Fundy Footpath, Day 4 of 4, Oct. 13, 2008

 

Goose Creek to  Wolfe Point

10 miles

    I awoke at 3 AM to the sound of light rain tapping away on the roof of my tent.  As soon as my consciousness cleared, I winced when I realized that I had to extract myself from the depths of my sleeping bag and rescue my pack, which was open and loosely hanging on a nearby tree.   My sleeping bag and gear that was on the floor of the tent would soon be soaked. I had to move quickly, as my tent fly was rolled up. I took care to consolidate my gear last night, as we were planning an early start, so all I had to do was exit, grab the backpack, throw it in, drop the sides of the tent, and get back out of the rain.  I soon fell back to sleep with the sound of the tides booming along nearby.

      Today we’d negotiate five more cuts:  Goose Creek, Fish Brook, Rose Brook, the Goose River and finally Rossiter Brook.      Two major tidal crossings would be reserved for today, and after consulting the Tide Schedule, we decided to awaken at 6AM for a 7AM crossing of Goose Creek, which becomes 30 feet deep here at high tide. 

     At exactly 6 AM I heard Xenon roust us, “They teach you guys from the States to wake up early?” It was still dark out.  At least now, my gear was either on, around, or laying right next to me. I took my time packing up, with the sound of the rain still peppering my tent.

    We headed out at 6:45, hiking in the dark with headlamps.  I decided to wear just my Crocs for the 1 kilometer walk upstream to the crossing point.  

    We were immediately walking through wet, cold,  swampy grass that ATV’s had  badly rutted up. At one point I stepped into cold muck that had me sinking up to my knees.  My next step left my bare foot exiting the suck hole. I panicked when I realized my Croc was imbedded somewhere down there. Luckily when I stuck it back in,  my foot felt the sandal, which I was able to slip back into and lift out. Plan B would have given me a slime-caked arm as well as legs.

      The crossing was surreal. We walked on in the dark struggling to make sense out of the meager markings here.     First , we weren’t sure where the white blazes ended, as our  headlamps would also occasionally illuminate light colored rocks, or whatever plastic detritus lie on the shore ahead.  We finally chose a likely spot, turned right and I headed over, as I didn’t have to change out of my hiking shoes. I was walking clueless, unsure about the depth of several of the channels of water I was about to traverse that were bisecting the stretch ahead, which I’d estimate was about 60 yards wide. When I had made it halfway across I did make out a prominent white blaze painted on a rock, and was relieved that we had nailed the correct spot to cross, but we were still in the dark.

     From here it was wash and wipe the muck off our feet and legs, put our hiking shoes on and head straight up, yet again, to gain the 500 feet in elevation that we’d need to reach the plateau above.

     The first section of high ground passed by some superb vistas, with one spectacular overlook some 600 feet above the expanse of the Bay. 

      I enjoyed the time I spent hiking with Rangoon today.  It reminded me of old times, like the 25 mile day he and I completed on the AT on the section from Boiling Springs to Duncannon in Pennsylvania. 

Late in the morning, we descended to Azore beach, the mouth of Rose Brook.  Here is a five minute video that I took walking into and around this spot. 

I fell and broke another Leki,  the fifth time that I’ve demolished a trekking pole in the year and a half that I’ve owned the set.I slid sideways off a wet canted rock and victimized my left pole.  Luckily,  I had just ordered a replacement piece after the anti-shock mechanism on the same section had  failed.  picture here

 

One unique feature about hiking along the Bay of Fundy is that this was the first time that my forward progress in backpacking was determined by the tides, twice in one day. 

We reached the Goose River exactly at high tide about 11:45 AM, where we sat and waited for the tide here to recede enough for us to negotiate a path along the steep and rocky shore.  

  The only way that we were able to discern the path ahead was through Xenon’s previous experience and a faint blaze on the side of a cliff quite a distance downstream.  The blazes on the rocks nearest to us were initially invisible , as they were deep under water.

   We sat out in the sun, ate the rest of our food, listened to music,  or just explored upstream.

At the time,  it  was  interesting enough to just watch this particular river rapidly drain back to the Bay.   

    We were able to start  walking again about an hour and a-half after high tide.  The river emptied amazingly fast, dropping close to 10 feet in that time.  

The trail ahead had us walking on the just exposed edge of the river, but the steepness of the bank and the slipperiness of the rocks made progress dangerous. Gritty mud soon entered the inside of our Crocs. 

Each turn opened up fascinating views of rocks, water, sky and trees. Eventually we encountered a mucky, grassy table that led to yet another ford at Rossiter Brook.

At the final beach site we washed our legs and feet in the Bay. 

We had now actually completed the Fundy Footpath,  bounded by Fundy National Park. However, , we were faced with more walking , this time along a maintained cart/ bike path running 5 miles east to our pick up point.  

We were now on the Goose River Trail in Fundy National Park.

Xenon’s wife Nancy was going to pick us up  at the Wolf Point area of the Park.  Problem was, we would be early, four hours early, way too early.   The printed material we received from the Interpretive Center warned us that “ You may be a day late due to tides or difficult terrain”,  and that, “ Concern has been expressed by officials of both Fundy National Park and the Big Salmon River Interpretive Center that persons arriving had been upset and worried that the hikers did not arrive at the scheduled time.  Perhaps a call on arrival or a few hours before arrival would be more appropriate to advise your party  of the time of arrival or delays.”  

We repeatedly tried to reach Nancy to alter the pick up time. For the whole last day, there was no phone reception from any of the different cell carriers the three of us phone guys were using, no matter how high we were on the plateau, or how clear the view was to nearby Nova Scotia.

In addition to no cell coverage, several more situations should be noted.  

First, whoever had recently trimmed back brush in the eastern half was in the habit of throwing it back into the trail, which is normally fine, but in the frequent boggy sections on the last day, we were unable to see beneath the spruce boughs to where rocks, or high points of ground were.  Our feet became unnecessarily wet. 

Also the switchbacks at some points were somewhat puzzling.  For example, while descending toward  Martin’s Head,  the switch backs seemed far too gradual. It almost felt like we were just walking back and forth, rather than actually descending. Then when we went up the other side it was as if it was the complete other extreme existed with far too few switchbacks, leaving us with  a good deal of  straight up going.

Most vexing was that someone had, for some undetermined purpose, laid out miles of either monofilament fishing line or white thread, at times on both sides of the trail, that frequently crossed the footpath so that we were either avoiding it, pushing through it, or frustratingly worse, getting the tips of our hiking poles entangled in it.

While the strip maps that we were sold were appreciated , the navigation  could be improved by matching the accompanying narrative section descriptions with running mileages/ or kilometer marks, as is the habit with most trail guides. 

We also neglected to use the extensive documentation of  GPS waypoints, as  most of the terrain is heavily wooded. In my experience, GPS units need relatively clear views of the sky to pick up the satellite signals.  

The hiking guide should also state at what tide levels you can make the crossings rather than just state they are tidal crossings. We ended up having more leeway than we expected.  

Nevertheless, I plan to return to hike the Fundy Footpath, taking an additional day to reach the Little Salmon River Gorge that we missed this time. Walton Glen and the Eye of the Needle sound like unique features to explore.  

I would also come a bit earlier in the season, to take advantage of the clear pools that we avoided swimming in this time of the year.    

In the end, what I especially liked about the Fundy Footpath was the raw, untraveled nature of much of the path itself. While we griped about aspects of it while walking, it is what we will remember and talk about as we  look back at it.  

I’d get up there sooner than later.  With the obvious spending that has already been done in the western portion, I expect the project will be manicured and pulled together in the years to come, in a effort to attract tourism dollars to the area.  

The international team we assembled turned out to be a positive experience. 

 

Uncle Tom, Xenon, Rangoon, Bad Influence
Uncle Tom, Xenon, Rangoon, Bad Influence

Without ever hiking one step together, I still signed up Xeon as a team member!  My intuition served me well this time.  Xenon’s prior experience on the Footpath was a huge plus, not to mention the efforts that  he and Nancy made to welcome these USA visitors  to Canada.  

  I’m left with Rangoon’s final comment, “ I was pretty much deliriously happy by the end of it.  This was a good one.  One for the books ”.

    

 

 

     

Fundy Footpath Day 3 of 4, Oct. 12, 2008

Little Salmon River to Goose Creek
9 miles

“Whoo, whoo!
Rangoon started us up after sounding the Maine Train whistle.   Our little international crew was on the move for our biggest big day yet of trekking through the sine wave topography.

    Is this trail as tough as the AT ?
  Yep. I felt it beat me up more than 95% of any raNdOm 14 mile day on the Appalachian Trail.
It is curious that this trail is termed a footpath. At times, particularly in the eastern half , it would more accurately described as a goat path. 
 The promotional literature rates the Fundy Footpath as “challenging”. Other internet trip reports have described this term as misleading, suggesting that “extreme” would be a more accurate descriptor.
A ranger report states, “The challenging 24-mile Fundy Footpath is like a roller-coaster; even serious walkers only manage six miles a day,”
Xenon reports that we were a strong, but atypical group, with our hiking times about half compared to those suggested in his hiking guide (“Hiking Guide to New Brunswick” by M. Eiselt and H Eiselt).

We doubled our mileage again with a “three map” day, where we faced 7 ravines, each presenting with a 500-700 foot descent with immediate challenging climb.  The cable steps were gone in this Eastern section. Instead we were greeted with laughably steep switchbacks.
Today offered a really a big dose of deeply satisfying hiking: occasional spectacular views,

cool temps, and world class terrain, with the blessed mattress footpath springing us right along. We encountered no one today.
Rapidy Brook, Wolf Brook, Hunter Brook, and Telegraph Brook came and went.  We had lunch and a longer break at Telegraph Creek.  Here is a video that takes place then and there:

At the end of an uphill climb after fording the Quiddy River, we encountered a gravel road crossing. Our map revealed that the footpath paralleled this road. We had to step back into the brush, dodging a phalanx of All Terrain Vehicles and 4 wheel drive pickup trucks that were headed down to the shore. Xenon took charge, sticking his thumb out to stop a truck that carried us all the way down to the mouth of the Quiddy River and the expansive beach at Martin Head.  This scene had people milling about ( mostly drinking) , families cooking up hot dogs, with the backdrop totally dominated by an acrid fuel smell accompanied by the roaring, and/or whining motors of perhaps a dozen ATV’s screaming across the beaches, dunes, and paths. The Canadians were very inquisitive and friendly to us, and we ended up being gifted a quart citrus drink from them as we told them our hard traveling tales.  


