Click to check out Aislinn’s feature about my backpacking life in today’s Bangor Daily News–>
Click to check out Aislinn’s feature about my backpacking life in today’s Bangor Daily News–>
Yesterday, I changed my plan to backpack up here when the weather report scared me. Last week’s unseasonably warm Indian Summer is history.
It’s 1:30 in the afternoon and I’m here at the Maine Huts and Trails Flagstaff hut complex. This is my first time with Maine Huts and Trails, where they staff sustainable outdoor hotels in the forest. It’s 31 degrees out, with strong wind off Flagstaff Lake that’s pushing the cold even deeper today.
Snow flurries are scurrying about outside the insulated walls and windows of this main lodge- recently constructed on eastern shore of Flagstaff, a man-made lake that is the fourth largest in Maine.
I have camped in this area in all seasons, including one winter trip inside a heated wall tent about a mile from here when the temps dropped to 20 below, with an even colder wind off the lake that refrigerated the air around the tent’s wood stove. No amount of stoking could raise the heat in the tent to a comfortable level.
My original plan was to hike on the Appalachian Trail for a few days, in an area where I enjoy hanging out. I stayed at the local “hiker oasis”- the Stratton Motel last night, so that I could get an early start. My plan was to walk southbound on the AT from Route 27, then up and over the side trail to Sugarloaf summit. I like going up and over Sugarloaf- it’s the original Appalachian Trail route after all. I hoped I could get out of the elements and bed down in the now decrepit and supposedly vermin-infested Summit building. Today would have been a 12 mile day if it all worked out. But several factors combined to change my mind.
Cold- how about nights in the 20′s?
Uncertainty- about whether staying in the Sugarloaf summit building was still possible. It has been gloom and doom about the place for at least the past 5 years. In the warmer weather many options exist for sleeping, but right now I don’t want to either stand around in the long hours of dark and freezing cold. I envisioned getting way up there and finding the doors nailed and locked shut. Spending tonight up high in a little flimsy tent is definitely not on my Bucket List. I have not so fond memories of a yet another very cold, miserable December night- up on Bigelow- that does not need repeating.
Two other factors pushed the hiking into the “Nope” zone. Both were unsettling.
Both involved a connection to Sue Critchlow , the proprietor of the Stratton Motel/ Maine Roadhouse.
The first was a 2012 article from the Boston Phoenix where Sue was one of the local Stratton/ Rangely residents who was quoted heavily concerning the history of weird hovering lights in the area. Shades of extraterrestrial visitation.
The second was the 2013 mysterious disappearance of 66 year old Appalachian Trail hiker Geraldine Largay, who left the Poplar Ridge Lean-to shelter near Rangeley on Monday, July 22, after checking in with her husband via text message as she headed toward the Spaulding Mountain Lean-to, eight miles north. “Inchworm” (her AT trail name) had already hiked from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, almost 1000 miles, with her final destination the AT terminus at Katahdin. She was last seen by three male hikers that afternoon near Lone Mountain, about three miles from the Spaulding shelter. To them, Largay, seemed fine. Then she vanished, launching one of Maine’s largest missing-person searches in memory. For 11 days, hundreds of people on foot as well as ATVs and horseback, along with a helicopter, airplanes, and nine search dogs failed to turn up any perceptible trace of her passage.
Read more about the puzzle, including the mystery phone call Creighton stated she received from a woman who told her that she wanted to get word to George Largay that his wife would be late in meeting him. Full story here.
So, instead on a night out in the cold, mulling about the strange events here in drama city, I biked 19.2 miles from Route 27 today, where I put in at the trailhead parking for Maine Huts and Trails. I had the official map for this route, but needed to study it frequently, as it was my first time out on the route. There were plenty of signage, but this same complex of trails is used by snowmobiles, all terrain vehicles, hikers, cross country skiers, and snowshoers. There was at least one intersection where there were four choices to decide upon. Sort of complicated.
