A BirdBrain Maine AT AdventureJuly 23 -
We woke early. After boiling water for oatmeal and packing our gear, we saw movement down by and around the lean-to. Soon we were on the trail and the others were breaking camp. The rain started before they could even head into camp for a huge breakfast. I pulled the out the sleeves of my Packa and zipped up for whatever was to come. My partner was more optimistic. He left his Llbean rain jacket in his pack.
A review of the Packa is now in order. This rain system doubles as a pack cover. I used it as one only when there was a threat of rain (which was not often). If it does start to rain, adorning it as a rain suit is as easy as pulling out sleeves, hood, and tail and zipping up. It is not that easy the first time you try it. However, with a bit of practice and arranging it properly, the system is fairly easy.
I have heard so many people say all rain suits trap moisture. I could not disagree more. All other rain suits are wedged between the pack and your body (except for a poncho and a Packa is no poncho). The Packa system allows air to flow around a much greater percentage of your torso. The pit zips are huge. Too big in fact. I learned that the part that is nearest your body should remain zipped up to your armpits. Not doing so allows water to leak in on the sides of your pack. This brings up another point. Your pack stays dry in this thing too. Wet packs weigh more. There is no place for water to leak in as with conventional rain systems. Rain runs down your back with the typical setup. In a common rain suit, I feel confined. In a Packa, I feel like my pack is wearing the suit and I am just shielded by the front part. I love mine.
The more we walked the harder it rained. It was misting as we broke camp in the morning. It was a steady drizzle as we approached East Carry Pond. It was pouring when we made it to West Carry Pond. After a long walk down the pond, we found the side trail to West Carry Pond Lean-to. We headed in to take a break from the rain and assess our plans.
At the lean-to there were several NoBo's that were cheating. That was their feeling anyways. They were slack packing with support from cars. They felt guilty. I felt nothing. That was their choice. My partner was soaked. He changed some clothing and decided maybe he should wear his rain jacket. We got the low down on the next 2 bumps before Flagstaff Lake and decided to push on to Little Bigelow Lean-to. The real views would be tomorrow. Most of what we were passing today was trees and few views. Why not hike?
The next 2 ups were harder than the map showed. The downs were a piece of cake. There was no views as we skirted the large lake. Given that the 2 bumps were harder than they looked, we were expecting a moderate challenge up Little Bigelow. Nothing could be further from the truth. The walk up to the lean-to was very easy. Soon we were in the lean-to talking a break. 17.4 miles in the rain. My partner was wet again (this time via sweat). I was relatively dry.
I told my partner that I was setting up camp on a nearby platform before others arrived and took it. He asked if I thought it was wise to do so in the rain. I said it is done raining. It was not, but it was before I had my tent set up. He was right behind me and took the other half of the platform. We both have free standing tents. A little tip: Bring tiny threaded eye-hooks and twist them in between the boards. I am not suggesting making new holes. With a bit of planning there is always places to wedge these things without damaging the platform. The secured eyes create convenient tie downs.
It was a long wet day. However, it came at a perfect time. There were few views. By doing the extra miles, we were set for two relatively short distances to get to Stratton for our next resupply on the 25th. We cooked, bathed, and retired. Tomorrow would bring the best views of the trip so far. The Bigelows were waiting.
July 24 -
Before I get to the day, I need to honor my step-father. This day is his birthday. Happy Birthday to him was the first thought that crossed my mind that morning. He died in a hunting accident in '92. He was a good man. He rescued us kids when I was only 4. My life would have been so much less if he had not. My outdoors nature is due to him. He took me everywhere and treated me as his own. I love and miss him dearly.
Because of the rainy day yesterday, we were ahead of schedule. By the plan we were to go to Safford Notch Campsite. We had a meticulous itinerary that we were never on. I am glad for the plan. It was the solid skeleton in which the real trip was built upon. I am a planner. Because of it, I go 14 times on the Tower of Terror, while the non-planners say they could not get near it. A detailed plan like mine is never intended to be followed. It does, however, provide a benchmark with contingencies to eliminate Murphy. Those that do what I do will understand. Those that don't cannot be convinced. I won't try.
The climb up Little Bigelow continued to be manageable. Perhaps we were getting in shape. Our lighter packs, no doubt, helped as well. The view to the west was breathtaking. I like to shield my eyes from the view until it is at its best. Then I raise my head and let the view slam into me with full force. It takes some peeking along the way. Such was the case here. What a view. We stood, watching as clouds poured over one peak and then the other. Finally, both were clear and I snapped a couple pictures.
At the Blue Blaze to Safford Notch Campsite, there was an abandoned pack. We waited by the pack for 15 minutes. Finally a NoBo arrived. I expressed my concern and explained I was part watching over it and part wondering if I should search for the owner. I informed him I was new to long distance hiking. He chuckled and said that packs are safe out here. He is likely right. We hid ours for the Blue Blazes up Sugarloaf and Abraham anyways.
A mile or so up Avery we came to a Blue Blaze to Old Man's Head. Of course we took it. The view was great. It always is. As we headed back to the trail, we entered a cloud. I did not put my Packa on. It felt like the onset of rain, but was only a cloud and would pass. It did and another took its place as we neared the top. The last half mile was steep. But it was only a half mile. We decided to go to Avery Campsite, set up camp, and wait for a break in the clouds.
We set up camp on the first platform downhill from the caretaker's cabin. This platform is the most level one. It is near the east spring. There is a spring on the west side of the camps, but the east one is better. There are no real views at this campsite. We could see a cliff on Avery. We were waiting for blue sky behind that cliff.
I have a caffeine sugar bomb recipe that is intended for rainy mornings when I don't want to boil water. That morning never came. I decided now would be a good time to drink it. Here is the recipe:
2 packages of Carnation Instant Breakfast
8 scoops of Nido (scoop supplies with Nido)
3.4 oz package of instant butterscotch pudding
2 scoops of instant coffee (coffee scoop)
pour in water to 24oz mark on bottle
put on cover and shake like crazy
I made my drink and downed it. 15 minutes later the skies cleared. We agreed to run back up the hill for a view. It is a boulder covered 0.4 mile steep climb to the peak. I ran it carrying only a camera in just a few minutes. As the ground started to level off a wave of energy hit me. I felt like I could not stop running even if I wanted too. I ran and scaled the square stone remnants of the fire tower. Inside sheltered from the wind, I listened to my heart race. I was not tired or winded. It was the drink. That thing would be skipped from the packing list in Stratton.
We spent an hour or more watching clouds scrape over the peak and pour into the valley below. We never got a full view, but we got more than enough. It was getting cold. We decided to make it an early night and try to stay warm. I explored the nearby trash heap and found a glass telegraph pole insulator. A nice souvenir from a different time. I also helped reduce the amount of trash there.
Warning to those thinking of staying at Avery. It gets cold up there. My gear is rated for 45°. I am a warm sleeper. I often sleep on top of my sleeping bag. That night I slept in all my clothes (including Packa and pack liner over legs). We had a frost that night. I did not sleep well. I would do it again.
One more 8 mile trek of views and it would be comfort and our second (and last) resupply.
July 25 -
Today was to be our last day of the middle section of Maine. We were in high spirits. There was no doubt that we would finish this thing now. The night was very cold and we were up early. I was awake most of the night trying to stay warm. That was fine. There were plenty of lazy nights that made up for the adventure.
We were on West Peak just after sunrise. We were ready for a view. We were not prepared for what we saw. The entire north side of the range was covered in fluffy low clouds. The entire south side of the range was clear. The clouds were trying to move south. This created what looked like an enormous waterfall moving in super slow motion. The clouds slammed in the Bigelows and were funneled between the peaks. The white cotton candy moisture disappeared as it poured into the dry air below. We stood gazing in awe for more than an hour as the clouds continually advanced into nothing.
Finally we agreed we had to leave. The climb down was slippery. My new shoes were not designed for hiking in Maine. They would have been great for volleyball, but not for wet granite. I fell a few times on the way down. No harm. No foul.
Soon we were at the Blue Blaze to the North Horn. Of course we took it. It offered one more taste of the spectacle we saw from above. Instead of clouds pouring into dryness, this view featured clouds flowing uphill. Thrus avoid Blue Blazes. We lamented that there were not more.
The down the Horns was steep. The view from the pond was great. The climb down from Horns Pond was very steep, but slowly became less so. By the time we arrived at Cranberry Stream, we were feeling like the day should be just starting. We skipped over final 2 miles to Rt 27 in about 45 minutes.
Soda and hugs were waiting for us. A growing group of authorities were waiting too. The first strategies were being discussed to find a missing hiker. When I learned that it was a late NoBo, I asked more questions of them than they did of me. Our hiking high was immediately replaced by a sense of duty to do what we could to aid in the attempt to find InchWorm. We did not succeed in being any help.
It was a night of mixed emotions. We were glad for the company and a warm bed. We were ready to finish Maine. We were distracted by thoughts of InchWorm and what she may have been facing. Tomorrow would be the start of 3 emotionally difficult days.
July 26 -
We were headed into the mountains. Up until now, we had seen about 25,000 feet of ups and 29,000 feet of downs. From here to the Maine border we would face about 30,000 feet of both in 11 days. We were carrying 9 days of supplies. The Mahoosucs would have to wait to later. But I am getting ahead of myself.
In all my planning, the Crockers scared me the most. Our packs were going to be heavy as we climbed over 2 more 4000' hills. But we were ready. We were no longer scared. The first 1.5 miles were steep, but manageable. The next 2 miles looked fine. They were not. For what seemed like forever, we were walking on a path that slanted hard to the right. I would take any up or down over that section. The next 2 miles were very steep again.
Were we not tired as we reached the peak of North Crocker. We looked for a view, but none was to be had. This was in part due to the trees and in part because of the cloud we were in. Next up was a short steep down. I was in trouble when we reached the bottom. My left quad was killing me again. A redhead woman passed me on the next up. I made the mistake of mentioning my agony. More on that later. The up to South Crocker was steep, but again manageable. The down was another matter.
As we descended, I told my partner that I would meet him at Crocker Cirque Campground. I cannot describe the pain of that down. I was shaking like a leaf and sweating bullets. I tried to put on a happy face as hikers breezed by me in both directions. Happily at the campsite, we set up on the best platform. As you arrive at the campsite, turn right and cross the brook. That is by far the best site. We set up camp just in time for a downpour. Timing is everything and it was perfect again. I took a quick nap and let my leg rest.
The brook next to our platform was incredible. I have never see clearer water. It almost look like it was not there. We filtered it anyways. Having had the bug once, I have no intentions of getting it again. Overkill? Absolutely. But hey, I'm carrying the filter anyways and I am in no hurry.
This day like the next two were difficult. Not because of the terrain, but rather because of the plight of InchWorm. I grilled every person I met. I went into this day telling myself she would be fine. Our expectations were for a quick happy resolution. I was fully expecting to see her with a twisted ankle or taking longer than she hoped. I did not look at where I was walking much. Instead, I scoured the trail for fall hazards and gear. This is not a good plan. I fell more times, looking elsewhere over these 3 days, than I did on the entire rest of my walk.
I met the redhead several times over the next few days. She was taking in all the 4000' hills in Maine. I gave her as much good information as I had. I also mentioned my leg too many times. The result was I became two separate people in her journal. I was a talkative but helpful SoBo. I was also a complainer. Oh well. I should heed her criticism and not dwell on the ache in my leg that persisted for several more days. Therefore I won't. Tomorrow would feature 2 more 4000' hills and the steepest half mile on the AT in Maine.
July 27 -
Hiked to Spaulding Lean-to and took in 2 more Blues Blazed 4000' hills. The weather continued to be good but with passing low clouds. Living on the coast all my life, I never realized how low these things were. Many times on our walk, we would walk into a cloud at about 2000' and out of it around 4000'. Maybe it was just the weather pattern we were in.
The walk down from Crocker Cirque to Caribou Valley Road and the South Branch of the Carrabassett River was okay. One note on the Carrabassett River: I have heard many people talk about the difficulty of crossing this spot and that InchWorm could have fallen there. I suppose anything is possible. I saw no such danger when I crossed it. It was one of our easier crossings and the conditions would have been similar to when she crossed (if she made it that far). Furthermore, there would have been debris somewhere.
On the way down we crossed paths with another NoBo. Of course I grilled him. He said he believed she was on the hill he just came down. He seemed very sure of this. It was his opinion that what he just descended represented the greatest fall hazard with the densest landing area of any spot she could possibly encounter. After climbing the first ascent up Sugarloaf, I had to agree with his assessment of the hill. In this spot you climb about 1000' in less than a half mile. If a person was to fall here, they could easily roll over the top of jammed packed short firs for several hundred yards and settle into a spot where you might not ever be seen. I would learn later that it was very unlikely that she made it that far though.
The short steep scramble up to the saddle of Sugarloaf represented our only challenge of the day. The rest of the walking was relatively easy. At the Blue Blaze to the summit of Sugarloaf we stowed our packs only feet from the trail. The firs were so dense, it made for an easy concealment. The climb up Sugarloaf is only about 0.6 miles. It is a very easy detour when you are not carrying a pack. This is the 3rd highest peak in Maine. I highly recommend it.
We lingered on top of Sugarloaf, explored the vacant deserted building, and headed back down. In about another 2 miles we took the "0.1" mile detour to Spaulding Mountain. Given the supposed short distance, we kept our packs on. The distance was much further than the advertised distance. I would estimate it to be at least 3 times what was suggested. There is no view from the top of this "4000'er". It is only 3988' high. Somehow that is high enough for the AMC to count it as a 4000' hill. A short detour from the peak does offer a good view of Sugarloaf.
Finally after taking in the views, we were at Spaulding Lean-to. There we met Good News Tom. Tom is a Gideon in his late 60's. A very pleasant man. We walked with him for a few days. We took so many Blue Blaze detours, our schedules matched for a while. That night I introduced him to my campfires. I would haul wood for a half an hour or better and break it up for another 15 minutes or so. I love a good campfire. Given that we were not swimming of late, I needed all the hiker deodorant I could get.
All day long we watched the white helicopter search for Inchworm. All day long our hopes diminished. I was certain a happy ending would have occurred by now. It did not. Tomorrow we would walk through the area she probably when missing in.
July 28 -
As usual, we were up early and gone while others were just rolling out of tents and lean-to. Several of the late arrivers the night before were complaining about Lone Mountain. Looking at the elevation profiles, I thought they would going to love the Crockers. But before we experienced Lone, we had to take another Blue Blaze.
