The 100 Mile Wilderness is bookended with warning signs.

The 100 Mile Wilderness is bookended with warning signs.

Leading up to arriving in Maine, I had feared that our timing was off and we would not be able to hike the 100 Mile Wilderness because it was too late in the season. Actually, we could not have picked a better time to hike it. We had amazing weather for a majority of the hike. It did not rain on us once, and 8 of the 10 days were beautiful, sunny and warm.

Best of all, we witnessed the landscape transition from verdant summer leaves to peak fall colors. At the beginning of our hike, the tree canopy was a collage of shades of green with just speckles of yellow and splashes of orange and red; the trail we walked on was peppered with red or brown leaves. By the end of our hike, the landscape was dominated by orange, yellow and red trees interrupted by patches of dark green conifers. The trail was carpeted with leaves, alternately yellow, red or brown, sometimes so thickly covered that we could hardly make out the path.

We had planned to stay in lean-tos originally, but we decided to sleep in the tent each night, most nights by a pond or lake – really lovely places to sit for dinner and breakfast. Once the weather turned sunny, we started leaving the rain fly off the tent so we could star gaze from the cozy comfort of our sleeping bags.

We were in those sleeping bags early each night! The best backpacking schedule is to sleep from sunset to sunrise, to best take advantage of the daylight. One night when I was sitting up in the tent writing notes on the day, John grew impatient and asked, “Are you coming to bed honey? It’s getting pretty late. It’s almost 7:30 already!” He would also make sure I was up before 6:00 am – this from a man who woke up at 9:30 am to go to work! On this trip, though, he made sure we started early and kept up the pace to make enough miles each day.

Most people don’t gain weight on a 100-mile hike, but I think we managed to! After being hungry during our hike on the Long Trail, we over-compensated packing for this hike and brought too much food! We stuffed ourselves at every meal trying to bring our pack weight down, and still hiked out with more than a full day’s worth of food left.

Walking southbound allowed us to pass many hikers nearing the end of their Appalachian Trail (AT) thru-hike. Most thru-hikers finish earlier, early- to mid-September, but we passed over 100 hikers. It’s funny… anywhere else, people would think 100 miles is really far to hike, but on this trail 100 miles is a mere 5% of the 2180 mile hike most everyone else was doing. This hike confirmed what I had suspected before – I do not want to be a long-distance thru-hiker. There have been times that I thought that I would want to do long hikes, out for a month or more at a time, but the focus of long distance hikes is making miles. I hike to immerse myself in nature, but the schedule of a long distance hiker doesn’t allow for being still and appreciating one’s surroundings.

A view of the landscape from Whitecap Mountain, the highest point on the hike.

A view of the landscape from Whitecap Mountain, the highest point on the hike.

Dinner time. John is preparing the camp stove to boil water for our meal.

Dinner time. John is preparing the camp stove to boil water for our meal.

After dinner we hang our food on a tree branch so animals cannot reach it (we hope).

After dinner we hang our food on a tree branch so animals cannot reach it (we hope).

We saw a lot of evidence of moose, though we only saw actual moose once.

We saw a lot of evidence of moose, though we only saw actual moose once.

After 10 days of hiking together, we still like each other! John’s hiking staff doubles as a monopod camera stand, so we could take this picture.

After 10 days of hiking together, we still like each other! John’s hiking staff doubles as a monopod camera stand, allowing us to take this picture.

Day 1 – Tuesday September 24th – Golden Road to Rainbow Spring Campsite

Weather: Cool and misty, but no rain.

Hiking schedule: 10:00 am – 4:30 pm (6.5 hours)

Mileage: 11.2 miles

Elevation Change: 930 feet up, 420 feet down

We started the hike where the AT crosses Golden Road. Phil from 100 Mile Wilderness Adventures and Outfitters drove us right up to the top of the trail. Golden Road is a logging road, and Phil explained that to the loggers who named the road, the tree-lined road appeared as lined in gold, hence the name.

As Phil helped unload our gear from his truck, he noted that John uses a single hiking staff, and I use two hiking poles. He stated that John’s pole was missing the most import feature, which he explained is the wrist strap. He then noticed that I don’t use mine, either. I explained that my poles were brand new (that’s a whole different story), but he could tell that I didn’t know how to utilize the straps. He showed me how to put my hand through them so the straps would support my hand when I push down on the poles enabling me to grip less with my hands. I have a weak grip, so this was a really helpful lesson, and made sense of the orientation of the soft side of the straps. One would think that one of the two times I purchased hiking poles at EMS, a sales associate would have taught me to use the poles correctly. And Phil was right, by the fifth day of our hike, John’s hand was getting sore from gripping his hiking staff, but I didn’t have any problems.

