On the morning of May 29, I left the computer and my house to get away and clear my mind for a few weeks. In the past several weeks since getting home from the backpacking trip in New Jersey through Massachusetts, I’d been programming like a madman, going through map info, studying different programming languages, and generally overworking myself. It was well past time for another hike. 200 miles of Appalachian Trail in Maine should do the trick.
Day 1: Big Rivers
My mom dropped me off at the AT crossing near Monson, the skies clear and hazy despite the 80% forecast for rain. I moved quickly south, trying to make time before the rain came. The clouds and rain moved in, but luckily the entire day was in low elevations, below trees and alongside rivers and ponds. Things were mostly uneventful until the Piscataquis River.
With almost two weeks of rain prior, the ford of the East Branch was deeper than I remembered, up to my crotch. Later, the West Branch was downright scary, coming up to my waist and nearly blowing me over. Bald Mountain Stream wasn’t so deep, but it was powerful and swollen with fresh rainwater. Add Marble Brook, and I forded four very gnarly rivers– more than I remember from last time I was here.
I did manage to see a moose crossing the river, although didn’t get a photo. And I saw the first thru-hiker of the season, a Brit who’d started in January. Must have been a cold and lonely hike, but a heck of an adventure. He’s the only person I saw today, and I’m camping alone at Bald Mountain Pond Lean-to. In bed by 8, with the rain coming down outside!
Day 2: Big Little Mountains
The rain finally hit in the middle of the night, then the early morning sun turned all that water into thick, steamy haze. The initial climb up to Moxie Bald Mountain was disgustingly humid, but the wet leaves and moss glowed like magic. Then the clearing fog on Moxie Bald added some more to the ambiance.
The day’s hike over Moxie Bald and Pleasant Pond mountains is one of my favorites of the entire AT. Three small mountains (counting Moxie’s north peak, which is the best and least visited of the three), none higher than 2700 feet, but they are all rugged climbs with amazing views. The scenery is classic northern Maine, with deep forest as far as the eye can see, and scarcely any sign of humanity. Speaking of which, I’ve seen only three people in the past two days– two hikers and one passing car on a dirt road. