Thank you for the compliments, BT. Your comment re: guts helped propel me to get
out on the Trail again today. I was apprehensive about several things that never
materialized but could have, based on my prior experiences on the AT.
"Possible showers" were predicted for the mountains in northern Maine this
afternoon. I'm still a bit paranoid about swollen streams after what happened
Saturday, so the two river and multiple creek crossings in this 21-mile section
Yesterday I had trouble in broad daylight finding my way across the bedrock on
Chairback Mountain. And I still remember the difficulty finding blazes and
cairns on Mt. Madison in the fog, sleet, and high wind several weeks ago. What
if one or more of today's five mountains were poorly marked and I couldn't find
my way in fog and rain?
Oh, yeah - it was also supposed to be very windy. I've already been hit with a
flying branch during a gust and could barely stand up on Mt. Madison in the
Last week I wrote incorrectly that one of the mountains I summitted was the last
one over tree line until Mt. Katahdin at the end. I was wrong. Whitecap's
trees end just before the top (3,650 feet). About a quarter mile of rocks
are exposed to the elements.
So once again I worried all night and didn't sleep as well as I should. Jim
thinks I worry needlessly because most times what I worry about doesn't occur.
But I thought these were perfectly valid concerns, considering what has happened previous
times this summer and fall.
Fortunately, the creeks and rivers weren't high (although crossing the East
Branch of Pleasant River wasn't nearly as pleasant as crossing the West Branch),
I barely got rained on the whole day (Jim said it rained off and on all
day in the valley), I didn't get hit with flying limbs (the Trail was well
protected from the wind except on the very top of Whitecap Mountain), and the
Trail was very well marked today.
MOUNTAIN ROLLER COASTER
The morning started off with the full harvest moon shining brightly, then the
sun peeked through a few clouds. It was 52 degrees when I got on the Trail
about 6:45 AM and waded through the wide, shallow East Branch of the Pleasant
I really enjoyed following the river, then Gulf Hagas Brook, for about five
miles as I climbed Gulf Hagas Mountain. The Gulf Hagas area has its own network
of trails that are very popular with hikers. The Gulf is a deep 2,000-acre
slate canyon with precipitous cliffs, waterfalls, and interesting rock
formations that is now owned by the National Park Service so it cannot be
developed or logged.
The clouds increased rapidly by mid-morning, about the time I topped Gulf Hagas
Mountain at 2,750 feet. I kept moving forward as quickly as I could,
considering I had a gain of 2,050 feet from the river to the top of Gulf Hagas
in the first six miles.
Each of the next three mountains was a bit higher than the last. Fortunately,
the descents to each gap weren't too great, usually about 250 to 400 feet. West
Peak was next, topping out at 3,250 feet, then Hay Mountain at about 3,400 feet.
I got into the clouds and mist near the top of Hay Mountain. By then, about 11
AM, the wind was howling so loud above me that it sounded like airplanes flying
close overhead. But the Trail was well-protected from the wind in the tall pine
trees. I stopped about 25 minutes to put on my Marmot Precip pants and jacket,
fleece hat, and gloves and sat on a log to wait out the storm.
It's a good thing I started moving when I got chilly, however, because I would have had
to wait quite a while for the storm to pass! The summit of Hay was still treed,
but I knew Whitecap wasn't. I moved on anyway.
Just before timber line on Whitecap, "Chainsaw" caught up to me. He also had
trouble yesterday on Chairback, so we decided to stick together at the top to
find our way over the rocks and down below tree line again.
Turns out the rocks were marked so clearly that we didn't have to stay together.
Chainsaw stopped to do something with his pack and I went on ahead. The wind was
so fierce that we had trouble standing up! It was also sleeting and the ice
crystals hurt my face.
I did stop a minute to take a couple foggy photos. Here's
one of them, looking back at Chainsaw, who is nearly invisible in the
Most of the climbs and descents today were moderate but some were fairly steep.
I was impressed with all the work the Maine AT Club did installing some rock
steps on either side of Whitecap. They used deep blue-gray slate, nondescript
gray granite, white quartz, and some reddish rocks, making for a colorful
rainbow (photo above). Very nice!
Including a fifth mountain in the 20th mile (Little Boardman), the total
elevation gain today was at least 5,200 feet, the most I've done in a while.
Total descent was about 4,650. That's nearly 10,000 feet in 21 miles.
