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.

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.

Russell Pond Campground in Baxter state park

Chimney Pond –>Roaring Brook Campgrounds–>Lean-to at Russell Pond CG.
10.8 miles

Despite adding another hiker to our duo, we were able to started hiking today at 7:15 AM. We encountered dozens of hikers that were coming up the 3.3 miles ( and 1500′) from Roaring Brook campground to Chimney Pond.

Chris had come in on his own, and had the consciousness of a heap of throb after he lumped his 40 pound pack up here yesterday afternoon.  However this morning, he carried himself surprisingly well on the descent.  We stopped just once on the way down. Here is a video clip of Chris checking in with “The Daily Inventory of Pain”, a phrase and practice coined by my Canadian hiking buddy The Burglar.


When we reached our cars at the parking lot, Chris decided to take me up on my offer to look through his stuff and suggest what might be left behind to get his pack weight down.  I implemented the bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, and clothes closet pile technique and watched him orient his gear in the proper categories.  Chris’ empty backpack/ day pack military ops combo weighted 6 pounds one ounce empty. He reluctantly replaced that with the 3 pound ULA Catalyst that I had given him.  Even his camp chair was dumped, shedding 2+ more pounds. In the end, Chris reduced his load to 28 pounds, a much more reasonable weight that included even more meals than he carried up last night.

Guthook was on his own today. He went back up high over Hamlin Peak then took the North Peaks Trail and ended up with us in lean-to #5 at Russell Pond.

Number 5 , Baxter style

Number 5 , Baxter style

I was hoping to meet up with the Russell Pond ranger, Brendan, who lives not far from my house, but Guthook met up with Brendan, who opted for the challenge of the high route as he was headed home for a couple of days.

The walking was especially great, and followed a big day of going up and down. I was transported back in time as we passed the huge glacial boulder known as Halfway Rock. My wife Auntie Mame and sons Lincoln and Arlo were in my thoughts today, as they were physically back in the 1980’s when our family traversed this and many other of Baxter’s trails on our annual Columbus Day weekends.  Today the trail was wooded, dappled in greens, and frankly, easy.  We were in the green tunnel all day long. Today, Chris and I took the right fork over the Wassataquoik Trail.

We made two fords: one little and another wider over Wassataquoik Stream, about 2 miles before we ended the day’s walk. It made sense to keep my feet bare and walk the 100 feet or so across a fairly soft footpath to the second ford, rather than putting the boots on and taking them off and then putting them on and off again a minute later.  I was shocked to find a leech already stuck to the heel of my foot, even though I had been in the water for less than a minute.

We were way off on our own in Lean-To #5 at Russell. 

Lean-To #5

Lean-To #5

Dead wood was scarce, and what few solid sticks we could find were some distance from our spot. I bear-bagged my food way up in a tree after I spotted a huge pile of bear crap beside a nearby blueberry patch.
The crowds are gone now that we left Katahdin.
We had our session of “cowboy TV ” on a small wooden bench in front of the  cracking spruce wood fire.
I was asleep before dark.

Thru-hiking Baxter State Park – Day 1 of 7

3.3 miles

IMG_3417.JPGI welcomed myself back to Baxter State Park today. It’s been two years since I’ve been to this most unique setting. Katahdin’s fantastic granite glacial cirque is set within in a 200,000 acre public state park that is run with a management style that has been strictly preservationist. Decades old man-made structures are generally razed rather than replaced. Here is one place on earth that graces wilderness, showcasing it quietly.

Despite my friend Chris and I rendezvoused at Guthook’s house at 6 AM, we weren’t able to reach the Roaring Brook Campground until 2 PM. This trip involved a lot of driving. Guthook and I drove both our cars all the way up to Exit 264 on Maine’s I-95 and then wound our way through the backwoods hardscrabble of Patten, a tiny berg that is slowly being populated by Mennonites.

