Hiking The Appalachian Trail Through Southern Maine
Maine has been our favorite state so far. After the trials of New Hampshire, entering a new state felt like the tabula rasa we needed. The southern portion of the AT in Maine has been filled with incredibly challenging climbs, rock bouldering, ponds perfect for swimming and canoeing, wildlife, above treeline mountain walks, and really kind hikers. We’ve also dealt with really hot days during a significant drought, then three straight days of rain. This seems to be what the AT is all about: the challenge and beauty derived from being in nature. Here are some of our reflections so far:
- Maine feels wild, which has allowed us to connect much more with nature. The trails are less manicured, wild blueberries are plentiful, and the sounds of loons, red squirrels, and other animals fill the air.
- We are becoming increasingly more attuned to our physical bodies: what nutrition it needs, what short-term pain feels like versus injury, what aches, and what feels good. When we feel minor pain in our bodies, we practice mindfulness. Sometimes that means breathing into spaces that need more strength, and sometimes that means focusing on other parts of our bodies that are functioning well to draw our attention away from what we are struggling with. As a whole, we are less concerned about weight and much more focused on how we are feeling, which right now is very strong despite the difficulty of the trail.
- Hiking with a partner is a wonderful thing for us. We support each other when we need it most and don’t feel homesick because, as cliché as it sounds, home is wherever we are together. Simultaneously, it means that any tiff, argument, or tête à tête, doesn’t happen within the confines of an apartment; it happens outside because we live in our tent in the woods! When we are together all of the time and engaging in a physically and mentally taxing endeavor, discord is inevitable. Accepting this as a reality and allowing ourselves to have moments of disagreement and compassion for one another has been essential to enjoying our experience.
Day 43, 7/30/22: Full Goose to Grafton Notch
9.7 mi, 2900 ft elevation gain
Sleeping in the shelter meant waking up early. The bright sun and noise from fellow hikers woke us by 6am, which was good considering the big day ahead of us. After a brief climb and descent, we began navigating through Mahoosuc Notch, a stretch known as the toughest mile of the Appalachian Trail. We strapped our poles to our packs and began maneuvering over, under, and around large boulders down the center of a canyon. Using our hands, we lifted our bodies over rocks and took off our packs to shimmy into tight spaces. It is a dangerous section, but we took careful steps and had a ton of fun. It took us about an hour. Afterwards, our work was far from over. We climbed Mahoosuc Arm then over to Old Speck, a 4,000 footer. Knowing that a car shuttle to town where a large burger, fries, and beer awaited us, we booked it down Old Speck even though our joints were tired and bodies were sore. When we got to the parking lot, there was trail magic waiting for us before we got picked up by our shuttle driver, Songbird.
Day 44, 7/31/22: Zero in Bethel
No miles and a lot of eating.
Bethel turned out to be a lovely place to take a zero day. We stayed at the West Bethel Motel, a family-run operation a few miles outside of town. It was perfect. They had laundry, a kitchen, and picnic tables for guest use They also shuttled us to and from town and back to the trail when we needed. We went to brunch, resupplied, and enjoyed a date night. Also, we felt like mini celebrities in Bethel. Multiple people stopped us to ask if we were hiking the trail and really embraced us when they found out we were. We really felt the warmth of the AT community.
Day 45, 8/1/22: Grafton Notch to Hall Mountain Lean-to
16.3 mi, 5500 ft elevation gain
Mark, the motel owner kindly drove us the 20 minutes to the trailhead. Initially, we planned a very reasonable 12 mile day, but when we found out rain was coming the next afternoon, we pushed for more miles so we could have a shorter next day. Today was a deceptively difficult day, with a lot of elevation gain spread across many small climbs. It started with East and West Baldpate. The rocky and open peaks were beautiful with extensive views. After that, the trail transformed from rock slab to softer dirt paths, making it easier to put in big miles. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, with the exception of seeing Clean Machine, WIC, and Blaze Dog, a few thru-hikers we hadn’t seen since Vermont and New Hampshire. Unfortunately, we had to haul a lot of water for about 6 miles up to Hall Mountain Lean-to because its source was dry according to comments on FarOut. It was heavy and we were really tired at the end of the climb, but at least the tentsite behind the shelter was really secluded, flat, and next to a nice fire pit.