Sizing up the day at 7:10 PM tonight- it turned out great. I am the only guest here tonight, sleeping out in a three person dorm room in another cottage that is heated, but definitely not over 60 degrees. I spent the bulk of the afternoon on a big leather couch, about six feet out from a wood stove perched on a field stone hearth, where the warming flames of cowboy TV were visible through the glass doors.
Two of the staff and I ate supper together- a stir fry over rice with homemade bread, brownies, and peanut butter cookie, capped off with a glass of cold milk. They even materialized a bottle of Allagash White for me ( $5).
From 10/28/2013 to 12/19/2013, MH&T stops cooking meals for guests, but the Huts remain open, with a caretaker on premises. For that time period $35 a night ( $30 for members) gets you all the amenities ( yes for hot shower), including the use of the kitchen – $70 for a cold weather weekend of exploring in this area is a screaming deal. You could get up and over on the AT for a day hike up the Bigelows, walk the shore of this Lake a bit, or bring bikes up and ride around in the woods. Then hit the hot showers, use the kitchen, enjoy safe drinking water out of faucets, have electric lights to read by, and sleep in a heated room on a mattress.
Long Falls Dam Road is plowed all winter. It’s important to understand that you cannot actually drive into any of the four available Huts. You have to hike, bike, ski, or snowshoe in. The 1.8 mile traverse into Flagstaff Hut from the TraiIhead parking lot is the shortest trip in to any of the huts. It’s a whoop on a bike.
In the wee hours of the morning ( 4:12 AM), I realized that the weather would not compel many friends to accompany me on my birthday walk in the Park today:
I don’t work on my birthday. At least one day of my life should be scheduled to be free of responsibilities to the economic machine! Tonight will also feature a full moon, plus today is the anniversary of my setting foot on my first National Scenic Trail thru- hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2007.
Marcia got up to make me a birthday breakfast, along with providing a few cards and gifts. She’s the best.
I knew that I would be going it alone today, but hoped that I’d have some company in the Ski Shelter that I rented for tonight in the Camden Hills.
I’m fortunate to live here, where I can look out two big glass windows and take in a view of the valley and assess my destination today, up and over the sloping back side of the Camden Hills. After breakfast, I put on my Patagonia Specter rain jacket, shouldered my loaded pack, slide my hands into the rain mitts and under the straps of my Leki poles, and proceeded to walk across town, my own march to the sea.
I started walking on the crumbling snow coating the abandoned Proctor Road. It’s slippery underfoot, but I tried walking without traction devices on my feet and it seemed good. I’m getting used to walking again with a full pack. It feels familiar, but a bit uncomfortable, like a draft horse in a dry old harness that both need to loosen up a bit.
After I walked through some mud at the other end of the Proctor Road I wind my way down through Lincolnville Center. It’s been easy going so far, mostly downhill. Now the climb starts, first up the Thurlow Road, where it gets sketchier on an abandoned section that eventually crosses Youngtown Road, where it dumps me onto a snowmobile trail that heads up the back side of Cameron Mtn. This time of the year the terrain appears foreign, primarily due to the lack of leaves, so the tunnels seem lighter, longer, and more desolate. It’s cold, spitting light rain from the sky, and as long as I’m moving, I’m comfortable but I’m getting tired. I’ve been moving steady and at a good clip for two hours straight.
I forgot to pack snacks. I turned left at the base of Cameron and planned to take the downhill to link onto the Multipurpose trail. If you are following the map, I am right at the “4″ mark. I take a brief rest, reach into the pack, eat one of the lemon-filled cupcakes that Marcia made me for my birthday, and drink a pint of water from Tiki-man. My lower abdomen still is uncomfortable, residual healing from the hernia surgery from 5 weeks ago. The doctor tells me to walk through it, and assured me that I am healing well.
I really hope that more healing is done by the time I leave for the CDT in 16 days.
Two of my friends, Karl Gottshalk and Pat Hurley came by after 4 PM to spend the night in the shelter with me. Pat and I grilled up steaks out in one of the grill stations, and then we ate cake, provided by Karl. !
