Monday, August 30, 2010

Mud, Bogs and Logs...

While Maine may not have bridges spanning all of the rivers and streams, that cross the AT, it does offer plenty of log bridges. This is a photo of a relatively new log bridge construction, note the duel planks, lack of moss on the walking surface and considerably level nature of the platform. This walkway went on for approximately an 1/8 of a mile before plopping hikers back onto more solid terra firma.

Without these log bridges the trail would be impassable in places, especially the bogs. Big Ooh recently pressed his hiking pole into the muck, to a depth of over three feet, and still didn't touch the bottom. This makes it pretty important to keep one's balance when traversing the log. This can be made much more challenging with the presence of moss growth, broken planks, single log bridge construction (of which there are many) or washed out underpinnings which cause the bridge to sway, rock and sometimes pop up like a teeter-totter.

Not all log bridges span bogs ... some simply provide a pathway over notoriously muddy sections of trail, which the beautiful state of Maine has plenty of. In fact, Maine seems to have more mud diversity than I've had the pleasure of experiencing anywhere else in my life's travels. There's sticky mud, slippery mud, watery mud, hard mud, deep mud, quicksand style mud, stinky mud and, of course, dried mud (which isn't just regular old dirt, since it retains foot, hoof and paw prints ... which are pretty cool).

Yes, mud is part of a hiker's daily existence up here. Ahhhh Maine. Thanks for the mud memories...

Rollin on,

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Friendly Faces ...

One benefit of flip flopping is the opportunity to reconnect with people who I haven't seen in months. Today (8/26/10) I was taking a short break on the peak of Spaulding Mountain and who walks up? Chopsticks (aka: snakebite). He's a super nice guy who is hiking to raise funds and awareness for abused children. We met way back down south and got to know each other due to the fact that, back then, he would take zero days ... which would allow slower hikers, such as myself, to catch up. Since Chopsticks can hike 30+ miles a day it didn't take too long before he put in more mileage than I could make up.

He said he met up with Boston Dan, in Boston, and the two of them went to the racetrack. No surprise since Dan used to discuss his love of all things racing, especially cars. According to Chopsticks, Boston Dan might actually do a section of the Whites this year so who knows ... I might run into him too.

Well, back to the trail. I've achieved my planned stopping point for the day but it's too early to stop so I'm going to press on. Another three miles should get met to a better stopping point.

Rolling on,

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Monday, August 23, 2010

Top of Avery...

The view from the top of Avery Peak wasn't much to write about. The winds were sustained at 30MPH and were gusting anywhere between 40-50MPH. I stopped to put my fleece on (which I held onto for dear life) and snap a couple shots before heading back down the other side to the scrubby treeline where there was a windbreak.

As I walked across the open expanse I noticed Big Ooh taking video with his camera. If we can figure out a way to post it I'll put it up. There was some leaning going on to stay upright...

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Map of Yesterday's Hike...

Hello from Stratton, Maine! Yesterday Koopa, Big Ooh and I hiked from Safford Notch Campsite to Maine Highway 27. It was "only" ten miles but it was a challenging ten miles nonetheless. The picture above is of the elevation profile for that section of trail.

Our first two miles went straight up the side of Bigelow Mountain, a 2,000 foot climb to Avery Peak.

We then descended to Bigelow Col. Thank goodness for that, since it provided a brief rest from the bone chilling cold. That said, it was our first real "down" and with the previous night's rain everything was slippery. Oy vey! Slow going...

Next was West Peak, more steep, slippery rock and high winds. Good times. After a few more quick photos on top we descended down West Peak, about 650 feet, to a rocky, rooty ridge walk.

The weather remained somewhat cold but it only threatened rain. My internal mantra of "sunny skies, dry trail" seemed to be unrealized but at least the clouds held the water fast and off of us. We climbed the South Horn and descended to Horns Pond, where we met the summer caretaker who was doing a bit of trail maintenance.

After that we climbed up and over another bump of mountain to start our 2,200 foot descent to Maine Highway 27. The going was slow during the first two miles down. The afore mentioned wet rocks, mixed with mud, slick roots and rock scrambling (actual climbing) put us somewhere around one mile per hour, a painfully slow pace.

Fast forwarding to our eventual arrival at the highway I stuck out my thumb and was surprised to get a hitch from the very first truck that drove by. Koopa, Big Ooh and I hopped in the back sweaty, tired and chilled but grateful for the ride. Dennis, our driver, opened the split window and, from the cab, offered us ice cold beers which were in a cooler in the bed of the truck. Since riding in the open bed of a pickup is questionable already, we decided to pass on the offer and save ourselves from a visit to the town jail. Then we smelled it ... hummmmm is that pot? We all looked at each other and then into the cab of the truck, where we saw Dennis drinking a beer and smoking a bowl. At the excessive speed of 75 miles per hour we made it into town in no time. Dropped safely at our destination Dennis wouldn't take no for an answer and drove away with each of us holding an ice cold Geary Maine brew. I almost kissed the ground.

Another day done. Another ten miles accomplished ... good food, hot showers and dry beds called.

Rollin in,

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Me On Top Of West Peak...

Just as cold and windy as Avery, here I am on top of West Peak. Thanks to Big Ooh for snapping this pic.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Looking Back At Avery...

This is what Avery Peak looked like from the top of West Peak.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Wind, Water and Clouds ...

This picture is of the wind blowing the clouds over Avery Peak. That's water below...

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Bigelow Mt. Avery Peak

This photo taken of Avery Peak (the right peak on the map) was taken after hiking a mile up the mountain. Still a looooong way to go to make it to the first summit of the day.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Ivy League Backpackers...

I took this picture yesterday morning (8/21/10). It's of two tarp tents housing approximately 8 people each.

After a 16 mile day, Big Ooh, Koopa and I walked into our intended campsite only to find it swarming with at least 40 other people. Turns out there was a program teaching college age folks how to serve as back country group leaders ... and they were all traveling together. Additionally, there was a large group of French Canadian campers who I won't even get into. Aside from the fact that large groups are a stress on the environment, they're tough on fellow back country travelers, since they take up a lot of space (especially the coveted, flat, campsite space that we all seek out for a good night's rest).

Luckily Big Ooh and Koopa scored the last tent platform (there were only two to begin with) and they were very kind to share it with me. Squeezing two tents onto one platform wasn't easy but we made it happen.

While we were cooking our dinner the college students (from Harvard) began to string long lines from tree to tree. Tube tents? Tarp tents? I wondered to myself if that's what they had in mind.

The wind had already picked up and it was threatening rain. They finished their, now confirmed, tarp tent construction and rolled out their sleeping pads and bags. "Yeesh," I thought, "what exactly are they trying to teach these kids ... the most effective way to freeze your butt off in the back country?"

One girl literally glared at me while I blew up my ultralight NeoAir ThermaRest sleeping pad and placed it in my tent.

Their monstrous tarp construction blocked the blue blazed access trail to the water source, so French Canadians marched through their camp several times. It was a site to behold, if not inwardly laugh at. They talked and laughed well past "hiker midnight" (AKA 8:00pm) and I'll admit I was annoyed by their lack of courtesy.

Still I drifted off to sleep, cozy and dry in my tent. A few hours later I awoke to a torrent of rain falling on my rain fly. I'll admit, I'm not in love with my tent (it has it's issues) but I was so thankful to have it at that moment. Still plenty dry I went back to sleep.

The next morning I cooked breakfast in the vestibule of my tent since it was still drizzling and water dropped from the trees with the slightest breeze. It was very early, since we had a large day planned and I tried my best to be quiet.

By 6:45am we were packed and about ready to hit the trail. It was then that I took my first good look at the collegiate campers "tented" below us. Their sleeping positions had all shifted towards the middle, kinda resembling a dog pile celebration at the end of a baseball game. The poor souls on the ends had undoubtedly bore the brunt of the rain. Soggy is about the only word that describes the scene. I felt pretty sorry for them all and hoped their gear would dry enough for them to salvage some enjoyment during their six day sojourn.

We hit the trail. It was our day to climb the Bigalows and, if we pressed hard, to make it into town. Any opportunity to eat, dry gear and get out of the weather is always a strong incentive.

Rolling On,

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The "Official" Blaze...

It's painted on the canoe floor, making this boat ride the official Appalachian Trail!

I crossed the river yesterday, August 20th.

Rollin on,

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Only "official" part of the trail where you don't walk...

This is me, a fellow southbound hiker (in front) and the official ferry crossing guide. He is quite a character ... but super friendly and helpful.

The Kennebec River is pretty mild in this section but it can rise anywhere from 2 to 4 feet, very rapidly, due to releases, up river, for a hydro electric dam.

In 1985 a husband and wife thru hiking team attempted to ford the river. He made it, even though the water levels rose. Unfortunately his wife drowned.

The ATC and Maine AT Club jointly pay for the ferry driver's salary in an attempt to keep hikers safe at this crossing. The ferry guide said that approximately 12 to 15 people attempt to ford the river, on foot, each year. Some make it, while most end up getting pretty wet. He then fishes them out and gets them to shore safely.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Friday, August 20, 2010


So far Maine has been three things, beautiful, wet and challenging but with sections of trail that look like this, it makes the rough days worth it.

Now that we are hiking Southbound we're meeting lots of new hikers and making new friends. Most notable are Nemo, the really nice British guy who failed to bring more than a sleeping bag liner, to save on weight, so he's been freezing every night. And then there's Homeward Bound, who recently graduated from high school and is hiking home to Georgia. There are several others but those two seem to pop up most frequently.

Then there are all of the Northbounders, we pass daily, who are closing in on the end of their hikes. Their excitement is contagious. I've yet to run into any hikers I know, since most of these folks started before I did. Hopefully I'll see some familiar faces soon. I'm especially hoping to run into Wizard and Tripper, the married Australian couple I hiked with briefly back in Georgia. I hope they're still on the trail and close to achieving their goal.

Well ... it's about time for me to get back on the trail too. Wishing everyone a great day!


Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Class IV River Rafting...

Hello Everyone!

So Koopa, Big Ooh and I made it to Caratunk, Maine and we're doing GREAT!!!  In fact, to celebrate ... and rest (just a tad) we decided to do some whitewater rafting on the Kennebec River.  I wish I had photos to share ... but I was advised not to take anything but a waterproof camera.  Since we all know my cell phone IS NOT waterproof ... I opted for a single use camera (which still needs to be developed).  If I can figure out how to share those pics with you ... I will. 

The Kennebec River is no joke.  People come from all around the East Coast to raft and kayak this river.  It's Class IV's rapids are nothing to joke with but are a TON of fun too! 

Tomorrow we hit the trail again ... a day behind schedule ... but a day that is forever embedded in our memories. 

Guided whitewater ... I highly recommend it.  Ahhhh................

Rollin On,

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Blog Update....

Hello everyone!

The 100 Mile Wilderness was beautiful, challenging but beautiful.  Maine is simply amazing.  I'd love to share some photos with you ... but ...

Unfortunately, during my first river ford I fell into the river and completely soaked myself, my pack and ... my electronics. Goodbye iPod ... goodbye cell phone (which is pulling double duty as my camera).

Unlike the rest of the states that the AT runs through, Maine doesn't build bridges for many of their stream and river crossings.  This means that hikers either have to rock hop across the water from rock to rock or take off one's boots and enjoy a free foot bath.  On the first ford, I chose to rock hop ... and almost made it to the other side.  Just shy of the other bank I stepped onto a moss covered rock and slipped into the water.  Koopa said it was a controlled fall ... more like just sitting down in the river ... but the damage was done.  Electronics and H2O don't mix. 

The good news ... I've got a replacement on the way and should receive it tomorrow (whoo hoo!!).  The bad news ... I've already seen some of the most beautiful, rugged country that I've ever seen in my life and I haven't been able to share it with you (sorry). 

More to come soon (with pics)!

Rollin on,

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Victory Dinner...

Yesterday, July 30, 2010 I summited Mt. Katahdin. This is a photo of my victory dinner. My hiking / climbing companions included Koopa and Big Ooh, who also enjoyed a Maine lobster for dinner.

The base to summit to base trip took 11 hours. It was a long, grueling, sometimes scary, sometimes amazing, sometimes painful, always adventurous trek. It was something I will never forget and something I will most likely, never do again.

We climbed the route designated as the official AT, aptly blazed with white rectangular squares painted upon trees and later rocks, once we were the above treeline.

Mt. Katahdin is the tallest mountain in Maine and is located in Baxter State Park. Most of the rules related to the mountain are weather related. According to the AT Thru Hiker Companion (a book that almost all thru hikers carry) Katahdin is exposed to extreme weather and has had snow during every month of the year. There are no shelters located above the treeline and all trails to the summit are completely exposed.

The park service posts the mountain's "class recommendations" daily. Climbing on a "Class I" day would be optimal, since all trails are open without restrictions. "Class II" days are officially described as follows, trails open but "Not Recommended For Hiking Above Treeline." Class III and Class IV notifications restrict hiking and climbing to the point of limiting or closing trails, citing and fining those who fail to comply, the risk of arrest, equipment seizure and revocation of all future park privileges. Bottom line, don't even try it on those days!

The translation for the word "Katahdin" is "Greatest Mountain" and without a doubt it's the greatest mountain I've ever climbed! The day started out beautifully, including clear blue skies and warm breezes.

The park service posted the day as a "Class II" day. Hummm.... not recommended for hiking above treeline. But the northern most part of the AT is on the tippy top (summit) of Katahdin, and of course that's well above treeline, so I'm going for it!

The hike started out as just that, a hike. The trail was gradual, yet increased steadily in elevation. We walked next to a stream for a while, which sounded nice. It was starting out to be a perfect day. What a great day to hike Katahdin!