Day 46, 8/2/22: Hall Mountain Lean-to to Bemis Mountain Lean-to
12.8 mi, 4800 ft elevation gain
We hit the 500 mile mark!
Setting alarm clocks is not something we enjoy doing, but when we hear a storm is coming in the afternoon, we bite the bullet and get up early. We hiked down from Hall Mountain into a cloud. The sun rays fought to break through the fog, but it was too dense. It remained trapped in the valley between the peaks. At the next rise, a viewpoint revealed a beautiful undercast with the mountain we just came from popping out of the white sheet. Following, we had a couple more steep descents and ascents, with the terrain itself more mild than other parts of Maine, reminiscent of Vermont trails. After eating lunch at a perfectly placed bench at our 500 mile mark, we made a little sign for ourselves out of pine cones to celebrate how far we’ve come. Then, we ran into the Skogman family cooking lunch on the side of the trail and made it to Bemis Lean-to as it started sprinkling. We made it before the storm (or BTS, as WIC calls it)! The rain held out through dinner and we had an awesome time playing euchre with Cast Iron (SOBO) and Blaze Dog while chatting with other hikers in the shelter as the clouds emptied. Clean Machine even set up his inflatable lantern to light up our card game! Bemis Lean-to and the surrounding area was really beautiful and the privy was brand new (always a plus).
Day 47, 8/3/22: Bemis Mountain Lean-to to South Pond
15.5 mi, 3050 ft elevation gain
One of the most uncomfortable parts about thru-hiking is waking up in a sticky tent and putting on wet clothes from your own sweat and grime. Mais, c’est la vie! We woke up early to a ton of laughter and chatter emanating from hikers readying for the day. Today was an ideal hiking day right from the start. It began with picking ripe blueberries along the trail, catching some amazing views, and passing by multiple ponds. The terrain was extremely gentle and we both got into some nice flows while walking. We took a leisurely lunch break at Long Pond and went for a swim. We ended up camping at South Pond, where somebody left a canoe that we took out on the water with our dinner. It was just us, a loon, a beaver, and mergansers. This is going to go in the books as one of our favorite days for sure!
Day 48, 8/4/22: South Pond to Sluice Brook Logging Road
15.6 mi, 4600 ft elevation gain
What a day! We woke with the sunrise and went for a canoe around the pond searching for moose, since they usually come out around dawn and dusk. Unfortunately, we did not get a moose sighting, but gliding over the still mirror-like water that reflected the trees and pink sky was really peaceful. Just a few miles into the day, we walked 0.2 miles along the road to the Hiker Hut, a beautiful off-grid hiker hostel/oasis, to grab a delicious egg sandwich and short resupply for the next couple days. After fueling and chatting with WIC, we took a side trail through the woods to meet up with the AT and started the surprisingly gentle climb to Saddleback, a 4,000 footer. The last mile was above treeline and we’d stay above treeline all the way across to The Horn, another 4,000 footer. It was a super hot and muggy day, somewhere in the 90s and we felt zapped from the heat. To top it off, there weren’t many water sources so we had to carry a lot and ration! Kathy also did some trail laundry for her bandanas because they were so saturated with sweat and grime from the last few hot days. The last climb of the day over Saddleback Junior was grueling, but despite all these things, we felt really good and decided to keep hiking to a further camp spot along a logging road. Maine has treated us so well so far!
Day 49, 8/5/22: Sluice Brook Logging Road to Crocker Cirque Campsite
11.4 mi, 3800 ft elevation gain
What a nice and easy 11 mile day. For the first time in a long time, we opted to do the shorter day and it was worth it. Climbing Spaulding Mountain was very reasonable and we took our time getting to the campsite. We paused to order Lotus new shoes (she got a big hole in the toe already!) and to enjoy lunch with a view. The highlight of the day today was camping and eating dinner with a great group of hikers: The Skogman family (North Star, Skipper, Ninja Squirrel, Texas Pete, and Fish), Gumby, Neo, and Professor. Chatting with this group felt incredibly natural and it has been one of our favorite camp nights so far. Stretch continued to search for moose at a nearby marsh with no luck. He did, however, manage to capture a pretty beautiful photograph of a purple sky at dusk.
