It’s a Wrap: Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness

On Friday, I finished up my third complete hike of Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness section of the Appalachian Trail.

The first time I hiked through The Hundred was with my whole family:  my wife Marcia, my two boys Lincoln and Arlo, and my sister-in-law V8 and Ruth, a family friend.  It might have been 1989.  I hiked it again in 2007, on my AT thru hike. You can read about that effort from my Traijournal here.
Hiking The Hundred is difficult, with many people underestimating the challenges. Going south, the elevation gain is 18,500 feet, with elevation losses (downhills) of 18,000 feet.  img_8334  The perennially slippery trail is punctuated with beaucoup roots ,rocks, and many split-log elevated walkways.

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AT thru-hikers walking through this prelude to Katahdin are propelled by an overwhelming sense of wanting to be done with it all, with few taking the time to do side trips, like the superb Gulf Hagas loop.
I had originally planned for a ten day journey, with plenty of time for swimming, and possibly a side trip to Gulf Hagas. We came out in 7 days instead, pushing the daily average to about 15 miles.
Here is a particularly good article detailing The Hundred that appeared in Backpacking LIght magazine.
The Hundred is made up of two distinctly different trips of approximately 50 miles each.  The southern section is an advanced hike, with the other half, (Crawford Pond headed north) a beginner’s effort when walked at  8-10 miles a day, with the exception of a relatively short but steep ascent of the prehistoric Nesuntabunt Mountain.

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Heading out

If you want to taste the Hundred, then plant your car at Abol Bridge and get a shuttle from Ole Man at the AT Lodge to the drop off at Crawford Pond where you would head north for 4 nights. Alternatively, catch a float plane shuttle from Katahdin Air,  which drops you off on the shore of Crawford Pond where  side trail puts you on the AT in 100 feet.

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Ready for lift-off

Three and a half miles after you depart Crawford Pond you reach the pool in front of Cooper Brook Falls shelter- a must swim.  Enjoy more swimming at Antler Camps, and Sand Beach at Lower Jo-Mary Lake.

If you have the bucks , consider a side trip of 1.1 miles and splurging for a night at the Nahmakanta Lake Sporting Camps.    I haven done that yet , but plan to do so the next time I go through.

Make no mistake, spending  a week backpacking The Hundred is tough.  If you stuff your pack with lots of food, you can eat your way as you move along. My rationing of  a 3,000 calorie a day plan resulted in a 6 pound weight loss for the 7 days it took me to make this 100 mile trip.

 

 

Finishing up Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness

fullsizerender-5    On Friday, I finished up my third complete backpacking adventure on Maine”s Hundred Mile Widerness section of the Appalachian Trail.
The first time I hiked through The Hundred was with my whole family:  my wife Marcia, my two boys Lincoln and Arlo, and my sister-in-law V8 and Ruth, a family friend.  It might have been 1989.  It was tougher then, without smart phones and paid food drops.  I hiked The Hundred  again in 2007, on my AT thru hike. You can read about that effort from my Traijournal here.
Hiking The Hundred is difficult, with many people underestimating the challenges. Going south, the elevation gain is 18,500 feet, with elevation losses (downhills) of 18,000 feet.  The slippery trail is laced with roots and rocks, and many split-log elevated walkways.  Even when there is no rain, the rocks perspire, leaving the Monson slate very slippery under humid conditions.

Little Wilson Falls
Little Wilson Falls

AT thru-hikers are propelled by an overwhelming sense of wanting to be done with it all, with few taking the time to do the side trips, like the superb Gulf Hagas loop.
I had originally planned for a ten day journey, with plenty of time for swimming, and possibly a side trip to Gulf Hagas.
Here is particularly good article detailing The Hundred that appeared in Backpacking Light magazine.
I now understand that The Hundred is actually made up of two distinctly different trips of 50 miles each.  The southern section is what I would term an advanced hike, with the other half (Crawford Pond headed north) a beginner’s effort, with the exception of a steep ascent of Nesuntabunt Mountain in that 50 mile section.
If you want to taste the Hundred, then plant your car at Abol Bridge and get a shuttle from Ole Man at the AT Lodge to the drop off at Crawford Pond where you would head north for 4 nights.  The pool in front of Cooper Brook Falls shelter is a must swim, and may even be time for skinny dipping.  Enjoy more swimming at Antler Camps, and take in the sand beach at Lower Jo-Mary Lake.
If you have the bucks, consider splurging for a night at the classic Nahmakanta Lake Sporting Camps.  I haven’t done that yet, but plan to.

