Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail | Longreads

I am still benefitting from my most enjoyable, 5 day walk on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  The cool temps, abundant wildflowers, word-class terrain, challenging climbs, fragrant forests,  plentiful water sources, and the top-notch Kincora hostel all contributed to an experience that continues to enrich me, as I reminisce daily about that ancient path and the effect it had in uplifting my spirits.

In 1955, a most amazing story began to unfold, when a tiny, aged woman laced up her Keds and started walking from Mt. Oglethorpe, Georgia.  Grandma Gatewood’s story needs to be heard today, when the complexity of one’s life begs for simplification.

This week’s Longreads Member’s Pick is the the opening chapter of Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, the new book by Ben Montgomery about Emma Gatewood, the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail alone—and who did so at the age of 67.  I  opened the following link and ordered the book after reading the introductory chapter.  It is so well written.  Check it out:—>>Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail | Longreads.

“Breeze”-Maine Triple Crowner, in AT magazine

In the current issue of AT Journeys ( April 2014),  Maine’s Brendan Drapeau ( aka Breeze) gets some well deserved  press coverage.  Download a PDF of the full article/with photos here  -Courtesy of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s official membership magazine A.T. Journeys  (http://www.appalachiantrail.org). The latest electronic issue is not yet available on the ATC’s website, but thanks to Wendy Probst, Editor, the article can be viewed here in its full format  (please respect that it is not to be copied , or altered in any way).  If anyone has a better solution for me to get this this to you, let me know.  As it stands, the first link above will result in  you downloading a PDF of the article (complete with photos) onto your device/computer, where it can be opened with Adobe Reader.

I briefly corresponded with Breeze before we both started our thru-hikes and was hoping to meet him on the CDT.  Breeze eventually surprised me by walking up to me at the decidedly funky Gila Hot Springs campground, just down the hill from Doc Campbell’s post.  Here’s a few pics from our rendezvous.

Mainers meet in New Mexico

Mainers meet in New Mexico

 

Uncle Tom and Breeze sporting their Appalachian Trail tattoos

Uncle Tom and Breeze sporting their Appalachian Trail tattoos

Breeze hiked with MeGatex for a few weeks, before he turned on the accelerator and took off.  He taught me to leave a motel room cleaner than when you entered it, a most unique practice among the normally messy stuff that Hiker trash normally walk away from after a night of copious cleaning, washing, and consumption.

Breeze and and I were both in the habit of rising at daybreak.  Breeze has a huge long stride.  He makes his mega mileages by walking early, walking all day, and then usually walking a bit later after supper.  His through hikes of both the AT and the PCT were done in a startling short number of days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Gulf Hagas Winter Walk

Overlooking Pleasant River

Overlooking Pleasant River

I’ve visited Gulf Hagas a few times over the years, the last time in 2007, as I was finishing up my thru- hike of the Appalachian Trail.  Back then, it was a warm day in September, and we took a whole day to detour off the AT to explore what many consider ” a wilderness setting unsurpassed in the 2,000 miles of the Appalchian”.  General Lee, Bird Dawg, Richard Wizard, Queso, Life Traveler,  and I showered under Screw Auger Falls at the beginning, and then soaked in a giant pool at the Head of the Gulf that day.   We were the only thru-hikers that month who took the day off to check out the gorge’s 100 foot high slate walls. Everyone’s rushing lately, even hikers taking five months off to walk in woods.

In January, it’s a completely different experience.  It was Bonelady’s day off from cooking meals at Little Lyford Camps and Lodge, so we were able to hike the 10.4 mile round trip together. We left at 9:30 am and were back by 2:30. Snowshoes were lashed to our day packs, but we never used them.  The rains and warm temps of the last week lowered the snow cover to about a foot.

Head of the Gulf

Head of the Gulf

The first two miles of trail were flat and hard-packed, due to the relatively easy access to the Head of the Gulf, where most of the LLC guests stop and return after viewing the winter watercourse of the West Branch of the Pleasant River.

Bonelady points out feature

Bonelady points out feature

The view today featured ice, and the roaring cascades of  unique, light brown-tinged water that is characteristic of the iron deposits within the bedrock here.  The canyon itself is three miles long, with a trail that ascends and descends a few hundred feet, mostly along the top of the cliff alongside the raging waters below. This is the third winter that Bonelady has worked at Little Lyford Camps and she said she’s never seen the water this high. This week, five inches of rain and unseasonably warm temperatures have released unimaginable amounts of water from the melting snow cover.

