Maryland, My Maryland

Marie is cruising! Currently she’s somewhere in her home state of Virginia, knocking out 20+ mile days and shrugging off dayhikers who point out that this or that mountain up ahead is going to be really steep. Fall is here and there is no more beautiful time to hike! I thought I ‘d look back to my last visit with Marie in Southern PA, Maryland and Harper’s Ferry. This happens to be the closest she came to Baltimore, and also it is full of history! So yeah, of course I wasn’t going to miss it.

Everything south of Boiling Springs in Pennsylvania is really great. This part is called the Rock Maze- basically the entire ridge is crowned with giant boulders for miles and miles, and every now and then the AT meanders through them. There are still a lot of rocks underfoot that make the footing tricky, but not near as bad as north of Duncannon. Marie caught on to the fact that I didn’t hike with her at all through the worst part of PA. She’s on to me!

At Pine Grove Furnace State Park is the new Appalachian Trail Museum, which just opened last year. It is small but effective and it is graced with the very same sign that I stood behind on top of Katahdin in 2008! They replace them every 10 years or so, and the weather really does a number on them. It’s a bit like seeing an old friend for me, and I am happy that it has a permanent home so close to Baltimore.

And a sign from Springer Mountain!! Hmmmm is it weird to take a picture with this sign right now?

Pine Grove Furnace marks the approximate midpoint of the trail, (the exact spot marked with a sign a few miles south) and the tradition for thru-hikers is to eat an entire half-gallon of ice cream to celebrate. Southbounders are at a disadvantage because the store is only open weekends after labor day, but luckily Marie’s timing was good and it was a Saturday. Now, we had just received trail magic from a wonderful couple who live nearby, who are former thru-hikers. They took us to their house and let us shower and do laundry and fed us burgers. Marie had plenty of time to contemplate what was about to happen at the general store.

Neapolitan, a great strategy! Being a good sport, I ate some ice cream too. About a cup's worth.

Nutrition Facts! 16 servings per box. 120 calories per serving, or 1,920 calories.

She put forth a very valiant effort, but in the end was defeated by the 1/2 gallon of ice cream. To be fair, it was not very good ice cream at all, and it wasn’t all that warm out. But she did some serious damage, eating 1/2 of 1/2 of a gallon!

There was a very nice lady named Barb who ran the general store, and she was very encouraging the whole time. She must have seen thousands of thru-hikers succeed or fail at eating way too much ice cream. Afterwards we were both hungry, so we ordered some cheeseburgers.

The long awaited halfway point! Marie has walked 1,090.5 miles from Mt. Katahdin, and just as many to go!

Pennsylvania still has some rocks in store

We were soon immersed into the most colorful world of yellows and oranges and reds. Every so often you would be struck anew at the beauty that you just have to stop and take it in. It doesn’t get much better!

This shelter has two shelters, because there are two kinds of hikers.

Don't encourage it, Pippin!

At long last, Marie has crossed into the South! She’s home! Now are those who would argue that Maryland is not the South. I wouldn’t disagree, however it is definitely not the North either. And for a Southbounder there is no greater landmark than getting out of Yankee territory. There was a great entry in one of the journals by a thru-hiker that read something like, [When the last Northbounder has crossed into Pennsylvania, and the last Southbounder has crossed into Maryland, then all will be right with the world.] Being Marylanders, we sung a rousing verse or three of Maryland, My Maryland, our state song. It is probably the strangest state song of them all, as it was a ballad written by a Louisiana man in 1861, pleading Maryland to join the Confederate cause. Robert E. Lee’s troops could be heard singing it both during the 1862 Maryland campaign and the 1863 Gettysburg campaign. Maryland never left the union however, thanks to Lincoln having several of it’s secessionist legislators locked up. Here’s some of the best parts of the song:


The despot’s heel is on thy shore,
Maryland! My Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!


Thou wilt not yield the Vandal toll,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Thou wilt not crook to his control,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Better the fire upon thee roll,
Better the blade, the shot, the bowl,
Than crucifixion of the soul,
Maryland! My Maryland!


I hear the distant thunder-hum,
Maryland! My Maryland!
The Old Line‘s bugle, fife, and drum,
Maryland! My Maryland!
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb-
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes! she burns! she’ll come! she’ll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!

I think most people find the song bizarre, but being a history nerd, and doing my best to convert Marie into one, I think there is no better song than one that lives so completely in a bygone era.

Maryland has rocks too, they are just more beautiful.

Maryland brings a little bit of Baltimore to the trail!

Raven Rocks

A very good portion of the trail in Maryland is on this old road, and nearly perfectly flat. A lot of history happened along here. The battle of South Mountain in 1862 was fought in three places right along this ridge, and there are countless old settlements, furnaces, charcoal pits, kilns and stone walls still visible.

We decided to treat ourselves to a very fine dinner at the Old South Mountain Inn, a fine dining restaurant dating back to 1732 as a tavern. Walking in soaking wet and stinking to high heaven presents a challenge for both us and the restaurant, but they handled it gracefully and we got the entire sun room all to ourselves. Marie ordered the quail, of course. We took the leftover wine to go!

I had no idea she had her own Brigade! This is at Crampton’s Gap, where the Union Army smashed through at the battle of South Mountain.

The War Corrospondent’s Memorial at Crampton’s Gap.

The C&O Canal, and the last few miles of Maryland. Strangely enough these were the hardest miles of the day, as the crushed gravel path is very unforgiving on the feet. I got blisters for the first time in a very long time, as it had been raining for several days in a row.

The Potomac!!

She was floating on a cloud walking across this bridge into Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. It is called the psychological halfway point, as it carries more significance in the mind than a sign post. It is also home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters, the John Brown raid, it’s where Meriwether Lewis got supplies for his expedition, and used to be home to the federal arsenal. And it is absolutely gorgeous!

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is the headquarters for the entire trail, and it is where thru-hikers get their official picture taken and a record is made of their hike. You can go there today and see that Marie was Southbounder #112 to come through this year!

St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church

From Jefferson Rock

“The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature. You stand on a very high point of land. On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left approaches the Patowmac in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder and pass off to the sea. … For the mountains being cloven asunder, she presents to your eye, through the cleft, a small catch of smooth blue horizon, at an infinite distance in that plain country, inviting you, as it were, from the riot and tumult roaring around to pass through the breach and participate in the calm below. Here the eye ultimately composes itself; and that way, too, the road happens actually to lead. You cross the Patowmac above the junction, pass along its side through the base of the mountain for three miles, the terrible precipice hanging in fragments over you, and within about 20 miles reach Frederictown and the fine country around that. This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

– Thomas Jefferson, writing about this very spot from his visit in 1783.


Climbing Everest

I came across a very interesting article recently on the Appalachian Trail site about elevation gain and loss on the trail.  A long time ago I read a statistic about the AT that the total elevation gain for 2,181 miles is akin to climbing Mt. Everest 16 times from sea level!  However, I have never known how accurate that figure really is.

The article is written by Steve Shuman and he apparently spent months coming up with the following data.  The problem is that while GPS driven programs can come up with a computer generated number, this data is based upon what’s called “centerline” data taken from GPS.  This data is not quite accurate because it does not account for very small elevation gains or losses.  That’s where Steve Shuman comes in.  He sat down with every USGS 7.5 minute topographic quad for the entire trail, and actually COUNTED each contour line that the trail rises or falls.  He has come up with a series of tables representing the staggering amount of climbing Marie has been doing!  Are you ready for this?

The first is the total elevation gain: 515,000 feet!  That’s 97.5 miles up, 97.5 miles down.  Or climbing and descending Mt. Everest 18.4 times.  Or… is anybody tired yet?  Let’s look at the tables.

Total Elevation Gain in feet:

ME 69,357.2

NH 52,969

VT 35,802.2

MA 18,761.6

CT 11,094

NY 19,139.4

NJ 11,584

PA 30,955.5

MD 6,421.3

WV 3,027.5

VA 129,103.7

NC/TN 103,577.6

GA 23,362.7


272……..380.8……..North Carolina/Tennessee
173………17.5………West Virginia
160………72.4………New Jersey
217………88.2………New York
329……..161.0……..New Hampshire

So for the state of Maine, which is 286.6 miles long, Marie climbed an average of 242 feet every mile,  or 69,357.2 feet total!  New Hampshire has the highest average elevation gain at 329 feet per mile, while Pennsylvania is the flattest at “only” 135 feet per mile.  Georgia is the second steepest state at 307 feet per mile.  And by the time Marie gets out of Pennsylvania, she will have climbed 249,662.9 feet and hiked 1,125.1 miles.