Day 50, 8/6/22: Crocker Cirque Campsite to Stratton, ME (Mountain View Motel and Campground)
7.5 mi, 2000 ft elevation gain
It was another scorching day, but at least it was a short one! We left camp early, motivated by town food, laundry, and showers. The climbs up to the Crockers were not technical and not too challenging; it was just very hot. We were dripping sweat yet again. But, the 7 miles went quickly. When we got to the road, a yellow school bus from Maine Roadhouse shuttling Gumby, Professor, and Neo picked us up to head to town. Following tradition, we signed our trail names on the roof of the bus with permanent marker while the bus driver picked up hikers and gave us the low-down on the town. It was such a joyful ride. When we got to the center of town, we ate as much as we could, dealt with some laundry issues (the laundromat opened late), resupplied, and then spent the rest of the day relaxing at the motel and campground. We planned to stay in an adorable little cabin, but before bed we saw the largest spider either one of us had ever seen in our lives. We failed at killing it and decided it was not worth sleeping in a tiny room with a potentially poisonous insect and pitched our tent out front. Yet another example of how you can’t really rely on any plans out here!
Day 51, 8/7/22: Stratton, ME (Mountain View Motel and Campground) to Little Bigelow Lean-to
15.3 mi, 5500 ft elevation gain
Today was a big elevation day and included the last major climbs for the next 150 miles or so before getting to Katadhin. After failing to get a hitch, the motel owner took us to the trailhead. It was a hot and buggy start, but as soon as we got higher up the mountain, the breeze cooled us off (thank goodness). Our packs also felt very heavy because we were carrying the maximum amount of food we could fit in our packs. After the first climbs, the ridge was gorgeous. There were some nice views along the way and beautiful forest stretches in the bright sunlight. It got rocky and difficult towards the first peak, but this part was short. The Bigelows have been our favorite 4,000 footers in Maine and for good reason. The trails themselves are fun to hike and the peaks offer huge views of the surrounding lakes and mountains. The contrast of blue water and a carpet of green is an aesthetic we enjoy greatly. As we descended a gorgeous ridgeline toward the lakes, we were able to spot Katahdin in the hazy distance! Then it was another climb over Little Bigelow and down to camp. About a mile from camp were deliciously ripe blueberries all over the rocky outcrops. Stretch grazed along with Gumby, both of them enjoying what the trail provides.
Day 52, 8/8/22: Little Bigelow Lean-to to Pierce Pond Camp
18 mi, 2200 ft elevation gain
So. Much. Rain. We had been experiencing a significant drought, so the rain was good, but still miserable for us. It poured during the entire 7 hours of hiking today. We were drenched from start to finish and gave into wading through the muddy puddle-filled trail as opposed to avoiding wet steps because our feet were already soaked. One hiker described this as giving up. Another hiker described this as freedom. We feel like it is either resignation or freedom depending on when you ask us! Consistent with what Coasty said, when it rains, you make big miles because there is no reason to stop. Today, we hiked 18 miles before 2pm because we only paused once for a 10 minute lunch break. It was too cold; moving was the only thing that kept us warm. By the end, our fingers and toes were prunes and our hands lacked dexterity. But, as people say, the trail provides. We were the first hikers to arrive at Harrison’s Pierce Pond Camp, a sporting camp run by Tim, who was shocked about how much we had hiked already. We booked an adorable little private cabin that came with a hot shower, hiker snacks, a full breakfast, and the use of all lodge amenities. Standing there in sopping wet clothing, we needed no convincing to pay the $40 per person. Hot showers rejuvenated us and we spent the evening playing gin rummy and chatting over tea with John, Dijeridoo, Great Dane, and Professor while Tim played the piano. This day could have ended in a wet tent, but instead was spent in a beautiful, dry, wood lodge. It really couldn’t have worked out any better.