Shortly after passing Katahdin Stream Falls the trail became much more rocky and steep. Hey, we're climbing to the top of a mountain I told myself, of course it's going to be hard! I eagerly scrambled over, around and up large stone slabs and boulders ... sometimes using tree roots or branches to assist. The trek was getting more "technical" ... or so I thought, since I found myself remembering back to some climbing lessons I'd taken years ago in California. Thankful for those skills, acquired long ago, I proceeded slowly upward.

I'd like to say I can remember when I had the first thought that "this is hard" but I can't recall when that realization popped into my mind. I think it was somewhere around the point of a large, open, severely angled, piece of rock, that was so steep my boots wouldn't allow for traction. I ended up climbing that section looking like a mix between Spiderwoman and a cat trying to climb up a well greased playground slide. Or maybe it was when we all had to collapse and store our poles in our (loaned daypacks) because, now approaching the treeline, both hands were required for safe progress.

A side side note on the daypacks. The park loans thru hikers daypacks, since our normal packs are too bulky to haul up the mountain. The pack I selected smelled and I couldn't get my fleece, snacks and water to load and balance well. At the bottom of the mountain, I was dreading my decision to leave my Osprey pack below ... but as things got steeper, narrower and tighter I was thankful for that stinky and small loaner.

When we reached the first area on the mountain that is so steep and vertical it requires climbing gear to continue, the park had bolted in a permanent assist. That said, it's not as if they bolted in a ladder ... this "assist" consisted of a single rung, steel rod (approximately a half inch thick and 18 inches wide) and a small, seemingly broken metal rod, that jutted straight out of the rock a few inches, to use as a foothold. This move still required climbers to place our left leg and foot into a crack, while reaching up with both hands to grasp, what is, in essence, a pull up bar while extending our right leg out and over to the foothold pin which seemed about shoulder height, in order to push yourself up the mountain and over the lip of rock that was above our heads. I was unhappy. I might not be able to say when I first had the thought, "This is hard" but I can tell you when I first had the thought, "This is ridiculous" and the first set of permanently set "gear" was it!

We all made it up and continued up. Unfortunately the clear, blue skies began to cloud over so we climbed without much of a view. At some points the clouds and mist were so thick that it was impossible to see people climbing up ahead or behind you. The temperature began to drop as well. By the time we were nearing the top, Big Ooh's temperature gage (on his watch) read 45 degrees. That didn't account for the wind chill factor, which was also in full play. We continued on.

There were a bunch more tough sections and several times I had the realization that a wrong move could cost me my life so by the time we reached the summit I was thankful to have made the decision to flop flop my hike. Here it was, July 30th, and the weather was pretty rough. What would it have been like on my planned summit date of October 4th? Still, upon reaching the top Big Ooh, Koopa and I all seemed a little melancholy. We sat on rocks without much celebration, looking at each other ... looking at the sign ... looking at the other people who had also summited. It was "the end" ... but not. We did it ... but not completely.

Then the clouds parted, the sun appeared and our spirits lifted. Blue sky, even if only briefly, was a prayer answered on top of Katahdin.

We took pictures, celebrated, enjoyed the view felt the accomplishment sink in. While we may not be finished, we HAD finished the hardest and highest mountain of the trail. Yes, there was room for celebration. There was time for smiles.

Then nature decided that our time for blue skies was over. The clouds rolled in and this time they were dark ... and ominous. It was time for us to go.

Since I'm typing this in a shuttle on the way back to the trail I'm going to have to expidite, before I loose signal. There's more to share but here are the key details.

By the time we reached the the half way point it started to rain. That made us scoot a little faster down the mountain (or at least as fast as we could with the winds ... and now steep and slippery rocks). 

The trek down was painstakingly long.  Climbing up is so much easier ...  just ask any mountain rescue or fire crew located near ocean cliffs.  We took our time, ensuring our safety, and lowered ourselves slowly down the mountain ... rock by slippery rock ... step by muddy step. 

By the time we reached the camping area, at the base of the mountain, we were exhausted.  Piling into the rental car we headed back to Millinocket, Maine where we had made reservations for the night. 

Upon arrival in Millinocket we found the hiker hostel and then made our way to one of the two resturants in town still open for dinner.  Celebration was in order ... even though we were all exhausted ... so it was Maine lobsters all around!  Truth is, I was going to order the chicken sandwich and onion rings but peer pressure is a bear (kidding!!).  Our celebration feast was yummy.  Koopa almost fell asleep in her drawn butter but we all cleared our plates. 

Yes, climbing Katahdin in the middle of the journey certainly isn't how I pictured it .... but how often does life turn out exactly as we plan?  Lessons learned: (1) Flexability is key; (2) Success isn't always measured in accomplishing the goal in typical "A to Z" fashion and (3) Recognize, accept and be thankful for the blessings that allow me to pursue this dream in the first place.

Entering the 100 mile wilderness. Might be a while till the next update.

Rollin on,

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Search This Blog...