Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hundred Mile Wilderness

I stayed an extra day at Baxter State Park to rest my legs after climbing Katahdin. I had been recovering from a tendonitis/bursitis in my knee, and didn't want to push it. This really informed my strategy for the next several days -Take it slow, and follow hard days with easy ones to toughen up my legs. Hopefully without injury.

The next day, I hefted my pack, heavy with food for ten days, and headed south.  Ten miles later, I crossed Abol Bridge, scarfed down a "loaded" burger at the camp store/gas station, and entered the Hundred Mile Wilderness.

This stretch is the most remote section of the AT. Until recently there were no provisions for resupply once one entered. Improved forest roads, enterprising hostel owners, and the occasional cell service on mountain peaks have made it possible to get bailed out. Still, I saw hikers banging up ther knees trying to get through as fast as possible due to poor food or water purification planning.

Cell service is nonexistent except on a few mountain peaks. I snapped a hiking pole in one of the infamous deep mud puddles, and had to wait days till I got to of one of the mountain peaks to order a part. A real emergency would require one to be ready to deal with long delays before help could arrive.
While several times I did hike without seeing more than one other person on the trail, and spent a few nights alone in shelter areas, there was a bit of traffic. I met several fast-moving northbounders who started their trek in early March. There were several youth groups and section hikers heading north from Monson, and more than one southbounder passed me along the way.

Trail profiles show the first fifty miles to have little elevation gain, but there are some short steep ascents and descents, and the trail is so covered with roots, rocks and mud puddles, one has to watch virtually every step of that distance. Then it gets mountainous with steep climbs, and some bouldering. It is said that the folks in Maine don't believe in switchbacks ...

But the views, the camp sites, and the forests are worth every painful step.Huge blocks of granite, sometimes stacked on top of each other, host lichens, mosses, ferns, and trees. Towards Monson, slate starts to dominate the landscape, providing for some slippery walkways.

Frequent views back at Katahdin, and of neighboring mountains are inspiring. Campsites at Cloud Pond and Antlers are magical places. The five mile loop through Gulf Hagas should not be missed for its cascading waterfalls through a steep slate canyon.

There are several rivers to ford, and rain can make some of them dangerous, possibly forcing one to wait till the waters recede.

I got to Little Wilson Stream, about 107 miles from Katahdin. It was late in the day, and I planned to camp on the north side, ford the next day, and hike into Monson. There were a few other hikers at the campsite doing the same. We went down to the stream, and our jaws dropped! It had been raining for the last few days, and the river was raging! There was no way one was going to ford it with the volume and pressure of water coming down. There was a felled tree across it, but it was stripped of bark, and slippery with branches sticking out making shimmying across difficult at best.  Looking downstream, it didn't get much better. We all crashed that night thinking about how to get across.  The next morning, the river was down to a reasonable level, and we forded it without incident...

It took me ten hiking days to get from Baxter to Monson, and my knees survived. A couple of folks who left Baxter the same day, did it in eight, and northbounders with 2000 miles under their belt, were doing it in five to six.

Tomorrow I start trekking towards southern Maine, and what is considered the toughest section of the trail.