a few weeks prior, so be glad Mother Earth finally listened.
Being soaked can be a problem though, so make sure to keep your camp clothes dry. My puffy, camp pants, and extra socks were all sealed away in a dry bag, with my down quilt stowed safely below. I knew I had options to get warm but getting warm can be difficult. On Day 3 we stopped at the Logan Brook Lean-to for lunch. Giggles and I arrived first, followed closely by T-Bone and Ocho. Getting out of the rain was the first step. Putting on layer after layer was the second. Fortunately, because the rivers were swelling, the water source was not a far walk, so we ate and refilled our water without much fuss.
Two other hikers we knew arrived but decided to press on. We assumed they were opting to keep moving to stay warm. Days later, we learned they were pushing to make it to their shuttle out of the Wilderness. Once we were fed and warm enough, we stripped back down to our hiking clothes and hiked on.
Step 5: Cross Rising Rivers Because You Waited Too Long
Remember “Step 1: Pack Just Enough Food”? That was key to getting your weight down and making your itinerary tight. Step 1 also ensures that you are strongly encouraged to stay on pace to finish in the time allotted. “Step 2: Don’t Worry About the Weather” threw you some curveballs, but that just means you get to see more of the water crossings other long trails are famous for. Lucky you!
On Day 2, we opted to not cross a somewhat bursting stream in the evening because the nearby shelter sounded crowded and we had just passed a nice campsite. The next morning, we discovered our mistake in the first minutes of the hike. The water was much higher, and there was no longer an obvious safe or easy route across. It wasn’t too bad, but I waited for Giggles before crossing, fell down after slipping halfway across, but managed to catch myself on my shin, which kept most of my upper body and pack dry. My shin received an 8 inch scrape/shiner, an inauspicious start to our day.
Step 6: Make New Friends, Do Sketchy Stuff
In all seriousness, if you must to do sketchy river crossings, do it with friends and tramily. If someone needs help, help them across or, better yet, reassess the situation and figure out safer options. In our case, we helped an older man by the name of Mackerel get across the most daunting river crossing of our trek. He had stopped at the East Branch Lean-to about 0.1 miles before the river, having chosen to avoid crossing earlier in the day. He decided to try again with us and packed up his gear while we took a short rest and ate some snacks. When we got to the swollen bank, he let us know that the water was even higher than earlier in the day when he turned back. This gave us pause and we briefly stood about as worry set in.
We knew, however, that our two friends crossed earlier. They must have. After all, we didn’t see them anywhere, and there’s no way they would bail out for a shuttle, right? This emboldened T-Bone to set out across the river, clinging to a flimsy piece of paracord strung up by another hiker a few days earlier. We thought we almost lost him when, about 2/3 of the way across, he was pushed back six feet and ended up with his hands over and behind his head. Thankfully, he got his arms back in front of him, rebalanced, and found the right footing to finish. His process of trial and error helped us find the safest route to get everyone over with mostly dry packs.
Step 7: Never Change Your Socks
If you followed these steps correctly, you should have very wet feet by now. However, be sure to keep one pair of socks completely dry. Hoard the dryness. Worship the dryness and never let it go. Otherwise you might give your feet a respite and make them big softies. Besides, you’ll completely submerge your shoes again tomorrow, so why waste the clean, dry socks so soon? Whether it’s day 3, 4, or 5, hold out, and save those fresh socks.
The constant wetness and muddiness that consumed our feet was intense. The grit in the murky water stuck in our shoes and socks and made the wear less comfortable by the day. The only good thing about constantly being submerged in water was the relief the cold wetness gave to our beaten up feet. The wide rivers, with their sandy shores, provided an extra layer of silt inside our shoes, and a single misstep would fill your shoes and socks with sand before you could even react.
Nevertheless, we still hoarded our dry clothes, especially socks. I may have been the last holdout, opting to bust out my last fresh socks after arriving at the Abol Bridge Campground. Regardless, I pushed my feet, shoes, and socks to the limit. The morning of Day 2 saw my gaiters fall apart immediately upon trying to put them on, my new shoes were decidedly less day-glow green by that evening, and my socks began showing serious signs of stress by the end of the Hundred-Mile.
Step 8: Hike into the Night
Remember “Step 3: Make the Miles Up Tomorrow”? Here’s where that gets important. By now, you’ve been steadily underperforming, but you can still hit your metrics, hell, you have to. You need to make up the miles, and in the beginning of fall, daylight is getting shorter. Time to suck it up and do what you have to do: hike into the night.
You’ve prepped for this and have almost certainly done some night hiking already, so it’s no problem. The mileage isn’t insane, you’re just on a tighter schedule. Hit the trail by no later than 8:00am. Hike until at least 7:00pm. Eat in the dark and be the champion you know you are. This is the simple part.
