How to get into ultralight backpacking

Lightening your backpacking load can have dramatic implications, particularly for aging hikers who have followed the techniques in Colin Fletcher’s “Complete Walker” hiking bible.

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    Last summer, when I was hitchhiking in Colorado, I met a 63 year old hiker who gave me a ride. He taught a course on Ultralight Backpacking at the local college. Bob said that the easiest way is go ultralight was to scrape up $1250, go to the zpacks.com website, and order their most popular cuben fiber pack, solo tent, and down sleeping bag.  This gets the “Big Three” on your back for total weight of three pounds. Expensive, but efficient.
For the rest of us, it’s best to start with keeping the big 3 under 10 pounds, which would lead to a fully loaded backpack of 15-20 pounds if you leave that Rambo knife at home.
Once you have cut the weight on your Big 3, you enter the “ we pack for our fear” zone.  Anxiety about what might go wrong on a hike may lead to placement of unnecessary items in that light pack.  For example, I once saw another backpacker pull a cast iron two foot long lawnmower blade from his pack and place it by the side of his sleeping bag at bedtime.  I asked him about it and he said, “ Wild hogs here in Georgia can attack you when you sleep.”  I used to carry a heavy ankle brace, “just in case” , but after lugging around-unused for 3,700 miles I now leave it at home.
I hike with three pair of thin socks, two for walking in, one for sleeping. Ultralight hikers don’t generally carry spare clothing like underwear.  Some give up long pants in the warmer weather, adding thin wool tights and rain pants if it gets too cold.
Another popular option to ditch weight is to go stoveless, and forget the cooking pot as well, opting for foods that don’t require cooking, or that can be rehydrated with water in a plastic container.
A Katadyne-type pump filter for water purification is not a typically in an ultralight pack- instead we see the Aqua Mira solution, or a Sawyer Squeeze gravity system.
The best resource for a quick lesson in learning about ultra and lightweight backpacking is the book “Lighten Up ! A Complete Handbook for Light and Ultralight Backpacking” by Don Ladigin. It’s inexpensive and filled with all you need to know. 51VeNaJAHsL._AA160_
Of course if you have $1250 bucks, you can get there quickly, but I would rather take that amount and use the money for a one- month backpacking trip.

My Book Review- Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail

Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian TrailGrandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Grandma Gatewood broke the mold. The first woman to solo thru-hike the AT in 1957, she went on to walk the AT two more times, the last at 75 years old. She was also the first person to thru hike the AT three times. This was all accomplished with no money to speak off. The $57 a month she was receiving from Social Security at that time was all she would need.
Spoiler: stop right here if you don’t want me telling you details that I learned from this book, a 2014 release. Hell, it’s a book review. I am going to write what I want. Your choice.
This story is not about backpacking, because Grandma Gatewood never wore one. She probably couldn’t afford to buy one if she did. Even so, she might have declined to use a 1957 model, as it would have been too heavy for her to want to carry. The word iconoclast fits her to a “t”. Instead, she carried her spartan kit in a homemade bag slung over one shoulder. No boots, tent, sleeping bag or pad, stove for her, just Keds sneakers and carrying an army blanket to wrap up in, a plastic shower curtain for shelter, a cup, first aid kit, raincoat, and one change of clothes. That’s it ! Her food was no-cook high calorie stuff- dried beef, cheese, and nuts, supplemented by any wild food she was able to forage.
The AT is known for hardships: humidity, steep climbs, rattlesnakes down south, and periods of relentless rain. While the typical AT thru-hiker reports are all about the hike and how tough it is. For Gatewood, a thru-hike of the AT would have been a respite from the brutal life she led for her first 67 years. She married young to a bastard of an individual, who sexually and physically abused her on what appears to have been a daily basis, resulting in 11 children, 23 grandchildren, and a work day on the farm that would have crippled lesser folks.
Gatewood’s chance read of an old National Geographic article planted a seed in her heart that would not make growth until her last child was independent. When that happened, she just walked out of the house, without telling a soul where she was going.
She had to learn new skills, and really fast.
You may cry when you read this book, it is so well written and genuine.
While reading present articles about Gatewood, I learned that there is a movie about her that is currently in production ( http://grandmagatewood.wordpress.com/… ). This is one story that needs to be heard, a genuine American epic of a life saved and even graced by the open trail.