No wonder I'm tired tonight!
The Trail was not very runnable today. The footing was more "tedious" than
"rugged." It was an improvement over previous Maine AT
sections. Even though I was able to run about four miles my average pace was
still almost 30 minutes a mile because of the climbs and mucky or rocky, rooty
parts. There were fewer rock slabs and verticals than I've had recently. There
is still a lot of slate here, mixed with granite.
I loved going up and down through all the usual eco zones all day. One of my
favorite places was a little before the East Branch Lean-to. I dubbed it "The
Enchanted Forest" because of all the bright green moss gone amok. It covers the
ground, the small to huge rock boulders, and anything else that doesn't move.
The trees in this area are tall pines, with few to no deciduous plants. The
Maine is so beautiful with all its trees and lakes. The rugged Trail mostly
drives me crazy, but the forests are just lovely and quiet. Jim mentioned
recently that Maine reminds him of places he's been in Canada. I keep thinking
that Canada is north of here, but it's also west of here! We're north of
some parts of Canada now.
POINTING THE WAY
Since I was trying to get over Whitecap before the storm arrived, I was in RFM
mode this morning and by-passed the first shelter. However, I needed to remove
my jacket, pants, hat, and gloves after descending partway down Whitecap. I
stopped at the Logan Brook Lean-to a mile down the mountain.
"Chainsaw" had passed me going down. I passed "49er" but he came in while I was
at the shelter. Neither Jim nor I have met him before. We all talked about
recent trail events, especially the flooded streams last weekend. That's a
common Topic of Interest among hikers in Maine!
Chainsaw got to the Little and Big Wilson area on Sunday, the day after I
crossed the raging Little Wilson River. He and other hikers considered it to
still be too deep and swift to cross safely, so they by-passed about five miles
of the Trail.
How did they know where to go? I sure didn't know any alternatives except going
forward or going back seven miles to the road where I'd started that morning. I
failed to see a trail next to the Little Wilson River. It wasn't on our AT map, so I wouldn't
have taken it even if I'd seen it.
I asked Chainsaw how he knew to take that trail.
"They told me to look for the trekking pole and little bottle of soap,"
I thought for a moment, pointed to my Hammergel flask, and asked Chainsaw if the
"soap" container looked like this. He said yes, and I started laughing. (I
quickly explained to him why so he wasn't offended.)
Remember on Saturday when Jim took a trail up to the Little Wilson River,
mistaking it for the Big Wilson River, and left a pole, bottle of Hammergel, and
half a food bar to show me what trail to take to by-pass the flooded river??
I'd already gone through that river and was bushwhacking my way down to our
truck next to the Big Wilson. So the "pointers" weren't of any use to me. But they were to several other hikers, according to Chainsaw!
Somehow north-bound hikers got information by the next morning via the Trail
grapevine that there was a by-pass trail to avoid both Wilson Rivers,
which were down a bit Sunday but still too dangerous for most hikers to take.
What cracks me up is that folks think the Hammergel flask, full of Hammergel,
is SOAP! (I've included a photo of what it looks like below.)
Pity the poor bloke who picks that up and uses it to "wash" his hands, hair,
or clothes. What a gooey mess!!!
(It's my "secret" to getting up thousands of mountains on the AT, however:
gulp of Hammergel every fifteen minutes, chased with some water, and I can
usually keep a steady pace up most climbs.)
At the third shelter, East Branch Lean-to, I again read and signed the
register. "LB" and "To-Phat" were just ahead of us. "LB" wrote in huge letters
covering half of the 8½ x 11- inch page,
"I AM BURNT!!" echoing the
feelings of many thru-hikers at this point. I've talked to several hikers since
Pennsylvania who just want to be done, but they aren't about to quit so close to
reaching their goal.
The Trail has been very difficult since early in New Hampshire. I can see why some
hikers are "on their one last nerve." (I sometimes wonder what my foreign
readers think of American expressions like this!)
Others, like Buffet and Goat, seem to be slowing down to savor the last few
miles ahead of them. They are thoroughly enjoying their journey and don't want
it to end so soon.
I'm somewhere in between, tired and wanting to go home, but knowing I'll miss
the utter simplicity of running and walking through serene forests and up and
over mountains day after day after day.
The AT gets in your blood. I completely understand why some folks keep
returning to it.