There are many reasons people decide to hike parts of or all of the Appalachian Trail. I met people that were out to prove they were physically capable of the challenge, others that decided to thru-hike now because they couldn’t find a job, and at least one that was hiking to lose weight for an up-coming high school reunion. My friend Bob and I took this trip to cross something off our respective “life lists”: hiking the 100 Mile Wilderness, which goes from Abol Bridge to Monson on the AT in Maine. We made the trip longer by starting at Katahdin and continuing on past Monson to the town of Caratunk, on the shores of the Kennebec River.
We started our hike on June 1 and came out of the woods 10 days and 144 miles later. There was plenty of rain but we still had an amazing time. You know it’s a great trip when it can rain almost every day and you still love it. Here are a few photos and stories from the adventure…
The night before we started, Bob and I camped on the northeast side of Katahdin and we planned to hike up and over the mountain, carrying all our stuff, to our next campsite. The only approach to the summit from that side was via the Knife Edge, an incredibly narrow one-mile section of trail with 1,000 foot vertical drop-offs on either side. Ranger Bill of Roaring Brook Campground was not a fan of our plan to carry our gear over this trail. They had just spent 3 days searching for a lost and injured hiker and all of the Baxter rangers were a bit on edge. So Ranger Bill, in his infinite kindness, offered to shuttle our stuff over to the other side of the mountain. We thanked him profusely before we set off and even more so after we experienced the Knife Edge first hand. For those that have hiked Mahoosuc Notch, the so-called “most difficult mile of the AT,” let me tell you that if the Knife Edge were part of the AT it would undoubtedly take that honor.
After three days of rain we were really psyched to get to Antler’s Tentsite while the sun was shining. The site was perched in a beautiful red-pine grove on the shores of Lower Jo-Mary Lake. Perfect for swimming and relaxing in the sun.
We had sun again for our day of crossing the Chairback Range. This was, for me, the most mentally taxing day of the entire trip. Even though the sun was shining and the views were incredible, I felt disoriented the whole day because we could never figure out which one of the million peaks we were on top of. (Okay, okay, there aren’t exactly a million peaks in this mountain range, but we did hike almost 18 miles that day.) At the top of one mountain you’d think “Great! Only one more climb until the lean-to!” Then 4 hours later we’re still climbing…
We arrived at Cloud Pond lean-to, just north of Barren Mountain, very tired and, at least in my case, very grumpy. However, we were greeted at the lean-to by a father and his two grown sons that had just hiked up there with everything but the kitchen sink. They had steaks. Steaks! And when they saw how tired and hungry we were, they gave us some. That was the best steak I have ever, and probably will ever, eat. Their kindness will never be forgotten.
We hitched a ride to the town of Monson and gorged ourselves on an all-you-can-eat breakfast at a wonderful hiker’s hostel called Shaw’s. For the low price of $7, I consumed hash browns, 2 eggs, 2 sausages, 2 pieces of bacon, 3 pieces of French toast, and multiple cups of coffee. We ate everything put in front of us without batting an eye. It was amazing.
After breakfast, we made quick stops at the general store and the post office, then Donna from Shaw’s gave us a lift back out to the trail. Bob and I sat down to put on our boots, looked at each other, and said “Really? We’re going to keep hiking?” Needless to say, getting back out on the trail was a bit anticlimactic. But we decided to keep going, it was a sunny day after all.
12 more miles of hiking that day burned off the calories we had consumed at breakfast and about 4:30 pm Bob and I both experienced a serious bonk. There was a river to ford and after sitting down to take off our boots we could barely muster the energy to get up again. We were done. So instead of continuing on to the next lean-to 6 miles away, we spent a lovely afternoon lying in the sun by the river. When we woke to another cloudy, rainy day the next morning we decided it was time to head home.
It’s true that we didn’t quite make it all the way to Caratunk (it was another 12 miles from Lake Moxie), but that minor detail didn’t matter. The trip was a resounding success and one we will never forget. If I ever have grandchildren, I’m sure I’ll tell them stories about how one time grammy hiked 1,000 miles through the Maine woods carrying a month’s worth of gear on her back all while fending off rabid moose and ferocious bears. Until next time…SOBO!