Close-up of Billings Falls

Close-up of Billings Falls

Billings Falls was most spectacular.  Massive sculpted mantles formed a horseshoe of greenish ice that reached twenty feet from the top down to open pool of frothy churn below.  No summer rafting here- due to the numerous waterfalls over the 600 foot drop in elevation along the watercourse.  You can here it briefly here:

I’m not sure one could get through here today without traction devices.

Standing above Screw Auger Falls

Standing above Screw Auger Falls

Long way down

Long way down

I wore a pair of Stabilicers and Bonelady was sporting her Kaltoonas. There were three steep, icy pitches on the walk where I was super careful not to fall. Thank God for vegetable handholds in the form of exposed roots and saplings.  On the way back, the firm cover had started to melt, welcoming us to post holing through to our shins, with no cuts or bruises.

By the time I made it back to LLC, I was seriously beat. This woman can move.  My right little toe was sore, but thankfully not blistered.  I am not used to walking this distance in LL Bean winter, rubber-soled boots.

I am staying in an empty bedroom in staff housing for the next two nights.  The building has been partly renovated this summer with a new wood stove and bathroom with flush toilet and hot water, heated by a Rinnai on-demand wall unit.

The rest of the day was laid back.  I took a hot shower, meditated for half an hour, and then hung out on the couch- reading, writing, and chatting with Bonelady.  After it got dark, we took a short walk onto the frozen surface to watch the full moon rise on one end of the pond, with Baker Mountain looming up on the other end. None better.

Then no rush getting over to supper of Alfredo pasta with chicken, broccoli, fresh bread sticks, and carrot cake for dessert.

The wood- fired sauna had been heating up all afternoon, so a couple of sweat sessions at 180 degrees made up the after dinner program.

I fought to stay awake unit 9 pm, when I trundled my way upstairs where I pulled back the curtains and threw open the window to let in the refreshingly cool night air.  A giant skylight hovered above me, flooding the full moon’s magic into the room.  Into the Silence I went.

Liking Little Lyford Cabins

I  left the house at 9 AM and rolled into Greenville down past the Indian Hill trading post exactly at 11. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, the view of Moosehead Lake unfolding downhill stuns me.  Today, the surface of the lake is covered in standing water, with the temperatures above freezing after some 5 inches of rain and a unexpected thaw. It’s eerie.

I grabbed a quick lunch of corn chowder and a hot dog, then drove out of town past the airport along the Katahdin Iron Works ( or “KI road”) for ten miles or so toward increasing wilderness and the Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins winter parking lot at Hedgehog Gate.  It didn’t take long for me to become terrified. It was steadily raining now, and any sand that had been spread over the thick ice on the road had long been washed away.  The roadway is essentially a lubricated, smooth ice-rink. But ice rinks are flat, and this goes up and down and pitches from side to side.  The only reason I didn’t skid off was 4 newly studded winter snow tires on my 2000 Plymouth Voyager.  Even so, I was so anxious and hyped up that I settled myself by “pranayama-ing” along, with one hand up on my nose, alternating yogic nostril closures while the other hand gingerly worked the steering wheel at 20 miles an hour. I knew that one mistake would skid me into the deeper snow on the side of the road, and so far there was no one else dumb enough to be out here. There were also no ” rescue me” Verizon bars showing on my iPhone.  I was definitely on my own, creeping and sliding.

Toward the end of the road, I saw my first and only vehicle- a white 4 wheeled drive pickup traveling in the same direction way up ahead. I thought that if I could catch it, they would see me behind them, and rescue me if they watched my head lights flash sideways if and when I skidded off.

I knew I was in trouble as I advanced up the last long uphill.  I was coming up the hill faster than they were to the point where I had to start slowing dow or I would run into them- uphill!   Why were they going so slowly?  Momentum was the only way I could make it up.  If I had to stop on the hill, I would not be able to start uphill again, and would likely have to back all of the way down to a flat spot and try again. Miraculously, I crept to the top behind them, and there was the sanctuary of the parking lot.

The lot itself was so icy that I had to put on my traction devices just to unload my gear, including my Pugsley.  The three guys in the truck were also headed into Little Lyford. You unload your gear here into a little kiosk where a snowmobile trailers it into LL at 2 pm every day, allowing the unfettered guest to ski or snowshoe 6.2 miles into camp.

The driver of the truck was shocked to hear that my vehicle was not all wheel drive. They were experienced outdoorsmen, and worked in the military- aviation mechanics. I learned why they were moving so slowly. This was their second attempt at coming in this morning. The first time, they actually turned around and went back to Greenville where they bought  chains to attach to the wheels. The slow speed was necessary to prevent centrifugal force from stretching the newly-installed chains.  Slow and steady worked for them, as it did for me.

