Day 3 Report- Where We Evacuate a hiker in the Hundred Mile Wilderness

10 Miles- Potaywadjo Spring to Wadleigh lean-to

The three of us rolled into the Potywadjo Spring lean-to at the end of our day’s hike last night to find a trio of men who told us they were thru-hikers that had just flipped from Hanover, New Hampshire up to the end of the AT in Maine and were now hiking south.

My bullshit radar activated immediately.  We’ve encountered several southbounders on the AT in the Hundred right now. Most told us they flipped from Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson River, while others were bailing from as far south as the Shenandoahs on their Northbound hikes to then hike south through Maine. This trio’s plan made no sense to me, as they had been right at the doorstep of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, known for the worse weather on the AT. No reasonable hiker would stop at that point, in early September, when the chance of encountering snow and ice was minimized, compared to what it will be like there in late September into October.

I over heard them talking while they all smoked cigarettes in front of the shelter.
Here are some exact quotes I jotted down:
” I have hiked all the Superstition Mountains in the Grand Tetons, Arizona.” [Fact: The Grand Tetons are in northwestern Wyoming.I walked through them last year.]
“We’ll be in the White Mountains in just 70 miles!” [Fact:  They are approximately 240 miles away.]
” I paid $750 for my North Face backpacking tent. It is fireproof so I can cook right on the floor inside it .” [Nope.]
“I haven’t washed up at all in three weeks.  I’m really hiker trash.”[So pleased this guy was not bedding down next to me in the shelter.]
“ I have a great hammock that I bought at WalMart for 20 bucks.”[“Great backpacking hammock” and “twenty bucks” are not generally stated in the same sentence.  The same individual said that he had started hiking  carrying a home-made tattoo machine.]
“I pulled one of my own teeth out last week. I had another hiker pull out another one two weeks ago. ”  [Yikes- they were in the front, too !]
” I started hiking from Georgia May 15. I made it to Philly for the Fourth of July.” [Fact:  That's over 1,000 miles.  That would have made his daily average  close to 20.  It didn’t jive with his previous quote, “ I lost 90 pounds.  I was so fat I could only walk 3 or 4 miles at the start of the trail. I have these big flaps of skin I hope go away.”]
“ I was going to punch that guy who owns the hostel in the face when I asked him how much it would cost for him to drive me to Katahdin and he told me $30.” [Now my intuition was glowing strong.We had to get away from these guys.]

Later, Chris ( AKA G-Man) told me that he was holding on to his wallet as he listened to these guys and looked at their gear collection, which was tattered and was at least in part Walmart branded. But they slept in three tents in a non-authorized camping area in front of the lean-to while The Slocomotive, G-Man, and I commandeered the shelter. It was just the six of us.

We three were up early the morning, the Southern boys were still in bed but rustling around when we left.

After starting out rested and strong, we quickly became absorbed in  a beautiful, green palette of moss, leaves and grasses.  Flowing through the unfolding canvas were glinting shimmers of mirrored water that appeared in clearings off the side of the AT- impressions from the numerous streams, springs, and bodies of water that we hiked through on our northerly walk toward Namahkanta Lake today.

We were walking smooth and strong, with G-Man moving strong on point  for maybe three hours when I thought I heard a sharp yell, not a common occurrence on the AT in these parts.  I heard it a short while later, and mentioned it to Joe. It seemed to come from in back of me.

Slocomotive chugging up out of Tumbledown Stream

Slocomotive chugging up out of Tumbledown Stream

We had just crossed Tumbledown Dick Stream when  I had stopped and who should be limping quickly toward us but one of those three guys.  He was in a crazed state, highly agitated, snot coating his lower jaw and neck, and clearly banged up, with his arm in a makeshift sling with white tape around his ankle. He was initially incoherent, and agitating to go forward.

He eventually told us that he was the first of his trio to leave Potawadjo Springs shelter but then found himself off trail and at the spring itself, on a blue-blazed trail instead of the AT.  But he’s now steaming north like a true mad man, alone and disoriented on the AT.  He told us that he must have got turned around when realized that his compadres had gone head ahead and he fell.  It was a woefully inadequate an explanation for how banged up he was.

Joe is a war veteran who served in Vietnam, and was a nurse before he retired. G-Man is an Emergency Medical Technician. He was in luck in encountering some experienced medical personnel.  G-Man slowly engaged with the guy, who was settled down enough for G-Man to gently palpitate his shoulder and his back, the main source of his complaints.

