The Camden Hills are going to be at their peak in the next three weeks. Right now, it is still very low color saturation. Do you know about Maine’s Official Fall Foliage Website ? It provides detailed reports of the progress on the colors that bedeck our State each Fall. Go there!
I have been riding and hiking in the Camden Hills State Park often these days.
Yesterday I rode for 19 miles from my house over three unpaved roads ( Martin’s Corner, Mullins Bog, and Thurlow Road) in order to reach the Ski Lodge trail Road in Camden Hills state park were The Brewmaster and I then rode to the top of Cameron Mountain ( 811’) and then back down the unmanicured extension of the Cameron Mountain Trail down to the Youngtown Road and back. On the way down from Cameron I picked a couple of boletus mushrooms that I cut up and am drying in the upstairs of my garage. It is now possible to ride ( without dismount) the discontinued section of the Thurlow Road.
I’d also encourage readers to book a night or two in the Ski Shelter right in the center of the park.
The price is right at $32.10 a night for up to 7 campers, where there will be cut dry firewood, water from a nearby stream, bunks ( for 6), and clean outhouse ( with toilet paper). It is legal to ride bikes from either Route 1 or from Stevens corner to get there, but walking from either end with your gear won’t take more than 3 miles. Contact the Ranger at the park to reserve at (207) 236-3109 ( until Oct. 15, and after 10/15 at 236-0849).
Woke up to a layer of ice this morning on the Caravan windshield outside our room at the Stratton Motel, where our the warm room had two double beds, a hot water bathtub, fridge, microwave, and even better, no management here for the past 18 hours- how about the 28 degrees outside !
On the way up, I received an email from the owner, Sue, to just go in and take room #3 if she wasn’t around. Sue remembered me from several other times I’ve stayed here. Easy.
Clarkie was to be over to hit breakfast at 7 AM when the restaurant opened. I was up early and decided to bestow some trail magic on a couple of hikers who were in full packs and shuffling around in the parking lot at 6 :20 AM, looking dejected after their 6 AM shuttle failed to show. I gave them a ride down Route 27 to near the AT where a gravel road dug right toward Crocker Mountain. I was unable to get more than a half mile there due to a washed out culvert, so they had to walk the remaining 3 and 1/2 miles to a trail head. Nearby was a section of Route 27 that had been washed out during Hurricane Irene, with a crew from Colorado was there on major rebuild of the road.
When I got back to the motel, Sue showed up just before 7. She took $50 cash for the room, taxes included. Good breakfast at the White Wolf Inn, where we also ate last night sharing the table with Clarkie and Carol. Get The Wolf Burger. Yes. Our breakfasts featured a choice of three types of home made toast- thick sliced- and the eggs were local. I had Eggs Benedict for $6.95. Decent, but nothing special.
Then the ride to the Firewarden’s Trail, two and a-quarter miles down a partially washed-out Stratton Brook Pond road that Clarkie negotiated with no problems.
We parked the car as far as we dared on the gravel road, and then walked to the pond, where our first challenge was to get across the inlet without slipping on a rock.
What a day! This is, so far, the best hiking day of the year: cool, clear blue skies, ample water (for drinking), light breeze, rich golden sunlight, and foliage bleeding with fall color.
The morning’s walk was one sustained ascent of over 3,000 feet in elevation. It started flat, then went gradual, up to intermediate, and lastly – significantly steep. At times, there was mud to avoid, even up high.
The last 3/4 mile to Bigelow Col is exceptionally steep, climbing over 1,300 feet in that distance up a section of natural rock stairs that appeared as if they had been planted there centuries ago.
We three were fine in reaching to within 0.4 of a mile of Avery Peak. At this point we sacked out at one of the tent platforms just below Bigelow Col, where we enjoyed the sun and our lunches. I unpacked my little percolator and made fresh strong coffee for Auntie Mame and myself, laced with powdered Nido ( whole milk) and some sugar. By now it was past noon, and since Clarkie had to be back to Rangely by 4:30 PM, we turned around and headed back down the same way we went up.
Both Mame and I greatly appreciated the attitude that Clarkie ( AKA Tenzing) brought to this adventure.
It was simply put: “If we don’t make it all the way to the summit, we’ll have a great time just being out, being together, hiking around, and enjoying the jewels along the path. We can always come back again and give it another go.”
The down was much quicker than the up. The air was refreshing and light was stunning, illuminating the changing forest zones and rocky, stream ribboned areas for the next couple hours. I took some good photos as souvenirs, along with three perfect boletus mushrooms that I’ll slice and dry when I get home.
By the time Clarkie dropped us off at 3:45 PM at our our Caravan in the Stratton Motel parking lot, thru hikers had taken all 4 of the rooms at the motel. Both Marcia and I were beat, so we decided to take a $65 room at the White Wolf Motel, which was half filled with ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) folks. At one point, mud encrusted ATV’s outnumbered the cars in the lot here.
Our room was a bit of an upgrade from the Stratton motel, and was clean and apportioned with the one thing I wanted most- a bath tub. I stretched out under the hot water, laid my head back on a bunched-up towel, and proceeded to pass out in the tub for a half hour.
Dinner was in the room, and consisted of some fresh mufalletta dip, hummus, and Fritos followed by fresh pizza ( $6.95 !) from the store next door, with chocolate Haggen-Das ice cream for dessert.
The evening’s entertainment was watching My Cousin Vinnie on the TV.
I love Stratton and look forward to more adventures up here, no matter when, where, with who, or how they will unfold.
“Here I am, safely returned over those peaks for a journey far more beautiful and strange than anything I had hoped for or imagined. How is it that this safe return brings such regret?”- Peter Mathessien
I had a big experience yesterday that I plan to write more about soon in a longer piece. I received a most beautiful multimedia painting/collage from my good friend Joe, who spent over 100 hours on an image that I had of Mt. Shasta. The photo does not do it justice, but here it is.
It’s been almost two weeks since I came back from a month of backpacking the Long Trail in Vermont.
I reached for Ray Jardine’s Beyond Backpacking last night where the book opened to a brief, three page section entitled Re-Entry. I swear I don’t remember ever reading, or even seeing this chapter before. A lot of hiker are cynical about the Ray-Way, but I have slowly come to the place where I consider the guy a genius.
Jardine writes, “How does someone who has just come out of the woods after several months on the trail adjust back to the ‘real’ world ? My answer is: only superficially.”
Yep. The best I have worked out so far is this : one foot in and one foot out of this world.
I’ve come back from these long walks in different states, the worse being after my 2007 AT thru hike, where I plunged into a depression that scared me silly. I was much better after the 2010 PCT thru hike, and this time I actually feel closer to the” new improved version” I joke about.
I love my life, my, wife, my varied jobs, my family, my motorcycles, my neighbors, my friends- its a long, long list. I feel it all today, and am very grateful.
I am highly motivated and finally able to to simplify my life right now-
So far, Auntie Mame has helped me rid my room of over 50 pounds of clothing dating back decades.
I cleaned out the garage and the porch since I came back.
I took a big box of books to the Rockland library. More to come.
I am eating much better after consuming vast quantities of nutritional trash for the past month ( But it tasted so good!). I take great pleasure in harvesting vegetables from the weed-choked garden that greeting me back. I am gorging daily on tomatoes with mayonnaise/salt/pepper. I made a borscht last week where everything but the beef, broth, and sour cream came from the garden.
I have planned some hikes. I got out last Saturday and hiked over 11 miles in the Camden Hills.
I have a day hike up to the Bigelows scheduled for this weekend with Auntie Mame and Clarkie. Next weekend we do a backpacking overnight in the Whites with V8 joining us as well.
In October I plan to attend the American Long Distance Hiking Association’s Gathering in North Adams, MA.
Rolling out the wheelbarrow and stacking wood helps.
“Like most amazing things,
Its easy to miss,
And easy to mistake.” I’ve Had It– by Aimee Mann
This is the last day in the past month when I’d wake up, stuff away my Ibex wool sleeping underwear and then slide into my cold, wet, stinking, and salt-saturated hiking shirt. Even better, it will be the second time in a year when I’ve had the fortune of thru-hiking a National Scenic Trail to the Canada border in the month of September. Last year I walked 2,600 miles to reach the same defoliated strip, but on the west coast in Washington, where I walked into British Columbia on Sept. 27th.
The Weatherman was out of the starting blocks first today, followed by General Lee and then me.
The miles are now few but adversity continues to dog me. The climbs up Burnt (2608’) and Carleton ( 2670’) mountains were slippery and steep, and were each about 500 feet of ups. On the back sides of both were long stretches on wet boulders and ledges that were interspersed with serious mud pits.
Today I also had the benefit of just one trekking pole. I was not able to find a hiking stick, despite the debris strewn about.
I was hiking behind Lee when I approached a particularly nasty mud run where a half-submerged, black, glistening log was the only path over and through the mess. I had successfully dealt with this deal before- many dozens of times, and expected that my slow, careful movements would bring me to the other side without peril, but the Long Trail was determined to leave me with a special souvenir. I quickly slid off the log, and experienced a most despicable situation where first my right leg went into the mud, where I didn’t stop sinking until I was up over my boot, tall gaiter, and then above my knee! So many times I forget to take pictures of these worst things that happen to me, as I’m generally fully engaged in trying to extract myself from misery. But Lee was within eyesight and I shouted out to him to come back and take my picture. Here it is:
Later, when we caught up with The Weatherman, he was also covered up to his knees in dried mud, where he had also slipped off that same log into the same sucking mud hole.
It was so sweet a feeling to make it through this long backpacking trip.
A final planning dilemma awaits any Long Trail thru-hiker once the terminus of the Long trail is reached. First, a 1.3 mile hike out on what is known as Journey’s End Trail, which leads to a tiny parking area at the end of a gravel road. Normally, a vehicle can traverse the 1.2 mile Journey’s End Road, but enter the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, which reached to the end of the US to screw things up. Auntie Mame and V8 had planted my Caravan at Jay Auto, some 4+ miles away, directly south, on a little-traveled gravel road that I had intended to walk ( maybe even run) with no pack, where I’d drive back and pick up Lee and Weatherman at the end of the Journey’s End Road.
But one last dose of Trail Magic still awaited us, here at the end of our hike.
Yesterday, at the top of Jay Peak, we were killing time in the summit building/Tramway Station where the gondola was depositing folks who wanted to get on top without hiking. It was odd seeing well-dressed ladies in gold jewelry walking with pocketbooks and heading up the last boardwalk to the summit ( 3858’) to snap photos of the expanses all around us. Most of them steered a broad course from anywhere near us, but one young bearded fellow came right over.
“You guys thu-hiking?”, he asked.
“ I can help you guys out”.
Soon the hiker-trash bond was established when we learned that Crunch had just came all the way up himself, finishing his own LT thru just last week.
Backstory–>>Crunch has been up here in the Northeast Kingdom after working at a dog sledding camp. The business has a web-site that was accessed by a 67 year old retired toy designer from Chicago who wanted to thru-hike the Long Trail. This gentleman was fit, and had done a bit of hiking, but was not comfortable heading up into the wilds of Vermont and solo hiking. He was seeking the services of a local “sherpa” who would carry all his food -allowing him to shoulder a much lighter pack, thus ensuring his chances at completing the hike. Crunch time. Crunch also thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, so he was an excellent candidate, who was well-suited for this unique business opportunity. So a fee was agreed upon – $2,000 payable to Crunch. But wait- it gets better. This gentleman was used to the good life. Even while hiking – he wanted to dine, drink, and sleep in style. He ( let’s call him “the sport”) agreed to prepare numerous gourmet food/wine mail drop packages that included the eats for both of them. In addition, town stops would be good, so the sport also booked separate rooms (when possible at the better Bed and Breakfast establishments) for both of them, and also had no problem purchasing all meals and incidental expenses for Crunch’s efforts. It mostly worked out, except for the day when the sport somehow made a u-Turn on the Long Trail and hiked backwards for several miles.
So, all we had to do today was reach the parking lot at Journey’s End today at 2 PM, where Crunch would drive us to my car in Jay. We told him that we heard the Journey’s End road was washed out by the hurricane, but Crunch assured us that in his high clearance 4WD Toyota there would be no problems.
We arrived at the parking lot at 1:40 PM , and then sat on our packs and waited until 2 PM, but no Crunch. Plan B.
We did what we knew best- started hiking out. The gravel road became progressively worse as we went on. It eventually morphed into one of the worse washed-out gravel roads I’ve walked on, and I’ve been over a few.
There was a section of several hundred feet that with erosion in it that went over thee feet deep.
Eventually the road became passable and we were thrilled to see Crunch ‘s white Toyota pickup heading toward us, to whisk us away to Jay Auto where my car started right up. Auntie Mame encouraged me to just go to the Jay Village Inn, which looked good and was right across the street from a huge convenience store/ cafe. There were no cars in the ample parking lot, so we were crushed to hear that the best they could do for us was $150 (“It’s the holiday weekend, we would normally charge $165.”). Bye.
Route 242 to Montgomery Center was closed due to the hurricane, so we had to take Route 100 south.
For the next four hours our spirits crumbled as we unsuccessfully sought to find a room to hole up in, with rates no lower than $140 no matter where we turned. We decided to work our way over to Burlington, where Lee and The Weatherman could catch public transport to Montreal ( Lee) or New Jersey ( Weatherman). We reasoned that there must be a Super 8 or a Motel 6 over there. The Weatherman had two free rooms from his Hilton Honors membership, and there was a Hilton in Burlington, but after he finally made the contact was informed that the offer was only for weekday stays. We plunged even deeper into the vortex of anxiety when we encountered a huge traffic jam on Interstate 89 into Burlington. We were not able to establish any rational solution to find a strip where there were national hotel chains. At this point we desperately aimed for the Burlington airport, with Lee at the wheel, but we found nothing but residences surrounding it. We were fried, it was now close to 6 PM, and Lee pointed to a grassy strip near a fence.
“Let’s just sleep there,” Lee pleaded, “Maybe we won’t get kicked out?”
Enter the skills of The Weatherman, who was able to fire up his smartphone, and get onto kayak and hotel.com, and successfully extract a phone number for Motel 6 nearby, where they had 1 room left, at just $89 with my AARP card discount. The Weatherman then programmed his phone into GPS mode, where it talked me through the rights, and lefts where a wonderful sight came into view- a huge, brightly lit Motel 6 flanked by a McDonald’s on one side and a Burger King on the other.
It’s distressing how soon after leaving the Long Trail that I became overwhelmed by something so simple as getting a room in Vermont, and in Burlington of all places.
It’s also true that things often come right at you where you appear to be least able to tackle a situation, yet something eventually emerges if you can just hold on and keep moving forward. Momentum helps.
I’ll follow up with some Post-hike thoughts about my experience and how gear worked (or didn’t). Thanks for reading, and special thanks to The Mayor and Genius, Auntie Mame and V8, Brad Purdy, Bad Influence, Duff/Lee/Susan , Paddy-O, Mr. and Mrs. Two Dinners, Crunch, Hurricane Irene, and of course MeGaTex.
Hazen’s Notch Camp to Shooting Star shelters
Today, the actual backpacking was more difficult than both the topographic map and the elevation profile would indicate. No new news here.
Up and over Buchanan ( 2940’), Domey’s Dome (2880’), Gilin ( 2940’), Jay Peak ( 3558’), Doll Peak (3409’), and the side of North Jay Peak ( 3438’) today. Seven of these guys- none was characterized as easy walking, plenty of areas of blow downs and washed away trails.There are mini-ponds on the trail where frogs have moved in and the dash away from under my feet when I squish along.
“The place smells like the bottom of an old terrarium,” quipped The Weatherman.
Coming down from Jay peak I encountered a new form of outcropped rock underfoot I hadn’t seen before, which looked like a crumbling schist that had some grip to it. But, as soon as I put my right foot down to it, my legs flew out from under me. I was able to drive both Leki poles straight down in the hopes of cushioning my fall, but a loud crack like a gunshot accompanied a clean break of my right pole, in the middle section of all places. I’ve broken lower sections on this set of poles 6 times, each time falling onto the pole in a heap, but it’s been a while since I experienced a break. The poles held up well for the whole 2,600+ miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, and now the Long Trail crunched up and spit out a middle section!
My Arc’Teryx Altra 65 backpack took a big hit as I slid onto the jagged rock. The only thing that saved it from serious tears was a heavy rubberized section of fabric on the base.
Eventually General Lee, The Weatherman, and I landed at the Laura Woodward shelter. We were all beat up enough by the trail today that we were about to call it a day. Then we came to our senses. It was only 2 PM, with the Canada border just 10 miles North. We decided to lump out another 4.3 miles to the next shelter, which would cut our last day down to 6 miles or so.