View all my reviews

Yellowstone Revisited

Spent the day at Yellowstone National Park. It is the fourth time that I have visited there, and the first time that I have been in the Park in early summer, when the landscape is still green and not in shades of brown from the lack of rain, as the summers here move on, with day after day of pure blue skies.

I was last here in August (2013) when I spent a week backpacking north through Yellowstone, when it was hot and I was frustrated with trying to make dictated mileages between assigned campsites that were chosen for us without car transport in mind.  8.09 Old Faithful This time, I was driving around in a brand new rental car, and life is much different, so easy.   Today it’s mostly in the mid-50’s out, with showers coming and going, all day long. Who cares, we’re in Yellowstone !

Pleased to display to the Gardiner entrance ranger my lifetime National Parks Pass.

Senior benefit, finally!

Senior benefit, finally!

“Hold on to you $25 car fee, sir- pass right through. Have a great day in Yellowstone.”

Yellowstone National Park spans an area of 3,468 square miles. “Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in North America and is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent. The caldera is considered an active volcano.”- from Wikipedia.

Given the relatively early date, the Park was packed. All the lots were all full, and required jousting with packs of motorcyclists, RV’s, and apparently clueless individuals who would stop their rented SUV’s right in the middle of key highway turns as they consulted their media maps.
We aimed at focusing our visit, and not try to do too much in one day. Our goal was to do the Fountain Paint Pots and the Midway Geyser Basin walks. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was thickly clouded, frequently showering, with the air holding that sulfur smell reeking from these fumaroles, bubbling mud pits, and geysers.

I really wanted to show my mom, Isabel, and son Lincoln the Grand Prismatic Spring.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring

Such a cool name for a geographical formation. The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world. It is 300 feet in diameter and 160 fet deep. I have seen it four times, and while the obscured sun and the thick white clouds of vapor reduced the vibrancy of the colors, it still floored me.

Grand Prismatic Spring today

Grand Prismatic Spring today

Its colors match the rainbow dispersion of white light by an optical prism: red, orange, yellow, green, and blue

I picked up a new book about Yellowstone here- Death in Yellowstone. 51d90Sg2MuL._AA160_      It’s the type of book that you absolutely can’t read just before you visit the park, lest you are so frightened by the stories of all the ways hundreds of people have perished from non-natural causes in the Park.
On the boardwalk around Grand Prismatic, we witnessed a young Asian family nearly become yet another dumb-hurt statistic. The wind was really whipping up, and we were walking on an elevated boardwalk bordering the spring that had no guardrails, with a walking surface a bit slippery due to the rain. Mind you, there is super boiling water flowing underneath us. The mom and dad were pushing a baby in a stroller that was draped with a heavy plastic sheet. Suddenly, the three-wheeled stroller escaped the grip of the dad and pitched completely over and crash to the boardwalk. It landed just a foot from the edge of the walkway, throwing the parents into a panic, while the little five year old sister started laughing uncontrollably pointing at the downed stroller and the little upside-down child that was smacked down on the deck. It was a miracle that the baby didn’t get catapulted off the boardwalk into the boiling water and also that one of those parents didn’t have to jump into the same cauldron to extract the baby.  What were they thinking?

We made the right choice to call it a day and headed back north through the Gardiner gate toward Livingston. We saw deer, buffalo, and elk today. I’ll be back again sometime to check out more of this most remarkable place. I’ll still  have my National Parks Pass !

Cabin in the Virginia Hills

Awoke this morning in Mike and Susan’s newly built cabin just one mile from the AT on the edge of the 150,000 acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. It’s way up at 3,500 feet bordering Federal Wilderness. The view is spectacular, and there are no light visible in any direction at night.

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A single solar powered light and an oil lantern illuminate the small cabin. It’s one open space on the bottom floor with a standing room loft that has a couple of hammocks strung up for sleeping.