The G-Man assist

The G-Man assist

G-Man’s eyebrows shot upward when he gently examined the man’s spine, and called me over and had me feel the prominent hard lump that was just off the side of the fellow’s backbone.  Later, G-Man told me that he thought that one vertebra was misaligned, and that it was very likely that the guy was in an incredible degree of pain, which became evident after he doubled over and threw up after he began to walk again.  When I was alone with G-Man a little later and the guy was in the care of The Slowcomotive, I told G-Man I that I didn’t buy his story of  falling as he turned around.  I believed that he had been beaten up by one of the two other guys , or at least picked up and thrown against the shelter, or onto some rocks.  His injuries were not consistent with a simple fall , especially a fall that would have been cushioned by a loaded backpack.  When out of earshot, the Slowcomotive told me that the guy told him said he was on meds for auditory hallucinations.  Oh, Oh……

What to do?
We couldn’t leave him after he told us that he had no money, and that he threw his phone away back near the shelter when he realized that he broke it when he fell on it.  At this point he was about 30 miles south of Abol Bridge where he could get a ride out to Millinocket. He told us he had money and food at a mail drop in Monson, some 70 miles south.

We had a quick triage, and decided to assist the guy by walking him out to get help via a medical facility in Millinocket.  We decided that since he was ambulatory at the moment, we could not call 911 and initiate a likely helicopter rescue.

I opened up his pack and distributed the bulk of his gear to our three backpacks. We headed out.  He was able to walk at a surprisingly good clip, considering his condition.  Eventually he became faint, and we all sat down and made him eat and drink water.  He was in and out, sometimes starting straight ahead with open eyes, and occasionally unresponsive to our efforts to converse with him.

Eventually we came to the gravel Nahmakanta Stream Road,  where we eventually listened to G-Man, who argued strongly that our new goal was to find a way to evacuate at him via this road.  The problem now was twofold:  no traffic at all and the fact that our very narrow AT strip map was inadequate to determine which was the best direction to get him out. It was here that I vowed to (in the future), take with me pages from the Delorme Gazetteer in future Maine hikes, so that I’d be able to see where these wilderness woods road might go.

Initially, I was not able to get a cell connection at all at this spot.  However, while we were waiting for something to materialize, a miracle came to us, literally out of thin air.

I heard by iPhone buzz an incoming text notice.   It was a message from Duff, a woman that I had hiked 2,000 miles with on the PCT in 2010.  She was messaging me from Baxter Peak at the top of Katahdin, and at that exact moment, completing her own AT thru hike!  I messaged her back before the intermittent Verizon signal faded and asked her to contact Paul Seneshal, AKA “Ole Man”, and get him to text me about this situaiton.  Old man owns both the Hiker Hostel and the AT Cafe in Millinocket.
After too much waiting, and some confusing responses, everything fell into place for a rescue, of sorts.

I texted Ole Man this photo to show where we were.

I texted Ole Man this photo to show where we were.

Here’s some of the texts:

Ole Man-“Hey Tom.  I can get him if he can get to the S end of Nahmakanta Lake. There is a camping area there and it would take almost an hr to get there.”
Hey Tom. Do I need to come out there?”

Me- “Yes! You coming?”
Ole Man- “Yes. I’m on my way.”

While we were sitting in the road waiting for Ole Man to get here, the injured party told us, “I hear a car.”  We didn’t.  Then he righted himself, squinted up one end of the road, pointed and  then said, “There it is!”

Just at that moment, I saw a grey truck up in the distance that appeared to be turning around and heading back.  I ran up the road, where I discovered a smaller gravel road curving off into the woods.  I bolted up there and discovered a couple getting out of their truck.  The guy had a big holstered pistol on his hip. After I carefully approached and explained to them what was going on, they offered to immediately drive the guy out to the Jo-Mary Road checkpoint, a manned gate that Ole Man would have to pass through in order to drive the 24 miles of gravel to reach us here at the south end of Namahkanta Lake. They told me that it might take as long as two hours for him to get to this point from Millinocket.
I got in their car and brought them to our victim.  Things moved fast and furious when we emptied all of our packs of the guy’s gear and loaded him in the front seat. I handed him a $20 and wished him better luck in the days ahead.

Later, I received a final text from Ole Man- “Got him.”

Our day’s mission was formally accomplished.

[You'll have to wait for a future post to pick up more on this thread I'm going in chronological order and haven't written the rest of the trip yet.]

Day 2- Walking Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness

Cooper Brook Falls Shelter to Potaywadjo Spring Shelter      11.3 miles

I’m spoiling G-Man and The Slocomotive for any future backpacking trips. Today was that good.