Flooded trail- Beavers at work!
Flooded trail- Beavers at work!

Make no mistake, spending most of a week backpacking The Hundred is tough.  If you are wise with food choices you can carry lots, and eat your way along. My more careful plan of rationing myself out some 3,000 calories a day resulted in a 6 pound weight loss for the 7 days it took to make this trip.

Mission accomplished
Mission accomplished

Uncle Tom’s Guided Adventures is planning more hikes of The Hundred next season, halves and maybe even the Whole Hundred.  If you are interested, get in touch with me and I’ll put you on the 2017 notification list.  Spaces are  limited.

Backpacking in Baxter

Awoke this morning at 5 am to the sweet  sound of rain falling outside my bedroom window.  Heading up today for the first of two backpacking trips that I am guiding to northern Maine. The rain should be done sometime this afternoon and bright weather should follow.  


   We’ll prepare this morning by lining our packs with  large waterproof plastic bags that will hold our supplies for the week.  Then pack covers will be slid over the whole units, with raincoats or ponchos covering the packs themselves.  

    Here’s the itinerary:


I’m particularly excited about our last day, where we plan to take the newly re-routed Abol Trail to the top of Katahdin. Abol was just reopened on July 1. It has been closed for the past two years, in order to reroute upper reaches of the trail, which was unsafe, due to large unstable boulders and rocks in the slide scar that was part of the old trail. 

 The Abol Trail was the first trail I ever walked up and down Katahdin, 46 years ago, on a week long adventure with Kevin Weir. If all goes well, it will be my 20th summit of Katahdin. 

Stay tuned for blog posts and photos from a very special natural sanctuary that has truly captured my interest and unabiding focus for most of my life.  

My Birthday Weekend- Hiking The Hills

Exiting the car in the iced-over parking lot on Friday afternoon I decided to leave my Stabilicer traction devices in the vehicle. 

My brother Roy was already walking on the multi-purpose trail and he shouted over, “No ice here” so in they went. I hate carrying extra weight and with all the pierogis, kielbasa, and my 8 person car-camping cook set bloating my pack I was well into 30 plus pounds on my back.  Stabilicers would have helped this weekend.

I started humping up the big hill.  Auntie Mame was walking beside me, decked out in her rain poncho.  My brother Roy was up ahead, as he was for most of the weekend’s hikes.

Mame and Roy embracing the real world of backpacking
Mame and Roy embracing the real world of backpacking

Less than a half-mile up the hill, we encountered the two lead hikers in our party, Kristi and David Kirkham, who love their granddaughter’s baby carriage so much that they use it any chance that they can !

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No child was smothered on this hike

It was alternately sleeting and raining, so the following 9 miles were a slush walk.

Walking in cold rain at under 40 degrees is a setup for hypothermia. Once again, I was slightly under dressed:  two thin merino undershirts- one short  and one long sleeved, and a ratty, old Patagonia Specter rain shell holding it all together. In these conditions, I have to have something covering my hands. Today, the fix was waterproof mitten shells with felted wool mittens liners.

Who cares? We are staying in a cabin heated by a wood stove. Wet clothes will be dried out. Miles were traveled.  Old friends are also with me.

After we dropped off  our packs at the shelter, I accompanied Auntie Mame out to the alternate parking lot.

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A Prudently Prepared Auntie Mame (Note poles, poncho, Stabilicers on her feet, and a hat!)

We were bringing in the last member of our overnight party. Both of us decided to accompany Ann Breyfogle on her walk in to join us.

Those two ladies had no problem walking up yet another big hill and making a couple of more miles as the foggy evening light started to fade.
Mame and Ann heading to shelter

For me, this weekend was also about hiking, and my plan for Saturday was to roll the walking odometer over into double digits for the day. I am fortunate enough to still have people who not only want to do this with me, but have the ability to make it happen.

Ann, Pat Hurley, and my brother Roy joined me.  Here is a photo taken at the today’s high point atop Mt. Megunticook.

Roy , Ann, and Pat
Roy , Ann, and Pat

Unfortunately there are no views from the summit so we descended on the often icy Ridge Trail.