We tried to walk the beach past Martin Head,   only to meet a rock wall that blocked any further beach walking. We rejoined the path after a steep bushwhack climb through some increasingly brushy matter. We still needed to do the descent/ascent sequence a couple of more times. Our final gully appeared at Brandy Brook before our final climb, ridgewalk, and then decent to Goose Creek.
        We finally reached out intended destination at the western side of the rather formidable Goose Creek.
At day’s end, we passed up a chance to set up camp on the beach in favor of a more secluded spot just inside the tree line at the shore.

 

The next low tide here would be at 4:47 AM.

We needed the tide to be low in order to cross here, otherwise we’d have to deal with the incoming tide, which is reportedly very fast as it advances upriver, as you’d suspect with the thirty plus foot tides here. Xenon reasoned that we’d probably be able to handle the depth of the water if we crossed at 7 AM. We had a brief talk about the merits of crossing right now,

and looking for a site on the other side of the river. Xenon wisely counseled us that there was no place on the other side to camp, and it turned out he was correct.

This campsite had good seating, due to the large timbers that had been reclaimed from the high tide line of detritus a short distance away.
One bizarre touch was finding a full, rusty can of air freshener we found perched on the edge of the open air toilet box. Maybe folks used it and a lighter as a blowtorch to fight off the mosquitoes which would likely be fierce here in the heat of the summer.
It was easy for us to build a decent fire here, as there was plentiful dry wood that had washed up above high tide. We lay on the earth around the fire, and worked up some words that got us through at least another hour of darkness before we retreated into our respective tents. Bad Influence had a nice grove to trees to hang up his hammock, and the rest of us were on cushiony, dry grass.

Fundy Footpath , Day 2 of 4, Oct.11, 2008

Seely Beach to Little Salmon River
7 miles


Funky maps here.  I received  maps for the length of the Fundy Footpath on two waterproof computer-generated  pages, which you then cut into  6 individual  4.5 x 8” maps that fit into a ziplock plastic bag.
Yesterday we walked over one map, today we moved over a map and a half. Each small map is covers approximately 4-5  miles.
The elevation marks an the maps are in meters.
Some of the data is really skewed, as sometimes happens with  computer-generated maps.  I liked that the 50, 100, and 150 meter contour lines are bolded, but in places are misaligned with the numeration.   For example, I sometimes found the number 20 placed on the 100 meter contour line.  Other times you trace your finger along one contour line that shows a 160, yet a bit further it reads 180,  on the same line.
No matter what the maps say, the real world is here under foot.

The hiking today was unusually enjoyable.

This was a beautifully laid out path, that often side-slabbed across steep hillsides. The steepest uphills were sometimes characterized by placement of cable steps, essentially two foot long pressure treated  4 x 4’s that had holes drilled through each end, which in turn had cables passing through which resulted in very long staircases,  one of which was close to 100 feet high.
The morning saw us complete two difficult hill climbs, each rising from the Bay to  close to 700 feet in less than half a mile.   We spent the day hiking between 550 to 650 feet in elevation, with the sounds and often the sight of the Bay of Fundy within view,  and the far off shore of Nova Scotia in the distance.  What makes this trip unique is the ravines, where streams, and sometimes wider rivers slice down through the land, as the waterways fall from the heights of the plateau all the way down to the waters of the Bay.  Encountering each ravine is an exercise in rapid descents and demanding, steep climbs.
The footpath here is to die for.   Ninety percent of the walking is on a carpet of pine needles, a really thick carpet.  Rangoon calls it “mattress walking”.
Many of the trees we pass by  are ancient.  The mix is of spruce intermixed with abundant white birch.
We walked together well today.  No one was a burden on anyone. We took care in making that  happen.  At one point, early on in the day,  Rangoon rocketed ahead, but later we found him waiting patiently for the rest of us.

“I want to be part of the group now,” he said, as he fell in at the end of the line.


We ate a first lunch above Cradle Brook.  After a bracing climb of 650 feet in elevation, the trail skirted 600 foot cliffs.  Up on this plateau we looked for, but never found,  “evidence of an old copper mine”.  For a brief period, we followed the Old Telegraph Post Road, a worn, and  sometimes surprisingly steep path that had connected communities along the Fundy coast in the early 1900’s.
Later, we descended to the Little Salmon River.  Here, the ravine was blessed with a floor couple of hundred feet wide, with a 25 foot wide crystal clear stream meandering through from side to side, with tongues of glacial gravel extending at intervals toward the watercourse. Much grassland was also present.
Here we continued to walk upstream until we reached a relatively shallow crossing point.  There  was no way to get across without taking your shoes off to ford.  Bad Influence shouted out that this was the coldest water he had ever forded.


Even though it was only 12:30 PM, decided to stay and camp in this unusually beautiful site.    Perhaps these photos will do a better job than I of describing this absolutely superlative camp site.