I am definitely an oddity with my bike here.  In fact, I had to get permission to ride to LL this winter season.  Yes, I’m the first fat-tired bike rider to cruise the winter road to LLC.  I gambled that the surface would hold me up and won. The other three Bangor guys walked in with the aid of traction devices, taking them two hours and 45 minutes, an average time for foot travel.  I, on the bike, clocked in at 1 hour and 3 minutes.  All my practice with recent ice riding trips in midcoast Maine for the past two weeks paid off.  Using my studded 45N tires made a fall-free entrance possible, running 3.5 psi front and rear.  I had a blast.

I’m here at the invitation of my new Triple Crown backpacking friend Bonelady, who is the head cook this winter, her third in a row. We had been Facebook CDT 2013 Group acquaintances until we met face to face on the Continental Divide Trail this season.  I have wanted to stay here for a few years now, but it has never materialized.  Turns out, the guest count is nonexistent at mid-week , and I promised to be no bother.

I’m staying in Little Lyford’s littlest cabin tonight.

My cabin

My cabin

I overheated it.  Bonelady warned me that it would probably be too warm, but even with a one stick stoke at 4 pm, by my bedtime after 9, it must have been over 80 degrees inside. The log walls and metal roof hold the heat.

A wood stove and a water basin are just fine

A wood stove and a water basin are just fine

One bed- propane lights illuminate ( and heat up)  the spaceOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s a coupe of propane lights on the wall with an ancient outhouse out back.

My very own outhouse

My very own outhouse

Little Lyford camps have been in this exact location since it was started up as a lumbering camp in 1870. The Appalachian Mountain Club has owned it for the past 10 years. It is a thrill to experience this setting.

Main lodge- dining room and library

Main lodge- dining room and library

And yes, the food is superb, and plenty of it.

To read more about Little Lyford check out Village in the Woods from the January 2014 issue of Downeast Magazine.

“Embrace the Brutality” -DVD: My Review

DVD CoverEmbrace The Brutality: A Continental Divide Adventure is the second backpacking documentary that was recorded, directed, and edited by Triple Crowner Shane “ Jester” O’Donnell.  Released in 2013, it follows up Jester’s initial “big screen” production-  “Wizards of the PCT”.

Definitely check this DVD out.  Let Jester take you through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana over some 3,000 miles on a 5 months roller coaster of a hike that he eventually completes with friends.    Where else can you view a forlorn middle-aged man whine about losing twenty five pounds, with a sincere promise to try and eat more – “somehow”, in order to prevent further weight loss.  Seriously.

After two viewings ( I bought the DVD), the most striking impression about their journey is the positive tone conveyed by this DVD.  These folks just keep laughing and smiling as they experience the most challenging terrain and weather in this ” Walk in the Non Woods”.

Crawling over sand and cactus needles while wriggling under barbed wire fences? No problem- let the gang show you two useful techniques to make it happen.  Rain on successive days in Colorado, where the trail is generally up over 10,000 feet?  Let’s crack a few jokes and move on. Falling down while filming- feature it!
Lost?  Jester gives new meaning to the term, which is parsed out and redefined in fresh new terms like “ off trail but not lost”,  I empathize with Jester’s episodes of hiking and camping alone at altitude- it’s definitely a task to get back to your hiking mates after wandering off-trail, and  once you are back on trail, you then realize that you don’t know if your peeps or partner is ahead or behind you.  Do you speed up or slow down?  You’ll see.

Included are the obligatory gross-out clips of hikers pointing to the incomprehensible clusters of bubbles of blisters on their feet and the subsequent gushers that occur when such painful blisters are pierced and drained by sewing needles.

There are no teaching segments, no gear reviews, no recommendations for outfitting your self for such a unusual life pursuit.  That’s best left to other film makers who are focusing in on the How-To’s of pulling off this ultralight backpacking thing these days. (For that, check out Dave Collins’ Clever Hiker tutorial series.)  What’s left is the experience of what it’s like to hike- all day every day- for 5 months straight- no matter if it’s raining, snowing, or a blowing sand in your face.

I definitely recommend viewing this DVD if you are considering hiking a long-distance National Scenic Trail.  If you are not sure about whether you  want to hike for 5 months straight, you may think twice after seeing some of the real-life challenges faced by these members of The CDT Class or 2012.
The DVD can be purchased from Amazon ($24)  or directly from Jester for $20, which includes domestic and international shipping. An even better deal is $36 and free shipping for both DVD’s.  Trust me, if you have seen one, you want the other.