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I met Mike in 2011, when we both worked at Don Kevilus’ Four Dog Stove booth at Trail Days. Don was the major sponsor of both my Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trail thru-hikes. Don believed in me. He poured encouragement, cash, and gear my way in 2010 and 2013.
Mike is an avid winter camper and made the trip to the Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous in Vermont the past couple of years. I liked Mike then and hoped to spend time with him in the outdoors for sometime. That’s happening right now!

Don and Mike share a love for mules. This part of Tennessee is one of the two major areas of the USA that celebrates the mule as a viable form of wilderness travel, and as a work animal.

Mike’s spot of heaven borders the Mount Rogers Wilderness, and is a stunningly beautiful situation. He harvested the trees to build his small off-the-grid cabin from white pine from the family farm, with his cousin milling the lumber for the cabin at his sawmill across the street from Mike’s actual house at a ridiculously low price.

In just two years, Mike and his wife Susan have created a sanctuary here that is heated with a wood stove, appointed with an outhouse with one of the best views in the Eastern US, and is supplied with crystal clear spring fed water that gushes from the slopes of Mount Rogers, at 5,700 feet, the highest point in Virginia.

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My stay at Mike and Susan’s was the crowning event of my week of hiking and mountain biking in the Damascus, VA area.

I slept upstairs in the loft, sleeping one night in a hammock and the other on a lush pad on the floor.

20140520-080246.jpgI got to use a vintage metal bedpan, giving me an authentic cabin experience. No traffic sounds, just owls hooting in the night. It was in the 30′s both mornings when I woke up. Guthook is now likely fighting the cold under his 48 degree quilt.

Mike and I share a love for the same type of music- old time Americana, brought to us this weekend by a superb local FM radio station hosted by a fellow with a drawling Appalachian voice that was so thick I only caught half of what he said.

The other treat for the weekend was the southern food that Mike’s mother, Susan’s mother, Mike, and Susan prepared for us, mostly cooked on the wood stove.

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The mainstay of the fresh food were the ramps that Mike, Susan, and I harvested. Ramps are a type of wild leek that we dug up beside one of the streams on the north side of his property.
The first night Mike and I ate them raw with home-made sauerkraut and sausages. The rest of the weekend, I ate picked asparagus, hummus, salsa, shelled beans, relishes, zucchini bread, tenderloin, berry muffins, free range chicken eggs, raspberry bars, coconut cheese cake, and several other scrumptious examples of local, real food. Oh, yeah- we went through a few growlers of artisanal beers. Most of the time, there was ancient soulful music echoing through the cabin as the whole deal was going down.

I bought a trail guide to Mt. Rogers and a High Country map at Mt. Rogers Outfitters.

20140520-080816.jpgI’ll be back!

A huge shout out to Susan and Mike, and to Don for hooking us up.

Triple Crown, elevation gain, and Maine

I’m stoked at receiving this bandanna! 

Yogi's Triple Crown bandanna

Yogi’s Triple Crown bandanna


At first I thought it was a misprint- 1,000,000 feet of  elevation gain?  That’s only 189.4 miles of uphills.  I thought it was more!

I’ve been thinking about walking on the Applalchian Trail  again this season, soon.  For readers who poo-poo the difficulty of hiking the AT, here’s a mess of facts from Whiteblaze.  The AT is tough.  There are 286.6 miles of AT in Maine, with an average of 242 feet per mile of gain and loss.  The article from Whiteblaze hot-linked above blew my mind.  The author took all the USGS 7.5 minute topographic maps for the entire trail and actually counted the contour lines the trail crosses, going both up and down.  New Hampshire is the hilliest, followed by Georgia, which might surprise some. 

While Maine’s state average is not #1, one must consider that doing the AT in Maine  is not a uniform task. The Northbound gain is 59,000 feet.   The 151 mile eastern most portion of the state is more moderate ( 5,200 average for that first four sections) , while the 50 mile portion from the New Hampshire state line to Rangley is a brutal 18,800 feet, and is the toughest part of the whole Trail.  