There was plenty of time to eat, sleep, read, walk around exploring the area, or just lay in the sun and  share our pleasure about deciding to come here and see this land.


But the question that we continued to ask ourselves was, “Why were we the only ones here?”       Three of us aren’t even Canadians!
Reaching the answer to that question could take one a very a very long time.  I personally think that people are increasingly divorced from an appreciation of being in the outdoors. Couple that with the fact that backpacking is often  hard, sweaty, exhausting, and often less than pleasant, sometimes for days at a time, and you have a formula for attracting relatively low numbers of participants for this particular recreation activity.  If the weather here were rainy, cold, or if it were humid and hot ( and buggy), I’d understand why few would walk here.  But this whole weekend, it is not at all like that.

Here is a video of our crew in the late afternoon at the campsite:


I enjoyed using my wood stove immensely at this site.  Bad Influence also had his own home made wood stove on this trip.  For a video of my stove in action, click on the brief movie below.

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Later on in the afternoon, we did see  our first hikers walking along, with full backpacks on,  coming down the Little Salmon.  It was a pair of women who were doing a section of the Trail.  They had been up to visit the Little Salmon River Gorge, which houses the 400 foot Walton Glen Falls and Flume.  Photos of the site are available at the Waterfalls New Brunswick site, which is maintained by a person who talked with us while Xenon and I were at the general store in Alma, NB at the end of this trip.

Fundy Footpath , Day 1 of 4, Oct.10, 2008

Big Salmon River to Seely Beach:       New Brunswick, Canada
5 miles

I first learned about this particular hike this spring, when the following mini-article appeared in Outside magazine:
“If Canada’s Atlantic Provinces are the new New England, then the Fundy Footpath is the new (and abbreviated) Appalachian Trail. The 14-year-old, 24-mile wilderness route traverses one of North America’s last undeveloped stretches of Atlantic coastline, following the Bay of Fundy north of Saint John from the Big Salmon River to Fundy National Park. The bay is best known for having the world’s highest tides—up to 48 feet—so a chart is required reading on this five-day trek. After hugging the cobbly expanses of Long and Seely beaches, the trail climbs 1,000-foot coastal bluffs, descends ravines, and crosses the Goose River. At Little Salmon River, take a four-hour side hike through Eye of the Needle, a narrow canyon enclosed by 200-foot cliffs, to the 300-foot cascade of Walton Glen Falls. There are eight campsites en route, but most of the trail’s hikers sleep on the beaches, above the tide line. Trail maps and free permits are available at the Fundy Trail Interpretive Centre (fundytrailparkway.com), at Big Salmon River, a 45-minute drive north from Saint John. River Valley Adventures (rivervalleyadventures.com) will shuttle your car from Fundy National Park back to the Big Salmon for $150.”

Then a web search for trip reports found Dom Caron’s words, which leapt out at me, “Get set for a bumpy ride. I have hiked a lot of places, like Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and  Maine and this is by far the most up and downs I have yet to encounter in a trail.”
Next was my  realization that this trail was only 4 and one-half  hours away from my home.  Right then I knew that I would be hiking it, sooner than later.
After checking out the info on the website, I called  866-386-3987 and ordered the Fundy Footpath Map Kits and Emergency Maps with GPS co-ordinates.   The price of the maps was $20.00 (taxes & shipping included), which included a contribution towards aiding the maintenance costs for the volunteers.

Getting the whole deal going was like a slow click with destiny.  Little did I know that a major hurdle would clear by a happenchance meeting, which occurred when I was hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maine.  On Oct.4 this month,  a man who goes by the trail name of Xenon walked in for the night at the Horseshoe Canyon lean-to.   When I heard that he was from Saint John , New Brunswick, I told him that I was planning to do the Fundy Footpath near there on Columbus Day weekend.  Xenon replied that he had already done the section, several times, and he was more than willing to try and help us out and left me his address and phone number.  It had been difficult for me to find people who have done the whole 26 miles, and I  still had lingering , puzzling questions about spotting cars, and negotiating tidal crossings of rivers and streams that can only be forded at low tide, due to the 40 foot tides .

This first day of our trip, I left our house in the company of Bad Influence, a veteran for two long distance stints on the AT, who has now become a good friend, after we have camped together this winter, and spent time with each other in various places in New England.  We motored north to Milford, Maine where we picked up Rangoon, legendary for his climbing abilities, which allowed him to traverse the whole 26 miles of  New Hampshire’s Presidential Range in one day on his 2007 AT thru hike.
Then it was  Down East for three and a half hours, passing efficiently  through customs at Milltown, near Saint Stephen, New Brunswick.
We reached Xenon’s house around noontime, where he and his wife Nancy had soup and sandwiches waiting for us.  Canadian hospitality has always shown itself to me as a true class act.
In no time, we were all in my Caravan, and headed the 1 hour drive through St. Martins and further to the  Big Salmon River Interpretive Center, where the Fundy Footpath started.  The descent down to the bay’s edge was so steep that my front brakes were smoking up a cloud when we exited the van.  Nancy remained to explore a bit before she drove my vehicle back to St. John.  She was to pick us up in three days at the other end at  the western edge of Fundy National Park.

