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Appalachian Trail, Mount Katahdin and the 100 Mile Wilderness, Maine

Ninety degrees, buggy and hazy atop Maine’s Highest Peak, Mount Katahdin, marking the beginning of a southbound Appalachian Trail walk.
Ninety degrees, buggy and hazy atop Maine’s Highest Peak, Mount Katahdin, marking the beginning of a southbound Appalachian Trail walk.

I carefully pick my way down a rocky descent, slippery from a week’s worth of rain. This is no ordinary descent, rather the trail seems to crest at a drop off, the route hidden from view like the terrifying seconds as a roller coaster eases off before plunging straight down, leaving your fluttering heart above.

The rock is at all angles covered in a tangled nest of roots, granite boulders with a white rectangular paint blaze indicating this indeed is the way if there was any doubt. I pause to regain balance before another joint jerking step, my knees fighting back.

Can I instead simply plunge into the forest and slide down?

Impossible. Either I’m in a rock chute or my tree neighbors are also clinging to this vertical nightmare, dense, black, forbidden, though not so much so that I can’t use them to aid my descent, but on the rock I stay, every step calculated and careful.

No wonder people who’ve walked the Appalachian Trail laugh at the descriptor ‘foot path.’ More an accident waiting to happen.

I’m fit enough and can charge up this rock climb, hands and knees involved. It’s the downs that are challenging every ounce of my being, placing me right at the edge of despair.

And yet, I move, inch by inch forward through this remote and unforgiving wilderness. What choice do I have now committed? Ahead is a sign, utterly incongruous with my isolation.

“Fourth Mountain Bog,” it reads. “Please protect these rare plants by staying on the boardwalk.”

In an instant as though a curtain has been pulled back, the rain stops and I walk out on rotting timber to a flat and open area the size of a baseball field. White throated sparrows I had yet to hear on my hike sing their mournful upward minor thirds, loud and clear – and in stereo – as if sitting on my pack. A Blackpole Warbler chatters, buzzy and sharp as a Swainson’s Thrush floats ethereal, gossamer.

I’m stopped by this moment, unable to breathe, enveloped by the beauty. At my feet are groups of deep red pitcher plants, insectivores with veiny skin and inviting mouths of nectar. Hundreds of white bloodwort hang limp and sodden with damp above a see of vivid green.

Here and now in this magic place where I without feathers, fur or leaves can only pass through without any chance of surviving, is why I came. To see, hear, smell, touch, and even taste its wild otherness. For all the work, all the rain and mud and cold, all the deprivation, I receive my reward.

Baxter State Park, Mile 0

The rock climb on Mount Katahdin’s Hunt Trail is an outdoor jungle gym.
The rock climb on Mount Katahdin’s Hunt Trail is an outdoor jungle gym.

I’m not exactly sure when the thought gripped me to give a ‘SOBO’ hike of the ‘AT’ a try (southbound appalachian trail) I have always been a bit put off by the numbers of hikers on the major footpaths and the AT, without a permit requirement to control numbers, has gotten a reputation for big, messy ‘tramalies’ (trail families) partying from Georgia to Maine.

Last summer friends suggested a southerly route and family lore had my parents pre-Alison attempting Katahdin’s Knife Edge. The bug had bitten.

Like the PCT and AZT, a southbound start requires a lot of work just to get started. While a hiker will end triumphantly at the summit of Bacter Peak on Mount Katahdin’s flank, I would need to touch it to count mile 0.

Logistics in remote places always offers challenge, perhaps the least of them being that wicked climb of 4,000 feet in five miles. I needed to fly to Maine, then get ferried 100 miles deep into the woods.

I am so fortunate that two of my favorite couples from my past have moved to Camden and were willing to shuttle me. Baxter State Park has strict rules regarding camping and I wisely organized two nights at the Katahdin Stream campground adjacent to the start at $34 per night. Not cheap, but all for a good cause!