We eventually passed through the northern Matagannon gate of Baxter and spotted my Caravan in the parking lot at South Branch Pond Campground, where we each have stashed three breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, as well as any snacks that we’d need for our last several days in the infrequently visited northeast corner of the Park. Then Guthhook and I got into his Jetta and he proceeded to drive us some 47 miles, and mostly obeying the 20 MPH speed limit on the Park Tote Road to the southern gate and then twelve more miles northeast to Roaring Brook Campground.
The trail from the parking lot to Chimney Pond Campground is not flat. I remembered it as very gradually going up for the whole 3.3 miles. It’s REALLY not flat, ascending 1,500 feet in that distance, most of the rise coming in the middle mile. It’s a pretty tough right out of the parking lot, especially with a sack full of gear and food in your back.
I am still stunned at the granite studded footpath, one interspersed with roots of all textures, depths, and angles that are criss-crossing the trail.
Our reservations tonight are in the Bunkhouse, which holds twelve. It’s functional, with an enclosed outer hallway with one common room that has a picnic table off to one side, a stainless steel clad cooking surface along one wall, and a big honking airtight wood stove in the center of the room. When I arrived at 2 PM, the place was loaded up with about 10 people, some playing cards at the table in 2 groups, and others laying around on the bunks chatting and sleeping. In a little while another group of 3 newcomers came in, along with even more people. It got really noisy. I wanted to claim a bottom bunk and just lay out for a while. That’s when I learned that most of this crowd had slept there the night before and had remained through the next afternoon. They were in no mood for giving us the spaces we had reserved four months ago. I had to ask a vacant teenage girl to please move her self and her gear so that I could set up my slotted space. It took a couple of hours for them to clear out, and then things became much more enjoyable.
A young bilingual couple from Quebec, a three generation set of males from Benton, Maine, and a father and his son rounded out the evening’s other occupants. The place was quite dark, but had a couple of propane lights that illuminated and also heated the room a bit.
It was an early night.
Tomorrow we hike Katahdin. I am always nervous about how I will do. Could also be a Knife Edge day.

Guthook’s own blog entry for this day is here

New, No…Restored !…More Acadia Trails

Based on this article, I plan to get up to Acadia and hike these newly cleared historic trails.  Big news for hiking fans. Microadventure coming up!

Here’s just a teaser from the article.  “Fifteen years into the rehabilitation campaign, 12 miles of those trails are reclaimed. The most recent were the 1915 Homan’s Path, featuring 400 spiraling granite stairs; the Penobscot South Ridge Trail, with sweeping views of the Atlantic and the Cranberry Islands; and the 1890s Quarry Path, where granite for the Congressional Library, Brooklyn Bridge and Philadelphia Mint was once mined.”

Restoring Acadia’s Trails.<<–Full article here

How Exercise Helps us Tolerate Pain

The NYTIMES ran a health article about this admittedly small sample research project today.

How Exercise Helps Tolerate Pain

I don’t need this study to include more than a meager sample of 12 to know it’s the truth.

At this point in my life I regularly engage in a level of exercise that pushes me right to the pain zone: mountain biking, backpacking, hiking, snowshoeing, or snow biking.

My wife tells other people, “Everything Tom does for sports has to have suffering in it”.
IMG_2179.JPG
It’s pretty simple. If I am going on a challenging hike, I want to experience it as easier that other activities that I have suffered through. For example, I’m headed up to Katahdin for a week of backpacking. I have prepared by carrying a mass of iron chain that pushes to weight in my back pack to 23 pounds. I train on steep trails, where I m pushing to 3.5 mph.

Hurting helps.

My Packing List – 1 Week/ Baxter State Park

Still working on streamlining my current backpacking gear.  My “kit” is now down to 15 pounds without food or water.  Since all but one night will be under shelter ( 3 sided lean-tos ), I will probably ditch my 2 pound tent and be down to 13 pounds.  Comments, suggestions , and questions welcome.