Lee shot right up the remaining trail, but The Weatherman held no sway with the rain gods. After just a half-hour of walking, a hard cold rain fell for the next 45 minutes. I took no chances and immediately slipped on the new pack cover, but chose to hike in my shorts and already soaked shirt.
Then I experienced a new dimension of discomfort that I’ve never encountered before. The rain proceeded to wash over me, moving from top to bottom. I had been having problems with the fabric of the hiking shirt abrading my nipples, to the point that my right one had been rubbed to the bleeding point. THAT has ever happened before. My nipples felt as if they were on fire ( approaching a Katy Perry video repeat). I believe that the water that washed down from my hat, hair, and now my upper shirt concentrated all the salt from my skin on the lower edge of the wave of water flowing over me. It wasn’t over yet, as the chafed sections of my crotch were the next victims of excruciating burning that lasted for the rest of the day’s hike. This enriched water/acrid bath eventually made its way into my boots resulting in severe burning of my toes and forefeet.
At 5:30 PM I finally made it to the Shooting Star Shelter , coming in right behind The Weatherman.
The water source here was the most treacherous we’ve encountered yet. The shelter itself is on a huge domey rock, and the meager water source was over a series of smooth, slickrock, steep and now rain saturated. I survived by holding onto the tips of trees that were at the edges of the cleared areas. I had just two quarts that could be filled, and knew right then and there that the two quarts would have to suffice for tonight’s dinner and breakfast. It was so sketchy I can’t imagine that any normal person could have survived the descent without falling.
At the shelter we met Gary and Paul, two retired engineers from MA that were about to conclude their own Long Trail hike. They had been sectioning it off and on for the past 40 years. Gary’s trail name should have been “Old School”, because he was fully satisfied with and proud of his vintage 1970 gear- Kelty external frame pack, SVEA 123 white gas stove (“It’s the original- without the self cleaning nozzle!”), antique Zippo lighter, waxed leather boots, and even a Sierra cup ( titanium version). The list goes on and on. These guys usually tented, Paul did so tonight , and Gary told us that this would be the first time in those 40 years that he had shared a night in a Long Trail shelter with other hikers than his sidekick Paul.
I wonder if tomorrow -our last day– will be easy?
Spruce Ledge to Hazen’s Notch Camp shelters
This morning the footpath on the trail looks as if a shredder/chipper was dragged through the woods to eat up all the green leaves in the area and throw them down in a thick, shredded,compacted carpet under my feet.
Here is a minute and a half video walking the reader through continuous blowdowns right out of Spruce Ledge shelter, which itself was surrounded by a half dozen downed large hardwood trees.
If there were hikers staying here during the hurricane, it would have been horrifying to hear these giants breaking up and crashing to the ground outside the shelter that itself could have sustained a direct hit.
We took the advice of Gray jay and avoided taking on drinking water as we passed over Mt. Belvedere and Tillotson peaks, where in the 1960’s, an average of 3500 tons of ore were mined daily, primarily to extract chrysotile asbestos used in brake linings, roofing, shingles and pipe lining. Asbestos related health issues and stringent environmental laws depressed the asbestos market and resulted in the mine closing in 1993. We saw the giant pile of tailings that is presently leaching toxins into the area.
I was out early and made it the eight miles to Tillotson Camp for a lunch break just before noon, walking over relatively dry trail under the welcome sun. The area called Devil’s Gulch reminded me of a mini- Mahoosook Notch ( Maine) section. It was also a long, steady, uphill slog getting over the 2,000 foot elevation gain to Belvedere (3360’). The mud appeared more prevalent and deeper than we’ve experienced yet. One time, my foot slipped and went into the stinking diarrhea colored mud right up to the top of my boot. Combine that event with the humid hot hiking here in my saturated shirt and it was continual icky discomfort from top now to the bottom of my feet.
Ran into just one southbound hiker today who told us that the walking was very slow on the 6 mile ridge from Belvedere to Tillotson mountains where he was only able to manage a 1 MPH pace. That wasn’t my experience, as I motored over that section with no real problems- nothing there that we hadn’t yet seen every day out here. His perception was that of a person who was just starting the trail. He’s in for much worse as he moves south.