Funny though, when I made my reservation, the ranger warned me the trails may not even be open by my June 1st start. Lucky for me they were, just three days shy.

I bought piles of fruit and vegetables, healthy food as opposed to the dried and less nutritionally dense hiking food I’ll carry. After my summit and one more night in the camp, I’ll enter the infamous 100 Mile Wilderness so have brought all I need.

That being said, I wisely dropped half my food with an outfitter in Millinocket who will run it into a cache about halfway through the wilderness. A trail-fit NOBO might speed through in five days but I’ve planned a slow, savoring, knee-saving ten days.

I think on that idea of ten days and wonder if I might organize my mind around my Ten Steps to Joy. Appropriately the first is Take Risks…

The rock-strewn trail up Katahdin serves as a warning of what’s to come.
The rock-strewn trail up Katahdin serves as a warning of what’s to come.
Helpful iron holds up an exposed rock face.
Helpful iron holds up an exposed rock face.
Reaching the tableland, two miles from the summit.

For a few miles on my 5:30 am start, the trail follows the crystal clear rushing stream on an easy and slow ascent. Trillium with pink at the center line the easy path. I pass the last outhouse with a sign confirming it is the last outhouse then shoot up on hand built rock stairs.

I gather water at what I suspect is the last water. My early start is all about making enough time to get up and back having been warned it will take me at least ten hours. Miles are not created equally.

Pressing up, views begin to open to pointy peaks and a vast openness. All one needs are good lungs, I think, before arriving at my first set of boulders. I’m still in tree cover and find handles but this is slow going. Water spills down from melting snow and I slosh through noting I can refill on my return.

The weather is ideal. Clear and warm. But it could reach 90 today they say. I press on. And then the rocks get hard. Slabs that hold my feet but lead me to wondering how I’ll get back down.

Just as I begin to think this can’t possibly be the way, a young woman with a head net appears and zooms past. She offers her hand, but up is never my problem. She leads a trio of girls who slowly disappear up a jumble of rock reaching beyond the trees.

Away go my walking sticks and out come the hands.

I wouldn’t say it’s dangerously vertiginous, but a slip would hurt and a tumble would have much higher consequences. The way is marked with white blazes directly to a couple of helpful iron hand and footholds, less a ladder and more singular aids in a contortion of launching the body upward.

It’s not yet searing hot, but the sun blinds me and I’m slathered with sunscreen, which attracts the gnats to my face for a feast.

Beyond the iron it’s boulders the size of Volkswagens to negotiate, crawling, pressing, pulling, squeezing. One of the men from a nearby campsite hiking with his kids tells me, “It’s hard but it’s doable!”

The rangers offer daypacks in a dispensary below so we don’t have to carry too much gear. Praise them as the gear of my body feels enough.

It’s hard, it’s scary, it’s relentless but soon I am over the rocks and reach a sign. Not the sign, only one warning to stay on trail and avoid stepping on the rare alpine plants.

Almost there.
Dispensia on Katahdin’s tablelands.
Bug net and heat on Katahdin summit at mile 0.

This is the tableland, a massive flat rock up of only a few miles to the summit. Filled with sedges and flowers, a stringed fence keeps us on the path to avoid crushing the life out of these fragile creatures. Part if the reason the trail closes is that ice and snow will further damage them if stepped on.

But today is unseasonably warm – and smoky as Canadian wildfires send plumes of smoke south. Still the view of thousands of lakes amidst forest stretching the horizon is beautiful, yet daunting. I’ll walk all that…

I take lunch on a rock where wind pushes through sharp edges in the mountain. Many people arrive in shorts already bright red and exhausted. They warn me the summit is still and buggy. And they’re not wrong. Right next to a final pile of snow, bugs swarm as one by one we crawl onto the back of the famous sign to mark our start.

I meet Music Man up here and Shoe, hiking barefoot naturally, sisters Kailey and Addie plus Step, Unhurry, Adrian, Ingrid and two older men struggling for the top. All of us will continue south on the AT tomorrow and take our leave by 12:30 before the clouds begin to build into thunderheads.