The day’s hike was pretty easy, with little elevation change. Our surroundings were lush and green. The forest floor was comprised of moss-covered boulders; the trees were mostly green, but brightened by young maple trees with bright orange leaves. The high point (high as in high elevation) was Rainbow Ledges, a beautiful alpine-like landscape that did not offer us any views on the misty day. Walking down from Rainbow Ledges, the trail was peppered with red leaves, evidence that fall was indeed upon us.

Much of the forest we walked through was full of moss-carpeted boulders, many with ferns growing out of the moss. The effect created a spongy green landscape to walk through.

Much of the forest we walked through was full of moss-carpeted boulders, many with ferns growing out of the moss. The effect created a spongy green landscape.

Rainbow Ledges, the highest elevation of the day. On a clear day the ledges may offer views, but this day was full of mist. Beautiful colors, though.

Rainbow Ledges, the highest elevation of the day. On a clear day the ledges may offer views, but this day was full of mist. Beautiful colors, though.

We arrived at our planned campsite, Rainbow Spring Campsite, early in the day. We could have made the next campsite by dark, but both of us were tired from waking early, so we decided to stop. We collected water at Rainbow Spring, of which Phil had said “That is the second best spring on the whole AT. Don’t you dare treat that water. That is sweet water!” So we drank it untreated. This was my first time purposefully drinking untreated water, but John grew up drinking spring water and thinks I am being too cautious by treating spring water. The spring feeds into Rainbow Lake, the first body of water we encountered on the hike, which served to confirm my mental picture of the red tree-covered wetland I saw from the summit of Katahdin.

Rainbow Spring is on the shore of this lake; the campsite is set back so we could not see it from camp. It was windy enough to kick up waves on the lake.

Rainbow Spring is on the shore of this lake; the campsite is set back so we could not see it from camp. The wind was strong enough to kick up waves on the lake.

Since we set up camp early, we were in bed by sunset and began the transition to “hiker time”, sleeping sunset to sunrise. Laying in bed in the evening, I listened to a high sound in the distance – I am not sure if it was an animal howling or just the wind whistling through the trees.

Day 2 – Wednesday September 25 – Rainbow Spring Campsite to Nahmakanta Lake

Weather: Cool & overcast

Hiking schedule: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm (9 hours)

Mileage: 12.5 miles

Elevation Change: 840 feet up, 1290 feet down

Several other hikers camped at the Rainbow Springs site the night we did, but we were the first to get up and start eating breakfast. We are slower than the others, though, and were not the first to leave. A short time into our hike, we passed a family who pointed out two moose – a bull and a cow – in the trees about 15 feet off the trail.

John, day 2.

John, day 2.

We were treated to more verdant landscape on the hike. In one place, we even saw ferns over three feet tall! We followed along Rainbow Stream some of the day – a lovely stream with interesting carved-rock chutes and nice waterfalls. Several birch trees had fallen over the river, washed so clean in the flowing water that they almost glowed white. We stopped for lunch at Polywog Gorge viewpoint, where we took the opportunity to relax with a birds-eye view of the treetops.

Mushroom tree!

Mushroom tree!

Our first mountaintop view of the hike was near the top of Nusuntabunt Mountain. A relatively short mountain, Nusuntabunt still offered us a nice view of the lake and colorful trees – dark green evergreens against the light green of deciduous trees, with patches of yellow, orange and red. Katahdin’s summit was obscured in clouds, but we glimpsed the base.

View from Nustuntabunt Mountain, the first peak on our hike.

View from Nustuntabunt Mountain, the first peak on our hike.

Along the way, we crossed several logging roads, one even had an SUV parked on it. We also saw many boats, some lake-side houses and even a mechanical digger from top of Nusuntabunt Mountain. I had read that this trail is not a true wilderness, but I had not anticipated the number of roads and buildings we would encounter.

Feeling strong, we decided to get ahead of our itinerary and hiked past our planned campsite, to a site labeled ‘State Campsite’ alongside Nahmakanta Lake. Before we got to that official campsite, we found a beautiful site and decided to set up camp rather than push forward until sunset. We are glad we did, this turned out to be our favorite site of the hike.

Relaxing in the evening at the favorite of our campsites, on Nahmakanta Lake. The pebble beach made the perfect surface to sit on for our meal – malleable and dry without any sticky debris to track into the tent.

Relaxing in the evening at the favorite of our campsites, on Nahmakanta Lake. The pebble beach made the perfect surface to sit on for our meal – malleable and dry without any sticky debris to track into the tent.

Day 3 – Thursday September 26 – Nahmakanta Lake to Antlers Campsite

Weather: Sunny & warm

Hiking schedule: 7:30 am – 3:30 pm (8 hours)

Mileage: 13 miles

Elevation Change: 370 feet up, 520 feet down

The pebble beach and easterly location of Nahmakanta Lake inspired us to get out of the tent early enough to see the sunrise over breakfast. A little ways down the trail the lake is lined with blueberry bushes, but sadly berry season was over. The State Campsite we had thought to camp at turned out to have road access. A logging road leads near the site, which also provides a boat launch, complete with a dolly to cart a small boat from the dirt road to the lake. John read the informational kiosk and determined that anyone can camp there for free, staying up to two weeks.