I plan to put in 9 more days of hiking, alternated with 9 rest days. I’m following the conditioning program favored by Ray Jardine, where I hope to culminate on a 12 mile day over these hills with 35 pounds in my pack. That should do it.
In Maine’s Sunday Telegram.
Big day hike in the Whites.
First, about the New England 4,000 Footers. This is an official list of mountains in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont that reach or exceed 4,000 feet in elevation. There are 67 on the list. I have less than 5 left to go, after picking off the rest of Vermont last August on my Long Trail thru-hike. I am now quite interested in finishing up, possibly before winter.
Mount Carrigain is on that list- at 4,710′. Normally a 10 mile up and back round trip, it was 14.7 miles today. The additional mileage consisted of walking back to the car after a night camping at Fourth Iron on the Saco River, plus the 4 miles of road walking on the Sawyer Pond Road, still gated after major washouts from Hurricane Irene last August.
Hikers need to know about Fourth Iron. The tent site appears on the map enclosed in my AMC New Hampshire Guidebook, but with no printed mention of it in the Guidebook itself. The parking area is about 3 miles west of Bartlett and leads to a hike-in group of 8 maintained tent sites, less than a half-mile, walking on flat-ground-to-get-there, off Route 302. All the sites ($8, USFS Honor system) were taken, so we meandered down the side of the Casco River until we found a most excellent spot that allowed us to roam around in the river.
My partner for this hike was Tenzing, aka John Clark, who spent the night in his new LLBean solo backpacking tent, while inside his new light weight sleeping bag, and on top of his new sleeping pad.Our dinner was comprised of us splitting one US Army dehydrated Enchilada MRE dinner, complete with all the fixins’. Plenty of calories for that to go around. Later, we had fun hanging our bear bag on a limb overhanging the side of the water. Big night for Tenzing and I both- to be resting aside the infant Casco River as it gathers momentum after descending in rivulets from the high flanks of the mountains surrounding Crawford Notch.
We were up at 5:30 AM and only had to move back to the car and drive it across the street to the parking area at the base of the gated Sawyer River Road. Those “in the know” had brought their bicycles with them to pedal up ( and coast 2 miles back) on the gradually inclined gravel road to the official start of the Signal Ridge Trail, which is now rerouted at the start and a short distance up Whiteface Brook, due to the massive logjams and washouts from Hurricane Irene ( 2011).
The trail is a gradual 1.7 mile hike up to the intersection with the Carrigain Notch Trail, where it continues itself over Carrigain Brook, eventually reaching 3 miles of steady climbing to the actual exposure of Signal Ridge, where the views just keep on coming. The end is now in sight, with the outline of the squat firetower ahead.On the way up, you pass the site of the old fire warden’s cabin, which would have been a peach of an assignment back in the day. There is ample water there in a boxed wooden spring. We reached the top at 11:30 AM, with views all the way to Washington in the east, to Franconia Ridge to the West, and all the way back south over the Kangamangus Highway to Mt. Chocorua. The Appalachain Trail and North and South Twins were to the north.
A large pile of pressure treated lumber and beams were on the ground, ready for a rebuild of the Firetower, the project starting this week, when access to the tower would be limited.
We passed just one lone hiker on the way up, who was finishing his New Hampshire 4,000 Footer list today. I took off my shirt, boots, and socks while relaxing on the deck of the tower, while I enjoyed what may be the best trail snack I’ve even had- Bacon Jerky !
A steady stream of hikers began to join us after 12 PM, when we gathered our gear and headed down. Surprisingly, it took us just about the same time to descend the first 3.3 miles as it took us to go up, due to the constant jumble of which-way rocks and crossways roots that made up the ancient trail.
I wish I had my bike waiting for me at the intersection of the Sawyer River road, so that I could have cruised back down those last two miles. They went on forever!
Tenzing’s complete photo album of the adventure is here: http://tinyurl.com/Carrigain8-18-12
Section Hiker is an excellent source for backpacking information for both experienced and beginner hikers. I subscribe via Twitter feeds, and generally read the whole content.