Here’s the deal: cool September temperatures all day long, and clear blue skies. Humidity takes a holiday. The first half of the day was flat, with the strong morning sun breaking through the green canopy and gracing the footpath ahead of us in a golden light.

Slocomo enjoying the view

Slocomo enjoying the view

The trail itself was cushioned in a thick layer of pine needles, making for very comfortable miles.

We had lunch at Antler Campsite, a red oak sanctuary sited on the former sporting camp, on a sandy finger of land jutting out from the shore of Lower Jo-Mary Lake.  It was windy and I soon became chilled.  The Slocomotive dove into the pristine waters and swam a bit before we downed lunch. I was disappointed to see that the former well kept rustic outhouse had fallen into disrepair.

Soon Gone

Soon Gone

A new mouldering privy took it’s place, but change is inevitable and I’m not going to fight it.

Three miles later we all swam at a sunny, warm sand beach that faced south after we wound our way to the opposite shore of the lake.

IMG_3528  This is world class living.  We have seen no one, nor any man-made structures or sounds within miles of our direct sight line up the Lake.

Arriving at camp, The Slowcomotive was upset at discovering a couple of chew holes in the Arc’teryx pack that I loaned him. IMG_3521 He had forgotten that he put a ziplock bag of trail mix in the top compartment. Shelter mice are extremely persistent at sniffing out food, and will eat right through a tent wall and pack compartments to get it.  That is why hikers hang their food at night.

Potaywadjo Spring is a huge 12-15 feet diameter free-flowing spring.

Potaywadjo Spring

Potaywadjo Spring

It’s the only place on the hike where I drank untreated water.

Flying in to Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness

Coming through Millinocket around noon today we stopped at the Hannaford’s grocery store where down by the dairy isle I ran into Billy Goat, a former Mainer, who is best known for his perpetual thru-hiking of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Uncle Tom and Billy Goat

Uncle Tom and Billy Goat

I was astounded that he appeared in my life again. I had three conversations with Billy Goat on my 2010 5-month thru hike of that trail, that 2,700 mile baptism of ice, snow, and other forms of cold water.

Billy Goat and me on the PCT in Southern California in 2010

Billy Goat and me on the PCT in Southern California in 2010

Billy Goat gave me specific advice each time that we connected.  Slow down was his main message, “You may never pass through all this again.”

Billy Goat has been out providing ground/ auto support for a friend who is about to finish a long segment from Gaspe, Quebec to Katahdin.  I told Billy Goat he looked good for 75. His eyes are not worn and washed out, and still radiate hope.

The highlight of the day was sitting in the rear seat of a small 4 seat float plane with my buddies Chris and Joe when we departed from Katahdin Air Service and landed on Crawford Pond 15 minutes later to begin our 50 mile northbound section hike.  The cost of the flight included a shuttle of my car to Abol Bridge, a one hour round trip.  When we finish the hike, the car will be right there for us on the Appalachian Trail.  IMG_3507 Jim, the pilot,  pointed out where the AT meanders between the lakes and ponds below as it carries itself along the undulating green carpet.

It was the perfect introductory backpacking day.  Blue skies, except for the clouds over Katahdin.

Katahdin looms in the distance

Katahdin looms in the distance

IMG_3515 A short 3.5 mile afternoon, and a bed space in my favorite AT shelter, Cooper Brook Falls. Tomorrow we start our first full day of adventure.

Hiking Doubletop Mountain in Baxter State Park

Day 7
Walked out of the Pines campsite and later topped out on Doubletop
9.5 miles

It was hard to leave the only true campsite we’ve stayed in for the past week. Five nights were spent in lean-tos and one in a bunkhouse. No condensation on the inside of my tent, despite it being pitched 20 feet from the edge of this decent-sized Long Pond. It sprinkled for 5 minutes, and then the sky looked like it was going to rain, but by mid-morning, it was blue overhead once again. Guthook’s sporting his  very tidy tarp set-up.

Hiking poles and 7 ounces of fabric make a shelter.

Hiking poles and 7 ounces of fabric make a shelter.

I’ve tried the tarp option several times. It doesn’t work for me. I do like to write in the dark, and the moths that come at me due to my screen light or headlamp drive me crazy, not to mention the need for carrying an extra waterproof bag to stash my gear in during a rain.

There was mucho mud on the way out from the Fowler area. I always avoid stepping in mud, which I consider it a dangerous lubricant. Where mud is found, elevated split log paths are generally not far head, and those moss-covered, worn-to-a-smooth-sheen, and treacherous “walkways” had better be negotiated in as dry conditions as possible. I sometimes pull my ever-present bandanna out of my rear pocket to dry off a wet Vibram sole before bouldering up steep rocks. Bashed knees hurt and when cut badly tend to get infected. Just one misplaced step and you are done is my mantra, ever humming in the background of my consciousness.