Down has me afraid, but I move slowly often turning around to take moves like a ladder. An entire group of Chinese in colorful clothes march up, the leader helping me find the best way over a particularly large boulder. I tear a hole in my pants sliding down the rock.

The blazes disappear for a moment and I contemplate dropping down when two day hikers approach and guide me the right way. Good timing to help with the iron holds which spook me out even more looking down.

We fly into the trees where I gather more water offering extra to my camp neighbors as well as share fresh peppers. Shoe catches up chatting all the way to the stunning falls. He easily walks on rock without using poles telling me he can feel the ground better.

I bet.

I feel things just fine, thank you. Exhausted, wrecked, used up as I limp through the trees back to my sweet site and a thunderbolt slashes the sky. No rain yet, but changes are coming and after a small whoop of happiness in my success, I need to set my mind on what’s next.

Hurd Brook Lean-To, 13 miles

Blissful and Music Man still in sunglasses as lightning hits Katahdin and a week of rain settles in.

What precisely caused me to leave my superb plastic pack liner behind in favor of ‘water proof’ compression sacks as I entered the 100 Mile Wilderness? Hubris? Inexperience? Distraction?

The gorgeous summer weather swept me into its lazy embrace as I broke camp and headed out of Baxter State Park on easy trail filled with wildflowers and birdsong. An Eastern Wood Peewee whistles at me.

Yeah, I know, I’m tough for an old gal and I’ve got everything I need in this wee pack! I have soooo got this!

Lady-slippers in pink, white and yellow push up along the path on tough stalks. A man passes telling me he’s finishing just as I’m starting. Adrian catches up flying fast and I meet Ingrid, a solo German woman who joins me at the magnificent Big Niagara Falls. The air couldn’t be sweeter.

The official trail takes in these falls before joining the Penobscot River where paddlers in huge rubber boats sing as they ply the current. It’s hot and I drink up, swatting mosquitos who find an opening under my bug net.

I meet a shortcut trail through a recently burned wood with signs warning not to linger since trees could decide to flop over at any moment. It takes me to a bridge and out of the park, Katahdin an enormous monstrosity seemingly growing right out of the ground.

From here I see the fold in its ‘tablecloth’ where I climbed the exposed rock. I also see the sky turning dark and clouds moving across her surface. Glad I climbed yesterday, I think, crossing a bridge to a road and finally a commercial campground.

Nothing is open this early though a few fisherman scoot by. Music Man catches up at Abol Bridge and Adrian snaps our picture, still in sunglasses just as a thunderbolt hits the mountain.

Of course rain follows. Isn’t that the way things go?

I casually reach inside for my raincoat. I’ve done this a million times – in New Zealand, in Scotland, in Patagonia. But this rain is different. This is Maine rain.

The other Niagara Falls in Baxter Stare Park.
A typical bog crossing.

We cross the road in a downpour to a hole in the trees. A sign welcomes us to the 100 Mile Wilderness. It is not welcoming. It is cautionary.

As I read it, laughing in the much needed rain, I realize they’re not kidding. You are headed into an area without any amenities. Sure, there are roads, but they’re forest roads and help could be far off.

Just as this sinks in, another crash of thunder eggs on the rain and we hightail it through the woods. Talk about ‘live in the present moment.’

A little over three miles, an hour! Adrian yells out and we gather even more speed as rain turns to marble-sized hail cracking on our outstretched hands.

I am in big trouble and I know it.

A wild eyed look at the 100 Mile Wilderness sign right before it hailed.
Running through pouring rain.
The welcoming committee at my first AT lean-to.

The rest of that wet, muddy, hailing race is a blur as we arrive at a beautifully built lean-to shelter already filled with wet and cold hikers, more streaming in.

A ‘ridge runner’ – sort of a lean-to warden – holds court with an older man immediately making fun of my half jug water scoop and stickers on my bottles.