Nahmakanta Lake is so beautiful, we got up early to watch the sunrise.

Nahmakanta Lake is so beautiful, we got up early to watch the sunrise.

We passed a large bubble of thru-hikers this day, at least 40 altogether. A large group was sitting on a lake viewpoint offering a glimpse of Katahdin. Clouds covered the peak, but the group was excited because this was the first time they had sighted their destination. Finally having clear enough skies to see the goal they had been walking toward for 5-7 months put them in high spirits. Speaking with one thru-hiker, he asked where we planned to stay for the night. We planned on stopping at Antler’s Campsite, but were making better time than expected and at the point thought we would go past it. He recommended stopping even if we got there early, because it is so beautiful.

A sunny day on the trail.

A sunny day on the trail.

Fun white mushroom cover this log. The cluster on the cut end looks like icicles.

Fun white mushroom cover this log. The cluster on the cut end looks like icicles.

The first of many snakes we spotted. Most of them are this same type, which I think is a Brown Snake.

The first of many snakes we spotted. Most of them are this same type, which I think is a Brown Snake.

John relaxing on a sand beach on Lower Jo-Mary Lake where we stopped to take a break.

John relaxing on a sand beach on Lower Jo-Mary Lake where we stopped to take a break.

We did arrive early to Antler’s Campsite, at 3:30. Just as lovely as promised, it enticed us to stop for the day. We were not alone; a thru-hiker named Blackhawk was already set up. Blackhawk had begun suffering foot pain, but was pushing through to the end, since he was so close.

Our dinner location was along the shore of Lower Jo-Mary Lake. While we were preparing our meal, John could not find his sparker to light the stove. I think he must have left it on that pebble beach – black and silver, it camouflaged well with the stones. Thankfully, I brought my sparker so we had a backup and could still cook our meals. At this point, we realized that we were ahead of schedule and would be picking up our food drop the next morning. Also, after our experience on the Long Trail, we had over-compensated and brought too much food. At this point we started stuffing ourselves at every meal in an attempt to reduce the food weight.

We sat by the lake long after we finished eating. A young thru-hiker couple came by to look at the lake, and we chatted with them for a bit. They are from North Carolina and started the AT on March 16. I am impressed that they are still together; from what I have heard most couples who start long distance hikes together frequently do not end up together. The guy was carrying an instrument, maybe a ukulele. Most thru-hikers would not be willing to carry the extra weight, but I am sure it makes the relaxation times more entertaining for both of them.

The night was warm and neither of us slept well over-heating in our 20 degree sleeping bags. I lay awake much of the night listening to the sounds of creatures in the woods – a breaking branch, rustling leaves, birds chattering to each other, and traffic in the distance reminding me once again that despite the name, the area is not truly a wilderness.

View of Lower Jo-Mary Lake from our dinner location.

View of Lower Jo-Mary Lake from our dinner location.

As the sunset behind us, the low angle of the light reflected off the trees in a spectacular display.

As the sunset behind us, the low angle of the light reflected off the trees in a spectacular display.

Another shot of Lower Jo-Mary Lake, this one the following morning before sunrise.

Another shot of Lower Jo-Mary Lake, this one the following morning before sunrise.

 

Day 4 – Friday September 27 – Antlers Campsite to Mountain View Pond

Weather: Sunny & warm

Hiking schedule: 7:30 am – 5:00 pm (10.5 hours)

Mileage: 14.1 miles

Elevation Change: 1480 feet up, 380 feet down

Again we got up early enough to have breakfast while watching the sunrise over a lake. This is largely thanks to John, who by this point had become a hiking monster. Previously I was the one concerned with our late-sleeping and slow-moving tendencies, but on this trip John started insisting that we make miles. We should get up before the sun, and no time for breaks – we must keep moving and make miles! I exaggerate a little – we did take breaks, but only short ones. And while John was insistent that we keep moving, he was extra sweet when we did take breaks, giving me pieces of his dried mango (my favorite hiking treat).

The terrain was easy and we covered ground quickly. We arrived at our food drop much earlier than expected. We took a long break here, enjoying the apples I had stashed in the drop. Fresh fruit in the middle of a long backpacking trip is a luxury!

John modeling the size of his pack with the maximum amount of food we had for the trip, right after we picked up the mid-wilderness resupply.

John modeling the size of his pack with the maximum amount of food we had for the trip, right after we picked up the mid-wilderness resupply. [John here, I’d guess my pack weight was about 35lbs in this photo.]

Many sections of the trail consisted of log bridges, presumably over usually muddy sections, but with so many rain-free days the ground was actually mostly dry. We stopped for lunch beside a brook, then shortly after took some time to view the waterfall at Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to. This lean-to was on our original itinerary for the night, but we were making such good time that we passed it mid-day. We hit our longest mileage on this day, even with the extra food weight we picked up mid-morning.

