I was pretty excited to find the trail like this, since it cut off several miles of hiking from the camp to the trail, so I decided I had to do something with this new discovery. I called my friend, Jeremy, and made plans to attempt what would normally be impossible: a day-hike of White Cap Mountain, well inside the 100 Mile Wilderness and almost unheard of as a winter hike.
The day came for the hike, with Jeremy staying at Little Lyford on one of my days off from work. We awoke at five in the morning, threw on our pre-packed daypacks, and started out on the route I had packed out to Gulf Hagas Mountain. We made short work of that, and then we were on the AT. We had six more miles to go to White Cap. That’s where things started to go wrong.
Jeremy had brought his new GPS with a recently downloaded track file for the AT in case we lost the trail. So from Gulf Hagas Mountain, we made our way to Sydney Tappan Tentsite, and then had to ascend West Peak along the AT. We had the trail for a little while, but soon lost it in the conifers. No worries, though. Jeremy turned on the GPS and found that we had wandered off trail a little way. We turned around and went back to where the GPS claimed the trail should be, but we couldn’t quite find it.
We continued to search for the trail, zigzagging back and forth across where the GPS claimed the trail should be, but continuing up West Peak as we went. Eventually, we decided we would just find the trail at the top of the mountain, then continue on across the mountain range. This was probably a bad decision, but it was the best we could do at the time.
For the next 90 minutes we pushed through thick fir and spruce forest, falling into spruce traps and getting stuck with nearly every step. When we finally reached an open spot near the top of West Peak we had gone only a quarter of a mile in one and a half hours, and we still hadn’t found the trail. We decided to wander off course and see what we could find.
In less than ten minutes we had found the trail, completely off from where the GPS had told us to go. By this time we had already given up on making it to White Cap, having wasted 90 minutes and most of our energy. On our way back down the trail, now that we knew where it was, we found that we hadn’t even lost the trail in the first place until we started to use the GPS.
The problem, it turned out, was that Jeremy had downloaded a fifteen year old track of the AT, which had been relocated and overgrown since. Lesson learned– don’t follow GPS tracks unless you know where and when they came from. Some people might say just don’t rely on the GPS, but clearly we made an error by not knowing how to use the technology properly.
That said, I have finally caved in and bought a handheld GPS unit that was on sale at REI a few weeks ago. This weekend will be my first attempt at using it, but not in the same way that we tried to use one on White Cap. Instead, I plan to track my route and so that later, either at home or another time when I hike in winter and the trail is obscured, I can see where I went. As with any technology on the trail, the GPS will just be an extra tool to supplement the skills I already have.