The Blue Blaze to Mount Abraham is only 0.9 miles from the Spaulding Mountain Lean-to. The path to this next 4000'er is 1.7 miles one way. Again, without a pack it is a piece of cake. Hiding a pack here proved more difficult. The woods are nowhere near as dense as on Sugarloaf. We loitered at the first peak we came to. There was a small town below. I think it is Philips. Kingfield is visible from the main peak. After a while I asked my partner where the sign was that marked the peak. Turns out we were not there yet. The real peak was in the distance. It was obscured by a large patch of bushes on the false peak.
We made our way up to the real peak. Between the peaks is a small section of trees and bushes. I normally was the leader of late. One of the leader's duties is to catch all the spider webs in the face. I did my best to avoid them. In this small patch of woods, I saw a huge dense web about eye level. I ducked under it and waited for the results. The cursing and yelling from my partner a minute later told me my ploy worked. I asked him later about it. He said it wrapped around his face. Success.
Mount Abraham is covered in huge boulders. The footing is not great. However, the view is fantastic. Once again we were treated with clouds pouring up and over hills. This slow motion spectacle never gets old. After an hour of gazing and a short call to my sister, it was time to head down.
The two downs to Orbeton Stream were steep, but not as bad as the Nobo's had made them out to be. Of course they were going up at the end of a day. We were headed down at the beginning of a day. It is all relative. We passed 2 search parties on the way down. One was headed for Spaulding Lean-to. The other was spread out sweeping along Sluice Brook. My partner was ahead of me. We filled our water bottles at the bottom and headed up.
Almost immediately we ran into a youth group coming down to the stream. I motioned them by, but the leader would have none of it. He insisted that we pass. A word of advice to the leaders of such groups. It is easier for one or two people to find a place to get out of the way than it is for 25 to find such places. Please let the small group allow you to pass. It is so much easier. We ran into several of these polite groups on our walk across Maine.
Half way up the first climb to Poplar Ridge, we passed Good News Tom. He was doing fine, but going slow. I hope I do as well at 68 as he was doing. All the way up we were being buzzed by the white helicopter. It is a gratuitous thing, but on the second hill I started seeing inchworms (the real creatures) hanging from limbs. Perhaps I had not noticed them before. But now they seemed everywhere. I am not saying anything here other than that I had not seen them until then. The timing was sad and seemed a bit curious.
Today's forecast called for rain. It did not. We had another great campfire. The helicopter buzzed it several times. The lean-to ended up being full that night. That's okay. We don't do lean-tos. I am leaving a few details out about people I met and things that were said. It would take too long to explain all that I heard and the groups I met. We all know the results. InchWorm was not found. Tomorrow we would head south of the area where she was last seen.
July 29 -
Leaving Poplar behind meant leaving any hope of being a help to the efforts to find InchWorm. From reading journals, I knew I was catching a couple of Whiteblaze members. Andrew Ferk was always a day or two ahead of us. He caught my eye a week before heading for Baxter. He wrote that he was carrying too much food and wood be willing to share. The other person was Son Driven. Good News Tom said Son Driven had passed him a few days back. I was surprised that our lazy take our time and take in side vista attitude would allow us old farts to catch anyone. Plenty passed us, but we were by no means the slowest.
We were getting stronger and lighter by the day. The next 3 peaks were steep, but did not present much of a challenge. The climbs felt good. I was starting to think there were no more challenges left in Maine. I was wrong. That challenge came on August 1. The only challenges for today were to not fall down so much and stay ahead of the rain. I did not meet the former challenge with success.
So much debate goes into shoe selection. There are so many preferences. It is impossible to state that any one shoe type is perfect or even to be preferred. My partner swears by heavy waterproof Asolo boots. You could not pay me to wear such a thing. Nor could I pay him to wear my 11 oz New Balance trail runners. One thing should be agreed by all. Traction is a must. The shoes my sister brought me lacked traction. I fell many times coming down from these three peaks. My shoes made it seem like I was walking on sloped ice. Reader, please place traction high on your list when it comes to shoe selection.
The views from the peaks were spotty. We lingered long enough to catch brief glimpses of flood lights for ski trails and buildings below. The view of Eddy Pond was nice, but we could not see much beyond it. Clouds were everywhere and getting darker. We had to make haste or get soaked.
Somewhere between Eddie Pond and Ethel Pond I stepped calf high in mud. I was trying so hard to keep my feet dry so I could stay upright. I spoke out loud, "Oh well". My partner who was ahead of me yelled back to see if I was okay. I said I was just talking to myself. We were navigating a section with boards to help us keep our feet dry. A few steps later I stepped off the boards again. This time my left leg sunk into the mud up over my knee. I fell forward onto the boards and proclaimed in a gleeful voice, "Now that's what I am talking about". This time my partner turned back to see the calamity. I was laughing as I pulled my leg back to safety. Looking at me he asked what was so funny. I said, "I can laugh or cry. I am having too much fun to cry". Hopefully no one drank from the next brook I crossed. It was black when I was done washing my legs off.