If anyone is interested in the full article you can find it at


Mahoosuc Notch

July 25

The name “Mahoosuc Notch” evokes a lot of trepedation and excitement among thru-hikers.  It is talked about among the northbounders as far south as Georgia, whispered like some magical portal through which only the worthy will pass into Maine.  Southbounders have other things to think about, like the 280 other miles of Maine, but Mahoosuc beckons as one last, huge obstacle course on their way to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Maine’s last best chance to twist your ankle, sending you home in despair and pain.  However for most, Mahoosuc is one giant jungle gym, not something to fear but to respect, and enjoy exceedingly.  It is quite unlike any other place on the AT, and it is quite fun, especially for a rock climber like Marie and a, well, Wyoming boy like myself.

This spot was really, really green, so we stopped.

Mahoosuc Notch is at the bottom of a ravine between two very steep cliffs, and the bottom of it is filled with boulders of all sizes, including truck size, volkswagen size, refrigerator size and piano size.   It’s reputation is quite deserved because navigating all of this takes a lot of time, a careful step, and at times going under small caves, removing ones pack and sliding on the ground.

We had filled up water at the beginning of the notch from the stream that flows far beneath the rocks, only to find out 20 yards down the trail that the stream we filled at flows from a beaver pond.  We had just heard someone talking about “beaver fever,” and halfway through the notch a German hiker talked to us, randomly bringing up the subject of “beaver fever.”  I had never heard the expression and worried it was some water borne illness outside the usual suspects of giardia and cryptosporidium, for which we are treating the water we drink.  The German told us specifically that the black slime on the rocks is a sign that “beaver fever” is in the water.  Remembering the black-slimed rocks we walked on to collect the water we were now drinking, we thanked him and moved on.  We didn’t have much choice now but to drink the water we already had, but it was unsettling.  Later we learned that “beaver fever” is simply a term that the crazy Mainers made up for giardia.  They just have to be different up here!

These may all look the same but each one is actually an entirely different set of rocks, carefully chosen by our photographer to portray the perilous and gruelling Mahoosuc Notch trail.  The model in the photos is Bobwhite’s backpack, accompanied by Bobwhite.

This was the spot where you need to remove your backpack to get through.  There is a hole in the rock which leads to a cave, goes under the giant rock and comes out the other side.

More of the terrain.  This was the equivalent of smooth trail right here.

We had very dry conditions, which was very fortunate and made for better leaping from rock to rock.  It hadn’t rained in about 4 days, and because the bottom of the ravine is usually in shadow it takes quite a few days for the rocks to dry out.  It rained after we got through however so people behind us were not so lucky.

This was her photographic eye, not mine.   I like this picture!

This is where the trail checks to see if you’re skinny enough to proceed.  Neither of our packs made the cut.

I went with the limbo technique, which worked in the end but wasn’t really easy.  I suppose we could have just removed our packs, but that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

Rock family.

The chance to walk on actual roots again, for just a few feet was really amazing.  It was almost easy for a really brief period.

Another cave!  There were probably 5 or 6 of these.  We never did see any bats.

I’m not sure there is any other place on the AT that uses arrows instead of blazes.  Without them I’m not sure it would be terribly obvious what exactly we were supposed to do in many of these situations.

Trail says, go into this dark tunnel.  Somewhere around here we started to loose a bit of steam.  We had been in the notch for nearly two hours.

On the far side of the notch we started to see ice and snow in the recesses, which stays here year round.  There were places where extremely frigid air was blowing up from underground caves, and mixes with the 80+ degree humid air we had been dealing with.  It was really nice!

What’s a few more boulders, really?

The last portal.  And just like that, we were out, standing on flat trail, and being greeted by a couple who were about to start into the notch.  We had done 1 mile in around 2 and a half hours.  Mahoosuc Notch definitely lives up to its reputation.

Of course that didn’t mean we were done yet.  There is a very brisk climb right after Mahoosuc Notch, followed by a shelter about a mile away.  We opted to stop at the shelter even though we had only gone about 5 miles.  I’m not in as good of shape as Marie is!

Southern Maine

I just returned from about 10 days on the trail with Marie, which included southern Maine, Mahoosuc Notch and the first part of the White Mountains in New Hampshire.  Marie and Margot were just finishing the section between Monson and Andover, about 130 miles!  Margot has by all accounts become a thru-hiker, with the trail name of “Happy Camper.”  Maine is some of the toughest terrain anywhere on the east coast, and tougher than any other trail I have been on.  Margot has been tried and tested!  Those nice easy trails in Virginia will never be the same now.  She is planning to post soon about her section on the AT.

As I was getting ready to leave Baltimore I got a call from Marie that said they were ready to be picked up and go into town a little early, so I got on the road and drove straight there over a day and a half.  Just before I left I had to put my car in the shop for a new radiator fan (fixed, and necessary as it was pushing 100 degrees) and a broken air conditioner (not fixed, as they wanted 3 days and $1,000)  When I arrived I was all prepared with some trail magic, and who did I see about to duck into the woods but Coach, Tag and Dylan, three guys I had met up in the 100-mile wilderness and Monson!  They had just been dropped off 5 minutes before and I nearly missed them.  They hadn’t seen the girls in several days, even though they were only a few miles ahead of them.  They stopped to wait for them and eat some cheese burgers, and we had a nice little reunion.

Some hiker art by one of the guys, (Coach I think) depicting them fighting a bear. This scene is fictional, of course.

Bobwhite, Dylan (Effect), Happy Camper, Coach, Turtle and Tag

It was really exciting to see the girls, and really amazing to look at the map and see how far they had walked since the last time I saw them!  We hung out at the road until nearly dark and then drove into town to check into the hostel.  Andover is extremely small, but is serviced by a great hostel called Pine Ellis, and there is a great guy who drives the shuttle named David.  He has a great sense of humor and makes jewelry out of moose poop, including necklaces and earrings.  As moose eat only plants and have one stomach, their poop is among the cleanest in the animal kingdom, he tells me.

We went and had an amazing breakfast at this place called the Red Hen, but when another thru-hiker told us about it they said we have to eat at the “Red Robin.”  We soon were on the road to Monson to take Margot back to her car, which was around a 3 hour drive to retrace the distance they walked!  The big priority of the day of course was to see the new Harry Potter, and just because we can drive anywhere we picked a theater that had 3D.  It was a GREAT movie, and even the four guys were planning on seeing it at a later town.

While in town we saw a moose!

We stayed at Shaw’s again in Monson and saw our friends there, and then parted ways.  Marie and I headed back to Andover to get back on the trail, and during the drive my brakes went (mostly) out!  That’s three strikes now just on this trip, Jetta.  This would later influence some of our plans, but I got it safely parked in Andover and we got on the trail by the afternoon.

Just another climb in Maine. Notice the steep granite face, which Maine is well known for.

The trail builders in Maine do some amazing work, but they’re not really known for making things easy for hikers.  It seems the philosophy to the trail design is to get between two points in as direct, and steep manner as possible.  However sometimes the terrain in that path is simply too difficult so they resort to ladders, wooden blocks or rebar.

We crested East Baldpate, which is one of my favorite places in Maine.  It is so unbelievably beautiful!

Bobwhite with her new pack!

Looking at the trail climbing up West Baldpate across from us, with Speck Mountain in the background.

West Baldpate.  You can see several hikers ascending the granite slabs.

From the col looking back at East Baldpate.

Another ladder!  On our way down the Baldpates we encountered a trail crew that had just that day opened a new section of trail that had been under construction for 7 years!  That means that the new trail had existed, in part, back in 2008.  I don’t have any pictures of the new trail but we met the guy painting white blazes on the tree, and I put some white paint on my shoe just for fun.

Why yes, we ARE hiking trails.

We hung out a little in Grafton Notch, which is a nice state park with lots of tourists, and a guy named “Soda Mike” who is a ranger there and always has cold sodas for the thru-hikers.  Then we tackled the 2,500 foot climb up Old Speck Mountain.  What a view from there!  It is great to look at the horizon and recognize mountains that you had climbed already, just by their shape.

There are some places on the trail that are just so magical.  This was one of them.  The green grass looks better than what is in my back lawn, and the boards preserve a place to walk so the grass isn’t trampled.

We stayed at Speck Pond shelter, which is a pretty amazing place.  This is the shelter right before Mahoosuc Notch, which is very difficult and requires a lot of time.  A lot of hikers will stop here on their way in or out of the notch, and the place was full with a few summer camps and some section hikers.  Our friend Zach was there as well.  The pond provided a nice escape from all the noise, and that night had the most amazing display of stars, the kind you can’t see anywhere around Baltimore.

The next morning we climbed out from Speck Pond and were rewarded with our first great view of the White Mountains, and the Presidential Range.  That’s Mt. Washington and Mt. Madison touching the clouds in the distance!

We headed down Mahoosuc Arm, which is the very steep descent into Mahoosuc Notch.  Mahoosuc Notch is the notorious “longest mile” on the Appalachian Trail.  It is a jungle gym of giant boulders at the bottom of a ravine, and the trail travels among them for 1 mile.  It is one of the marquee spots on the entire AT.  I will save it for another post.

AT NH whites-6

AT NH whites-7

100 Mile Wilderness: Part 2

July 3-7

It felt really great to be clean and have clean clothes, and some real food in our stomachs.  Oh, and don’t forget the half a pizza in a ziplock!  We were ready to tackle the rest of the wilderness.  Ahead were several mountains, the first real climbs since Katahdin.

This is quite an amazing view from Pemadumcook Lake of Katahdin, but could be better with some more interesting light.  This is the first time we had seen it since climbing it, and it looked as big as ever.  I later saw a register entry from a northbounder that said, “____ was right, it looks like Mt. Doom.” (Insert name of some other hiker)  That is incredibly accurate.  There is something about hiking 2,000 miles to climb one mountain that makes you feel a bit like Frodo.

More interesting trail!  The double white blaze means that the trail is turning either left or right.  It is really hard to actually get lost on the AT, which is why most hikers don’t carry any maps.  The trail is a linear series of landmarks, and navigation is best done with a data book, which lists each mountain, stream, campsite, lean-to, spring and road along with its mileage and elevation.  You soon learn to think of miles in terms of time it takes you to hike them, and with a watch and a data book you can tell pretty accurately what time you will arrive in camp, etc.

Marie is carrying this newfangled stove called the caldera cone.  The cone shaped pot stand is also a wind screen and an energy trap that focuses the heat onto the pot.

The stove that goes under the pot is a simple alcohol stove made from the bottom of a diet coke can.  The little lip around the bottom takes a few dribbles of fuel, and you light the rim which will in turn light the main flame.  Total weight for the stove, cone and pot is 7 ounces.

Her water purification system is a star wars spacey gadget called a steripen.  It is a battery powered UV light that is about 2 inches long.  You stir the water for 90 seconds with the light activated and it sterilizes all of the baddies in the water.  It is affectionately named Obi-Wan.

We reached the viewpoint halfway up White Cap Mountain and there was a beautiful view to the north of Katahdin.  For being 50 miles by trail away, it was still extremely close.  That’s because the trail has zigzagged for those 50 miles.

We met a trail maintainer/builder back at Waleigh Lean-to who told us that the trail work on White Cap Mountain took 17 years to complete.  It is really mind blowing how many of these stone staircases there were.  Each giant stone represents an unbelievable amount of work.  I understand that they rig pulley systems from the trees and manhandle the stones into place with crowbars.  Often there is a stone staircase where there is no evident place where the stones could have come from.

The steps aren’t always easy on the knees however.

Here is Bobwhite fording another river!  There were at least a half dozen fords in the 100 mile wilderness, and many more in Maine.  This one is called the west branch of the Pleasant River, and it lived up to its name.   It was a gorgeous day and the banks of the river provided a great place to relax.

We made a decision to hike on up the next mountain to make it a big 17 mile day.  We ran out of gas on the way up, and it became a longer hike than we had bargained for.  However then we came over the lip of Chairback Mountain and came to this view, just as the sun was slipping below the horizon.  It was the highlight of the day.

We had been crawling over this kind of stuff for 5 days when Marie said, “Hey I’m not sure people back home really know what this trail looks like.”  So this is what it looks like in Maine.  The roots are where you step.

And this is what it looks like when the trail climbs or descends, which is usually.  These are just small rocks so they are easy steps!

There is a real special place in the col between Fourth Mountain and Barren Mountain.  In the data book it just says “bog.”  But it doesn’t mention that this is a real, bonafide bog, not just a swampy waterlogged bit of trail.  There are some unusual plants here, and you definitely don’t want to slip off of the bog bridges!

Pitcher plants!  This is the only place on the AT you can find these- it is a carnivorous plant that entraps insects inside with a nectar substance, then devours them for nutrients.

More bog.

The bog also had these strange flowers.  Pretty crazy stuff.

It was getting dark out yet it was only around 6 pm.  There was a massive thunderstorm rolling in, just as we hit this overlook over Barren Mountain.  We could already see lighting, and the thunder and lighting were 12 seconds apart.  The storm was soon upon us, as we made our way down the mountain.  The thunder and lightning went down to 3 seconds apart, and we even saw a bolt strike the mountain across from us.  It was very exhilarating!

The next morning we came across this feller who seemed to be performing some transformation.  The looping black things were stuck into the log, and he was using them to leverage some sort of molting process.  We stood there for about 10 minutes whatching it and taking pictures.  It was like watching the Discovery Channel!

I guess he’s giving birth to some new wings?

This was our last day in the wilderness, and it included some of the most unbelievably beautiful forest you will ever see.

This was the view up the Little Wilson stream.  The rock walls were made of slate, and cut lots of right angles.  There is a 60 foot waterfall not far up there.

A slate waterfall!  Check out all the right angles- it looks like it was man made by some ancient civilization.

There really aren’t words to describe how beautiful this was.  There were several of these ponds in the last couple of miles before the highway, and they were somehow different and more beautiful than all the lakes we had passed before.  We were ready to go into town and could hear the trucks on the highway, but we were really taken aback by the beauty of the 100-mile wilderness one last time.

We did it!  As we came out to the road Marie did the Bobwhite whistle, which Margot heard from her car where she was waiting for us!  The sign is wrong- it should say 114.5 miles to Katahdin.  I just noticed the smiley face on the pole.  We have traveled an incredible distance, and Marie is feeling great.  She doesn’t have a single blister!  She is definitely going to enjoy this lifestyle for the next six months.

The next day we took a much-deserved zero day which included a trip to the stunning town of Greenville.  This town sits at the south end of Moosehead Lake, the largest lake in New England, which runs 40 miles to the north.  The name of the steam ship is Katahdin!

This is the smile Marie gets when she is around boats and water.  Too bad these Mainers only had a single sailboat within view!

Margot bought a harmonica!  It was so great to see Margot, and I’m very excited that she’s joining Marie for the following two weeks.  They’re going to have a lot of fun.

Town day!

What more perfect ending to this trip could we have asked for than for some down home bluegrass inside the Monson General Store?  Tim is the guy on the guitar and green shirt and he owns the store, and has been putting together these jams every friday night for many years.  Some of the musicians travel as far as from 40 miles away, and it is a real fixture in the community.  The entire store is jammed with people, mostly folks 70 and over, plus the hikers.  It was really bittersweet!

This photo was taken in September of 2008, also on a Friday, when I was nearly done with my northbound thru-hike, and headed into the 100-mile wilderness the next morning on my way to Katahdin.  It was an incredible memory.  There were about 20 of us hikers packed in there with all the locals, and I’ll never forget singing along to “Country Roads” at the top of our lungs!  It’s good to see that not a thing has changed here in Monson, and I’m so glad I could share this moment with Marie.

What would a bluegrass show be without a little dancing?  As we left one of the locals said to me, “I saw you two dancing!”  as she gave me a wink.

The 100 Mile Wilderness

June 30-July 2

If there is one part of the Appalachian Trail in Maine people have heard of, it is the 100-mile wilderness.  The name is pretty awesome; it evokes everything people want to believe about the Great North Woods of Maine.  The idea that there is a wilderness of such a length in the northeast intrigues and captures the imagination, and the trail itself really does live up the the name.  However it isn’t an actual wilderness area, (as designated by the federal government) and roads and civilization are not far off the trail at many points.  This includes a hostel called White House Landing in the form of an old logging base that has been beautifully converted into an oasis retreat for hikers, complete with supplies and 1lb cheeseburgers.  It is exactly what the wilderness needed.

So we kind of did two wildernesses, one 30 miles and the other 70.  It was much better that way.

But first lets back up.  The morning after our monster Katahdin hike dawned rainy and overcast.  Just the kind of weather you don’t want on the summit day.  This was the day we had planned to summit on originally.

We were tired but we had a pretty easy day.  Marie’s parents had rented a cabin on Daicey Pond in Baxter Park, and we planned a day hike of around 7 miles to get to the beginning of the 100 mile wilderness.  There was much sleeping in and eating this day.

Marie’s parents are professional campers and employ the most incredible cooking as the centerpiece of the camping experience.  The call it “glamping,” or glamorous camping.  I have to say I was sold immediately.  It made my oatmeal packets and pocket rocket stove seem downright silly.  Later in the evening we had some of the best spaghetti I have ever had.

Finally after lunch we got started on that days hike, which was short, flat, on good trails and without packs.  We were being picked up at the end of the day to spend one more night in the cabin with unbelievable food.  Hurray for roads and long, circuitous trails convenient to pickup at the end of the day!  We would start fresh at the 100 mile wilderness the next day.

These are the “Big Niagra Falls” in Baxter State Park.  The hike was beautiful except the mosquitoes were absolutely miserable!  We didn’t have any bug spray so we wore long sleeve jackets for most of it and literally ran through some parts.   They were as bad as I’ve ever seen them.  One of my first memories in life is when I was 3 years old we went to Alaska, and I remember my brother Shane running from the woods with his pants down as the mosquitoes started swarming him when he was trying to pee.  Had they been like this I would do the same!

We saw a moose in Baxter!  It was our only one we saw for the first 115 miles, and it was a female.  It was Marie’s first moose!  There is no picture as we spooked it into the trees.

The Cobb clan!  They had brought these “nerd hats” as they are called and we decided it would be a good idea to take them with us.  Turns out, we didn’t need them past Baxter Park.

Marie’s first Moxie!  This is at the Abol Bridge store, the last bit of civilization before the “100-mile” wilderness.  Well, that’s what they say anyways.

The view of Katahdin from Abol Bridge (Over the Penobscot River) is quite beautiful on a clear day.  Here it is nothing but clouds and a guy fly fishing.  I will say I like this view too.  So glad we summitted the day before in the beautiful weather!

The ominous sign reads: “CAUTION.  It is 100 miles south to the nearest town at Monson.  There are NO places to obtain supplies or help until Monson.  Do not attempt this section unless you have a minimum of 10 days supplies and are fully equipped.  This is the longest wilderness section of the entire AT and its difficulty should not be underestimated.  Good Hiking.  M.A.T.C.”  Thru hikers generally laugh at this sign, especially northbounders who by this point are really cruising and routinely enter the wilderness with 4 days of food.  We were carrying 7 days of food.

This is typical Maine wilderness.  It is rocky, rooty, mossy, piney, muddy and buggy.  And oh so beautiful!  No where else in the Appalachians can you find this kind of forest, and for a girl from Virginia it was a new experience.

Roots.  Trees in Maine seem to do just fine with their roots very close to the surface.  Sometimes they sprawl over rock, and have tough bark to match the tree.  They are always underfoot on the trail, and make for difficult walking.  The good news for the trail crews is they do a great job at containing erosion.

This is called Rainbow Ledges; a high granite area where the rock is just under the surface.  To create a trail here they just cut a 2 foot wide path through the moss and alpine plants on the surface.  It looks like a sidewalk.

Waist high ferns!  Sometimes it feels like there might be raptors in these woods.

The first part of the 100 mile wilderness is mostly flat, but it meanders around several big lakes and ponds.  There are thousands of lakes up here, and settlers and Indians have historically traveled across the state in canoes, portaging their canoes over land to connect with the next lake.

Rainbow Stream Lean-to.  This is one of my favorite lean-tos; it has a beautiful stream and a totem pole!  There are over 200 of these along the trail, and typically thru-hikers try to end their day at these structures as they are always built near a water source, and provide great shelter in the rain.  They do not however, provide any shelter from mosquitoes.

I knew there was a reason I was carrying a 2lb camera!

More roots!

Overlook into the gorge of Pollywog Stream.  It was quite the view.

This was one of my favorite days.  We took lots of breaks and really enjoyed the scenery.  This shot was staged- Marie is actually paused in mid-step so I could adjust settings.

Check out the canoe on the lake!  Perfect!

This aluminum stair was quite out of place in the wilderness, but it seems a good indicator that the little stream gets quite a lot higher than it is.  Still, this is from the trail building club that brings you stone staircases. (see later post)

Lying on my back for a change.

These are our friends that we made, Gillian and Zach from Florida.  We met them back at Rainbow Springs Campsite and they are really good people.  Zach’s knee has really been bothering him, and they would soon make the decision to get off the trail.  We really missed them after and wish them well!

We are waiting at the dock across the lake from White House Landing.  You blow the air horn (just ONE short blast) to signal them, and Bill gets in his boat to come pick you up.  We planned to stop for the famed 1lb cheeseburger, and they only serve lunch between certain hours so we had really booked it to get the 7 miles to the dock by 1pm.

We couldn’t believe how amazing this place was.  It really is an oasis in the wilderness.  We decided immediately that we would need to spend the night in their bunkhouse, and do laundry and eat lots and lots of food.  So its not a wilderness after all, but we knew that!

This was a logging camp 100 years ago, but Bill and Linda have been here for 20 and have done all of the decorating, remodeling, etc.  It is beautiful.

The famed 1lb burger!  Can you believe it!

Oh, my.  That is a wild look in your eye, Bobwhite!  See folks, this is what happens when you feed hikers.  Keep your fingers away!

Pizza in the 100 mile wilderness too!  This place is quite awesome.