We all hiked out quickly and then drove 25 miles (speed limit 20 MPH) to Nesowadnehunk Field Campground where we spent our last night in a lean-to that looks out to Doubletop Mountain. The rushing sound of water nearby is easily the best background music there is. The site we have is thick with cool green grass, which feels like magic to my tender feet.

Doubletop is a superb hike. Since I have been home I have been re-reading Katahdin, By John Neff.  The book details the history of the the mountain. Baxter is actually more wild today than when it was at it’s logging peak period, over 100 years ago.  Check out this  photo on page 112 of the book of some “sports” crossing Nesowadnehunk Stream with DoubleTop framed in the distance.

Dexter Historical Society (Bert L. Call Collection)

Dexter Historical Society (Bert L. Call Collection)

Here is my photo of the same point today, wilder, and definitely no buckboard horse rides into the Park:

Same frame today

Same frame today

The hike up Doubeltop from Nesowadnehunk Field is comprised of three parts. The first segment parallels the stream and is fairly level for a mile or so.  My 1979 edition of Cloe Chunn’s 50 Hikes in the Maine Mountains provides some further details about this hike. Things in this park definitely get wilder by the decade.  For example, a footbridge across Doubletop Brook that was mentioned in 1997 is gone.  I concur with Chun’s reporting the middle mile as “excruciatingly steep”.

Almost there !

Almost there !

The upper third section gets much more moderate, and enters what I felt was some of the most interesting and beautiful high trail in the park, a veritable wonderland of moss covered boulders,  shady nooks, and outright world class trail.  After the return of steepness to the end of the ascent, you walk up a short metal ladder, and there you are- on the 3,488′ north peak.

From this point, the views of  O-J-I, South and North Brother, and outline of Katahdin behind The Owl are all superlative.

The view from the top

The view from the top

I passed on heading over the 0.2 miles to the south peak, as I have done that hike from the other side.  However,  Guthook went over there and took the route down toward the Kidney Pond area, where Chris drove and picked him up.  I doubled back to return to our lean-to and spend our our final night in Baxter State Park.


Traveler Loop / Baxter State Park

Day 5 Upper South Branch Pond lean-to to South Branch Pond lean-to #2 via Traveler loop
9.7 miles

Big day on a tough loop hike in the northern part of Baxter State Park. The miles today were either pushing up in elevation or depending on my hiking poles to brake on the steep descents. The total elevation gain for the day was a foot-pounding 3,500′.
Guthook and I broke out of camp at 7:30 am, after getting fresh drinking water from the flowage coming into Upper South Branch Pond. Then time to be careful on the wet and slippery elevated split log walkway that brought us back out north on the Pogy Notch Trail, the main north-south path through the central part of the park.
Chris ended up choosing to go up to the summit of Black Cat Mountain, then come down again, when he headed up the Pogy Notch Trail to our lean-to at South Branch Pond campground
We saw no one today out on the Loop itself. It was one of the top 5 best days of the summer, a Friday yet, with no one but us on The Traveler Loop. What a unique name for a giant mountain! This mass of elevation has three peaks to ascend: Center Ridge ( 3,152′), The Traveler ( 3,550″), and North Traveler Mountain (3,152′).


Me coming up Center Ridge, North Traveler in the distance

One additional feature of this massif is it’s status as the highest volcanic mountain in New England, and possibly the highest of the East Coast. The unique sound underneath our feet on the North Traveler- the clatter of what might have been interpreted as shards of porcelain dinner plates- attest to the nature of the volcanic rock in this particular spot. I have heard the sound only once before, while hiking on the rugged Goat Rocks volcanic peaks in the Cascades, roughly between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams in southern Washington state.
On the way down to the campground, in the last mile’s steep descent from North Traveler Mountain we eventually encountered two small parties, well at that point they were sitting parties.

The Traveler Loop gets short listed due to popularity of Katahdin. The vast majority of visitors are here for one thing-the Big K, but this loop is world class hiking as well. The Traveler has a mini Knife Edge of it’s own, between the Center Ridge and Traveler Mountains and affords a 360 degree view of the Great North Woods into Canada.


Guthook leaping on Knife Edge portion

At one point Guthook and I were not able to discern any evidence of man made structures in any direction, all the way out to the horion. We also heard no man made sounds, a near impossibility in 99.99% of the USA. It’s a healing green world that can absorb any of he pain, sadness, or regrets in one’s life.
[Note: There is no water on the loop. Plan accordingly, as it would be dry and parching on a hot, clear-sky day.]