We arrived at Piazza Rock Lean-to just as the skies opened up. My brother-in-law said he would not expect anything else as I just grinned at him. It rained so hard I wondered if the lean-to could stand up under the weight of the water running off it. Our thoughts turned to Good News Tom. We sat there what seemed like hours. The longer he delayed the more we became concerned. My prayers of safety for him changed to asking God to stop the rain. A few minutes later it did, just as he arrived smiling and drenched.
We were on schedule and thinking it would be too late to head for the next site. There is an odd privy at Piazza Rock Lean-to. It is a two holer. That is strange enough. Outside is a sign that reads simply, "Your Move". When I saw this I thought it was just a pun about bowel movements. However, the real joke is inside. Between the holes is a cribbage board. I did not take a picture. However, the following link shows it well.
We set up on the platform nearest the stream and let the arriving drowned rats sleep with their rodent friends. We explored Piazza rock. It is a very short Blue Blaze. If you don't see this you have missed out and are just plain lazy. It rained again that night. We were dry. The next couple days meant more good weather and easy walking.
July 30 -
Today was an easy walk to Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to. It was relaxing, but not boring. Every day on the trail seemed different. When I told people that I was considering walking across Maine, I got two reactions. Some people were so envious. They were far outnumbered by those that thought I was nuts. This group thought it would be boring and uncomfortable. They were completely and utterly wrong. I know I only had a small taste, but what I experienced was rejuvenating and trilling.
The day started with a short walk to Rt 4. On the south side of the road there was a small red cooler marked simply "Thru-Hikers". We had done all that we could heading south so far. People change their minds. Some continue to do the whole thing. Some quit. Should those that continue go back and partake? Should those that quit repay? I cared not for such silly thoughts. I was hungry for heavy sweet treats that I was unwilling to carry. We opened it up. I took a can of soda, a package of ring-dings, and two small blocks of cheese. The soda was a cheap can of Dr Thunder. Man was it good. The soda and sugar bomb was gone in seconds. I saved the cheese as a snack to share later.
After we tantalized our taste buds, we headed back into the wood. A couple hours later, we were skirting the edge of Little Swift River Pond. New bridges for the hikers were in construction. They were about half replaced. Imagine having a job that pays little and is hard work, done just so vacationers can go for a long walk in comfort. Many of these people are volunteers. As I sat at the campsite nearby, I thought of these people. I was both thankful and envious. I wish I could maintain the life I have and do that work. Life is full of choices. I wish I was so brave.
Five more miles of walking over a small hill and we were at Sabbath Day Pond. When we arrived, there was a huge party already at the lean-to. That was fine. We set up our tents on the platform. A polite lady walked by from the lean-to. I think she was heading north. She said, "Hi, I'm Cozy". As usual, I said the first thing that came to mind. I smiled and said, "I cook in you every night". She stopped smiling and left. I was making a joke about my freezer bag cooking. She obviously did not think it was funny. I need a delay button on my mouth on the trail too.
Soon the crowd left as well. Next we met Andrew Ferk. He seemed to be having too much fun. Most people are happy on the trail. A few were not. I wonder about such people. Why would they come out here and be miserable? Andrew was not miserable. I told him I was hoping to catch up with him and ask him how the food giving went. He said he gave so much away that he had to resupply at Jo-Mary. He did not seem to think that was a mishap though.
We spent a lazy day doing laundry, bathing, and relaxing by the pond. Late in the day a huge group of kids and a couple leaders swarmed the grounds. They were giggling and laughing and running around. We listened as we sat by our campfire. They moved their tents many times. Finally it was hiker midnight for our party of two. I climbed in my tent and chuckled. My partner asked what was so funny. I just said, "I'm putting my earplugs in. Enjoy the noise." I was told the next day that they clamored until about midnight. Earplugs are a very good idea on the trail.
Tomorrow would be another easy day, but this time there would be views.
July 31 -
Another beautiful day. Another satisfying walk. Those headed north will have a good view of Sabbath Day Pond from Bates Ledges. Those headed south will have to turn around to see it. I peeked here and there, but did not linger in the right spot. That is okay. The view from the Height of the Land was better. Rt 17 is an easy 4 mile walk from Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to. The walk to the turnout is well worth the small effort.
As we sat on the stone benches admiring the view, I started thinking of going home. In just a few days we would be done. As I ate a PopTart, I asked my partner how he felt about going home. He said he was glad for the hike, but would also be glad to be home. Not me. I was starting to get panicky. I did not want to go home. I missed my wife. However, I wished I could stay in the woods. I am so much more at home there than I am in the soap opera of the 'real' world. I said as much to my brother-in-law.
After gazing over the hills and water, we headed back to the trail. The climb down from 17 is steep. The White Blazes in this area are metal rectangles nailed loosely to trees. I wondered at them if they were experimental blazes. I saw them in no other area. Soon my partner was out of sight. He clomped down the hills with no effort. I constantly fought gravity and a weak knee. I passed him 3/4 of the way up 1st Peak of the Bemis Range. Such was our hiking style and pattern.