Order a set of Yogi’s for the Triple Crowner in your life!

From:  Triple Crown Bandana: Set of 3 – Red, White, and Blue — Yogi’s Books.

Writing About Hiking Again

It happens to me every springtime, since 2007 when I set off on my first long distance backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. It’s the compelling desire to be on another long hike. But, I’m not taking a long hike this season. So what ?

This year’s alternate plan is to hike (except for one bicycling/camping trip in Maine) for one week every month from now until October. I am really pleased to report that I have walked some 250 miles in the last two months, mostly on trails and roads around my home town in Lincolnville, Maine.

This morning I have started to write more about one of my thru-hikes hikes. I put in two hours revising the first 2.5 days and 57 miles of my 2013 Continental Divide Trailjournal, the section from the border at Palomas, Mexico to Deming, New Mexico. If you want to read the revisions-  the hotlink about takes you right to my first day of hiking.

There are not many hikers who opt for the Columbus alternate, and I thought it might be useful to future hikers  to have someone lay down details. I have added additional sections about prices,  geographical locations, and had data that I am extracting from hand-written logbooks and references that I did not have the time for when I created by daily posts in the tent each night, where I was under the influence of a blend of fatigue, stress, and general catatonia.

I also want to add additional photos to the CDT Trailjournal, and am not having much luck in remembering how to to that, so if there are Traijournal wordsmiths out there who have it down, hit me up.

Plus, here’s new photos from those first three days.

We find the water cache !

We find the water cache !

Shade but tanks are empty

Shade but tanks are empty

Train, the General, and Wizard striking off toward the Floridas

Train, the General, and Wizard striking off toward the Floridas

 

 

The Others

For the past 36 years I’ve been walking up the driveway to get the Bangor Daily News that gets delivered to me sometime around 5:30 each morning.  Today, like no other day, a majestic bald eagle greeted me-  circling not 50 feet above my head as I reached into the newspaper box up on the road.
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I don’t work on my birthday anymore, and try to let the day unfold a bit before I go hiking.  It’s a tradition that I have started in 2008, on the one year anniversary of starting out walking from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Maine.  I know that the new year is something that is thought to start on January 1, but for me it starts on my birthday, just a few days after the Spring equinox.  The light is brightening now, the days most years are warmer already. It’s time to walk again.
I wanted to backpack at least half the day today, but sometimes we have to improvise.  Improvisation is one of my major lessons this year. The Improv Wisdom book is a big help these days.
Yes, it’s just as good as it ever was- the hiking today. Maybe not as long a walk than I first wanted, but it’s what worked out. I loved the feeling of stretching out my legs, kicking forward, and leaning toward the horizon a bit- saw no one.
The trail ahead is slippery

The trail ahead is slippery

What a privilege it is to have the miles of trails and warm shelter to myself right now. The sun is setting, skies are clear and it’s definitely back into the 20′s tonight.
Just as I was walking, someone sings  “Sorrows are flowing downstream down the mountain”on the iPhone that I’m listening to . I was in the process of taking this photograph at that exact moment- I’m not kidding.

Flowing but mostly frozen

I just set up final details to do a 100 mile hike down on the Appalachian Trail in May to hike into Trail Days. I’ll be in Tennessee,  North Carolina and into Virginia ! I hope hike a few of those miles with Duff, who is setting out on a thru-hike of the AT this season. Plus Guthook will be breezing through at autobahn level mileages as he storms through Virginia as a total act of devotion to updating his ever popular AT Hiker app. Bob Peoples is helping me with logistics, and I’ll be sure to stay at his place- Kincora- the best hostel of the whole AT.

I am hoping see Crazy Horse down there. When he had the Captain America Corvette he was easy to track down. Now his car is nothing flashy.

It’s not that big a bunch that hikes a lot. These people tend to get to events like Trail Days  and AYZPCTKO ( PCT kickoff).   I will likely spot a few folks that I have not thought about in years but, when I do run into them, I’ll be filled with excitement instantly due to some deep connection we made between each other while out there with The Others. That’s who I belong to- the ragtag bunch of backpackers who do not have upward mobility anywhere even close to their home screens.  These noble folks are the masters of forward mobility.