Pat, making good use of his trekking poles on the ice
Pat, making good use of his trekking poles on the ice

We quickly reached the highly popular Ocean Lookout.

Pat pointing to his house in Rockland
Pat pointing to his house in Rockland

From here we descended to the junction of the Jack Williams Trail, which we followed for two miles where we came back onto the Ridge Trail.  I showed the group a short cut that eliminated a dangerously icy incline at the start of Zeke’s, which we took back to the Multipurpose Trail and the end of our day’s hike.  Here’s the morning’s Strava data:

screenshot 17The 5.5 mile hike took us two hours, which was super good time for the often icy path.   After an afternoon of reading, sleeping, and gabbing, Roy, Pat and I decided to take a night hike up to the top of Bald Rock Mountain.  Here are Pat and Roy, just before the sun left u in darkness.

What's up in that tree?
What’s up in that tree?

Kristi told us the moon rise over the Atlantic would not happen until 10:30 PM. She was absolutely correct. Although the starlight was astounding, we did need headlamps on the way down off Bald Rock and back to our shelter, where we added another 5 miles to our tally for the day.

Despite the crappy weather getting in on Friday, the weekend was a huge success.  If any of you know Ann, ask her about Uncle Tom’s uncanny ability to psychically locate lost car keys, including her’s.  I’d also like to thank John Bangeman for his Saturday visit, and a huge shout out to Martha Conway-Cole for guiding Pat and the rest of us through a most excellent, best ever, Saturday morning breakfast.

Special thanks also to Milllie’s PierogisTrouble Coffee, Leki Trekking poles, and this specialty paeo food that we consumed on on Saturday morning:

It's Bacon!
It’s Bacon!

My 2016 birthday present to myself was a weekend hanging with my brother, wife, and great outdoor adventure pals in ascending 3179 vertical feet in 21 miles.

Microadventure accomplished!

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Jamrogs left, Kirkhams right. Plus Hurley and the carriage.

Hiking Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness- First Day

Our five day adventure began by squeezing into Katahdin Air Service’s little float plane for a 50 mile flight, with pontoons touching down at Crawford Pond in the middle of the fabled One Hundred Mile Wilderness segment of the Appalachian Trail.

Great North Woods
Great North Woods

Jim, our pilot, flew low enough that we were able to see good detail right to the edges of the ponds and streams below as he pointed out the path of the Appalachian Trail that we’d walk some 50 miles back to my car around Abol Bridge on the Golden Road.

Uncle Tom, Jake, Deano, and Nick
Uncle Tom, Jake, Dino, and Nick

We thanked Jim for his skill in placing us here on this beach, and I told him that I’d be sure to fly with him again next season.

Ready for lift-off
Ready for lift-off

After departing the inviting sand beach at the southern end of the pond our band of four entered a dark slot in the dense forest and started walking  north.

We enter the forest
We enter the forest

My clients came to Maine from Boston to sample the simpler life in the Great North Woods.   I’m up here guiding a father and his two sons through their first backpacking experience.  I secured my Registered Maine Guide credentials in November, and have had some luck in scoring up some customers.  Dino, Nick, and Jake have purchased, borrowed, and rented gear that they have cobbled together for as they experience trail life for the next five days.

This family has actually listened to some of the suggestions that I made to them. Consequently, we had no issues with blisters today, and I was encouraged by strong hiking from all three.

We met our first three thru-hikers at Cooper Brook Falls lean-to three miles into our hike.  We swam in a deep pool with two young women that had started the AT in Georgia.

Cool, clear, golden pool
Cool, clear, golden pool

They made it north as far as Harper’s Ferry, VA where they skipped all the way up to Maine to turn around and head south, hiking to Virginia where they hoped to complete their 2,200 mile hike.   Also cooling his body was a young man from Norway who had just left the towering Katahdin on his own southbound journey, hoping to reach the southern terminus of the AT at Springer Mountain in Georgia.

On my fifth time through here, I still love this Cooper Brook Falls shelter.  There is a broad rushing water fall to the right and a deep wide pool of water in front of the shelter.   We jumped right into the slowly flowing water and rinsed off the copious sweat that drenched our shirts in just three miles.