We spotted many interesting mushrooms over the course of the day, and another snake. All day the squirrels were chattering loudly and throwing pinecones down at the trail. We hiked over a small peak, Little Boardman Mountain, where the trees were too tall for views, but the path down offered a viewpoint.

A green snake.

A green snake.

View off the viewpoint coming down Little Boardman Mountain.

View coming down Little Boardman Mountain.

We passed very few thru-hikers this day, they seemed to have all bunched up so we passed them the previous day. The last one we did see was an old man. We ran into him after filling our water at a spring near the pond where we camped. He looked really exhausted and we worried about him. We told him about the spring, and a flat spot near it that would be perfect for a tent. I was a little sad he hadn’t stopped at the pond – it would be interesting to hear his story, why he was hiking the trail. I can’t be sure that he was indeed a thru-hiker, but he seemed to be.

After eating dinner while watching the fish jumping in the pond we hung our food bags. The food bags were too heavy with the resupply addition, and the trees too tall to hang our food properly. We went to bed with only a hope that the squirrels didn’t try to jump on the bags from the tree trunk, which they easily could have done, and that no bears came by.

It was a clear night and we had been too hot the night before, so we left the rain fly off the tent. It was amazing to be able to lay cozy and warm and view the multitude of stars above us. Near morning a bright thin crescent of moon rose. The star gazing nearly cost me my glasses – I placed them in a convenient location to grab and look at stars, but they fell down while I was asleep. I looked around the tent but couldn’t find them…until I nearly crushed them. Thankfully they survived!

Day 5 – Saturday September 28 – Mountain View Pond to Sidney Tappan Campsite

Weather: Sunny & warm

Hiking schedule: 7:45 am – 4:50 pm (9 hours)

Mileage: 10.8 miles

Elevation Change: 2870 feet up, 2040 feet down

Mountain View Pond in the early morning light. A lovely view for breakfast.

Mountain View Pond in the early morning light. A lovely view for breakfast.

Trees next to mountain view pond, among which we set up our tent.

Trees next to mountain view pond, among which we set up our tent.

Large toad John spotted on the trail.

Large toad John spotted on the trail.

“It is too big not to catch!”, says John after snapping the above photo.

“It is too big not to catch!”, John declared after snapping the above photo.

This day brought both our first listed stream ford, the highest elevation of the hike and the most elevation change in a day for us. As it turned out, this first “ford”, the East Branch Pleasant River, was a simple rock hop across a narrow stream. Whitecap offered stunning views, and was not even the most challenging climb of the hike. A good portion of the climb up Whitecap was made easy by sets of stone stairs, thanks to the Maine Appalachian Trail Club. We stopped half-way up the mountain to have lunch next to the waterfall near Logan Brook Lean-to. A couple of older thru-hikers stopped for lunch there, too, and we chatted a little with them – one had started on March 6! Over seven months on the trail – he had hurt his ankle earlier in Maine but was still on track to finish before Baxter State Park closed on October 15.

The weather was spectacular, and we enjoyed the panoramic views from the summit of Whitecap Mountain as long as we could (we still had several miles to make by sunset, so we couldn’t hang out too long). Seeing Katahdin from the summit half-way through the hike felt like I had come full circle from the inspiration to do the hike. We encountered a pair of day hikers on the peak, who had hiked up from a nearby logging road. We talked with them; they gave us helpful hints about the logging roads – which ones are well maintained and which ones we would not want to attempt in the van. They also gave us a weather forecast update, since we had not seen a forecast in five days – sunny for the foreseeable future, except the possibility of a storm moving in from the ocean on Monday night into Tuesday. So we had at least had two more days of sunny weather to look forward to.

A view of the landscape from the east side of Whitecap Mountain.

A view of the landscape from the east side of Whitecap Mountain.

Viewing Mt. Katahdin from Whitecap Mountain.

Viewing Mt. Katahdin from Whitecap Mountain.

I am using my map and compass to identify the lakes below.

I am using my map and compass to identify the lakes below.

Sidney Tappan Campsite offered a lovely array of fall colors. You can spot our tent through the trees on the right.

Sidney Tappan Campsite offered a lovely array of fall colors. You can spot our tent through the trees on the right.

Day 6 – Sunday September 29 – Sidney Tappan Campsite to East Chairback Pond

Weather: Sunny & warm

Hiking schedule: 8:25 am – 3:30 pm (7 hours)

Mileage: 9.2 miles

Elevation Change: 1210 feet up, 2120 feet down

When John learned the previous day that I had never caught a toad, he insisted that I needed to catch the next toad we found. Success! And he didn’t pee on me, which John says means that I was gentle enough to not hurt him.

When John learned the previous day that I had never caught a toad, he insisted that I needed to catch the next toad we found. Success! And he didn’t pee on me, which John says means that I was gentle enough to not scare him.

Getting tired after five days of hiking, we got a late start on the sixth day. Once we were up and over the Gulf Hagas Mountain, the last peak on the ridge that started with Whitecap, the terrain was fairly easy going. We stopped for lunch at the bottom of the mountain near a stream and were quickly surrounded by hoards of day hikers. It turns out we were in the middle of a fairly popular loop hike accessed by the Katahdin Iron Works Road. I took a quick walk to check out the nearby Screw Auger Falls, which was worth the visit. I will quote northeastwaterfalls.com to convey how interesting the rock formation under the falls is; “The falls have cut a highly sculpted twisting gorge through Biotite and hornblende-biotite quartz diorite, grandiorite, and Two Mica Granite”

After lunch we ran into a Ridge Runner, whose job it is to hike the AT and provide information to hikers and note the conditions of trails and shelters. We talked to him about the weather and learned the storm was not hitting after all – all sunny days forecasted for us! We could not believe our luck. The Ridge Runner may think John’s a little nuts – just before we spotted the Ridge Runner John was passionately singing a song about chickens that he made up on the fly. [John here again… It was clear to me he thought I was nuts.  He heard me from a distance and made a point to chat when we walked by.  My guess is he was checking to see if we were losing our minds, perhaps from eating poisonous berries? 🙂  ]

After leaving the Ridge Runner we came to our first actual ford of the trip, through the West Branch Pleasant River. Two thru-hikers were sitting at the edge of it, having just completed the ford – we assured them that the rest of the hike before Katahdin was relatively easy, with no more river fords. We changed into our river-walking shoes and walked in. The stream was wide, the rocks slippery and the water COLD, but it was shallow, only about ankle deep, and slow moving. We made it across with no problems. Day 6, and our boots were still dry.

We decided to camp at East Chairback Pond for the night, just over a mile from the river, but up 1000 feet in elevation. The climb was relatively easy, though, on nice soft dirt trail. The sun shining through the yellow birch and beech tree leaves was especially beautiful when we climbed as high as the tops of the trees on the side of the mountain.

East Chairback Pond is not exactly on the AT – we took a 0.2 mi side trail descending steeply to the pond. This made it a very private site. No AT thru-hiker would take a long side trail to a pond without an official campsite, and being Sunday the weekenders were at home. By this point, we wanted to wash. With the privacy afforded to us by the site, and the warmth of the sun because we got to our site in mid-afternoon, we were able to wash a little with a make-shift shower. We hung a hydration system – soft plastic water bladder with hose – from a tree and cleaned up a bit. It felt amazing!

I am walking back to the tent with water bottles full from the pond.

I am walking back to the tent with water bottles full from the pond.

Still ahead of our itinerary with enough food to last well after our planned exit, we continued eating as much food as we could handle to get our pack weight down. This night was particularly bad – after a large dinner followed by a special chocolate treat I had brought along, John realized that the caramel-filled chocolate bar he had brought was a smashed mess. He insisted that we eat it before it got smashed anymore. I immediately felt a little ill after so much gluttony.

Our home by East Chairback Pond.

Our home by East Chairback Pond.

After finishing dinner and cleaning up, we sat by the pond watching daylight fade, birds flutter from one tree to the next pecking for food, and giant dragonflies hunting their prey. The squirrels were out as well, engaged in target practice, throwing sticks and cones down from trees.

East Chairback Pond in the evening.

East Chairback Pond in the evening.

Day 7 – Monday September 30 – East Chairback Pond to Cloud Pond

Weather: Warm & sunny

Hiking schedule: 8:05 am – 4:35 pm (8.5 hours)

Mileage: 10.2 miles

Elevation Change: 2420 feet up, 1530 feet down

In the morning we sat next to the pond for a while, looking at the reflection of the trees and the clouds in the surface of the pond. The clouds were streaks across the sky that looked like paint strokes. A layer of mist blanketed the pond. Looking at the misty beauty, John turned to me and said “Do you know what I am thinking about?” “What are you thinking about John?” I replied, foolishly thinking that he was about to say something serious. “I am thinking about a frog on a log in a bog in the fog.” I just shook my head at John’s incessant silliness. Around this time a squirrel ran past us, scrambled up the nearest tree, walked out onto a branch above us and started throwing sticks at us! Not pine cones for food, but sticks. This was clearly an act of war.

East Chairback Pond in the morning light. The surface is a perfect mirror, interrupted by a thin layer of mist.

East Chairback Pond in the morning light. The surface is a perfect mirror, interrupted by a thin layer of mist.

John, Day 7.

John, Day 7.

This was a day of walking up, walking down, walking up, walking down, and doing it all again. We climbed up and over four peaks – Chairback, Columbus, Third Mountain, Fourth Mountain. The path was very rocky, with some scrambling on Chairback. We were rewarded for the scramble with a good view. I took the opportunity to identify our previous two nights’ pond campsites and the Whitecap mountain ridge.