Today and tomorrow I am going to post two blog entries about selecting gear for backpacking.
Today’s entry is especially good- written by Trauma, who has hiked and written extensively about hiking since his initial steps on the AT with a grossly overloaded pack.
I spent $5 yesterday at the United.com website purchasing a ticket that will take me from Portland, Maine to El Paso, Texas on April 16, 2013. Of course, I had previously spent thousands more over the 5 year period that my United Mileage Plus credit card accumulated 43,000 air mile credits, but what’s not to like in being able to actually use those credits? I only had to use 12,500 of those points , so I have enough left over to buy my return trip ticket, which will be on or around October 1, likely from Bozeman, Montana.
Here’s the deal:There’s this National Scenic Trail out there, The Continental Divide Trail, that runs the length of the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada, and I plan to walk the thing in 167 days , some 3,000 miles long. That’s an average of 17.96 miles per day, if no days off, so I gotta keep moving on this one.
People who hear about the trip ask me about this trail- nobody knows about it. Few attempt it, fewer complete it. As a comparison, approximately 3,000 people attempt to thru hike the Appalachian Trail , 300 the Pacific Crest Trail, and 30 the CDT in any given year.
Now that I have set it up, I have to get ready.
One of the most complete and up to date sources I’ve found on the CDT is PMags’ A Quick and Dirty CDT Guide. I highly recommend that the reader click on the link and give it a quick scan to get a sense of how different this experience may be for me.
For instance, the AT and PCT are actual trails. The CDT is not yet complete and, from PMags’, “The concept of purity on the CDT is nearly non-existent. A choice of routes can be made due to weather, desire for resupply, fires, trail closures, wanting to see certain highlights or “just because”.
I hope to make it.
Before there was Lakewood’s Barkley, there was Lakewood’s PCT thru- hike. “Of all my days hiking, today was bar far the worst ever. The kind that really makes one reevaluate hiking. Let me take you through it…
The Hurricane is approaching!
I met Hurricane in South Tahoe while I was off the Pacific Crest Trail for resupply in 2010. He lives in New Zealand, and the PCT was his first experience of long distance backpacking. Hurricane and I stayed in the same crappy motel in Chester, then shared a room in Etna, California. We ate restaurant meals and hiked together for several days, before he stepped on the gas and left me in the dust. The last time I saw him he was using a thrift store aluminum cane to support his ailing knee. But he cranked up to 30 mile days and made it, along with a reputation for being the PCT Class of 2010′s Mr Angry.
In 2011, to everyone’s amazement, Hurricane struck out from the Mexican border on another thru hike, this time on The Continental Divide Trail. He lasted just a month, when sickness, bad water sources, and broiling heat sent him packing.
Somewhere between May of 2011 and the present Hurricane went back and completed a solo thru- hike of the 800 mile Arizona Trail. From the Arizona trail web site ” Some complete the trail from south to north, and others from north to south, all typically choosing spring or fall as the best time. Desert heat makes the summers too dangerous, and winter snow pack makes many areas almost impassable. All who complete portions or the entire trail do their homework; researching passages and access points, caching food and water, researching maps, guidebooks, and GPS coordinates, researching water sources and communities along the trail, honing their route finding abilities, following itineraries, and many keep journals and photographic records of their journeys to share their once-in-a-lifetime-experience.” Hurricane did none of this preparation, and he doesn’t keep a trail journal.
Last night I received a phone call from Hurricane, who is back in the USA, in Georgia- this time attempting a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. He had been hiking for just 4 days and was just about to reach North Carolina today, averaging 20 miles per day. He’s passing everybody, despite telling me he is 40 pounds heavier than when he reached Manning Park in Canada in 2010. He also said he’s out of shape, and that knee surgery to repair his ailing knee was unsuccessful, and that he’s down to ” bone on bone” on the bad knee.
Hurricane’s is a great story to tell. I’m sharing his story to show that this long distance hiking thing defies logic, for some of us. All you have to do is decide to reach beyond yourself and take action.