I had originally planned to spend the night here at this shelter, but Dino and his boys pressed me to go a bit farther on the first afternoon so that they would not be faced with walking 12 miles on their second day.  I gave in, which  ended up being the right thing to do.

Tonight, we ended up camping “au sauvage” at Cooper Pond, 0.2 miles down a blue blazed (side) trail off the AT, turning my original 3 mile plan to an 8.2 mile accomplishment.

In the end, we pushed an extra 5 miles, and walked late enough so that we were using our headlamps before we had the campsite settled, our dinners done, and the tents up.

When you reach Cooper Plond, the path ends at an old dam. I crossed the shaky , wet rocks at the top of the falls and explored past it, where the path went no further. I noticed a fresh dump area with open clam shells visible beneath the water near shore,  where I suspected that an otter had been engaged in some kitchen prep of his own.
The terrain around our campsite is fully punctuated with rocks and hummocks but we were eventually able to find two flat spaces that held the one three-man ( them) and single 1 person (me) tents.

Tarptent and Coleman tent find flat places
Tarptent and Coleman tent find flat places

The humidity and heat were unrelenting.   We later learned that it reached 90 degrees today, with close to 100% humidity, in Maine !    It was so hot that I laid out on top of my sleeping mat. The humidity and heat were the worst that I’ve ever remembered hiking in my home state.  Thankfully, we were headed past numerous ponds, lakes, and streams, which we’d put to good use tomorrow.

At least I slept.  Dino told me he was tossing and turning all night.   I listened  to the sound of the pond water rushing over the dam nearby and the strange  cry of a single loon wailing out on Cooper Pond.

Here’s the map of our first 8 miles in The Hundred:

Pink arrows- start to finish, Day 1
Pink arrows- start to finish, Day 1

Strava and Suffer Scores, at Six Months

Goals matter.  At least they do to me!

We’re half way through 2015. I have the data to prove it.  With an ever-present computer not far from our reach, it is relatively easy to get numbers.  For me, numbers count.

As of today, 2015s first 182 days, or 6 months and 0 days have passed. At the half-year mark I’ve put in 200 hours of biking, backpacking, walking, or even jogging some 144 times, where I’ve  covered 820.4 miles.

What’s up with that?

Strava has been extremely motivating to me just through tracking my exercise. For those of you that don’t know about Strava, it is a social network that allows smartphone and GPS users to map their rides, hikes, walks, and swims and compete against themselves and others.
I have been using the free version but for 2015, I ponied up for to Premium (at $59/year) in order to access the additional perks-like setting time or distance goals, and to be able to  track my progress week over week.

Here’s just one of their graphics:

2015 Half-time report
2015 Half-time report

For 2015, I took the suggestion of my son Lincoln, and set myself a goal of moderately exercising, at an average of an hour a day. As  useful as this app is, it still has it’s limiting quirks.  For example, it took me months to realize that Strava only aggregates cycling or running activities.  Walking, or backpacking are not activities that are  collected and analyzed (yet). I learned to lump all footwork as runs.

I continue to be surprised to see that even at my age, I continue to improve my fitness.  I have been able to reduce the times that  travel over “segments”, or sections of trail that other riders or runners have identified as places where they would like to have their own data accumulated, as well as seeing what others have accomplished on those same segments.  For example, I’ve set 56 personal records since January 1.

As if all this data weren’t enough, I just ran up another $16 per year to access the benefits of  Veloviewer, another program that takes Strava data and  adds additional analysis.  For example, Veoloviewer reached way back to 2011 and brought in ALL the data from every ride or hike that i’ve ever recorded and analyzed that in ways that I never even imagined, like this 3D graphic of this past Tuesday’s Rockland Bog Ride.

3D view of Rockland Bog ride
3D view of Rockland Bog ride

In another hour I’m headed out for a couple of hours with Craig to ride the trails around the Snow Bowl. You can bet that I’ll be bringing along my trusty Garmin eTrex30 GPS unit, and strapping on a heart rate monitor so that I can obtain Strava’s special “ Suffer Score”  for this ride.

Did I mention that it’s another beautiful day here in Maine ?
Setting a time goal has resulted in me being active and outside for an hour a day every day.

Missed Part 1 ? Check out my Triple Crown of Hiking TV interview

Somewhere in Southern California
Somewhere in Southern California

WCSH’s  Maine-based TV news magazine “207” interviewed me at my kitchen table two weeks ago.

