Driving to our starting point for the 100 Mile Wilderness hike from Franconia Notch took about four hours. To break it up, we stopped overnight in a parking lot for a park in Rumford Falls, ME (we did not notice the 7:00 am – 9:00 pm parking lot hours until the next morning). A sign proclaims these dammed falls to be the highest falls east of Niagara. The park also houses a giant memorial to the town’s most famous resident, former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie.
Throughout our trip up until this point, I had been concerned about our ability to make the 100 Mile Wilderness hike, I was unsure about both our physical ability to hike 100 miles and the timing. With that mid-20’s night I experienced in my first September trip to Maine in mind, and the vulnerability of the van’s water fixtures to freezing, I was concerned that we would not be able to leave the van parked for the trip. But the owner of Exit 1 RV in Vermont had assured us that if we keep the heater on inside the van, it would be fine down to 25 degrees. So John decided to set the heater for 40 degrees to keep the van warm, and we would be able to leave it.
After our Long Trail hike, where we covered 48 miles in under four days, I was not concerned about the distance; my main concern was about the river crossings [ John here. My concern was the extra weight of the food impacting my knees and hips. Last year when we hiked in Maine I had a knee injury and with Heidi carrying most of my pack weight I limped out on the last day. Knowing I would be carrying even more weight worried me. ] . The information I had listed five rivers that we would have to ford on the trail, and neither of us has much experience at fording rivers. Trip reports I read cited blisters caused by wet boots resulting from river fording as a major cause of aborting the hike. I always take my boots off when I have to walk in water, so this point has always confused me – walking in water in boots sounds like a terrible idea, but everyone says you should leave your boots on in the fords.
We spent the morning at Rumford Falls sitting in the sun at a picnic table planning our 100 Mile Wilderness hike. Everything I have read about the hike says that it will take the average hiker 8-10 days to complete. Being on the slow side of average, we planned for 10 days. River fords and large elevation changes will slow our progress, so we make the following itinerary, starting in Monson at the southern end of the trail section.
|Day||Destination||Elevation Change||Stream Crossings||Miles||Tot. Miles|
|1||Wilson Valley Lean-to||minor||2||10.4||10.4|
|2||Cloud Pond Lean-to||steep ascent||1||8.7||19.1|
|4||Carl A Newhall Lean-to||moderate descent||1||9.9||35.9|
|5||East Branch Lean-to||minor||0||10.8||46.7|
|6||Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to||minor||1||8.1||54.8|
|7||Potaywadjo Springs Lean-to||flat||0||11.4||66.2|
|8||Wadleigh Stream Lean-to||flat||0||10.1||76.3|
|9||Rainbow Spring Campsite||flat||0||11.9||88.2|
|10||Abol Bridge Campground||flat||0||11.2||99.4|
With the itinerary laid out, we realized that the difficult parts – climbing up and down mountains and fording rivers – was front-loaded in the hike, when we would have the most weight (pack weight decreases during a long backpacking trip as you eat through your food supply).
Once we set the itinerary, we called 100 Mile Wilderness Adventures and Outfitters to arrange a shuttle ride and get some expert information. The owner Phil suggested that we park the van at the end point and shuttle to the starting point, then answered the questions we had prepared for him. We confirmed that if we needed to abort the hike, he could pick us up on the logging roads crossing the trail at the 32 and 59 mile points. He also assured us that the water levels were normal – all the water sources were running, and the fords were not high. We arranged the shuttle then ended the phone call. A minute later Phil called us back and said he was thinking about our concern regarding the bailout points. He asked if there is a reason we planned a northbound hike. I had no reason, except that most people hike the AT northbound so that just seemed the right way to go. Phil explained that most of his customers who do not complete the 100 Mile Wilderness are hiking northbound, and suggested we hike southbound. We could spend the night before the hike at his place and leave our vehicle there during the hike. We agreed to the plan. As soon as the call ended, John and I looked at each other and said, “why didn’t we think of that?”
We arrived at Phil’s place – a hiker hostel under construction – on the afternoon before we began the hike. When complete, the site will have bunkhouses to sleep 20, hot showers, a kitchen, a common room and a resupply shop. Lucky for us, he had just that day installed an outside electrical outlet, and was willing to let us leave our van plugged in while we were hiking. This meant we could run the refrigerator while we were away so our remaining food wouldn’t spoil. The business is located a short walk from the AT, not the entrance on Maine Highway 15 that we had planned, but just a few miles further down the trail.
We spent the afternoon packing for the trip. After laying out the food for the ten planned days plus some extra just in case, we decided to take Phil up on his offer to resupply. One of the services he offers is to leave a food drop in a locked box about halfway through the wilderness, so we don’t have to carry the full weight of all the food we need. Phil also shared his experience by generously marking our map with unofficial campsites that he has noted over many trips through the 100 mile wilderness, in case we needed to stop before a lean-to or campground. [ John here again. To say Phil was a awesome resource is an understatement. Phil has thru hiked the AT three times. His last time at age 57 and he did it in three and a half months. That’s 2,100 miles! You can read more about him here. He’s a great guy, with a lot of experience and I highly recommend him to anyone attempting the 100 mile wilderness. ]
John and I have very different approaches to packing, as with everything else about the logistics of life. My organization style is a little more chaotic than John’s.
We woke up early the next morning, ate a large breakfast and met Phil outside to drive us to Abol Bridge on Golden Road, our starting point. John asked Phil what he recommends regarding footwear on the river crossing – Phil said that our boots would be wet by the second day anyway, so take off our socks and walk through the water in the boots. But he also recommends camp-shoes. Neither of us have lightweight shoes appropriate to use as camp-shoes, but we both brought river fording shoes – I brought my Vibram Five Fingers, which I love to hike in on dry rocky hikes and are also good water shoes, and John brought a pear of neoprene water shoes that have good traction.
Phil’s small dog Smelly Elly joined the shuttle ride – John was enamored with Elly; I am afraid he might want one of his own now. The shuttle ride was about two hours; we arrived at the trailhead at 9:30 am to begin our 100-mile hiking adventure. The rest of the story will come in a future post.