I told Hurricane that I will help him through Maine. Given his bum knee and Hurricane’s massive internal push machine, further damage could halt him again. I really want to pick him up at Baxter State Park and celebrate his latest accomplishment.
I turn 62 in 2 days. I plan to take the day off and hike a bunch. I’ll give the Hurricane a call and wish him well- it will be good for both of us.
The guy who played accordion for my old polka band, Tom Jamrog, is also a long distance hiker and backpacker. He blogs about his trips, and has a vigorous writing style. He recently posed a question on his blog; “what have you learned from Hiking?” and I decided to answer.
Troop 4 Marlboro, Algonquin Council B.S.A., Camp Resolute
I have been a hiker and backpacker all my life, ever since Boy Scouts. Growing up, my mom generally refused to let us ever play inside the house, even in winter. “So what if it’s cold, put on some mittens and your winter boots and go outside and play!” and I vividly recall games the neighborhood boys would play in the woods around our house or on the nearby golf course. Usually some variation of Capture The Flag.
As a youthful prank, my friend Kenny Paul and I once threw some firecrackers at the house of a neighbor boy. (Yes, it was us – the Statute of Limitations has run out, and besides, I think I was eleven years old.) The boy’s mom called the police. Ken was the star of the crosscountry team, and when the cruiser pulled up with blue lights blinking, I was surprised that I could keep up with him. Two cruisers spent some time in our neighborhood while Kenny and I spent the next three hours eluding them in an apple orchard. hmmmmm……. Later this inspired me to join the cross country team. I ran the the half mile in spring track. (2:14 was my personal best, if you really must know).
Kenny recently retired from his position as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, and he still is a runner. My older brother finally rediscovered his whereabouts after thirty years. Ken was also an excellent baseball pitcher. Once while on a training run though the neighborhood, a dog came out to chase. Kenny picked up a rock and beaned the dog from fifty feet away, knocking it unconscious. What coordination. I laughed when he told me his USMC specialty was artillery. He spent his adult life throwing stuff at people…..
Misery in the Great Outdoors
Camping with the Boy Scouts included a lot of miserable experiences amidst the fun. I never cooked for myself at home before going camping and trying it there. Baking my first potato in a campfire was half-burnt/half-raw, for example, and one memorable hike during a winter weekend, our patrol ploughed our way through thighdeep snow for three miles on a hike to nowhere. Ultimately I got Eagle Scout. why? mainly because my older brother had done it, and I looked up to him ( still do!).
To answer the specific question, It’s hard for me to separate hiking from Boy Scouts, in terms of what I learned. Don’t disrespect the Boy Scouts – I have some philosophical differences with their current leadership, over the ir policy toward gay persons and atheists (each of which are just fine with me) but overall the Boy Scouts fill an important need. Paul Theroux summed it up for me when he described his experience with the Boy Scouts.
Taking a side trail
During the time I was in Maine I did all the outdoorsy stuff – cross country ski, canoe ( the Allagash and Upper West Branch of the Penobscot) , hike, telemark, etc. I climbed Mt Washington and Katahdin in wintertime more than once…. but by comparison, the last few years in Hawaii I went through a period of not doing nearly much adventure-type stuff in the outdoors. Oh well, yeah, I was spending every summer time in rural Nepal teaching with Christian Medical Missionaries and taking day hikes, doing the Asian Travel thing (no, I did not climb Everest at any time…….that’s the usual Nepal question I get from fellow backpackers…) and here in Hawaii I was going to the beach (Sandy’s) and day hiking… but .. it wasn’t the Real Thing. And the weather here is so nice that it’s missing an element …….
Passing it on
I always took my kids on outdoorsy adventures. Glad to have two daughters because then the pressure was off and I knew I would never have to be an adult scout leader. I was saved from having to spend any more weekends with bunches of eleven-year-old boys. (thank you God!) but taught both my girls all the skills anyway. Yes, both my kids learned to make a fire, paddle a canoe, predict the weather by looking at the clouds, and read a topo map. When they were six and eight, we took them on a week long canoe camping trip, retracing Thoreau’s path on the Upper West Branch of the Penobscot River in Maine. When the younger one announced her intention to do a through-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2010, I was reminded of long-ago solemn promise made at a campfire, that I would join her on that quest, should the day ever come.