We  walked across the suspension bridge which immediately brought us into a seaside wilderness, the likes of which I have never experienced before.


The Fundy Footpath itself is a 24 mile long  trail that requires an additional 5 mile trail walk to reach a roadway at the eastern end at Fundy National Park.  We encountered high cliffs, spectacular views and relative solitude, as we encountered only  four other people over the three days we spent on the trail.

The literature recommends  four or five days to complete the walk, and that, “A hasty trip can be done in 3 or 4 days for the fit and experienced hiker”.

We encountered cliff side walking, fording several streams,  and climbing of cabled wooden stairs.

The Footpath is part of the Acadian forest region, home to more than 30 species of trees, 45 species of mammals and 285 species of birds.  The walk and the camping is, at least for now, free of charge.

We were delighted to encounter a very cushy footpath, but often it was cut into a steep side slope with loose lower edge.  Not many have walked here before us. There is nothing like the deep wear that characterizes the AT experience.  Despite the relatively virgin path, there is a feeling of being surrounded by ancient history as we moved through the area, where we encountered million year old rocks and aged trees that were sometimes between one and two hundred years old.  The fragrance of the bay and the forest intermingled into a heady mix.
Another companion on the walk was the constant sound of crashing surf, sometimes with multiple shore/wave sounds occurring simultaneously.

We were almost giddy with our enjoyment of the first afternoon of hiking.

Some of the first day’s walk involved traveling on sand , pebbles, muck, and smooth beach stones of all sizes and colors .

We spent our first night camped along the shore of Seeley Beach,  5 miles from Big Salmon.

All of our camp sites were on the shores of the Bay of Fundy, with the moon close to  full, shimmering on the bay,  with the faint  lights of far off Nova Scotia  in the distance.
That first evening was made especially memorable due to Xenon’s contribution of  individual marinated steaks, and precooked, buttered baked potatoes.  We roasted the meat over an open fire , and reheated the foil wrapped potatoes in the coals.  If the meat was too rare, or needed reheating, onto the fire it  went.  I cracked open some tequila, disguised as water in my recycled plastic soda bottle.  A  home made Whoopie pie topped off our first meal.
All this and we were only on day one, no it was actually day half-one, part of the afternoon.  The weather was clear and reasonably cool, with ditto forecasts right through the weekend.
This was gonna be good!

Oct. 4, 2008

Rainbow Stream Lean-to to Abol Bridge
15 miles

The last day, the best day.
Up and out early again, after another night of three hour sleeps interspersed by night time bellows sessions blowing the flawed Exped air mattress back up to plumpness.
I was out early again, after a bracing cup of coffee and my final breakfast meal, a couple of PopTarts. The air was chilled. I packed I away a wool layer and my Puffball jacket before I started the day’s hike back to my car, which was parked at the store at Abol.
Here is a brief movie of what the morning looked like from the Rainbow Stream lean-to.