Does it really bother you that much? I ask as one hiker after another borrows my jug (thanks Katlyn!) to grab water at the hard to reach pools nearby.

I shiver but change then eat as the two yammer away beginning sentences with, “I’m not a racist, but…” Eventually the rain lets up and I set a soaked through tent, put on nearly-soaked through clothes and cuddle into a damp, lumpy sleeping quilt.

I am so screwed.

Unhurry and Step set near me and encourage me to borrow clothes or crawl in if I’m shivering. After ‘we’re not racists’ it feels so good to be looked after.

Truth is, it’s still warm and my body heat dries the quilt to a degree above clammy and I sleep just fine. And to be fair, ‘we’re not racists’ offers to grab me a plastic bag to keep my things dry.

I feel such a dope, but am determined to solve this. I won’t turn back and this rain can’t last forever – or can it?

Rainbow Stream 12 miles

Climbing to Rainbow Ledges on the superbly built rock stairs.

Morning is announced by a low flying loon, so close we hear his wings flap and the flutter of his tremolo. I’m a bit off, but warm enough, stealing a large ziplock for my quilt as others borrow my jug for water.

The rain stops but the air is heavy under gray skies. The trail heads sharply up on beautifully built rock stairs. The Maine Appalachian Trail Club maintains these – and the shelters with their mouldering privies.

Yup, me too, my first reaction was a rotting old dump of a toilet, but mouldering is a method of allowing waste to disintegrate naturally with fewer pathogens (and stink) After each poo, we drop a handful of woodchips down the hatch. A few rakings a year and the pile joins the forest.

I do my part, pack up and move on meeting Glacier, Bucket List and Grumps slowly ascending the hill. I’m wet but warm enough as I realize there is no way I can send continuous tracking to Richard through this thick forest. I save a message for the open granite balds above with views off toward slate blue mountains.

The best solution is to touch base as I move from any open areas I find. They are few and far between and take much work to get to though. The AT has been dubbed a ‘green tunnel’ and that coupled with heavy rain is leaving me a bit unsure about this relationship.

Rainbow Ledges where I send Richard a message to not expect many messages.

I leave the ledges on easy trail to enormous Rainbow Lake. The wind builds here and courses straight across to low bluffs. This is where I find Ingrid drying her gear and cooking lunch behind a fern-covered rock.

What a smart girl she is! Of course I do likewise, pulling out gear in ‘garage sale’ fashion, slumping the lump of quilt on trees.

The wind is cold, but delicious and dry. Could every day be this perfect?

I walk on catching glimpses of water as well as as water-accessible campsites. This place is likely glorious in July, yet now the forest floor is carpeted in wildflowers. The leaves are greened out so early ephemerals are long gone but it’s lovely and still on easy trail.

I grab more water as the old men catch me complaining and hitching up heavy bags. One worries about a small hill and I wonder how they’ll fare when we hit real mountains in a few days.

Past a dam, fisherman pushes through the stream murmuring quietly to a companion. How did they get here? I notice canoes left in odd places, a Maine thing to cache your boat.

The streams pucks up speed as it enters a gorge and it’s a beautiful walk across two logs to the lean-to. On this perfect day, I select a tent site looking straight at falls as a host of warblers and thrushes sing.

I let this day ‘unfold’ to one of the most beautiful places to lay my head.

Hiker Midnight is 7:30 for me and I crawl into a somewhat dryer space just as it begins to rain.

And rain some more.

Ingrid is from Bavaria and a tough cookie.
The stunning lean-to on Rainbow Creek.
From my tentsite.
A mouldering privy.

Nahmakanta Stream 14 miles

And it rains and rains and rains.

The tent (Gossamer Gear) is no match holding a wall of condensation that soaks the bag. I awake at first light in a panic deciding the only hope is to pack and move before I start to shiver.

So I do, on harder trail.

Much harder on steep piled rock up Nesuntabunt Mountain towering above Namakanta Lake. The views are to mist-shrouded white pines above water.