I started hiking north on the AT on my birthday in 2007.  One thing I really enjoy right now is reading my original Trailjournal from that long hike.  I start reading about today on today, just 7 years later.  And over the next few weeks, I wake up and re-read that day’s journal, reliving the past, refreshing my outlook for the coming season.  No thru hikes for me this year, but I am excited about my progress in completing Cary Kish’s “1000 miles of hiking in Maine in one year” challenge.   I put in six more miles today.

 

 

Hiking Close to Home

I spent the last three days hiking away from my house and camping with friends and family. When I mean hiking away from, I don’t mean driving someplace and hiking there. I mean walking out the door, and stepping away from the house and crunching over the thick mantle of snow through the fields and forest to be outside for a while.

UT and Roy heading out- photo by John Clark

UT and Roy heading out- photo by John Clark

I’m very fortunate. While it’s probably true that anyone can walk out their door with a backpack on and eventually embrace trails and walking paths, if I walk for five minutes in just about any direction from my house then I’m in the woods.
Yesterday, brother Roy, my hiking buddy Tenzing, and I walked 7.2 miles to get to this cabin. We used snowshoes to break out the first half mile of trail, then put them away for a 2 mile road segment.

On the way there, we had a couple burgers and a sub sandwich at Drake’s, the only liquor/ gasoline/convenience store in this part of town.  Later, I was walking up a steep segment of steep trail when I shouted out,” Hey, we all forgot to pay for our  food!”

“I paid,” said Roy.

“So did I,” said Tenzing.

I was only able to make it right, via my pleading  “$10-bill-down-to-the-store” phone call to ever-faithful Auntie Mame, who helped me out yet again, as she does each and every single day.

Roy and Tom fueling up

Roy and Tom fueling up

We made good use of a freshly tracked snowmobile trail that had us chugging up 600 vertical feet. We put the snow shoes on again for the last two miles of our walk. We met a porcupine who was overhead, chomping bark along a branch of oak .  Roy learned that in Maine, you always look up in the woods, to see if there is a porcupine above you.

Twenty feet up in a tree- photo by John Clark

Twenty feet up in a tree- photo by John Clark

At the camp, we welcomed Dave and Kristi, who arrived on the back seats of two snowmobiles, with their sled full of gear in tow.  They made a couple of new friends on the way up here.

Kristi snags trail magic

Kristi snags trail magic

Auntie Mame and my sister-in-law V8 showed up an hour later after I cranked the wood stove and had the building warmed up.  Plenty of dry ash for us to throw into the cavernous stove.
The Jamrog brothers cooked up a Polish feast for dinner: three kinds of pierogis, grilled kielbasa, horseradish, sour cream, and mustard.
It was warm enough in the cabin that we let the stove go out overnight.
Different day the next morning- warmer and raining. Roy, Tenzing, and I perked up a few cups of coffee and headed back up the ridge for a four mile loop back to the cabin.  It was raining, in the 40′s, and the footing was like walking on sand.  The ice was melting.

Moist Weather Conditions- by John Clark

Moist Weather Conditions- by John Clark

I was packing light: iPod Shuffle, earphones, Garmin eTrex30, and my iPhone ( for  photos). The trail had softened up enough to make snowshoes a must, even with 1/4 inch of ice coating the branches of trees up on the 1200 foot ridge.

Brothers on another Summit

Brothers on another Summit

When we got back, Tenzing cooked an over-the-top mess of bacon, sausage, eggs, and onion home fries on the wood stove. IMG_2767

Inside my down sleeping bag, settled atop my Neo  Air,  I read Outside magazine and Cache Lake Country: Life in the North Woods.  We gabbed, and I was back and forth between z-time and reading.

Later, they’ll be more from Mame’s bottomless pit of appetizers, along with Kristi’s chili, Dave’s corn bread, and Jan’s Carrot Cake Cupcakes.

It’s getting windier, and clearing. Winter left for just a bit.