First Peak offered a nice view... of the Rt 17 turnout. We did not linger. Second Peak was much better. We sat on the ledges for some time taking in the view. That was a big part of why we were there. We were in no hurry to run by vistas only to get to a point on the trail. As we left the open ledges we were met with an abundance of blueberries. I told Ellie Luggah that it was time to fill a ziplock. I hate blueberries. I love teasing though. When we had plenty, I revealed my mischief. I took a picture with my phone and texted it to my sister. She loves blueberries.
Soon we were at Bemis Mountain Lean-to. The guides say that there are four improved tent sites there. I searched for the fourth one in vain. There are only three. I guess they count the big one near the lean-to as two. I did my duty and hauled wood to the lean-to for a big campfire.
After supper and relaxing we climbed Third Peak for the view. As we sat sucking in the view, we discussed the next day. The elevation profiles looked aggressive, but manageable. However, tomorrow would turn out to be one of the toughest walks of the entire trip.
August 1 -
It is 12.8 miles from Bemis Mountain Lean-to to Hall Mountain Lean-to. When we made our original plan, I let an experienced hiker look our schedule over. He said he saw only one issue. It was our August 1st plan. He also stated that we should be in shape by then and ready for it. As I studied the maps, I could not see why he picked this day as our biggest challenge. I saw the Crockers as being the toughest. After walking to Hall, I would have to agree with his assessment. More on that later.
The day started with an easy walk up over Bemis Mountain and skirting Elephant Mountain. Old Blue was steep and offered a nice view of what was to come. The down was steep at first and then just plain long. By the time we crossed South Arm Road, the task at hand started to sink in. We now faced elevation changes of about 1000' up, over a quarter mile drop, and then almost a half mile climb in just over 4 miles. Why this was not obviously to me before escapes me.
The climb up Moody was steep but okay. I was feeling good now. Only one more down and an up and we would be there. The first problem was the down off Moody. That trail is horrible. Most of it looked like it was a new idea. Much of Maine is uneven and rough. Moody was ridiculous. Another thing about Moody is hard to explain. I have no fears of being alone in the woods. However, the descent off Moody completely creeped me out. I was constantly looking over my shoulder. I had an unshakeable feeling someone was breathing down my back the whole way. I asked my partner about it at the bottom. He said he felt nothing of the sorts.
Next was the climb up Hall. I refused to let this hill get the best of me. I climbed it without stopping except to snap a picture of the cliffs above that never seemed to be getting closer. I used the pounding of my pulse in my ears as a pace setter. When it got too loud, I would slow until it was quiet. Finally at the top I dropped my pack in the lean-to and checked the area out.
Quite some time passed before I had company. I asked my partner how he liked that hill. A scowl was the only answer I received. We rested a bit and then took in another Blue Blaze to the peak of Hall Mountain. We called our wives and watched the shadows of clouds shift across Moody. We looked at our maps and agreed the hardest part of our plan was done. We had just two days left until we met our wives in Grafton Notch.
August 2 -
Today's agenda was easy: Climb over the small hill of Wyman mountain, take a long walk downhill to Dunn Notch, look at some waterfalls, and climb over Surplus Mountain to Fry Notch. The day would be that easy. It was pretty uneventful. The further we went, the more relaxing it became. That was a very good thing. I get enough "excitement" in my real life.
The climb up Wyman was mildly steep but short. It looked like rain when we left. As we walked the plateau it started. It was a soft quiet drizzle with no wind. I pulled my Packa over me and headed toward Surplus Pond. There was just enough rain to force the hood over my head. Step by step it felt more and more like I was the only person on the planet. All thoughts of daily routines and deadlines melted away. I thought to myself that this was as close to the rest promised in Heaven that I will ever experience on Earth.
I remained alone as I climbed over the small unnamed hill after Surplus Pond. About half way to Dunn Notch, my partner passed me. As he walked past me, I said I would see him at the bottom. The drizzle had now stopped. I was too rapt in the quiet to think of my camera. There were no great views anyways. When I arrived at the Blue Blaze loop around the many falls, it dawned on me that I had taken no pictures. Of course, we took the Blue Blaze loop and the added mileage.
My partner soon disappeared ahead of me as I admired waterfall after waterfall. He was looking for the big one. 15 minutes or so later I was faced with a Y in the trail. I was already lagging behind. I almost took the left turn back to the AT. I took the right turn instead. I wanted to see more falls. After climbing over fallen trees and slippery boulders, I was wondering if I made the wrong decision. Finally I found my brother-in-law admiring the main falls. They are in a narrow gorge and are about 80' high. Well worth the detour.
After agreeing that we had delayed long enough, we headed back to the Y. I paused a moment and spied what appeared to be a scramble straight up the steep hill directly away from the stream. I announced that I was taking it. My partner said he was not and would see me at the first White Blaze. The climb was extremely steep. But I only had to gain about 80'. How bad could it be? Not bad at all was the result. At the top, a White Blaze was visible.