I move well and fast even though I lose the trail twice not believing they’d send me straight down a rock slide filled with water.

I believe I’ve met the real AT now.

I stop briefly at a lean-to to eat, sheltered from rain but swarmed by mosquitos. I leave quickly beginning to shiver and talking to myself about how cold I am.

And just like that, Ingrid arrives.

Can I help you?

Just arriving makes me feel stronger as well as her suggestion to sleep in the shelter tonight. Somehow it had never occurred to me to do that. Of course! I will have at least a fighting chance to dry.

The rain continues, but the trail changes as I hit a road and a campsite. A moose crashes into the forest and I watch his massive rear end retreat from little ole me. I feel better right away.

The walk along the stream is beautiful and easy through dark forest, the bright green moss popping in the gloom. I arrive first and grab a corner of the lean-to.

Lake Namahkanta where I skipped stones in the gloom.
The girls and my jug at the shelter. Nothing dried but me and the quilt inside.

It turned out an ok day, but I cried myself to sleep with worry and feeling stupid writing this missive to beat myself up then try for a silver lining:

I made a stupid, grave and possibly dangerous error in not protecting my gear well enough from getting wet. 

Everything is wet. And with rain comes cold, a recipe for misery if not the very serious condition of hypothermia. 

I’m managing by stuffing the clothes I hope stay dry for night in my airtight food bag, swapping their useless ‘waterproof’ stuff-sack for food. Will that attract bears? Maybe

And I’ve gotten accustomed to cuddling in with a lumpy, sodden sleeping quilt, which miraculously has just enough insulation in its feather clusters to allow me to sleep. 

I feel a complete and utter fool, but I keep hiking pushing through this rough wilderness of roots, mud, rock, wild ascents and descents, birds and bugs and dark, dark forest. Perhaps it’s lovelier under sunshine, but I have yet to find out. 

As I mentioned, I feel like an absolute fool for badly planning though part of that is my stubborn refusal to read too many trip reports to keep my experience ‘fresh,’ and my utter distraction by some bad news right before I left. I was shocked I could still take this trip as I awaited my fate and barely made it out the door. 

Still, I find my ingenuity in the food bag reuse a kick and my ability to cuddle in with my perpetually sodden bag a sign of a real trouper. There’s something to like about a girl who keeps moving ahead in spite of less-than-ideal circumstances. 

Tonight I opted to sleep on the wooden floor of the leanto as opposed to my humidity-attracting tent. The spring peepers are singing a duet with a snoring hiker at the other end and I’m honestly feeling ok. 

Do I love the Appalachian Trail? Not really. Katahdin was awesome and there have been some lovely moments like a crowd lady slippers above a long falls chute, a wailing loon so close I could hear his wings flapping and and a bolt of lightning touching Baxter Peak after I was safely off it. But to be honest, it feels a slog through dense forest with few views. I can’t promise I’ll walk it end to end. 

But as of this moment, I need to stay focused to get to the end of this 100-mile wilderness safely, so I mustn’t jinx it. 

But you know what? “Everything changes!”

Cooper Brook Falls 16 miles

Staying in the lean-to shelter is a miracle cure. I dry out, my quilt fluffs up and I am renewed.

Of course the rain never lets up and my tent is a heavy, sodden pile of goo, but I’m determined to find a spot for myself in every shelter from here to the end.

The trail continues on mostly easy in rain and bugs. I begin to meet more ‘NOBO’s’ finishing their hike. At a beautiful campsite, I meet the girls and find bunches of bright pink Lady-slippers.

Two giant Pileated Woodpeckers crawl out from a hole and cackle to each other in low tones as if to communicate a shopping list for the young in the nest. They’re bodies are small with enormous heads like masks, perching jerkily on sharp claws.

How did they come to trust me? It’s not for show as one needs to run his errands and the other returns to the nest but they seem to time it to welcome me here. I’m transfixed.