On Day 3, we got to the Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to campground a little after sunset and managed to find decent camping spots. The water source was a bit of a walk, but you take what you can get. We ran into some old friends down by the shelter and ate quickly in the dark without incident. The area was fairly packed and we had miles to make up, prompting us to make an early start of it the next day. By late September you have until maybe a little after 6:00pm to hike with nice light, a far cry from mid-summer days spent crushing miles until 8:30pm without having to even think about setting up in the dark.
Step 9: Make Up All the Miles at the End
Step 8 helped us stay on track, but guess what? It’s tomorrow, and it turns out that pushing everything off until tomorrow has its consequences, and now it’s time to pay the piper. Fortunately, your legs are made of hardened steel and you lungs are a set of bellows, so you can finally do what you promised yourself: make up those miles! At this point, the terrain flattens out and you will fly. You might not have your longest days or your fastest miles, but after slogging through New Hampshire and most of Maine, you can put some big mile days back on the calendar. See? There was a method to the madness of our plan.
It’s Day 4, so get up early, slap on those wet socks, squelch on those wet shoes, and bang out those miles. Check your food bag, check your itinerary, and hike hard because you had it right the first time. The final 45 miles of the Hundred-Mile Wilderness will fly by. Just make sure you catch the views because you only have a few left.
We were in cruising mode all day, and while I appreciate the nice, newer boards placed down to keep us out of the mud, the wood was incredibly slick from the constant rain. Apart from that, the terrain really is easy hiking. Giggles and I lost track of T-Bone and Ocho around mid-day, but the plan was to push it about 30 miles to the Rainbow Stream Lean-to. Thankfully, as we crossed the Pollywog Stream, we noticed some headlamps off to the left side of the far bank. These campers then hollered at us, revealing themselves to be the other half of our tramily. Their campsite was flat, not too rocky, and blanketed by the roar of the river. We managed to get some dinner in before the rain resumed, and promptly passed out after hiking 27.1 miles on the day.
On the fifth and final day, we woke up with 17.5 miles remaining. After a short brown blaze to the Rainbow Stream Lean-to, we all pressed on, crossing rivers on top of rocks instead of waist deep, and conquering the one or two climbs of the day. The final ascent giving us a beautiful view of Katahdin. The rain was, symbolically gone and as we approached the Penobscot River, we faced a clear blue sky and a striking view of Katahdin. We made it, and just in time for lunch.
Step 10: Remember to (1) Plan Poorly, (2) Get Wet, (3) ?, (4) Profit!
These easy-to-follow steps will guarantee that you finish the Hundred-Mile Wilderness hike early. Not drastically early, but let’s say you get to Abol Bridge by lunchtime instead of dinner, leaving you a surplus of Snickers. That’s gravy, baby.
We arrived just in time to raid the seriously depleted camp store and enjoyed soda, chips, and cold Chef Boyardee in the company of friends we had not seen in weeks. The campground had a few thru hikers in the area, but many were waiting for a shuttle after summiting Katahdin earlier that day. Others present were family members of hikers, but the area mostly had people out for a weekend away. No harm there, but you will see people fumbling to put up tents so big you can park your car inside them, an odd sight after spending so much time surrounded by thru hikers.
Getting checked in, setting up our campsite, and taking sort-of-warm showers made the day feel like an enormous win. Ocho even
stole borrowed someone’s towel to dry off, possibly convincing himself in his delirium that there was a towel service. We even got our first truly great view of the stars and the Milky Way. I know, right? It’s one of the last days on trail, but you spend so many nights under tree cover, in a tent, or just going to bed before the stars really get shining.
So, as you can see, nothing bad happened to us all thanks to our thorough planning and resourcefulness, and we were rewarded for following these foolproof steps. The Hundred-Mile Wilderness is a special part of the Appalachian Trail and entering the Baxter State Park area is awe inspiring. In all seriousness, plan better than we did, and maybe slip an extra bag of peanuts in your pack. You won’t be carrying the weight for much longer.
- Start – Monson @ mile 2078.6. Hit trail around 9am
- Day 1 – End @ Cloud Pond Lean-to 2097.8
- 19.2 miles hiked
- Wet night, slick rocks
- Day 2 – End @ Gulf Hagas Brook (near Carl Newhall Lean-to) 2113.3
- 15.5 miles hiked
- Slow, wet
- Day 3 – End @ Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to 2133.4
- 20.1 miles hiked
- BAD river
- East Branch Lean-to (Met Mackerel); E Branch Pleasant River video
- Day 4 – End @ Pollywog Stream 2160.5
- 27.1 miles hiked
- Day 5 – End @ Abol Bridge – 2178
- 17.5 miles hiked
- Chef Boyardee feast
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