“The more you know, the less you carry”- Mors Kochanski

Uncle Tom’s Final Packing list  (rev. 8.14)

1. Pack Group:
1 Backpack – Granite Gear Leopard AC 58…………………   49 .0 oz =3.06  lbs.

2. Shelter Group:
rain wrap                                                                                          2.4 oz
rain jacket                                                                                        8.0 oz
1 Tarptent -Moment —–                                                            32.0 oz.
Total…………………………………………….                                      42.4  oz  = 2.65 lbs

3. Sleeping Group:
1 down bag, Western Mountaineering/stuff sack, 40°F        26.0 oz.
1 Ibex wool long sleeve zip T                                                       5.8 oz.
1 Ibex long tights                                                                            5.4 oz
1 socks wool                                                                                    2.6 oz.
1 headlamp w/ batteries  ( Princeton Byte)                              2.1 oz.
1 stuff sack sil-nylon………………………                                        1.3 oz.
1  Neo Air  inflatable mattress                                                   13.0
Total……………………………………………                                        56. ounces  = 3.5 lbs.

4.  Spare Clothing :
1 pr. wool socks                                                                              2.9 oz.
1 pr. Manzilla Windstopper gloves                                            2.2 0z.
1 Ibex wool hat                                                                               2.1 oz.
1 pr.  Patagonia mid weight stretch tights                                8.6 oz.
1  wool Patagonia midweight long sleeve hoodie                    9.4 oz.
1 Patagonia Puffball  jacket                                                         11 oz.
1 pr. New Balance Minimus shoes                                               9.0
Total……………………………………………                                       45.0  ounces=  2.8 lbs.

5. Kitchen Group:
1 Steripen  Utra                                                                               4.8 oz.
1  “Four Dog”  Bushcooker LT1 multifuel stove,  titanium
windscreen, titanium cook pot 700 ml w/ lid                         10.0 oz.
2 lighters…………………………………………….                                 1.2 oz.
1 water bottle – used Gatorade bottle…                                       1.7 oz.
1 qt. water bottle ( “Triple Crown Tiki Mon”)                           5.4 oz.
1 Ursak Minor – food bag………….                                                2.7 oz.
abrasive scrub pad, Bronner’s soap                                            1.0 oz.
1 titanium spork……………………………………                               0.3 oz.
1 cup, bowl=Orikaso                                                                      4.2 oz.
1 MSR coffee filter                                                                          0.6 oz.
2 bandannas………………………………………..                               2.0 oz.
1 length cord – 50’……………………………..                                   2.5 oz.
Total………………………………………….                                          36.  ounces     =  2.25  lbs.

6. Hygiene Group:
1 small pack towel……………………………..                                   1.0 oz.
1 bottle hand cleaner                     …………                                   1.3 oz.
1 small zip lock………………………………….                                   1.3 oz
w/ floss, vitamins, ointment, emery boards
1    toilet paper……………………..                                                   1.0 oz.
1 Baby wipes                                                                                    2.0 oz.
1 chap stick                                                                                       0.2 oz.
1 disposable razor                                                                           0.1 oz.
1 small child toothbrush……………………..                                  0.5 oz
1 small tube tooth paste…………………….                                    0.7 oz.
Total……………………………………………..                                       9.4  ounces  =  0.6 lbs

7. Electronics:
1    iPhone with headphones                                                            5.1 oz.
1    Olympus Stylus Tg-830 waterproof digital camera/video  7.1 oz.
1      Anker portable charger for camera, iPhone, Steripen       4.2 oz.
Total……………………………………………..                                          16.4 ounces =   1.0 lb

8. Navigation:
Map, compass                                                                                            3.9 oz.   =    0.2  lb

9. Wearing:
1 cap                        1 pr. On The Beach/ boots
1 pr. sunglasses                1 pr. gaiters
1 pr. Leki poles                1 pr.  socks
1 Ibex wool zip-t        1 pr. synthetic underpants     1 pr. Patagonia shorts

Total packed weight  without food, or water                                   15    pounds