Days 56-63 on the Appalachian Trail: Maine Part 2

The 100 Mile Wilderness and Katahdin

Hiking the 100 Mile Wilderness was a magical experience. We took about six days to go through this remote section where there were no locations to resupply or get off trail for food. We didn’t want to rush through it. Instead, we chose to experience it as fully as we could. This included swimming every day, stopping for long pauses at views, staying up for sunsets, waking up early for sunrises, and even getting up in the middle of the night to stargaze. The weather was perfect: sunny and 70s every day. Each evening, we camped by a pond, lake, or stream, often stealthing away from others—enjoying the solitude of being in the wild. During the 100 Mile, the excitement of nearing Katahdin mounted. As we hiked, views of the “Greatest Mountain,” the Penobscot translation of the name, became clearer and closer until we were upon it. Before our summit day, we stayed at The Birches, the thru-hiker only area in Baxter State Park, with a group of 10 others – all of us excited to reach the northern terminus of the AT. Although our summit day was rainy and cloudy, standing atop the Katahdin sign after one of the toughest ascents we’ve done was emotional and rewarding. Reaching this point helped us feel like we could really finish this whole thru-hike. 

Reflections from this section: 

  1. We’ve met so many hikers from different places and in different stages of life who we probably would never have engaged with if we didn’t do this hike. We’ve befriended whole families, retirees, recent college graduates, and just other people figuring out life. Sharing this experience with others has inherently made us closer to people who have vastly different life experiences from our own. 
  2. Being a part of the thru-hiking community means that you give and accept help from people without expecting anything in return. It also means that any gesture of kindness, large or small, can mean a lot to hikers. We ended up driving three hikers from Maine to NYC because they didn’t have means or plans to get where they needed to go. In turn, other  hikers have given us small things, like a hot sauce bottle that was a perfect size, or larger open offers to stay with them if we ever travel to their hometown. This is a community of generosity.  
  3. One challenge, for Lotus specifically however, is being one of few women of color on trail and in trail towns. Often being the only BIPOC person can be taxing and really sheds light on how far the outdoor community has to go to make these activities that are so powerful more inclusive for all. Lotus has loved her thru hike and has, as already indicated, met so many lovely people. She has also faced unfortunate microaggressions and instances revealing other peoples’ unconscious biases which can make some moments difficult. This just reminds us that being outdoors doesn’t remove the same issues that face us all in society every day. We all still carry our identities and experiences wherever we go. 
  4. During the 100 Mile Wilderness, disconnection and increased introspection felt more possible. Aptly named, the 100 Mile Wilderness felt more wild. We didn’t stay at any shelters and rarely engaged with other hikers, instead choosing to immerse ourselves in our natural surroundings – just the two of us as much as possible. 
  5. There are benefits and downsides to flip flopping that we were acutely aware of during the second half of Maine. First, in terms of benefits, we are able to celebrate a big “endpoint” or terminus two times (Katahdin and Springer). We also get to experience being both NOBO and SOBO. Second, there are fewer hikers, which has provided a quieter and more introspective experience, which we’ve wanted. Simultaneously, not being fully NOBO or SOBO can feel a little lonely. We cannot fully share the experiences of either groups and despite making true and deep connections with others, we haven’t built a community that we will keep until Georgia. It has also been logistically challenging to figure out how to get back to our flip point. We still firmly believe that hiking as a flip flop was the best thing for us, but have really reflected on why it might not be for everybody! 

Day 56, 8/12/22: Monson (Shaw’s Hiker Hostel) to stealth by Long Pond Stream

14.4 mi, 2500 ft elevation gain

The morning felt bittersweet. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast of eggs, bacon, potato hash, and pancakes with a tramily we’ve liked spending time with and then bid them farewell. We hopped on the second shuttle to the trailhead with about 6-8 other thru-hikers. When we got to the trailhead, Poet, an AT hiker himself and the shuttle driver, left us with a poem he wrote and some very touching words about finishing the Appalachian Trail. The sentiment was that we learn on the AT that we don’t need much and we will look back on this time on the AT as one of the best times of our lives. So we must drink deep and savor every moment. If we were finishing the AT like all of the NOBOs around us, we probably would have cried. The rest of the day was absolutely beautiful. It was 70 degrees and sunny, perfect weather for us. The ponds and bogs we passed sparkled in the sunlight and the forest seemed to glow with radiance. We forded three rivers and sat for a long and luxurious lunch (we packed out deli sandwiches with fresh fruit and cucumbers) at a viewpoint. At only 3:45pm, we made it over 14 miles, decided to stop hiking for the day, and set up camp just next to a stream with a swimming hole. Matt, an older hiker who was exhausted, decided to camp next to us and we are glad he did. This was the longest backpacking trip he’d ever taken and just wanted to be near some people. We were happy to provide him some company. 