After a short wait, we were headed back up. I walk faster uphill. I paused at the top of the three ups. The last one was Surplus Mountain. I waited for my partner on the first two. I did not wait long on the third. I wanted my pack off my back. However, the main reason I did not delay was I could hear rumbles in the distance. I am normally slow downhill. I almost ran this one. The skies were getting dark and this looked serious. It was. I arrived at Fry Notch Lean-to about 10 minutes before the rain and about 5 minutes before my partner. I continue to marvel at the easy speed he takes these downs. I told him I was almost running. He said he was only walking fast.
At Fry Notch, there was a huge trail crew. I had never seen so many tents on the trail. Their tents covered every available spot to set up. We gave up looking after a short time and decided to sleep in the rodent sanctuary. I was feeling especially lazy. We had little food left. I figured the mice could not ruin the trip at this point. We decided to make it an early night. We wanted to be on BaldPate for the sunrise. It poured that night. Heavy drops pounded on the tin roof for hours. They did not bother me. I put my earplugs in and drifted off.
August 3 -
When we first planned our little walk, we wanted to go to Mount Washington. The more we looked at our schedules, the more we realized it was too aggressive of a goal. Rt 26 in Grafton Notch would have to do. That would leave 14.6 miles of Maine not walked. The closer we got to the end, the more I did not like that thought. But what could be done? We had just four weeks available. I tried to put that thought out of my head and enjoy the last day we had.
It was just starting to get light out when my partner was packed and ready to go. I could never pack as fast as him. I told him to head out and I would catch up. It was a steep mile and a half to Little BaldPate Mountain. Why this little peak has a name is beyond me. I was just catching him as we arrived at this false peak. We snapped a few pictures of the orange sky and silhouetted hills. I am not sure of the name of the lone peak I captured, but it has a string of eyesores (windmills) in front of it.
A few NoBo's passed us heading the other way. I asked how the view was from the real peak. They said it was great, but that clouds were coming. They said if we hurried, we should be able to make it in time. The clouds beat us to the top. So often on our walk, we left peaks too early. If we had only waited 15 minutes, we would have had a view. I was not going to have that happen here. I proclaimed that I was going to wait this out.
Sitting on the peak, the wind picked up. The rain picked up too. We were in the middle of a dense wet cloud that seemed to have no end. My partner said he was moving on. On he went. Within seconds he disappeared into the fog. Moments later he reappeared. He could not find the next cairn. With the rain and fog, we could only see about 50' in front of us. He went back by again and was gone. I waited 20 more minutes and finally decided to give up.
Soon I was trying to find my way off this glazed granite dome too. I have lived in Maine all my life. I am used to walking on ice. The trouble with much of Maine's domes is that not only are they as slippery as ice when wet, they can be steep in places. I only had a few hundred yards to go to make it to the safety of trees. I could see them now, but I did not think I would make it there in one piece. I fell and fell and fell. On one fall, I jammed my index finger on my right hand. It is still sore as I type this.
Finally, I was at Baldpate Lean-to. And guess what? It was sunny. The clouds won again. I unpacked to assess the damage. My camera took the worst of it. Nothing was broken, but the lens was fogged. I placed it on a stump with the sun beating on in. In no time the lens was clear. It would be fine until I could give it more care at home. We passed Son Driven at this point. He was still in his hammock. Turns out we passed him a couple of times this way. We met and talked at the Rt 26 parking area later.
Just one more descent and it would be over. Soon we were at a Blue Blaze to Table Rock. Of course, we took it. The Blue Blaze soon turned into an Orange Blaze. The views from Table rock were great. Old Speck beckoned to me. How could I not do the final 14.6 miles? There just was no way. As we headed down to meet up with the AT again, several day hikers passed us going up. One by one they warned us of the steep grade. I did not have the heart to tell them why we would be fine. They would not understand.
My knees were shaking with anxiety as I walked onto 26. Finally we were done. However, I was not happy. I wanted to turn around and run back into the woods screaming, "I was only kidding. I ain't coming out!" It would not do. We had to go. In Bethel we ate a huge burger and onion rings. The waitress almost apologetically asked if we wanted dessert. "Oh yes", was my reply. As I ate a whole can of Pringles on the drive home, I knew I had to go back. It was just a matter of convincing my brother-in-law and picking the right weekend.
Over the next few weeks I kept bugging my brother-in-law about finishing Maine. He is a quiet matter-of-fact guy. Although he did not let on, this was bugging him too. Finally he stated he could do it on the weekend of August 24 & 25. It did not take much convincing.
August 24 -
We each drove a vehicle to Grafton Notch. The idea was to spot one vehicle at Carlo Col Trail, drive back to Grafton Notch, and hike back to the spotted vehicle. It was a sound plan. Trouble was we could not find Success Pond Road, or North Pond Road, or York Pond Road. I am still not sure which is which. All I can say is it isn't the 1st two left turns. It took us until 10 AM to find our way, spot a vehicle, and get back to the Grafton Notch parking area.
That was behind us though. The Maine Mahoosucs were in front of us. It is a 3.5 mile 2500' climb up Old Speck. Of course we had to take in the Eyebrow Trail when we got to it. We went out as far as the cliffs. Took some pictures and headed back up. It was around noon when we were faced with a decision of taking a detour to the peak or going directly to the pond. We went to the peak. It was just 0.3 miles to the peak. Why wouldn't we go?
At the peak of Old Speck is a tall tower. I climb up to get some pictures. Before my partner could make the same climb, a couple Canada Jays flew in. We call them Whiskey Jacks up here. I had been looking for these things the entire walk across Maine. I had given up hope of seeing them. I frantically told Ellie Luggah to get down there and put some gorp in an outstretched hand. I snapped a couple hurried photos and rushed back down the tower. For the next half hour we fed these birds from our hands.
We lingered as long as we dared. We had a ways to go yet. Our goal was to stealth camp at the base of the Mahoosuc Arm. I had heard how bad this down was and wanted to allow plenty of time. Soon we were at Old Speck Pond. The AMC has done quite a job building platforms there. They are nice and they charge for these nice platforms. Too nice for us. We headed down the Arm. The climb was steep. I had a better pair of shoes with good grip now. The Arm had the sun on it and it was dry. I have heard that it is tough when wet. There was plenty of grip for our trip down it.
Finally at the base, we encountered our 1st obstacle. The AT does not go over Mahoosuc Mountain. It goes around it to the west. This hill blocks the light from the afternoon sun. It was getting dark and it was just mid-afternoon. We had a hard time following the trail in some sections. I was starting to worry about finding water before it got too dark. I had almost given up on finding the stealth site when I heard voices. There it was. It was a large spot that would hold many tents. However, it was too far from water. We climbed down the hill to another smaller spot.
We set up camp, cooked, and looked at tomorrow’s agenda. So far the Mahoosucs were not as scary as I had heard. However, we had not gotten to the Notch yet. The toughest mile of the AT was for tomorrow.
August 25 -
This was it. The final day of our walk across Maine was here. I awoke slowly. I heard my partner zipping his tent. That was my alarm most every day on the trail. I pulled the plug on my air mattress. That was the alarm for many other hikers near me. I paused a moment and listened to the soft babble of the stream. When I finally crawled out, Ellie Luggah was packed and boiling water. I hurried to catch up.
We studied the maps a bit. The information did not add up. Blogs and advice told us that the stealth camp was near the brook at the base of Mahoosuc Mountain. Where we were seemed to far from the Arm. It did not matter. We figured we were at Notch 2 and had a steep down to get to the big bad scary Mahoosuc Notch. We loaded up on water and stowed our trekking poles. From what we had heard, we would not be able to use them until we leveled off on Fulling Mill Mountain. They were right. Put your poles away in this area.
After just minutes of level walking, we were climbing over, around, through, and under huge boulders. If this was just Notch 2, what would the real notch be like? This playground seemed to go on and on. I had to remove my pack three times (once when I was stuck trying to go through a cave with it on). I started to worry about our plan. We had been climbing for more than an hour and had not even got to the down to the Notch.
All at once we were staring at White signs. One sign pointed toward the Notch. The other one pointed toward the Goose Eyes. We were through the Notch. "What!", I exclaimed to my partner. Had I known we were in the Notch, I would have relished it more. I would have lingered. Furthermore, we slept in the Notch and did not even know it. It was dark and confusing when we arrived the afternoon before. Note to those heading north: Once the boulders disappear, look for a campsite on your right. It is not far from the notch. It is closer than what I had heard.
Oh well. Up Fulling Mill Mountain we went. We met several NoBo's coming down toward us. I had two bits of advice for each of them: Put your poles away and don't be scared of the playground to come. The Notch is not hard. It is fun. Hall was hard. Moody was hard. Fourth Mountain was hard. Mahoosuc Notch is not hard. It is slow and that isn't a bad thing. Anything that slows a hiker down from blowing by miles is a very good thing.
View after view was awesome. The Bigelows were my favorite. The Mahoosucs took their place. Each peak was better than the last. We climbed South Peak, North Peak, East peak, and yes, the Blue Blaze to Goose Eye Peak. At each peak we sat down and took in the view. We even watched the billowing black smoke from the Cog Train as it climbed Mount Washington.
Coming off Goose Eye Mountain, I lost my partner. He was always faster than me on downs. I figured I would catch him by Mount Carlo. I did not. We finally met at Carlo Col Lean-to. We sat on the bear box for about 30 minutes listening to people who had all of Maine ahead of them. We just listened. The walk down to the spotted vehicle was reflective. We talked about life and people (which was rare for my brother-in-law). The trail was behind us. People were ahead of us. Hopefully we were better people for what we had done.
A BirdBrain Maine AT Adventure (part 1)
Non hikers are about a psi shy of a legal ball.
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