I walked into camp tonight with no food or water left in my pack, the goal of any backpacker. I was working with calorie counts for my daily food plan this week. What I didn’t know was how many calories I would be burning each day, so I threw in an emergency bag of Doritos- 1600 calories right there. I ate a portion each of the 4 days were were out so far. Without it, I would have been hungry.

Guthook and I spotted my Voyager here 4 days ago. Inside is a sheet rock bucket with our final three days of backpacking food.

Lots of car campers, everything was full. The campsite next to us has two people in it with their 8 big beach towels hanging on a clothes line. I prefer one 6″ by 12″ microfiber towel that dries me up just fine.

Here’s our lean-to at South Branch:


Chris was impressed with me using my Moro knife to split wood and chop it for cooking.

Chris getting schooled on wood mode for the Bushcooker Lt1

Chris getting schooled on wood mode for the Bushcooker Lt1

We both regretted not shifting to car camping mode for the rest of our trip when we’ll be with this car. It would have been nice to have folding chairs, or even some fresh Whoopie Pies, the official state treat of Maine (not to be confused with the official state dessert, which is blueberry pie).
Guthook and I think too much like backpackers, not just when we are hiking.Next time we’ll do better.
I’m thinking a cast iron Dutch oven or two, so that we could bake ourselves up a big fresh greasy pizza, and even a blueberry pie for dessert.

I did remember to pack a six of the appropriate beer, though.


The Smoky Mountain Hiking Blog


The marketing machine is ramping up again, this time for the Dec.5 release of Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild”, backpacking’s latest media opportunity.

However, there is another movie that I will travel anywhere to see- Let’s all hope for this other video project’s success. Grandma Gatewood is the real deal. To see the video clip, click on View Original. It made me cry.

Originally posted on Grandma (Emma) Gatewood:

Blog Logo - lg

We were pleasantly surprised and pleased to see that a story about Emma Gatewood and a clip from our project were on the Smoky Mountain Blog here is an excerpt:

Who was Grandma Gatewood?
In 1955, after raising 11 children, Emma “Grandma” Gatewood became the first woman to solo thru-hike the Appalachian Trail – at the tender age of 67! In September of that year, having survived a rattlesnake strike, two hurricanes, and a run-in with gangsters from Harlem, she stood atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin.

Then, in 1960, she hiked it again, becoming the first person to hike the Appalachian Trail twice. And, just to prove those first two weren’t a fluke, she hiked it again in 1963 – at the age of 75! After that third adventure Emma became the first person to hike the 2,179-mile trail on three different occasions.

To read the rest and see the clip…

View original 3 more words

Upper South Branch Pond in Baxter State Park

Day 4- Thru-hiking Baxter State Park

Russell Pond to Upper South Branch Pond
7.5 miles

My hiking today was completed by noon. It was a straight shot north up the Pogy Notch trail, a path that was cut in 1951.  I can’t remember when I had this much time off on a recent backpacking trip. I have the whole afternoon to lounge around this tiny lean-to that’s facing a smooth-stoned beach on this remote wilderness pond.
I’ve already Steripen’d a couple of quarts of water that I scooped from the pond, brewed up a fresh cup of the last of today’s coffee, and went for a chilling swim/ rinse in the clear, tranquilizing water not 50 feet from my bedroll.  I even read my book, a thin volume entitled The Backbone of the World: A Portrait of the Vanishing West Along the Continental Divide
Chris is here already. I was moving pretty good and expected he would be a bit behind me, but he rolled in just ten minutes after I did.
Guthook is still out, putting on additional miles.
It was overcast and cloudy all day long.
I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon at this private, well-maintained camp site.

The single lean-to at Upper South Branch Pond

The single lean-to at Upper South Branch Pond

I swam in the pond and rinsed off yet again.

Right off our front porch

Right off our front porch

Dry dead fire wood had been stripped away for quite a distance from the fire ring but who minds a bit of of walk when the payoff is a cheerful, evening campfire?
Guthook eventually came in with a smile on his face after a bit more than 18 miles of laying GPS track.
The hiking today was definitely mild, with the ancient trail meandering trough a variety of ecological slices: marshes, through beaver flowage, spruce forests, beech groves, and even a stand of hornbeam.
I really enjoyed my dinner tonight: 2 cups of instant Idaho Red Potatoes, a packet of tuna, mayo, pickle relish, and lots of Siracha.

Chris worked hard to produce a  fine evening camp fire.

Day's end

Day’s end

Guthook’s blog of today here.