The AT goes over the log bridge and heads up a small rise before it meanders along the Rainbow Deadwaters, past the Rainbow stream campsite, and up onto the only rise of the day, the Rainbow Ledges.
It was here that Bandit and Naps caught me, just as I was standing at the open area that looks out toward Katahdin. Something didn’t look right to me about it. There was the familiar large cloud obscuring the whole upper portion of the mountain, but I remarked to them that it looked to me like there was either snow, ice, or both coming down the shoulders into the wooded portions.
I had cell coverage right there. Naps asked me if should could call her brother in Millinocket and check on how he was doing. Part of the message she received from him was that the Hunt Trail ( AT) up to the summit of Katahdin was closed, due to ice and snow at the summit.
The ford at Hurd Brook Lean-to was doable without resorting to Crocs.
After passing a planked cedar bog, the trail was on dry ground again, and soon I was turning right onto the Golden Road, and done with my third trip traversing the 100 Mile Wilderness.
The classic view of Katahdin from the pedestrian walkway across the Abol Bridge was sobering, this time, knowing the mountain’s path was treacherous enough that they closed it on Oct. 4 this year. The hiking season is practically over. The campground, which is normally close to full occupancy is deserted. All the semi-permanent trailers were gone.
Every time I go through this spot, I remind myself that Henry David Thoreau camped right at this confluence in September of 1846. What he saw from this point was likely the same socked-in view that we now.
First, I went to my car, and moved it over in front of the store. Then, I went in and bought a sandwich , chips, and chocolate milk. A couple of duffers were sitting around inside, sipping coffee and talking to Brenda, the owner.
I learned that the three hikers that befriended me had walked through 280 miles of Maine and had never heard of, let alone eaten a Whoopie pie. Right then and there, I plunked down a ten spot and ordered them to belly up to the portable Whoopie stand and get their own treat. After they each took a bite, I think I was their hero. I did good at my chance at trail magic.
I decided to drive over to Baxter State Park and try and find a thru-hiker named Troutbum. I heard that he was at The Birches Campsite at Katahdin Stream Campground, some dozen miles up the gravel perimeter road. Troutbum and I have a history that goes back to Trail Days in 2007, where he approached me and asked if he would ask me questions about my hike, as he was considering doing it himself some day. He had traveled from his home in Ohio specifically to get the real story. I gave him an hour of my time that day. E-mails and phone calls followed and Troutbum eventually pushed off from Springer Mtn. himself, early this season. Troutbum had called me from the Trail when he could, updating me on his progress and occasionally asking for advice, and much needed support, as he had a number of physical and personal challenges he eventually overcame to earn the title of thru-hiker of the Appalachain Trail. In some of his e-mails, he referred to me as, “My mentor, Uncle Tom.”
At the entrance gate, I learned that Katahdin had been closed the day before, and would be closed the next day as well. I also learned that a woman had slipped on some ice and broken her leg on Turner Mountain, forcing a tricky evacuation procedure.
I then knew that my hope to accompany Troutbum up on his summit of Katahdin was not going to happen. In the end, the mountain was closed for 5 days in a row, with some 60 hikers stacking up and waiting for the next open day of October 8th.
I decided to at least find Troutbum anyway, maybe to give him a ride to town and buy him a meal. Reaching Katahdin Stream Campground, I was shocked to find it almost abandoned. There was only 1 car in the parking lot. There was only one uninhabited tent within sight. I saw no one. Next, I walked down to the Birches, a thru hiker only campsite that now had two empty lean-tos and one little tent. A woman there who told me Troutbum had been picked up by one of his friends and they went into Millinocket.
I headed there next. Not knowing where he would be , I first looked at the hiker hostel in town. Nope. Then the Appalachain Trail cafe. Nope. I went back to the hostel and found Old Man, the proprietor. He told me Troutbum had called there earlier and reserved a room for two upstairs on the third floor and that maybe he was up there. Back up I went, and entered a common room with some young hiker types that were hanging there. I heard one of them call out, “ Holy cow, It’s Uncle Tom!” It was Tailgate, a young man that I had met in Pearisberg, VA . He had to remind me that I had given him and his traveling partner, Aqua Maria, a ride to Trail Days this past May. His beard was heavier, and his frame much lighter. We chatted a bit, but they had not seen any of Troutbum yet.
I left the AT Lodge and walked down the street and entered the only remaining bar and restaurant that was still open and checked there. Nope.
My cell phone’s battery was dead.
I decided that there was nothing more I could do to find him.
I was tired, stinky , and wanted to drive home.
I drove the 16 miles back toward I-95 and decided to get a meal at the Irving station in Medway before I hit the highway. Only there was no restaurant there any more. It was now a bigger convienence store, with isle after isle of stuff I hardly ever want. Another tradition gone.
I saw a pay phone on the wall and called Marcia to let her know where I was and that I was headed home.
“Troutbum just called, and he is at the AT Lodge. You just missed him ,” she said. I was tired, hungry, and it was dark out. I knew I wasn’t hitting the road just yet.
“You have to go and see him, she told me, “ and I knew she was right, yet again.
I brewed up a tea, packed it along, grabbed a bag of peanuts and headed back again to Millinocket.
Just as I pulled into the parking space, in the increasing darkness, a hobbling, hunched over figure called out to me. It was the man I remembered from a couple of years ago, but now some 55 pounds diminished, with white beard, wearing Crocs and all the hiker getup. Troutbum .
We hugged and realized no one had eaten and we walked down to the first restaurant and settled in for a wonderful time tales of dents and bruises, and all those daily accomplishments. For him, also the death of his father while he was one the Trail. I bought their meals. When some one did what Troutbum was able to do, they actually should be on the front page of a newspaper. It was the least I could do .
When I eventually pulled out of the lot and headed the two and a half hour drive south , I felt that some kind of Circle had now been made full for me, and I hoped for Troutbum, too.

Oct. 3, 2008

Potywadjo Spring Lean-to to Rainbow Stream Lean-to
18 miles

[Note: No more still photos available from this trip. My camera was unable to access the memory card, either to view or write new photos. I do have some movies that will be available , as I was also carrying my Flipvideo Ultra video camera . I will now always carry and extra SD card, just in case.]
Quite a decent full day out here. I was out first again, waking up at 6:30 and out by 7:15.
The path continues to be slippery, and I have saved my body several times today by quick use of my hiking poles to arrest my falls. Walking steadily, although I was wearing my rain jacket, with another woolen layer over my t-shirt, and my gloves, even in the middle of the day. I did see my shadow for the first time in a while this morning.
Here is a brief video of a wet section of the Trail this morning.