John taking a photo break while scrambling up Chairback.

John taking a photo break while scrambling up Chairback.

The view from Chairback – our reward for a steep rock scramble.

The view from Chairback – our reward for a steep rock scramble.

Following the peak of Fourth Mountain is the Fourth Mountain Bog. As I was walking through, what did I see? A frog jump off a log into the bog! There was no fog, but I promised to write about it on the blog. Shortly after we saw a dog.

We passed several more thru-hikers. The ones we passed early on were in high spirits, but the ones we passed in the later days of our hike were more focused on the goal, and most would blaze right past us. Some did stop to chat, and we even learned some of their names. We had been reluctant to ask for hikers’ names, since we don’t have trail names and it always feels a little weird on the trail giving our actual name, when the person we are talking to has a name like HOBO, Prairie Dog, Papa, Jungle Jim, Rabbit, Indie or Devois.

Late in the day John found a camera, snug in a pink case, hanging from a twig on a bush. John picked it up determined to somehow get it back to the owner. When we viewed the pictures, it was clear that the camera belonged to a thru-hiker couple. Another couple who walked the full AT together!

Chairback Pond is an official campsite, complete with a lean-to and a privy. Surprisingly, it is 0.4 miles off the trail. Only one other camper came in – he walked right past our tent site with hardly an acknowledgement and never came back from the lean-to – he clearly was not up for socializing. Our map showed a spring, which I searched for to try to avoid the stagnant pond water, but I could not locate it, if it does indeed exists. Once collected, the pond water was clear, so it was not as bad as we’d feared.

Our tent site next to Cloud Pond.

Our tent site next to Cloud Pond.

Sunset over Cloud Pond.

Sunset over Cloud Pond.

I was mesmerized by the dusk gradient of color in the sky, from deep midnight blue on the left to white where the sun’s light was still just visible.

I was mesmerized by the dusk gradient of color in the sky, from deep midnight blue on the left to white where the sun’s light was still just visible.

Day 8 – Tuesday October 1 – Cloud Pond to Wilber Brook

Weather: Sunny & warm

Hiking schedule: 8:50 am – 3:40 pm (7 hours)

Mileage: 5.9 miles

Elevation Change: 300 feet up, 2040 feet down

Our itinerary put us at Cloud Pond on the eighth night, but we were there a full day early. Since we had plenty of food, enough for a day and a half more than even the scheduled itinerary, we decided to slow down and hike for three short days instead of two long days. So we slept in and took many long breaks.

I take a lot longer than John does to get ready in the morning. I don’t know why I am so slow – it’s not a matter of practice, I have packed up camp many times, and I don’t seem to be getting any more efficient. I am equally slow in the morning at home. While waiting for me the previous day, John started a whittling project, to literally whittle away the time. He finished it this morning. He whittled me a rolling pin! I immediately started hitting him with it, like an outraged wife in a cartoon.

John whittled a rolling pin while waiting for me to get pack up over two mornings.

John whittled a rolling pin while waiting for me to pack up over two mornings.

Our last high-elevation viewpoint was on Barren Mountain, before we descended back to the lowlands. Having time now that we slowed our pace, we took a break at each of the viewpoints. We shared one with a thru-hiker; I asked about his arm that was in a sling, figuring he had injured it on the trail. It is actually paralyzed. He hiked the AT with a paralyzed arm, twice! He hiked last year, but had to pull off within 200 miles of the end because the weather was turning too cold. An impressive story!

View from Barren Mountain.

View from Barren Mountain.

John sitting under fire tower on Barren Mountain.

John sitting under an abandoned fire tower on Barren Mountain.

John, Day 8.

John, Day 8.

Near the bottom of the mountain we found a pick just lying beside the trail. John could not help himself – he had to break something with it. Luckily there was a decaying log nearby.

John cannot resist breaking a nearby log when he finds a pick on the side of the trail.

John cannot resist breaking a nearby log when he finds a pick on the side of the trail.

Slugandy Falls, where we had a leisurely lunch.

Slugandy Falls, where we had a leisurely lunch.

After lunch we met another John, hiking the 100 Mile Wilderness northbound. Other John had hired Phil for a shuttle, and passed along a message from Phil that “our Mercedes is doing fine”. We told John that we live in NYC; we have found that “New York” is an easier answer to the question “where do you live?” than “in a van”. Other John also lives in NYC. As we left Other John, I realized that he thinks we drove up from NYC in a fancy car that we keep in NYC – he must think we are rich, to be able to afford to own a fancy car and park it in the city. Ha! If only he knew we really live in a van. Other John and his wife attempted the 100 Mile Wilderness before, but the rivers were high and they were having a miserable time, so they decided to cut out early. While they were headed to their exit point at Jo-Mary road, 59 miles in, they encountered some other hikers who asked if they were leaving the trail. They were, in fact, but found it an odd question. Being in the wilderness, they had not heard that hurricane Irene was expected to flood the area. I had been wondering how thru-hikers were warned about hurricanes. There must have been a number of them in southern Vermont when Irene flooded the Deerfield River.