If you were not able to watch the broadcast last night, the link to Part 1 of the interview is now up on WCSH’s web site.  <<-

The second half of the interview is Tonight, Tuesday, Nov. 28 at 7 PM.  Catch it at 7:00 p.m. on channels 6 in Portland and  2 in Bangor.

I’m talking adventure, about walking for months on end at a time, and what’s next after being awarded the Triple Crown of Hiking.

My interview will also be posted in the 207 section of www.WCSH6.com, where it will remain online for approximately 6 months.

I’d like to thank all the hundreds of hikers, neighbors, family members, and even those complete strangers who assisted me during my year and a half of backpacking.

Walking the Trails Near Katahdin Lake – Baxter State Park

Crafty Use of Birch
Crafty Use of Birch

Our second full day at Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps was so interesting.

Last night I awoke to the sound of waves slapping against the sand beach below us.  I walked out on the porch to check it out and was pleased to see a starry sky. Right in front of me was the Big Dipper, boldly presenting right above the horizon behind Katahdin Lake.

Our front porch
Our front porch

This porch faces directly north, boldly defiant in it’s willingness to comfort any potential traveler.

I awoke to a still, cold morning with the thermometer outside registering 34 degrees. I took a number of photographs just after light appeared.

Katahdin to the Turners - Panorama
Katahdin to the Turners – Panorama

Here are two brave canoeists who were wearing winter coats and gloves.

North Across Katahdin Lake
North Across Katahdin Lake

The unmistakable sound of a powerful airplane engine echoed against the nearby painted hills. Just about everyone in camp was on the beach to greet Jim, ace bush pilot at Katahdin Air, who was taxiing right up to the beach. Jim flew three of us into the Hundred Mile Wilderness in August.   to pick up Chris Huntington, a landscape painter who was wrapping up a two week residence here today.

The Artist Exits
The Artist Exits

Three of Huntington’s paintings of Katahdin hang in the dining room here, along with two of Caren Michel’s pieces. He told me that he had been  here for two weeks, but usually lives here for  a month.  Marcia and I shared two meals with Caren, who is a Maine-based painter, and was bundled up and standing outside all weekend, creating new treasures.  I particularly enjoyed two of Michael Vermette’s small, thickly layered renditions of the mountain that were on display above our wooden table.

Classic Baxter signage
Classic Baxter signage

Marcia and I walked a 5 mile loop today to the Martin Ponds where a new lean-to faces yet another unique view of Katahdin.

Katahdin from Martin Pond
Katahdin from Martin Pond

It is the closest view of Katahdin that we’ve seen. Canoes for rent pepper the shores of the Lake and ponds here.  ($1 an hour in Baxter, $10 a day at KLWC).

We walked over a beaver dam to start our loop.

High Water Would Have Been Tough
High Water Would Have Been Tough

The path was rocky, rooty, and covered with moss in parts.

Marcia keeps dry boots
Marcia keeps dry boots

I was hoping to get in some canoeing this time, as walk all the way out to the end of the Twin Ponds Trail, which would have added 10 more miles to the day’s efforts.  Next time, for sure.

Marcia and had our last dinner in the Lodge tonight. We didn’t know the menu, but found out when the cook himself quietly tapped on our cabin door at ten minutes of six to ask how we wanted our sirloin steaks prepared. Caren and the two of us were the last “sports” served dinner this season, as the camp was closing tomorrow, on Columbus Day. They tend vegetable gardens here. The roasted potatoes, boiled carrots, and friend onions that accompanied our perfect steaks were especially tasty.

Auntie Mame
Auntie Mame

We lingered for an hour or so in the tiny, ancient library in the Lodge before we walked back to our car, the woods vibrant  in pulsing light.

Fall Treasure
Fall Treasure

Day 4- Walking Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness

10.2 miles.

Started walking today at 7 AM.  I was first to the top of Nesuntabunt in 75 minutes. As I approached the top, I passed the Jocomotive, who had been on point, and had been storming up ahead of me.  He had stopped to catch his breath and eat a Snickers bar, and told me that he was fine.

The walk up Nesuntabunt is a true steep, rocky trail going up though a primal forest! Here, I was able to get my first phone call out to home where I asked Marcia to get a radar map up on her computer. She told me that a rain front was approaching us from less than 50 miles away.
Marcia also said that our 57 year old veterinarian, Jim Laurita, died from a fall and possible heart attack in the elephant pen, and that the two elephants that lived at his place in Hope, Rosie and Opal, are going back to Oklahoma.  It is so sad.  Each of us has such a short time on the planet. It’s a blessing and a curse that none of us knows the eventual end date on our tombstones.

After 25 minutes waiting on top, I started to get concerned about Jocomotive and G-Man. After 40 minutes had passed, I was uncomfortably cold due to my sweat-soaked shirt.  I headed back down to check them, and was relieved to see them both heading up. I learned that Joco bonked. G-Man stayed with Joco until he was ready to walk again.  The G-Man himself was pretty spent as he make it to the top of this 1,600′ mountain. Nesuntabunt is not that high in elevation, but a dramatic change in the land of relatively flat walking in this part of The Hundred.

After another short break on top, we all reoriented to the North again. When we finally all started heading down the other side of Nesuntabunt, it was 9:50 AM. It had taken us almost three hours to make just two miles. I had hoped that we could make the Rainbow Stream lean-to before we got wet.
The rain came a mile later as we reached Crescent Pond. We all stopped and put on rain jackets. Joe and I pulled out pack covers.  I had also lined my pack with a trash compactor plastic liner, so I had a double wall of protection for my meager set of dry clothes and sleeping bag.  Chris didn’t have either a rain cover, or a liner for his pack, but he did bring along a poncho, so I showed him how to wear it in a way that partially protected his pack.

Progressive misery advanced as the rain increased in intensity and the water seeped into my clothing, and ran down my bare legs into my boots, chilling my feet. I was experimenting on this trip with rain gear options. Instead of packing my trusty Patagonia Specter rain jacket, I substituted a brand new 2014 Houdini, which boasted a fresh water-repellant coating. In just one hour I became saturated and increasingly chilled. The rain became stronger, so I decided to forgo snacks, lunch, and even drinking water in order to keep pushing to reach the dry interior of the Rainbow Stream Shelter, where we experienced a bona fide deliverance.

While I was hiking in discomfort, I recalled the sage advice of my friend-for-life, David Hanc, who once told me, “You don’t have to like something to have the right attitude about it”.

I was impressed with the grit of both the Jocomotive and G-Man, who were learning to just keep walking in steady cold rain. I get chilled easily in rain this time of year, and unless I have bars or quick food packed in a jacket pocket to eat while I’m walking, I don’t eat. I press on.

Rainbow Stream lean-to is a pretty dark place. Even thought the rain let up later in the afternoon, there was no way anything was going to dry out for tomorrow AM.

Our wet clothes picture frame
Our wet clothes picture frame

Joe and I were able to dress in to dry warm clothes.  I cooked up hot drinks, and then spent most of the rest of the day comfortable in my sleeping bag, reading, listening to Podcasts and audiobooks, writing, and socializing.

Before we ate an early dinner, a totally drenched Brit in an aeronautical engineering program, with his lady, a pre-med student squished their way into the shelter.  They were from San Francisco. They had flown to Bangor, where they were picked up by a guide who brought them to Monson to walk The Hundred. They had a set date to come out where the guide was going to pick them up at Abol Bridge drive them back to Bangor for their flight back.  The young lady looked fine, but the Brit’s feet were shot, and he was limping around badly. I politely quizzed him about his experience with this sort of thing, and he told me that he was an experienced backpacker who had backpacked the John Muir Trail, and along with other walks in California.  They were honest in how difficult The Hundred was for them.  Their first day of 10 miles , with each carrying 10 days worth of food, had them endure 12 hours of suffering, walking into darkness-a day that saw the fellow’s feet get torn up and blistered, a situation that only worsened as the days went on.

This group spent a comfortable night in the shelter.  G-Man set up his little tent on a nice rise beside the rushing waters of Rainbow Stream.  One day to go!

Jocomotive walks across Rainbow Stream
Jocomotive walks across Rainbow Stream

Day 3 Report- Where We Evacuate a hiker in the Hundred Mile Wilderness

10 Miles- Potaywadjo Spring to Wadleigh lean-to

The three of us rolled into the Potywadjo Spring lean-to at the end of our day’s hike last night to find a trio of men who told us they were thru-hikers that had just flipped from Hanover, New Hampshire up to the end of the AT in Maine and were now hiking south.

My bullshit radar activated immediately.  We’ve encountered several southbounders on the AT in the Hundred right now. Most told us they flipped from Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson River, while others were bailing from as far south as the Shenandoahs on their Northbound hikes to then hike south through Maine. This trio’s plan made no sense to me, as they had been right at the doorstep of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, known for the worse weather on the AT. No reasonable hiker would stop at that point, in early September, when the chance of encountering snow and ice was minimized, compared to what it will be like there in late September into October.

I over heard them talking while they all smoked cigarettes in front of the shelter.
Here are some exact quotes I jotted down:
” I have hiked all the Superstition Mountains in the Grand Tetons, Arizona.” [Fact: The Grand Tetons are in northwestern Wyoming.I walked through them last year.]
“We’ll be in the White Mountains in just 70 miles!” [Fact:  They are approximately 240 miles away.]
” I paid $750 for my North Face backpacking tent. It is fireproof so I can cook right on the floor inside it .” [Nope.]
“I haven’t washed up at all in three weeks.  I’m really hiker trash.”[So pleased this guy was not bedding down next to me in the shelter.]
“ I have a great hammock that I bought at WalMart for 20 bucks.”[“Great backpacking hammock” and “twenty bucks” are not generally stated in the same sentence.  The same individual said that he had started hiking  carrying a home-made tattoo machine.]
“I pulled one of my own teeth out last week. I had another hiker pull out another one two weeks ago. ”  [Yikes- they were in the front, too !]
” I started hiking from Georgia May 15. I made it to Philly for the Fourth of July.” [Fact:  That’s over 1,000 miles.  That would have made his daily average  close to 20.  It didn’t jive with his previous quote, “ I lost 90 pounds.  I was so fat I could only walk 3 or 4 miles at the start of the trail. I have these big flaps of skin I hope go away.”]
“ I was going to punch that guy who owns the hostel in the face when I asked him how much it would cost for him to drive me to Katahdin and he told me $30.” [Now my intuition was glowing strong.We had to get away from these guys.]

Later, Chris ( AKA G-Man) told me that he was holding on to his wallet as he listened to these guys and looked at their gear collection, which was tattered and was at least in part Walmart branded. But they slept in three tents in a non-authorized camping area in front of the lean-to while The Slocomotive, G-Man, and I commandeered the shelter. It was just the six of us.

We three were up early the morning, the Southern boys were still in bed but rustling around when we left.

After starting out rested and strong, we quickly became absorbed in  a beautiful, green palette of moss, leaves and grasses.  Flowing through the unfolding canvas were glinting shimmers of mirrored water that appeared in clearings off the side of the AT- impressions from the numerous streams, springs, and bodies of water that we hiked through on our northerly walk toward Namahkanta Lake today.

We were walking smooth and strong, with G-Man moving strong on point  for maybe three hours when I thought I heard a sharp yell, not a common occurrence on the AT in these parts.  I heard it a short while later, and mentioned it to Joe. It seemed to come from in back of me.

Slocomotive chugging up out of Tumbledown Stream
Slocomotive chugging up out of Tumbledown Stream

We had just crossed Tumbledown Dick Stream when  I had stopped and who should be limping quickly toward us but one of those three guys.  He was in a crazed state, highly agitated, snot coating his lower jaw and neck, and clearly banged up, with his arm in a makeshift sling with white tape around his ankle. He was initially incoherent, and agitating to go forward.

He eventually told us that he was the first of his trio to leave Potawadjo Springs shelter but then found himself off trail and at the spring itself, on a blue-blazed trail instead of the AT.  But he’s now steaming north like a true mad man, alone and disoriented on the AT.  He told us that he must have got turned around when realized that his compadres had gone head ahead and he fell.  It was a woefully inadequate an explanation for how banged up he was.

Joe is a war veteran who served in Vietnam, and was a nurse before he retired. G-Man is an Emergency Medical Technician. He was in luck in encountering some experienced medical personnel.  G-Man slowly engaged with the guy, who was settled down enough for G-Man to gently palpitate his shoulder and his back, the main source of his complaints.

