Week 28 – The 100 Mile Wilderness
8/25 – Monson to Long Pond Stream shelter
8/26 – Long Pond Stream shelter to stealth site at 2106.4 [Barren/Chairbacks] 8/27 – Stealth site to East Branch Lean-to
8/28 – East Branch Lean-to to Sand beach on Lower Mary-Jo Lake
8/29 – Sand beach to Rainbow Stream Lean-to
8/30 – Rainbow Stream Lean-to to Abol Bridge cabin
8/31 – Abol Bridge to The Birches campsite (at Katahdin Stream Campground)
I had always said, “If I can get to Monson (the edge of the 100-mile wilderness), I’ll finish. I’ll find a way, even if it’s crawling, to finish.”
This week highlights my efforts to enter and complete the famous “100-mile Wilderness.” Purposefully, Gbolt and I scheduled a day off, a zero day, in Monson to permit us to both practically and emotionally prepare for this “final” stage of the thru-hike. We decided to eschew slackpacks or food drops and head into this stage of our journey with six days of food. Cheryl sent a perfect resupply, so I was ready to head off. Gbolt’s resupply box was not at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel, like mine was, so we had some consternation wondering. Fortunately, during our “zero” day, Gbolt was able to find and retrieve his resupply box – so he too (finally) was ready for our sojourn into the “wilderness.”
Gbolt and I got an early shuttle and headed out – determined to get to Abol Bridge (just beyond the “wilderness” and near the base of Mt. Katahdin) in six days. Day One looked like a modest day, based upon the profile of the elevations – we did not have any significant climbs. Nonetheless, the day was pretty tough. We did 15 miles.
I had expected Day Two to be the hardest day, it was. We had to climb the four peaks of Chairback Mountain or the “Chairbacks.” We had very vertical climbs for Gulf Hagus Mountain and West Peak – shorter than many climbs and aided by amazing rock staircase work – thanks and admiration to the Maine Appalachian Trail Club. We got an unexpected break between West Peak and Hay Mountain. During our lunch break Karel Sabbe, an ultra runner from Belgian, ran by us on his way to establish a new “fastest known time” for a supported thru-hike. (He completed the entire AT in 41 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes.)
The hike up Hay was so surprisingly graded that we arrived at the summit without realizing we had covered the entire elevation ascent – a most pleasant (and unusual) surprise.
The final climb on Day Two was Chairback Mountain. That climb was not unreasonable but the descent included a ridiculous boulder field/rock slide that was nothing but a steep, jumble of angular rocks with no easy or logical path to descend through. Bordering on the dangerous, we lost the trail briefly, but recovered on a “trail” others had obviously used to get through this difficult section.
The day had been tough, but manageable. The trail and obstacles after the descent from Chairback Mountain turned a tough day into an exhausting day. It seemed as though every time we would descend some the trail would then take us up a tough rock ledge only to immediately lose that same elevation almost immediately thereafter. This continued for well over an hour as we were trying to climb down from the summit of Chairback Mountain. Although not particularly rigorous, the constant descent and climb and descent became exhausting physically as well as mentally. We finished the day by spending almost an hour in a portion of the forest apparently hit hard by a tornado, hurricane or similar wind event. The fallen trees created additional, unwanted (and often irritating) obstacles for tired hikers.
Day Three was our effort to climb the four peaks of Whitecap Mountain. (Whitecap is well-known as the first real opportunity to see the brass ring – Mt. Katahdin in the distance.) This was easier than the Chairbacks, but still a full, tiring day. Gbolt and I did have some great views over both the Chairbacks and. Whitecap, including our first glimpse of Mt. Katahdin. We were hoping to enjoy the 100-mile wilderness, but the first three days had turned out to be real work – even though we only did essentially 15 miles each day. We were precisely “on plan,” but the hiking had been anything but easy.
The profile of the terrain suggested that our second half of the wilderness would be easier, hence, we planned a 19-mile day for Day Four and a 20-mile day for Day Five. Despite the modest profile, these proved to be difficult days due to the rocks and roots in the footpath. We decided to cut Day Four a little short and enjoyed a sand beach at Lower Jo-Mary Lake, where we swam, dodged a thunderstorm, enjoyed a rainbow and sunset, and camped on the beach. Day Five though was brutal – terrible roots and rocks and a 20-mile day that ended with a modest, but never ending climb up to the shelter area as we tried to beat a thunderstorm. We beat the storm, setup camp and we were cooking dinner in the shelter when the storm hit – very close by. By the time we finished cooking and eating the storm had passed. Another bullet dodged.
Exhausted from five days in the wilderness we expected to be easier (“after Whitecap, it’s nothing but flat, cushiony pine needle paths all the way to Katahdin.”), we headed out on Day Six knowing (or at least expecting) that we had “only” 15 reasonable miles to Abol Bridge. Yet, it was not easy. The roots and rocks continued, but not at the intensity we saw in Day Four. We were excited to reach Abol Bridge and take in the “iconic” view of Katahdin from the bridge. The view was particularly nice due to the clear weather. Later that day we returned for a sunset version of the mountain from the bridge.
We had a very basic cabin at the Abol Bridge Campground, visited with Lotus and Ibex, showered and then dined at the restaurant. We also prepared for our final 10 miles before reaching the base of Katahdin and we talked through final day scenarios.
Day Seven was a magnificent morning and perfect weather followed us all day. The 10 miles into Baxter State Park and the campground at The Birches was majestic. We followed a number of streams and enjoyed beautiful scenery, including cascades and waterfalls. We checked into The Birches. Lotus and Ibex and two other thru-hikers were there. We prepared for Cheryl’s arrival and our last day on the trail.
The 100-mile wilderness had been harder than expected. We both seemed to have less time to reflect upon the enormity of the journey we had been on due to the intensity of our daily hikes. Yet, we were there – knocking on the proverbial door. I hope dearly and intensely that Cheryl’s travel had gone as expected and that we would see her in the morning and climb Mt. Katahdin with her.
Last modified: September 11, 2018