“You are only passing through” rings in my head as I continue forward, taking the tiny spur to a view of Katahdin from Pemaduncook Lake, a lump of gray above gray against gray.

What if all of the AT was so easy?
The girls having lunch in rain and bugs right before the woodpeckers said hello just to me.
Katahdin is out there somewhere.

I feel good and strong. Let’s face it, the trail is a snap right now compared to what’s to come even when I cross a deep rapids using ropes I have no clue about whether they’re strong enough to hold my weight.

A Hermit Thrush sings its elegant, wispy two-toned song which appears to have no purpose but to keep me grounded in this wondrous moment. But then a nuthatch honks to break up the mood. Some duet!

It’s so quiet and I am alone. Correction, I’m without people but the forest is full of creatures. The fluorescent green of life in this dark bog is the reason for hiking, maybe even the reason for living.

I screwed up with my gear, but I’m moving on and I ask new questions. Rather than did you have problems, I ask how did you manage the problems you had. Having problems in and of themselves is not the test of character. Dealing with them is.

Shoes are never dry on the AT.
Gorgeous Cooper Falls Lean-to.
Our private falls.

It’s not far to the stunning lean-to on private property, generously leant to us hikers. The falls are spectacular and my hard wooden floor a welcome dry patch.

I fall asleep to the rush of water.

Logan Brook 12 miles

Ingrid on our way to pick up a resupply.

Just as I reach ‘practice patience’ in my list, the trail gets harder. Ingrid and I stay together for the three miles to the cache, loading up more food in a pouring rain.

I like being with her but our paces don’t match on the uphill. I head on meeting more NOBO’s including a cancer survivor who feels blessed for every day and a young man with completely shredded clothes. Another flies downhill at me with a leashed dog, rudely scraping me with his umbrella. I learn later he’s plucked off trail.

And I soon learn why.

After reaching Little Boardman Mountain with absolutely no views, I come to the East Branch of the Pleasant River.

It is anything but.

Normally a rock hop, the water is raging and deep. Someone has yet again put up ropes with unknown strength. I can’t even make the first move since it requires plunging immediately into swirling water up above my knees.

I stow the sticks to give it a try anyway. It’s too scary, too deep, too fast.

I pull them out again and scout upriver and down. Surely there’s a cross. But none exist. This spot was chosen for a reason.

I await Ingrid, filtering water and eating but she never comes. I know she was cold and tired. I just have to go.

That initial move terrified me but maybe I can approach from the other side. I carefully step in, reach high for the rope. Once I feel safe, I slowly move forward.

There’s so much advice about taking off socks to keep dry and protecting feet, but my socks and shoes have been sodden since the hail days ago. I keep everything on a slowly push through.

At the big space I turn sideways and crab into the water bracing against the rock as the current bashes me. Just carefully slide your foot over and jam it against the rock. Now the other.

I’m moving but one foot gets stuck. Carefully I unwedge it as a slip now could be carastrophic and forward I go, onto small stones and out of the rapids.

Good Lord, I made it!

It looks like nothing but I was wet to my hips fording the “Pleasant” Stream.

Shaky, rejuvenated, strong, wild-eyed, I walk through a gloriously dreary forest lightened by flowers and the complex music of a winter wren. The trail is steep, climbing into the big mountains where a shelter rests in the flank of the White Cap at 3,642 feet.

Up is easy, even in rain, and the trail is lined with trillium and rhododendron, the views misty, a stream crashing next to me.

How did a trail crew get this lean-to here? Helicopter. It sits in a tiny hollow next to a waterfall in pool straight out of Hawaii if it got down to 40 in Hawaii.

The girls are here and I cuddle in fast soon joined by a power hiker named Hoover, quietly squished in next to me. The rain makes a plunky-plunk splaaaaash on the tin roof.

How will I climb over four peaks tomorrow? Will I see anything?