Day 57, 8/13/22: stealth by Long Pond Stream to East Chairback Pond

14.4 mi, 4400 ft elevation gain

This ended up being a more tiring day than we expected. The 4,400 feet of elevation gain were spread out among multiple climbs and really accumulated in our bodies by the end. The first half of the day was most enjoyable, with pretty forests and some great viewpoints. It got cloudier as the day went on and we just kept walking and walking! We passed some old plane wreckage on a newly rerouted section of trail and got more views on Chairback Third Mountain looking out over the valley and the ridge to White Cap Mountain, our hike for tomorrow. We also met a lovely hiker there who was so excited by thru-hikers that she offered to take our trash out so we didn’t have to carry it. It’s these kindnesses we encounter from strangers that can really give us motivation on long days. Kevin continued to snack on blueberries as we descended from our last peak of the day. We opted to stealth camp at East Chairback Pond, 0.3 mi off the AT down a steep spur trail;  it was completely worth it. We camped right next to the pond, took a dip, and spent the evening watching the sky change colors with the sunset. The reflections of the clouds on the still waters of the pond were intensely beautiful.

Day 58, 8/14/22: East Chairback Pond to Mountain View Pond

19.8 mi, 4800 ft elevation gain

The sound of loons calling woke Kevin up early to the moon reflecting on the glassy pond surface. Kathy rose an hour later around 6:30am. Getting an early start was good given that we had a 19 mile day planned. The first few hours of the day were so lovely and mild. We began by descending and then fording the West Branch of the Pleasant River. The sun started shining through the trees and the elevation gain was slow and forgiving. Climbing to the first peak, we felt our breath quicken and hearts beat faster due to our quick pace. The rest of the ridgeline walking over a couple of peaks before getting to White Cap was surprisingly mild. The forested sections were beautiful and the carefully curated rock stairs helped the climbs feel less strenuous. White Cap provided our first really clear view of Katahdin and it started to set in that we just completed the last big climbs in Maine before we would get to the northern terminus. Feeling excitement and a lot of anticipation, we flew down the descent and made it the 19 miles to a stealth spot next to Mountain View Pond surrounded by blueberry bushes. 

Day 59, 8/15/22: Mountain View Pond to Mahar Landing

20.7 mi, 1500 ft elevation gain

Another sunny day in the 100 mile wilderness. The terrain was the flattest we’ve hiked in the last 50 days and we welcomed 20 miles of trail where we could actually take long strides and stretch our legs. Granted, there were still a ton of rocks, roots, and bog bridges to navigate, but they didn’t  slow us down. We swam three times at different ponds: Crawford Pond Beach, Antlers Campsite, and Mahar Landing, making it feel like more of a vacation rather than a hiking day. We also got our food drop resupply from Shaw’s Hiker Hostel, which came with a complimentary beer that we decided to shotgun for laughs. We haven’t done this since college, but it was like riding a bike! With only a few more days until Katahdin, we soaked up every moment of Maine. We’ve enjoyed it so much. Mahar Landing was a campsite on a peninsula a quarter mile off trail where we enjoyed dinner next to the water and watched the sun retreat behind the trees. 

Day 60, 8/16/22: Mahar Landing to Rainbow Lake Dam

17.4 mi, 1500 ft elevation gain

Waking up to eat breakfast along our private beach was wonderful. As the sun rose, we could tell it was going to be a hot day. With plenty of time, we stopped to swim at an inviting beach on Nahmakanta Lake and took a long lunch at the top of Nesuntabunt Mountain where we got a clear view of Katahdin. The rest of the afternoon passed without too much excitement. We did go through a gorgeous patch of forest with tall mature trees sprinkled between bright green young conifers filling the forest floor. By the end of the day, our feet and ankles were really feeling the cumulative effect of walking on uneven roots and rocks and we were so happy to get to the blue blaze that took us 0.3 mi off trail to camp at Rainbow Lake Dam. When we walked up, there was a clear view of Katahdin rising above the pond, which was a majestic site. The first ones to camp, we picked an incredible spot with a fire pit, rock slab to lounge in the sun, and that awesome view of Katahdin right in front of us. For the second time today, we took a refreshing dip to end this hot day. This night, we savored our time in the 100 Mile Wilderness that was coming to an end and looked forward to a big landmark of our trip coming soon: summiting Katahdin, which means “Greatest Mountain” as named by the Penobscots. 

Day 61, 8/17/22: Rainbow Lake Dam to Abol Bridge 

14 mi, 1500 ft elevation gain 

The last day of the 100 mile wilderness began with watching a sunrise over Katahdin from our tent. Although the trail itself was rather uneventful, we felt a flurry of emotions throughout the morning. Specifically, excitement for Katadhin and a little sadness that we would soon be done hiking in Maine. When it started raining, we sped up to almost a jog until we reached Abol Bridge where its iconic Katahdin view was fast vanishing into the clouds. We opted to pay more for a campsite at Abol Bridge Campground just outside of Baxter State Park instead of staying at the state campground across the street because it included breakfast! Real food is a priority. For the rest of the afternoon, we alternated between hanging out at the restaurant with other thru-hikers and laying down in our tent. It was a super rainy and windy day and we had to tie out all the guy lines for extra support. We were grateful that our tent didn’t collapse in the storm!

Day 62, 8/18/22: Abol Bridge to The Birches 

9.7 mi, 850 ft elevation gain 

We got up early to sign up for The Birches, which only is limited to 12 thru-hikers each day. We did the mile walk to where the ranger was supposed to take sign ups and found 8 or 9 other hikers who got up early to sign up as well. We all stood in the rain, laughing about how ridiculous the system was, and were glad to know that the group standing there would be the group we’d camp with. The ranger never showed and so we made our own sign-up list, unofficially managed by Catfish, a thru-hiker from Texas. Then, we went back to the restaurant with other hikers to gorge ourselves on breakfast before hiking the roughly 9 miles to The Birches. We spent the rest of the day playing cards with other thru-hikers under a tarp, eating hot dogs around the fire, and building community with a great group before a big summit day. It was one of the best camp evenings we could imagine. 

Day 63: 8/19/22: Katahdin 

10.6 mi, 4200 ft elevation gain

2 months and one day after our start in NY, we summited Katahdin, the northern terminus of the AT!

We took Hunt Trail from Katahdin Stream Campground which began with a calm and steady ascent. Midway through the first rise, the trail turned into a full stream after the previous day’s rain and we passed by a gushing Katahdin Stream Falls. Above that, we started to climb into the cool clouds. When we got around treeline, we felt the strong wind blowing as the rock scramble portion of the trail began in earnest. We strapped our poles to our packs and used all 4 limbs to climb up the challenging route. The rock scramble continued for over a mile. Hearing the literal howls of excitement from fellow hikers Johnny Cash and Dijeridoo gave us energy. Tired and simultaneously excited, we reached the plateau area called the tableland. The remaining ascent was steady and constant while the sky spat rain sideways in the wind. Eventually, a gathering of figures materialized in the fog ahead and we laid eyes on the summit. We were super excited to enjoy this celebration along with many of the friends we made. We cheered them on, chatted as we all hoped for a clearing of the clouds for a view, and took our joyous photos with the famous northern terminus sign. We had completed the first leg of our thru-hike! After waiting about thirty minutes, our revelry and hope for a clearing in the dense clouds waned. Cold and now more wet from the spraying rain, we decided to bid the summit and other hikers farewell and descend. On the way down, the clouds parted for the briefest of moments, providing a fleeting view down the Hunt Trail ridgeline; it would have been so different on a clear day. But we were way too happy to lament that much at all. When we got to the bottom, it was actually sunny with the sole cloud in the sky engulfing Katahdin. We laid ourselves and all our gear in the sun to dry and waited for a ride out of the park to the 100 Mile Wilderness Inn in Millinocket. That night, we celebrated our accomplishments with other hikers at dinner and readied ourselves to flip back to NY for our SOBO leg to Springer Mountain in GA. 

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