Maine Huts and Trails- wrap up

My bunk room morphed up to warmer last night.
The crew told me the building was so well insulated that a person’s body heat was often sufficient to turn things around.  The bunk houses are heated to around 60 degrees in the off season as well, as there is a caretaker for each hut. However since it is not a full season with a dedicated hut staff to stoke the fires in the basement on a regular around the clock schedule, there might be small fluctuations in heat (never below 50, between 57 to 65), depending on the outside temperatures. Hot water prevails, as well.

In the morning, I made myself drip coffee from the pile of filters and fresh ground Carabasset the boys set out for me before they went up last night.  Normally, breakfast is served st 7:40, but I suggested that they sleep in, courtesy of me!
At 8 sharp I was sitting in the dining room in front of a hot plate of eggs, sausage, and toast.

Flagstaff Dining Room

Flagstaff Dining Room

Lunch fixin’s were set out for me to make my own peanut and jelly sandwich, accompanied by a brownie and granola bar.

Flagstaff Lake shoreline

Flagstaff Lake shoreline

The morning light illuminated the shore and the few leaves that remained on the deciduous trees.

I’m heading back today.  On the way in here, it was unsafe to listen to music via earphones and iPhone- too many pulp trucks thundering down Long Falls Dam as well as  the gravel Carriage Roads to be distracted by tunes. I needed to hear these trucks coming. They don’t slow down at all and the roads are narrow.
This is the last weekend for MH&T to offer their full service meal plans as part of the package here (at regular rates).  Twenty folks are coming in today to stay for this last serviced  weekend- a ” yoga group”.
From October 29 until December 19 daily rates drop more than 50%, down to $35 for nonmembers and $30 for members. For that price, you get everything this place offers except the meal plan.  Guests are free to bring in their own food and use the kitchen.
In sum, I enjoyed my stay here. The facilities are unique- interesting and comfortable. I liked being taken care of. The shower was hot, the couch and reading chairs were super comfortable.
One of the parts I liked about the trip into here along the trail from Sugarloaf/Route 27 was crossing the Appalachian Trail at the exact same place that I walked over on my 2007 thru-hike.

Two thousand miles on AT from Georgia to here!

Two thousand miles on AT from Georgia to here!

It brought back positive memories.
People need to know that the terrain that surrounds the MH&T trail is mostly low country, and right now is surrounded by fresh logging activity.

Fresh logging visible along trail into Flagstaff

Fresh logging visible along trail into Flagstaff

It’s often not so scenic. Don’t get me wrong- in the warm weather the deciduous leaves will hide the freshly cut slash and stumps. Conversely, when the area is blanketed by snow the skiing, snowshoeing, and even mountain biking will be framed in a more natural situation.
I could be wrong, but there is one more reason why MH&T lets their crews go for the next month and a half.  It’s deer hunting season in Maine, and folks will definitely need to be wearing hunter orange if they travel these woods in November.  This looks like prime hunting territory.

This is quite an undertaking- these ” wilderness hotels” that are steadily coming online up here.  I am really pleased to finally experience what they are all about.
I appreciated the care and attention that the staff gave me here, even though I was the only client.
I plan to be back here before the rates double up and return to normal just before the Holiday season.

Bridge along Narrow Gauge path

Bridge along Narrow Gauge path

I have viewed enough YouTube clips to know that I want to ride my Pugsley along the groomed snow pack.

First time out on Maine Huts and Trails

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.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  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?
Snow- flurries.
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. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 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. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 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. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

Still slipping and sliding in the Camden Hills

8 mile loop hike from Carriage Rd. trail head

8 mile loop hike from Carriage Rd. trail head

The day was dry, but the footing was often wet, but I made it up and around with nothing more than wet feet on today’s training hike.
The mandatory picture from the top of Mt. Megunticook shows the remains of snow along the edge of the plowed Mt. Battie Road.

Enough Said

Enough Said

Two miles of trail from Ocean Lookout back to the top of Megunticook and then down the Ridge Trail to Jack Williams Trail (JWT) is still covered with appreciable snow, and even ice floes on the descent to the connector to JWT. IMG_1473 I didn’t have traction devices with me and had to switchback along the untrodden snow to get down from the ridge.

It’s a mixed blessing to be walking in the Park this week, with more snow predicted tonight, April 12.