Chairback Gap 17 miles

What can I say about this hard day, the hardest since Katahdin? I knew I’d see nothing for my hard work hiking up and down and that the most important thing to do would be to keep moving to stay safe, but it was little consolation when the notes describe the ‘best views in Maine.”

I get an early start and it’s a pull up and up to the summit. But the MATC has built glorious stairs and it’s straightforward, only a few wet and windy miles to where the trees become stunted krumpholz and begin to open.

Only Whit Cap is open of the four peaks, the others wooded without views. In this case that’s a good thing since it leaves me less exposed.

I thank whomever is in charge upstairs for small mercies: it’s not pouring rain, there’s no snow and the wind is light. I pass over a rocky open area with mist blowing at me asking myself over and over if I’m ok plus telling myself I’m ok.

The steepness down is the worst and after so many days, I feel it in my knees. Nothing will buckle but I’m stiff. These mountains don’t appear to have a full 500 feet between each peak which is what defines separate mountains, of maybe I’m just going well.

As I re-enter forest, the warblers buzz and I step into a pile of moose drops. Moose up here?! Why, and maybe more important, how?

It’s not long before I see a sign for Hay Mountain and West Peak, stair-stepping slightly lower. It’s here I meet grass and oaks in a gorgeous grove almost like an orchard. There’s a campsite here which must be packed in the summer but now I’m alone.

Views like a Turner painting.
Looking back towards the mountains I climbed.
Chairback Mountain.

This lovely glade below Gulf Hagas is filled with birdsong and welcoming although still no views. I got over the ridge and race down steeply on rock to another lean-to for lunch. Exhausted, cold but proud to have crested safely.

My itinerary has me stopping in another seven miles at East Chairback Pond and yet something looks wrong. As I make food, the girls catch up. That’s when they explain that not only is there no shelter but camping isn’t allowed.


The next shelter is a giant climb another ten miles.

I start to cry. My tent is soaked and camping would be dangerous just now. The girls tell me I should go for it. It’s not too bad. I can do it.

Ah-ha, today’s step is ‘trail angels exist.’ Yes, I have to do this.

I pack up and am grateful to follow the Gulf Hagas Creek tumbling next to me on easy trail. The birds are loud and I hear a Magnolia Warbler, new to me.


The girls pass by within minutes telling me again to trust that I’ve got it. I’ll never walk like that again, I think. But my slow poke pace and looking down take my eyes to a log on trail where a Red Spotted Newt poses as if waiting for me.

Gummy orange like candy he walks towards my camera, his tiny webbed feet checking me out without fear. Yes, newts are adorable, like a cartoon character – and important to the ecosystem telling us all is healthy.

I watch him and thank him for appearing and making me brave. He finds a fissure in the log and eases his tiny body inside.

I continue down with confidence meeting more hikers, mostly section-hiking to finish and warning of dangerous crossings. Not the next though, again a branch of the Pleasant but wide and only to below my knees. The rocks are slippery and I take care.

Red Spotted Newt
Looking down the rock slide.
This is the trail.

What remains is a steep uphill to a plateau where views begin to open, brooding and gray. I meander on sharp rock looking back to the mountains I crossed. Ahead I think I see my next summit, Chairback Mountain, but nothing is simple.

I move steeply up only to go steeply back down. Up again and down, then up and finally spit out on another ridge looking straight at the chairback. I might call it more a recliner, but I’m headed up it.

First a bit more down, naturally, my knees on fire. The guidebook describes a rockfall and that is exactly what I reach, a talus slope like Katahdin in miniature with white blazes suggesting the best route.

I’m on the last bit and know I’ll make it, putting away the sticks to use my hands and launch to the top where views await, sorta.

It’s less than a mile to the lean-to, high up on a bluff above water. Shoes is there and the girls, who trail angeled me here and trail angel water from the creek below.

It’s late and I’m cuddled in fast, Shoes telling stories like at a slumber party before my exhausted body knocks out.

Long Pond Stream 14 miles

Pitcher Plants.

I wake up less blissful than my name suggests.