After my lunch break it was just 7 more miles to Hazen’s Notch shelter, but what a day of ascending! I calculated 4,300 feet of vertical today, and even worse- close to 7 miles of descending . We were told by south bounders that the trail gets easier right at the end, but not yet.
I had been carrying a salvation package of a small bottle of 5 Hour Energy with me for days just like this one, and downed the bad tasting stuff at lunchtime. It worked. Despite the rigorous morning, and the long mileage day today I had good leg power this afternoon.
In terms of food, I take the approach of keeping my best food and snacks at the bottom of the food bag. Last night at Spruce Ledge I was not able to stomach the last of those Lipton pasta cheese with broccoli sides with a foil packet of tuna. I ate about a cup of it and went into a visceral retreat, where I went back into the woods, dug a hole and buried the rest.
My gear continues to break or wear out. I hike with two pairs of socks- both have sprouted holes on the heels, underneath, and near the toes. I twist them around to try and put fabric on the more tender parts of my feet, but so far, no blisters, and I want to keep it that way.
It took me 9 hours to hike my 15 miles today. It may get easier, but this Long Trail better hurry up showing me that side, as there are just 17 miles to Canada. Lee says he can smell the border.
Codding Hollow to Spruce Ledge Shelters
“Living easy, living free
Season ticket on a one-way ride
Asking nothing, leave me be
Taking everything in my stride
Don’t need reason, don’t need rhyme
Ain’t nothing I would rather do
Going down, party time
My friends are gonna be there too”- Highway to Hell, AC/DC
“Never seen even one easy day in a long time,”said the Weatherman, if there can be such a thing as “long time” in a three to four week hike. Lee and I were sitting on the benches on the porch of this very spiffy shelter. I’m going to down three 200mg ibuprofen tablets with my hot cocoa tonight. The Inventory of Pain tonight includes discomfort of varying levels of pain, to put it bluntly. Tonight, in no particular order of severity are the following anatomical locations: feet ( ok, they are tops on the list), neck, shoulders, right elbow, upper back, lower back, left thigh. I pulled it again today when I fell on my back, where my feet whipped out from under me the second I stepped on a slick boulder.
Two Dinners drove us back north through Jeffersonville and Waterville. We threaded our way through the wreckage from the floods, and witnessed shocking examples of the power that water has to tear away roads, bridges, and to ruin buildings, a number of which were residences that were in the actual process of being gutted as we drove by. Big piles of wet pink fiberglass were the primary lawn ornament along the wide, fast, muddy rivers that run through this part of Vermont. The road that we were driving on was under water in a number of places yesterday. There are numerous utility truck crews working on power lines.
We got lost on the Codding Hollow Road this morning, and but were squared away with directions from a couple of seasoned ladies, one of which was pushing a baby carriage down this gravel road.
“Long Trail?”she asked, as we drove over toward them and started to roll down the window. She then pointed to the alternate fork, and advised us “Gonna be real slippery today up there. Watch out!”
Today we went over, under, or had to go around about 40 large blowdowns- all hardwood, but not a single conifer.
The tree damage was clustered and appeared to be in areas that were not as densely wooded. Sort of bowl-shaped sites where the wind was able to whip around and do it’s stuff.
We only saw one other hiker today- a section hiker named Daddy Long Legs.
Lee and I agreed that today was a world class hiking day. This trail continued it’s steep ups and downs, but the footpath a bit less extreme that it has been.
We passed along old woods roads, walked along a huge-mossy ledge for a long stretch, and passed through brushy ridges where the vegetation was overlapping the trail, mostly old nettles, and raspberry canes. I was satisfied to get in 5 miles by lunch, starting a 10 AM.
Right away, we went 170o long feet up Laraway Mountain, the down 900 feet to Corliss Camp, up another 900’ to Butternut Mountain, then down 800’ to a gap, then up another 500’ to the twin peaks on Bowen Mountain, then down another 600’ to our shelter here. Still lots of mud.
-Potato chips are good. Lee recommends putting them in any type of sandwich. Cheez-Its work the same way.
– General Lee recommends “Wild Bill’s Honey Ham Sticks”, and claims they are made by the Amish in Lancaster, PA ( “I can taste it.”). Motto:“You don’t need “teef” to enjoy our “beef”.