Weather-wise, Thursday, July 13th was horrible. Even down at the Stratton Motel hostel, visibility was so bad I couldn’t see across the street. It was pouring, with the forecast predicting rain all day. I chose to take a zero as I did not want to risk injury on the slippery rocks and roots of the Bigelow Range along with low visibility.
What a difference a day makes. The next morning dawned clear and sunny, and I was on the Trail at 0700 hiking up to Little Bigelow.
This picture is of Avery Peak. You can see the ridge line of Avery, which the Trail follows.
The following picture shows Bigelow Mountain West — where I had lunch on Wednesday — with Avery Peak on the far right.
I read an article recently in which the author wrote that only one state, Minnesota, has more lakes than Maine. Here are a couple along Friday’s hike:
The lake below just popped out of nowhere as I was hiking. I don’t know what its name is, but it sure was beautiful.
Often I can look back and see mountains I have already hiked. On Friday I had a final view of Sugarloaf, which locals say is the largest ski slope in New England. I climbed and descended that mountain a few days ago, which is where I had that treacherous situation on descent.
Friday was a great hiking day; it could not have been any better. Furthermore, I have now completed the “most difficult part of the Trail.” I’ve been hearing this statement since I entered New Hampshire. Clearly, not every section of every range in New Hampshire and Maine can be the most difficult, but that is what you continue to be told. I can honestly say NH & ME were tough as all get out. Now that the Bigelows are behind me, there remain only two challenges as far as I am concerned: the 100 Mile Wilderness and the ascent and descent of Mount Katahdin.
I woke up early on Saturday the 15th to threatening skies, but I was on the Trail at 0640. I hiked about 14 miles to Harrison’s Pierce Pond Camp, about 3-4 miles shy of the Kennebec River near Caratunk. It rained a good part of the day and the Trail was mega rooty, rocky and muddy. Not a pleasant hiking day.
When I arrived at Harrison’s I showered and then spent some time talking to Tim, the owner. Tim is quite proud of his place and I don’t blame him, as it is quite unique. He has several cabins, none of which have electricity. There are oil burning lamps and wood burning stoves in each cabin.
The shower and bathroom building, and mostly everything in the main building, are powered by generators. Each morning Tim serves what he calls “the 12 pancake patriotic breakfast,” which includes eggs, sausage and bacon.
Here is a picture from the back porch. You can see a waterfall in the background and a river in the foreground.
When I got settled in the cabin, I fired up the wood burning stove. It took the dampness out of the cabin and allowed me to start the next day with dry hiking shoes.
This camp is rustic, spartan and remote, but if you are a hiker it provides everything you’d want after a wet, muddy day on the Trail.
After breakfast on Sunday the 16th (and yes, I ate all 12 pancakes), I went back to the cabin to give it one more check. Then I returned to the main building to say goodbye and thank Tim. I was surprised to see him playing classical music on the piano. It sounded wonderful. He told me he plays every morning after serving breakfast and after the hikers and fishermen leave. It relaxes him.
This was a waterfall I encountered along my hike on Sunday. These waters are headed towards the Kennebec River.
The hike on Sunday was agonizingly slow. There was an amazing amount of roots, and it was impossible to develop anything remotely close to a normal stride.
I finally crossed the Kennebec River in Caratunk. To my knowledge, this 400-foot section of the Trail is the only section of the AT that is not completed with your feet. Hikers used to ford this river, but there were too many accidents and close calls, so now the expectation is that all hikers take a boat across. When you arrive, a ferryman comes to retrieve you in a canoe and bring you to the other side. Paddling across this river with the gent that runs the ferry is one of the safest activities I have done on the Trail. Ironically, it was the only activity where I was required to sign a release form.
Monday, July 17th, was an uneventful hiking day with decent weather. I hiked 12 miles over Pleasant Pond Mountain and to Moxie Pond Road. Much of my day was in a canopy of trees, but I did manage to get a few pictures.
The above picture is of Moxie Bald Mountain, which I hiked on Tuesday the 18th. The Trail up and over Moxie was reasonable, but it was raining and I had two rivers to ford, so it was not a comfortable hike. I ended the day at Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to, cold, wet, and muddy.
It was miserable getting up at 0530 on Wednesday and putting on soggy socks and hiking shoes as everyone prepared for the day’s hike.
The weather was not only sunny Wednesday, but downright hot. I am sure it must have been in the high 80s as I hiked 9 miles into Monson. When I got off the Trail, I experienced another great example of trail magic. A gal, Mrs Claus, saw me and asked if I was hungry. There’s only one possible answer to that question! She gave me a pulled pork sandwich and a beer, then another pulled pork sandwich and another beer “for later.” Her husband, an African American, Chocolate Santa, was retired Navy, and we had a nice conversation before my shuttle ride arrived. There are so many nice people on the Trail.
The hostel I stayed at Wednesday is called Shaws Hiker Hostel. Per Bill Bryson’s book, A Walk in the Woods, it is “the most famous guesthouse on the AT.” There isn’t much a hiker would want that is not there, and the folks who run it are very pleasant, knowledgeable of the Trail and accommodating. Most NOBOs take a zero in Monson before beginning the 100 Mile Wilderness. Since I’d forded another river Wednesday, the zero also gave me a chance to dry out my hiking shoes.
While I was at the Hostel, a hiker hobbled in on one good leg, and what looked like a peg-leg. He’s a thru-hiker names Captain Caveman, who I’d met the previous night at Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to. Captain Caveman was born with a malformation that requires a prosthetic with a mechanical foot, and had been thru-hiking that way. The Trail took its toll on the mechanical foot, and he told us it had finally broken earlier that day, 3 miles from Monson. He tried to jerry-rig the prosthesis, but it broke again. Despite that, he managed to hobble into Monson, carrying his full pack. He arrived at the hostel on his prosthetic, without the foot. The owner of the hostel, a stand-up guy, asked if there was anything he could do. As Captain Caveman looked toward the little store, he said, “My foot broke. Do you sell any feet in there?”
The orthopedic appliance company is making a new foot and overnighting it. He hopes to be back on the Trail by Friday. Captain Caveman always seems to have a positive attitude. It is amazing what he has accomplished. He made me very aware of how minor my complaints of wet hiking shoes really are.
I am not sure when the next post will be, as I will try to preserve my phone battery for the few places that might have service in the Wilderness. Presently I am 114 miles from Mt Katahdin. I start hiking the 100 Mile Wilderness on Friday the 21st.