Making good time through here, arriving at Wood Rat spring by 10:45 AM, with 7 miles down. A lot of water still present in the Trail. I even took the 0.2 mile high water white blazed by-pass of a section of Nahmakanta Stream in an effort of get some relief from the deep water around this area.
I stopped at the Wadleigh Stream lean-to and had lunch , three more miles north of here.
Absolutely no need to carry any water on this trip. My practice is now to walk with an empty water bottle, and when I get thirsty, bend down, and fill it up at a spring or a stream, and either hit it with the Steripen or not, based on whether I am at a clean spring to the side of the trail or a flowing stream running through the countryside. I then drink a half to a full liter, dump the rest and keep walking. Thanks to General Lee for showing me this technique.
Just passed a southbounder named Forge. He has flip flopped and is walking south from Katahdin to Mt. Greylock in MA. I wished him good luck. He is going to need it.
There is absolutely no one out here other than thru-hikers and me. Not to imply that thru-hikers like what they are doing. Most are in the 20 mile per every day range, and really blunt about how much they are sick of backpacking. I didn’t feel that way when I came through last year, and
don’t feel that way now. The weather is not that bad out here. It has not rained much today. Where is the backpacking community in Maine these last few days?
    Nesuntabunt Mountain continued to pose a challenge to me, as I remember it did in my first trip though the 100 Mile Wilderness way back in 1993. This time, it was raining. The footpath was slippery and mucky, and I even lost the trail for a while. It was really dark on the ascent, and the wind increased and the temperature dropped as wove my way through the giant fortress like boulders that characterize the summit approach. Nearing the top, it started to sleet. At this point I had been wearing just my woolen t-shirt, but I began to get very cold on my biceps, of all places, and decided that I didn’t need to chance any hypothermia, so I put on my rain jacket , again.
What helped me through the afternoon was the unexpected appearance of Stumpknock, who caught up to me just after the water events on the top wind funnel of Nesuntabunt Mountain ( 1520’). We hiked and talked for some 6 miles, all the way to my destination of Rainbow Stream Shelter.  
It saved my butt that Stumpknock was content to walk along at what I felt was about a 2.5 mph pace. Normally, anyone off the street who tries to hike with a thru- hiker , who is at this point of their walk is steaming along, is doomed to be left in the dust . It is like trying to run along as fast as you can, and failing to jump on a roaring freight train.
Below is Stumpknock on the side of Rainbow Stream just before the Lean-to.

Stumpknock is familiar to me. I met him at the Gentian Pond shelter in Maine last year when he was accompanied by Mrs. Gorp. I also ran into him on the AT when I was backpacking with Auntie Mame and V8 in Virginia this past May. He has basically given his life over to being outdoors, having hiked the AT multiple times ( I think this might be his 6th.) He started Jan. 1 this year, fitting in 2 months off to bicycle across the US with Mrs. Gorp, as well as hitching a ride up to the Canadian border to complete the whole Vermont Long Trail .
   I ended up pending the night with the same folks as last night. I just learned that Pull-up is going to be a junior in high school. Incredible. Pull-up was reluctant to sleep on the lumpy floor here. He doesn’t have a pad.
     It is cold. Hands freezing as I type.
   I felt just about done in as I reached the ancient shelter with the baseball bat floor.   Pull-up did fine sleeping in this shelter. In the morning, he showed me how he did it, sleeping on a trash bag stuffed with leaves. Successful hikers are resourceful on a daily basis.

Oct. 2, 2008 , AT

Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to to Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to  11.2 miles

I was awake last night at precisely 3 hour intervals, the exact time it took the Exped air mat I borrowed from Marcia to leak sufficient air to mate my sorry shoulders down to the wooden floor of the lean-to. My own leaking mattress, the Insulated Air Core, never made it back from the Big Agnes mother ship in time to elevate me above the wood plank floor into the realm of cloudland sleep.
We had a full shelter last night, including 2 dogs that slept inside.  
Dogs in shelters? That’s a huge can of worms. One was a huge, wet, grimy sheepdog that spent the night stretched out right next to Gouda, his owner. I was really pleased that that particular dog wasn’t pressed against me all night. Even worse, in the morning, one of the women that was in for the night discovered that some form of fresh excrement was stuck to the side on her pack in the morning after the dog people moved on. This experience would sure count as a ” No” vote from some hikers.   
It rained hard in the night, with the sound of the water from the falls and rushing stream only adding to the full Trail experience of the afterlife of water copiously falling from the sky. It stopped raining as the day was breaking, but started back for good just as I was heading out. I heard that it was supposed to stop sometime late morning and hoped the weather experts were right. They weren’t.
     Today was a repeat of the cold soaking rain day I experienced in 2007 when I hiked the exact same stretch of AT northbound. Except that this time, I planned to be prepared for any rain.  I left my usual pair of Inov8 low cut open mesh trail runners at home, thinking it would be dumb to be wet all of the time.  Instead, I chose my leather/supposedly waterproof Merrill Phaser Peaks, which are now waterlogged, and they stayed that way for the whole trip.
    I walked out of the shelter wearing both my rain pants, and rain jacket. I even had my tall gaiters under the rain pants, thinking an additional layer of waterproof material would be yet one further line of defense against wet feet. I even draped the lower edge of the pants down below the tops of my boots.
    I decided I’d try not to walk so fast that I’d generate uncomfortable sweat under my rain gear.  It took one half hour for my forehead to sweat, and no matter how much I tried to amble peaceably along. At the one hour mark, I felt wetness on my legs and back.  At the one and one half hour point, I was wet all over.  At the two hour mark, I detected wetness in my forefeet.  At the two and one half hour mark I cringed at the all too familiar sensation of squishing water inside my boots. It would only get wetter and wetter down there.  
   I hiked alone all day, trying to avoid any involvement in horizontal water events of my own making. The footpath was ridiculously treacherous, the split tree planks over swamps were wet, and every step was through some degree of lubrication enhanced slimy leaves.  
    When I finally reached the lean-to a half dozen NOBOS were eating lunch, shivering in their sleeping bags, or just staring off into the dark forest. They are just 48 miles fro the end of their thru-hikes. It was 12:30, so I had covered the 11.2 miles in 4.5 hours, including two brief food/water stops.
    Now I am the only one in this shelter.  The rest of the hikers need to make more miles, one guy needs to do 30 today in order to meet his parents when they pick him up in 2 days. Little did they know that the final 5.7 miles of Trail would be closed for three days due to ice and snow up top of Katahdin, but that is another story. So, how would it feel to push for a 30 through here to wait for 3 days?
   I heated up a warm lunch after I changed into my dry set of sleep/camp clothes. The rain is finally winding down, but now there is a blow starting, with a cold front moving in tonight.
   I’m dry in this shelter, with a major tasty collection of victuals for supper, a good book, and a warm sleeping bag pulled around me.
  Naps, Bandit, and Pull-up are spending the night as well.
Just when you least expect it, the Trail can smack you down. Naps’ brother had been hiking along side her all the way from Springer, Mtn. in Georgia. Two days ago, near Gulf Hagas, he slipped and fell on his back.  He rapidly became incapacitated due to back pain, which rendered him unable to even lift his pack, let alone wear it. His thru-hike is history. He was scraped off the path by a ridge runner, who just happened to be in the area, and who was willing to help him limp out and wait for his sister in Millinocket.
    Ah, supper.. Fritos and salsa, couple of swigs of Stolychnaya Vanil vodka. Then home-made dehydrated chili with more Fritos crushed into it. Dessert was hot iced tea with half of a home made pumpkin Whoopie Pie from the Brown Bag restaurant.      