Shortly after speaking with Other John, we came to another river ford, at Long Pond Stream. The stream here is narrow but deep, up to our knees, and the current is swift. Other John had mentioned that a rope was strung across the river, and the last time he hiked the wilderness they attached their packs to it while crossing. The rope is strung really high and we didn’t know what to do with it. John held onto it while he crossed. I tried at first, but it hurt my shoulder to reach up that far, so eventually I let go and relied on my hiking poles.

After the river crossing, we took another long break at the next waterfall we came to, on Vaughn Stream. I walked to the bottom to take pictures. When I got near the falls, I started hearing a loud radio in the distance. After taking the pictures and starting to walk away, I realized that I could not be hearing a loud radio. I stood and listened to the echoes of the water falling, and tried to understand how the water could sound like muffled voices. Very curious. As I headed up, I heard some loud clunks. I found John playing at hydroengineering, throwing rocks in the stream trying to change the dynamics of the water.

John cheering at the top of the waterfall on Vaughn Stream.

John cheering at the top of the waterfall on Vaughn Stream.

John often tries to make the water flow “better” by throwing large rocks in at small drops.

John often tries to make the water flow “better” by throwing large rocks in at small drops.

Our tent site on an unused logging road.

Our tent site on an unused logging road.

John heard the footsteps of many creatures overnight, big and small, checking out our food bag. We did a good job hanging it this time, so our food was still there in the morning.

Day 9 – Wednesday October 2 – Wilber Brook to North Pond

Weather: Windy, with some foreboding clouds early on, but no rain.

Hiking schedule: 7:50 am – 3:15 pm (7.5 hours)

Mileage: 9.6 miles

Elevation Change: 1630 feet up, 1300 feet down

Yesterday morning we awoke with a piece of pinecone on our tent, like a warning from the squirrel mafia. Today at 5:00 am, a squirrel threw a single stick down at us. The warnings are escalating and we are beginning to worry about an imminent squirrel army attack.

The fourth on our list of five river crossings, Big Wilson Stream, comes with a warning that it should not be attempted in high water, and there is a 3-mile detour to a bridge if needed. It was certainly our biggest crossing! The stream is wide and the water was knee-deep, at points even above my knee, and cold. After so many rain-free days the current was not strong. The last listed ford, Little Wilson Stream, was just a rock hop. All five stream crossings complete, and our boots were still dry!

Heidi walking across Big Wilson Stream.

Heidi walking across Big Wilson Stream.

Stream crossing successful!

Stream crossing successful!

Big Wilson cliffs, though only about 1000 feet in elevation, offered lovely views of the peak fall foliage. Autumn was in full force by this time – the trail was carpeted with leaves, alternately yellow, red or brown as we walked along.

Nine days of hiking, and we are still happy, if not exactly clean.

Nine days of hiking, and we are still happy, if not exactly clean.

Hairy spider! I thought it was large, but John says that it is nothing compared to Florida spiders.

Hairy spider! I thought it was large, but John says that it is nothing compared to Florida spiders.

White mushroom tree.

White mushroom tree.

We stopped for a while to talk to a family on the trail – a mother with a teenage daughter, a pre-teen daughter and a young son – hiking the AT all together. Their trail names are Houdini (the mother) and Crowd Control (the kids). Not exactly thru-hiking, since they jumped around some, but the four of them hiked a majority of the trail in the season. An impressive feat for the young ones! The family lives in Seattle – I seem to mostly talk to people from the west, especially the northwest. Houdini stopped us to ask if we happened to have a hat that the son had lost. We didn’t have the hat, but I mentioned the camera we found. They identified the picture of the owners as Cheech and Wildcard. We exchanged contact information in case they could help connect us with the camera owners. The exchange was fruitful – Wildcard called us several days later after receiving a text message that John had her camera. We have her address so we can ship the camera back to her. [John here, Heidi did not even try to convey how big of a deal this was. Of the at least 100 hikers that Houdini and Crowd Control passed, they not only remembered their faces but knew their names and who they were. With this information, I knew that we could probably get this couple’s memories back to them. I can’t imagine loosing all the pictures from our hike, let alone several hundred miles worth of trail photos.]

Later in the day we spent a little time gazing at Little Wilson Falls, the “Little” in the name modifying the stream, not the waterfall – the falls were super tall, the edges of the rock impressively square.

Little Wilson Falls – the falls themselves are not little!

Little Wilson Falls – the falls themselves are not little!

We camped at North Pond, created by beaver dam. While I was sitting near the pond, the wind picked up. John noticed that there was a log lodged in the branches of the tree I was sitting under and asked me to move. I tried moving to another site near the pond, but realized that sitting under a tree half-chewed by a beaver was unsafe, so I moved away from the pond near our tent.