Laundry is done the old fashioned way here.  It was actually really relaxing.

This was simply one of the most amazingly beautiful places, and it was absolutely perfect weather.  To think we would be slogging over root and rock at this moment.  The grass was quite a treat too.

We were very sad to see Zach and Gillian go.  Good luck to you guys!

I’m not sure who started this, but it was a great idea.

Two halves, indeed!  This stop at White House landing was really really great, and we both needed to recharge a little bit.  There are 70 miles of wilderness left!

Katahdin: A Slide Show

Hi, Jeff here.  I am back from Maine and am going through the 100’s of photos I took on the trip up to Maine with Marie and her family, and through the 100-Mile Wilderness.  I’m going to break these into a couple of posts, since there are so many great pictures to share.  The first is our epic climb up Big K!

We decided to rush our schedule ahead by 1 day to take advantage of the beautiful weather, as it was going to rain on our planned summit day.  As a result we didn’t get on the trail until just before noon, and didn’t actually leave the summit until 5pm.  Ordinarily this is never a good idea because of possible thunderstorms but the forecast was for zero chance of rain so we went for it.  This resulted in having the summit to ourselves, having gorgeous lighting for photos and not getting back down until 11 pm!

So here’s the day, in photos.

Millinocket, Maine.  This town is the gateway to the trail, and the Appalachian Trail Cafe is an institution.  It is where you can get a gigantic meal, such as the “Southbounder” which is some kind of heavenly plate of breakfast food.  We only had about 10 minutes so this was really a photo op.

The tradition is for thru-hikers to sign a door or ceiling tile in the Appalachian Trail Cafe.  I found my name, Powder River next to that of many of my friends from 2008.  Of course, when I signed this I was 40 lbs lighter and starving!

We are going to climb that giant mountain!

Colorful and clean!  No way this can last..

Starting to come above the treeline.  The climb was 4,000 feet in 3.8 miles, most of that elevation occurring in the last two miles.  This view is south, of the trail to come!

This is an attempt to give you an idea of how steep the Abol Trail is.  This is not the Appalachian Trail- it is a different trail that goes straight up the side of Katahdin, in the path of a rock slide.  We estimated the angle to be about 45 degrees.  Still, the photo doesn’t do it justice.

Yeah, it was this awesome.  But better.  Such an epic mountain!

Typical “trail” on the Abol Trail.  Note the blue blazes on the rocks- only the Appalachian Trail is white blazed.

“The forest looked like a firm grass sward, and the effect of these lakes in its midst has been well compared…to that of a ‘mirror broken into a thousand fragments, and wildly scattered over the grass, reflecting the full blaze of the sun.’”  -Henry David Thoreau

The Tableland!  This is a plateau at where the Abol and Hunt (Appalachian Trail) Trails top out, then there is 1 more mile to the summit at the ridge behind Marie.  This is some exotic terrain for the east coast, and would look more at home in Wyoming…

If you look closely you can see over a dozen people hiking the ridge to the top.  Thankfully we missed them!

To the west.  Oh yeah!

Our entire hike once above treeline was plagued by the dreaded black fly.  They are vicious and draw blood, and were absolutely swarming us.  You can see several in this photo.

We circled around the back of the mountain so that we could say that Marie first set foot on the AT at the very first white blaze at the summit.  Also it was very beautiful!  This view looks to the north, and the ridge carries the International Appalachian Trail another 1200 miles to Cape Gaspe, Canada.

The top!  That’s the Knife Edge in the background: the reference to which was in my card to Marie at the wedding (“Warn me if you’re taking the stairs Knife Edge”)

We had the summit to ourselves, at an amazing late afternoon hour.  It was really great!

For Marie, this is only the beginning.  She was more interested in what was written in the fine print near the bottom of the sign than anything else.  2,179 miles from now, she will be feeling quite different!

This is a subdued moment for me as well- I am overjoyed to be here to share this moment with Marie, but for my own picture with the sign it is much different than when I finished my thru-hike in 2008.  Did I mention I was skinnier then?

YEAH!  It’s amazing we’re here!  She’s on her way!


In the 100% zoom of this photo I counted dozens of blackflies…

Down the white blazes

The Hunt Trail was a whole different experience than the Abol Trail, and much much better.  It is full of giant boulders and includes a couple of really tricky spots

I really, really couldn’t believe how awesome the lighting was.  The next day was rainy and fogged in on the mountain.  Whoohooo!

What an unbelievable first day.  This trail is going to be unforgettable, Bobwhite!