The G-Man assist
The G-Man assist

G-Man’s eyebrows shot upward when he gently examined the man’s spine, and called me over and had me feel the prominent hard lump that was just off the side of the fellow’s backbone.  Later, G-Man told me that he thought that one vertebra was misaligned, and that it was very likely that the guy was in an incredible degree of pain, which became evident after he doubled over and threw up after he began to walk again.  When I was alone with G-Man a little later and the guy was in the care of The Slowcomotive, I told G-Man I that I didn’t buy his story of  falling as he turned around.  I believed that he had been beaten up by one of the two other guys , or at least picked up and thrown against the shelter, or onto some rocks.  His injuries were not consistent with a simple fall , especially a fall that would have been cushioned by a loaded backpack.  When out of earshot, the Slowcomotive told me that the guy told him said he was on meds for auditory hallucinations.  Oh, Oh……

What to do?
We couldn’t leave him after he told us that he had no money, and that he threw his phone away back near the shelter when he realized that he broke it when he fell on it.  At this point he was about 30 miles south of Abol Bridge where he could get a ride out to Millinocket. He told us he had money and food at a mail drop in Monson, some 70 miles south.

We had a quick triage, and decided to assist the guy by walking him out to get help via a medical facility in Millinocket.  We decided that since he was ambulatory at the moment, we could not call 911 and initiate a likely helicopter rescue.

I opened up his pack and distributed the bulk of his gear to our three backpacks. We headed out.  He was able to walk at a surprisingly good clip, considering his condition.  Eventually he became faint, and we all sat down and made him eat and drink water.  He was in and out, sometimes starting straight ahead with open eyes, and occasionally unresponsive to our efforts to converse with him.

Eventually we came to the gravel Nahmakanta Stream Road,  where we eventually listened to G-Man, who argued strongly that our new goal was to find a way to evacuate at him via this road.  The problem now was twofold:  no traffic at all and the fact that our very narrow AT strip map was inadequate to determine which was the best direction to get him out. It was here that I vowed to (in the future), take with me pages from the Delorme Gazetteer in future Maine hikes, so that I’d be able to see where these wilderness woods road might go.

Initially, I was not able to get a cell connection at all at this spot.  However, while we were waiting for something to materialize, a miracle came to us, literally out of thin air.

I heard by iPhone buzz an incoming text notice.   It was a message from Duff, a woman that I had hiked 2,000 miles with on the PCT in 2010.  She was messaging me from Baxter Peak at the top of Katahdin, and at that exact moment, completing her own AT thru hike!  I messaged her back before the intermittent Verizon signal faded and asked her to contact Paul Seneshal, AKA “Ole Man”, and get him to text me about this situaiton.  Old man owns both the Hiker Hostel and the AT Cafe in Millinocket.
After too much waiting, and some confusing responses, everything fell into place for a rescue, of sorts.

I texted Ole Man this photo to show where we were.
I texted Ole Man this photo to show where we were.

Here’s some of the texts:

Ole Man-“Hey Tom.  I can get him if he can get to the S end of Nahmakanta Lake. There is a camping area there and it would take almost an hr to get there.”
Hey Tom. Do I need to come out there?”

Me- “Yes! You coming?”
Ole Man- “Yes. I’m on my way.”

While we were sitting in the road waiting for Ole Man to get here, the injured party told us, “I hear a car.”  We didn’t.  Then he righted himself, squinted up one end of the road, pointed and  then said, “There it is!”

Just at that moment, I saw a grey truck up in the distance that appeared to be turning around and heading back.  I ran up the road, where I discovered a smaller gravel road curving off into the woods.  I bolted up there and discovered a couple getting out of their truck.  The guy had a big holstered pistol on his hip. After I carefully approached and explained to them what was going on, they offered to immediately drive the guy out to the Jo-Mary Road checkpoint, a manned gate that Ole Man would have to pass through in order to drive the 24 miles of gravel to reach us here at the south end of Namahkanta Lake. They told me that it might take as long as two hours for him to get to this point from Millinocket.
I got in their car and brought them to our victim.  Things moved fast and furious when we emptied all of our packs of the guy’s gear and loaded him in the front seat. I handed him a $20 and wished him better luck in the days ahead.

Later, I received a final text from Ole Man- “Got him.”

Our day’s mission was formally accomplished.

[Here’s how it all ended.  This is the entry from two days later, if you just can’t wait.]