North Pond Outlet, blocked by a beaver dam.

North Pond Outlet, blocked by a beaver dam.

North Pond.

North Pond.

A log lodged in the branches of the tree formed a safety hazard in the high winds.

A log lodged in the branches of the tree formed a safety hazard in the high winds. John knocked it out so we could eat dinner under the tree.

Sitting under this tree is no safer.

Sitting under this tree is no safer.

With the high winds in the evening, I made a careful examination of all the trees around our tent. There were no dead ones, but the site is basically on a big rock with a very thin layer of soil, so there was not a lot anchoring the live trees. The wind died down by bedtime (e.g. sunset), so there was nothing to worry about.

I had some really noisy, chaotic dreams, and it was really amazing to wake up from those dreams to the peacefulness of nature. Lying in the tent, I looked up through the treetops at the multitude of stars, hearing only the trickle of the stream making it through the beaver dam and light gusts of wind rustling the treetops. It was very relaxing, and such a wonderful contrast to living in the city.

Day 10 – Thursday October 3 – North Pond to Pleasant Street

Weather: Sunny & warm

Hiking schedule: 8:00 am – 12:30 pm (4.5 hours)

Mileage: 7.1 miles

Elevation Change: 980 feet up, 1070 feet down

Houdini and Crowd Control had joined us at the North Pond site near sunset. In the morning I chatted with Houdini, mostly about Seattle and hiking. She told me about the backpacking game “torture”, where each player tries to one-up the last with something that is desirable and inaccessible. Like wild mushroom ravioli and pina coladas (my example, not hers).

John, Day 10.

John, Day 10.

Heidi, Day 10.

Heidi, Day 10.

We passed about ten more thru-hikers on our last morning. They are really cutting it close with the end of the season! One couple complained that their packs are heavy because they just started the wilderness section and they were carrying six days of food! SIX! We started with 12 (okay, with the food resupply we only had nine days worth at the maximum, but still…).

For the last few miles the leaves on the ground were so thick that we could hardly make out the trail. We persevered and managed to arrive back to Phil’s place.

Our home, safe and sound, at 100 Mile Wilderness Adventures and Outfitters.

Our home, safe and sound, at 100 Mile Wilderness Adventures and Outfitters.

A welcome sight! It took some time to get the hot water working, though. We could not reach Phil, so John searched until he found the breaker and power up the hot water heater.

A welcome sight! It took some time to get the hot water working, though. We could not reach Phil, so John searched until he found the breaker and power up the hot water heater.

After the shower John complained that his jeans didn’t fit right. They are my jeans! He wouldn’t pose for the picture, so I caught him mid-dressing.

After the shower John complained that his jeans didn’t fit right. He had grabbed my jeans! He wouldn’t pose for the picture, so I caught him mid-dressing.

Relaxing with a beer at the back of 100 Mile Wilderness Adventures and Outfitters.

Relaxing with a beer (or four) at the back of 100 Mile Wilderness Adventures and Outfitters.

8 Thoughts on “100 Mile Wilderness

  1. Patricia Lehne on October 19, 2013 at 4:49 am said:

    Wow, what beautiful pictures. I’m glad you had good weather throughout your hike. You made it!

  2. maudie engel on October 19, 2013 at 3:57 pm said:

    Love the story, I cant believe that people hike for months ! like the explorers,
    My favorite pic of LOST WILSON FALLS, like a stair case, gorgeous .

  3. Beautiful pictures – love all the sunsets by different lakes. Also love John’s whittled rolling pin! And of course the toads. You lucked out with such nice weather, and I’m glad you made it all the way without starting to hate each other!

  4. Faedra on October 22, 2013 at 3:29 pm said:

    I just finished reading about your 100 miles. – – AMAZING – – Thank you so much for taking the time to share your adventure. The pictures are great and what a wonderful writer you are, Heidi. Keep on trucking….eh, vanning. ;o)

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  7. Thanks for the trip report.

    You two hit the jackpot with the weather! Again, John’s photography is amazing and I think that you’ll have to have a gallery showing when you get to the Northwest.

    I particularly enjoyed hearing about all the thru hikers. I’ve known for a long time now that my trail name will be Lefty. Just have to make it happen!

    • We talked a lot about possible trail names, but John thinks another hiker should christen us with our trail names. My going names are FirstOfAll and Funoclast, because I always kill his fun by saying “first of all…” followed by reasons why what he just said is completely wrong and/or illogical. I suggested Lyin’ for John, because he wants something manly, and Lyin’ sounds like a manly animal, but really just means that he lies all the time (and by lie I mean say things that are ridiculous and impossible). We also came up with Mushroom Tree, and at some points Drill Master Mushroom Tree (DMMT) because he turned into such a hiking-slave-driver. I even have a song for him: “Mushroom, Mushroom Tree. I want to be, a Mushroom Tree!” to the tune of the Village People’s “Macho Man”.

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