Too much rain, too much cold, too much sameness. The hiking is brutal. Rocky, rooty, wet, muddy, relentless. The birds talk to me but I am so focused on remaining upright.

I’m tired and sore, ready to stop. The girls come by and tell me I’m pretty and snap my picture. My eyes are watery because I’m crying. Enough already!

There are plenty of old men on trail but fewer of us old ladies looking frumpy and flailing along.

I pass remains of a plane crash which spook me further (I learn later they all survived) It’s not until I meet the magic bog my spirits lift enough to take me up the final of a series of mountains to Barren which holds remains of a partially disassembled fire tower.

It’s here I meet Shoes again and have a witness to my worst downhill experience yet. Steep, slippery, uneven and unrelenting, we talk as I slowly move down, catching a few views on ledges before more and more down.

The vegetation changes and I know it will end soon. Today is about gratitude and consideration and I am full of gratitude when he tells me he hated the descent too, having walked it once before.

I try to be considerate of his much faster speed and suggest pushing on, but it’s 5:00 now, one mile feeling more like three in the real world of trails.

So he stays close and we find an empty lean-to, unpacking and drying out in our own space just as the rain buckets down.

So many tears.
A helpful log.
Views from Barren Mountain.

The rain won’t let up but rocks me to sleep in my lair. It’s dark but I have a feeling we’ll get a visitor so ensure I leave room.

At 10:00, dead asleep, a bright light flashes right in my eyes.

What the hell?!?

Two NOBO’s emerge from the woods without enough sense to wait out the rain of at least start walking at a reasonable hour.

I’m pissed. It’s impossible to turn right back in when shaken awake, but it further irks to have to remind them to use their red light so we’re not blinded.

They’re apologetic and explain they got lost. Lost? Because they had to avoid the high water. High water??

All this rain has caused serious flooding so they were given directions to avoid the creek. Now my ears perk up and I ask them for more information.

Fortunately, I loaded a more comprehensive map onto my phone so see the roads they took to town. I can’t imagine Shoes will want to join me, but he sees the wisdom in it. We worry the girls got across, but gave no way of knowing.

NOBO’s who arrived at 10:00 pm in pouring rain
Shoes on the alternate route around flooded rivers.
Poet and Hippie Chick own Shaw’s Hostel in Monson, Maine.

I sleep better with a plan as the rain pounds down all night. At daybreak, Shoes pays them back with a “Blissful! You ready to go to Monson?!”

We’re off early, cutting through a swampy section to roads and finally accepting a hitch to famous Shaw’s Hostel. I’m cold and worn out but Shoes is unhappy he skipped a tiny portion of trees, mud, rocks and roots on repeat, so returns the next day to check it off his list.

I meditate on being stronger than I think I am by managing one of the hardest sections in dreadful weather and solving problems.

Here in my comfy space at Shaw’s with clean clothes and a full stomach, I plan to go forward not quitting when it’s bad, but embracing the possibility that things will improve and more waits out there for me to discover.

4 Responses

  1. Of all the trails you have shared with us, I think I “felt” this one more clearly than the others. Your saying the hike was “tough” is an understatement. What a challenge! I really appreciate your description of how you dealt with the problems you faced. And you always added the truly beautiful elements – flowers, creatures, views. Rudy called you a “beast,” and I know he meant it as a compliment. I would add that inside the “beast” is a soul that is open to the beauty of the world and the fragility of life.

    1. Thank you so much for this beautiful note! I feel like the luckiest duck to have had my Appalachian Trail adventure before needing to come home. I speak a lot about being curious rather than certain. That is PARTICULARLY hard right now, but it’s funny how much we can experience that’s beautiful even in the midst of crisis.

  2. I’ve said it before, YOU are a BEAST ❤️
    You’ve got this. I love your writing and your photos … your compassion to hiking is second to none … keep it up!
    I’m always looking forward to the next part of your adventure. Stay well, safe and healthy 🙏

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