Day 53, 8/9/22: Pierce Pond Camp to Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to
18.4 mi, 3200 ft elevation gain
Our little cabin was so picturesque, but did include a little mouse that scurried around all night, keeping Kathy on high alert. At 7am, we gathered in the main lodge for breakfast with about 10 other hikers. Tim brought us all our own individual plates of 10 pancakes, eggs, sausage, and orange juice. These were the best pancakes of the trail, by far. Kathy could not finish all her food and took leftovers in a bag to go. It was a great morning of community, but wow did we leave feeling heavy to start the day! A few miles of walking helped us digest and before we knew it, we came to the famous Kennebec River crossing where we took the canoe shuttle over to the other side. From there, the day was filled with drizly rain, very slippery rock slabs, one steep climb, and then gentle terrain to a shelter packed with hikers excited by the approach to the 100 Mile Wilderness. Surrounded by NOBO hikers, the anticipation of reaching the end of the thru-hike was palpable. Although we were likewise excited to reach Katahdin, a major milestone on our own journey, it was strange to be in such a different mental and emotional place in comparison to other hikers. We retired to our tent early and allowed ourselves some space to reflect on how we felt about this.
Day 54, 8/10/22: Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to to stealth past Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to
14.2 mi, 2000 ft elevation gain
We started with a climb up Moxie Bald Mountain. It turned out to be a nice doable rise to open rocks and fields of wild blueberries. There are supposedly great views from here but it was completely socked-in today. We were enveloped in cloud. We enjoyed some time up there snacking and Kevin of course picked a handful of blueberries. Once down from there, we knew it was pretty much flat the rest of the day. When we came to Marble Brook, the trail was a bog. A beaver dam blocked the water so we had to change into our camp shoes and wade through muck up to our thighs, with leeches visibly swimming around. This was actually a section that Cast Iron warned us about. We were at the muddy part and we knew that about a quarter mile ahead was a river to ford where we would rinse off. We kept our camp shoes on and then forded the swift flowing river that came almost to our waists. Hiking our shorts up, we were able to stay mostly dry. Once across, we put our hiking shoes back on and eventually to a little stream and a nice flat spot off trail to camp for the night. We soaked our achy feet in a pool of the stream, saw John and Dijeridoo stroll past us, and made double ramen for dinner. It started raining as we finished eating so we scrambled to put our things away and retreated to the tent for the night.
Day 55, 8/11/22: Stealth past Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to to Monson (Shaw’s Hiker Hostel)
7.8 mi, 1400 ft elevation gain
The morning went by quickly. With less than 10 miles of relatively easy terrain, we made it to the road by 10am. We got a hitch with another hiker to Shaw’s Hiker Hostel, an AT mainstay. Hambone handed us a PBR to sip on while we got a tour of the place. Immediately, we did our chores which included showering and doing laundry. We had so much to do to be ready for the 100 Mile Wilderness that it felt totally overwhelming. Truly, town days can be more tiring than hiking days with all their tasks and logistics. It’s just simpler on trial – walk, eat, drink, sleep, done. We grabbed lunch at a nearby BBQ place with Heysquirrel and reflected on what it meant for us to be so close to Katahdin. After lunch, we headed to the ATC visitor center to get our hang tags and info for the next stretch and Baxter logistics. When we returned, we heard familiar voices calling out to us and saw that Gumby, Prof, Neo, and Beastmode, along with New Shoes, were all there. After grabbing ice cream together, we all scrambled to get our resupply together for the 100 Mile Wilderness. Because there are no resupply options for such a long stretch, we opted to have Shaw’s do a food drop for us midway through. That meant we had to plan for food we’d want in about 4 days, which was pretty tough to do! All day, the feelings from hikers were palpable: excitement, relief, exhaustion, and joy. Katahdin is an important waypoint for us, but not the end. We are savoring this experience and definitely don’t want it to be over. The journey continues! With everything set and ready, we tried to get some rest while anticipation kept us tossing and turning all night.