AT, Oct. 1, 2008

Crawford Pond to Cooper Brook Falls lean-to ( N)

3.2 miles

I might be the only guy in Maine who left his house at 4:45 AM today to drive two and a half hours north catch a 8 AM float plane shuttle.

No, I am the only one. I’m leaning back against the stacked log side wall,  sitting here now at noontime,  alone at my favorite shelter on the whole Appalachian Trail,the Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to.
Last year, I walked over 2,000 miles on the Appalachian trail to get right here.  This morning, the Katahdin Air Service took under a half hour to fly me from Millinocket smack dab into the middle of Maine’s One Hundred Mile Wilderness. The flight almost didn’t happen. Mine was the only flight out today, with cold rain predicted for this afternoon and evening. The pilot was concerned about the low thick cloud cover, and postponed our departure in the hopes of finding some gaps in the clouds.

He told me that landing on the Ponds required a visual reference, that instrument landings were not possible out in the widerness. He loaded my backpack, boots, and poles and told me to hop into the co-pilot seat.  We were going to head north for a while and try to find some clean pods of sky from that direction.

The power of the engine soon found us flying a zig zag course some 800 feet off the ground, using ponds and watercourses as our “road”.

I learned that hikers only make up 3-5 % of the air service’s business,  but the numbers have doubled each year for the past three years, with close to 60 hiker flying in this season.
The service allows one to be dropped off at the AT at various ponds or lakes at 1 to 10 day hiking intervals back to “civilization”. In my case, I was dropped at Crawford Pond, leaving me 49 miles to hike north back to my car at Abol Bridge. Cost was a reasonable $65, 2 person minimum, which included them shuttling my car to Abol for me.
My wife Marcia, AKA Auntie Mame, was all set to do the trip with me but her personal conflict about getting back to her work, the prediction of rain, and a very early start to this morning had her opt out.
I wore my Crocs into the plane, expecting to wade to shore, but was surprised that the pilot was able to taxi the tiny plane all the way up to the edge of a sandy beach on the south shore of Crawford Pond, where I hopped to solid land from a pontoon.

He handed me my boots, poles and pack.  I could have kept my socks and boots dry. It was one slick operation. The pilot shook my hand, thanked me, spun the plane back around, and left me high and dry.

I chuckled out loud to myself.
The AT was just 50 feet up a blue blazed trail, and there she went.

I was immediately aware of loud nearby diesel motor noise, and hoped that the obvious logging operation would not impact my night’s sleep.
I had just over three miles to cover until I reached my destination of this shelter. There was a lot of cold moisture in the air, with rain predicted for this afternoon and evening, with a cold front on the way. I felt  I had a good plan for the day.
Despite the recent 5″ rain storm, today’s footpath was surprisingly dry, and I made my miles in an hour.
I met the friendly and talkative thru-hiker Loveboat here. He told me my friend Troutbum has slept here last night. I also met a good natured group of hikers who stopped for lunch, including Smiles Davis, Hotflashes, and Sprite, who perked up when I introduced myself.  She was friendly with Bob Bissell, who had talked to her about my thru-hike that he followed on my Trailjournals last year.  Bob and I have taken two week trips to Labrador together:  one canoeing the 200 mile Grand River,  the other a winter trip around Menehek Lake, where I had my all time record of sleeping out in the cold at 46 degrees below zero.
I decided to stay here after the first wave of thru-hikers group moved on. It would have required me to hike 17 miles today to catch Troutbum, who was planning to spend tonight at White House Landing. Don’t wanna do big  miles in the rain to do that.
So it’s fine with me to be here for most of the day to listen to the falls and just watch this wilderness river flow.