My 2010 hike
When the summons to hike long-distance came, I was old. And fat. But this served as a personal challenge to get into enough shape to be a respectable hiking buddy. And that’s where the learning began again. In order to keep up with Whoopie Pie, I decided I would do my own solo hike for a few hundred miles and get in shape before hand. And besides, she didn’t want to do the whole thing with me, she was going to hike her own hike. So in May I started off in the hundred or so miles that traverse Massachusetts, averaging eight miles a day through the Berkshires. A few days to recuperate and restarted in Vermont, about two hundred miles through the Green Mountains and into New Hampshire, by this time averaging eleven miles a day. Another hundred through Shenandoah National Park, and finally co-hiked with Whoopie Pie. By the end of the summer I was not so fat; and I learned that I was not so old, either. I hiked 475 miles in that summer.
I think most writers focus on the physical challenge of doing this, but most of the highlights for me were a bit of the meditative variety, and a good hike serves as a daydream for a long time afterwards. A variety of mountaintops in seven states. Hearing loons on a pond on Vermont, for the first time in five years. The night at the Tom Leonard Lean-to listening to nesting hoot owls. Cleaning the dead leaves from a mountain spring, and the wonderment of finding a fist-sized jellylike clump of frog’s eggs. The evening Julie and lay in our bunks in a cabin in Vermont listening to the soft conversations of other hikers during six days of cold rain in the Green Mountains. The “problem bear” at Shenandoah when I was the only person in the lean-to that night. Having heatstroke on two occasions. The bedazzlement of thousands of butterflies, a cloud of butterflies, in a dewy meadow of wildflowers in Shenandoah National Park. Being sick with bronchitis and experiencing SVT overnight after taking cough medicine, wondering how I would get evacuated from such a remote place. Walking out on my own the next morning.
And of course – Smarts Mountain
The people who comprise the subculture of the Trail are always a highlight, and I learn a lot from them. One day’s hike sticks out. I got to the Fire Warden’s cabin at Smart’s Mountain New Hampshire at the end of a fourteen mile day, knowing for the last five miles that I needed to beat an oncoming thunderstorm. The approach from the south is very steep, with iron rungs forming a sort of ladder over the steepest sections. The rain pelted down, forming a waterfall on the trail as I ascended. At one point my heart sank when the clouds parted and I realized I was nowhere as close as I thought I was, darkness was approaching and I needed to skedaddle. Lightning was hitting less than a half mile away as I got above timberline, dashing the last half mile like a frenzied animal.
To get there I had elected to hop past the Trapper John leanto, but to my surprise I was passed from behind at the last minute by Roaring Lion and Snow White, two through-hikers who had hopped past two leantos, and come from six miles even further south than me that day. One other guy was already there. The cabin smelled of dead porcupine but the roof was intact. RL, SW, and I each got out of our clothes and did what all long distance hikers do – get into the dry sleeping bag, eat something, and regain some strength. As we lay there we agreed that the lightning was – exciting.
Everything I learned in Boy Scouts told me not to do what I just did.
Then we had dinner, and the usual bull session as we got to know each other. We shared that special comraderie of people who know that what they just did, (hiking uphill into a lightning storm,) was crazy; and yet, who know they are also in the company of others equally crazy.
Best summed in a saying
A friend is somebody who will bail you out of jail. A best friend is somebody who in handcuffed on the bench next to you saying “man, that was awesome”
Later that same summer, I did a 22 mile day in Shenandoah National Park. And a few other feats in which I picked them up and put them down. The highlight was to hold my own when I finally caught up with my old hiking buddy, Whoopie Pie.
From then on, for the rest of that summer, I knew: I can still push myself, further and harder than I thought.
And I have some best friends. On the Trail.