A couple of hours later, found Tenzing, Roy, and I atop the summit of Bald Rock Mountain, on a full-moon 5-mile hike to a summit overlooking Penobscot Bay. The rest of our gang had walked a more sensible three miles and turned back when it started to snow a bit.

Full moon weirdness- by John Clark

Full Moon Man Greeting – by John Clark

Roy maintains, “Up here, you can hike 20 miles in the snow and rain, and still gain weight.”

“May be, Roy, may be”.

Hiking Clark Island

Clark Island, a little known, private island in St. George, on the rocky coast of Maine, is definitely worth a hike. Pat, John, and I checked it out yesterday, as we dodged and weaved through serious winter wind on our 4 mile loop around the mostly abandoned territory.

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I found few little web details about this hike. We parked at the edge of the causeway, where there was space for just one vehicle. From there we walked straight ahead through the yard of the caretaker’s house and followed the well trodden winter path all the way to the end.
20140302-091431.jpg From there we decided to walk the shoreline rather than double back. The rockweed was slippery and tread uneven, so we were careful not to fall.

20140302-093426.jpg Part way back, we spotted an ancient trail that wound it’s way back over the main (unplowed) road. Here a photo of John beside a couple of balsam furs that have been stripped by what must if been a hungry deer.

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Here’s reference material from a 2002 Courier-Gazette:

“At the end of the causeway is a lone house that stands at the entrance of Clark Island. Beyond it are trails that wind through fields, stately pines and other trees and fragrant wild flowers. In a few places it was evident where deer traipsed through. A few of the trails led me to different granite quarries. Standing on the edge of one of the quarries and looking out and over the tree line I could see the ocean. Large slabs of granite and trees make the quarry secluded and private. Some of the rocks that border the area are a perfect spot to sit for a picnic or to lay back and sunbathe..”
This island is still untouched and has a great deal of history. One side of the island is built up with granite walls that form a pier. In the early 1900s, ships used to dock there and load up on granite that had been cut from the quarry. The operation stopped more than 70 years ago when workers struck water and it filled up and was never used again. Evidence of the quarry operation abounds. The rock pier still has steel or iron spikes where the tug boats used to tie up. And large slabs of granite still have ridges in them from where they were cut.

“Opposite the island, on the Clark Island peninsula, even more granite was taken. Operations there continued until 1969, when a fire destroyed the building that housed all the tools for the operation.

“At the time the quarry was at its peak was in the late 1930s and 40s,” said Arnold Hocking. Thomaston. Hocking’s father was superintendent of the quarry during the 1940s. “About 300 men worked there and they shipped out about 1,500 tons of paving blocks by barge a day.” The island and quarry operations were owned by John Meehan & Sons out of New York and Philadelphia, Hocking said.

“Hocking and his brother took over the operation of the quarry until the fire destroyed everything. Granite had been taken from the area since the early 1900s, before the island was serviced by electricity, Hocking said, and everything was operated by steam or compressed air.

Historical evidence, beautiful scenery and solitude make Clark Island a worthwhile destination.

Carey Kish: It’s time to step up to the 1,000-mile challenge | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

As part of a regimen for the 1,000-mile goal, include hiking time in Acadia National Park. With views like this, you’ll be invigorated in both body and mind. Carey Kish Photo

As part of a regimen for the 1,000-mile goal, include hiking time in Acadia National Park. With views like this, you’ll be invigorated in both body and mind.
Carey Kish Photo

Carey Kish’s idea is superb. I like the idea of setting a long term goal that requires bit of a stretch. Totally in the right direction, which is getting outside. It’s also Maine-based.

Hey, Carey, I’m on this bus! Maybe we can hike together sometime in this 2014 campaign. I vowed to stay close to home this year, and your plan is making me look forward to the next few months.
I’d like a third hike of the Hundred. Carey’s thru-hike of Baxter state park inspired me to do the same this coming August. And yes to Grafton Loop. Definitely will do a thru hike of the George’s Highland Path and all of Camden Hills State Park

Readers click here—>>Carey Kish: It’s time to step up to the 1,000-mile challenge | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram.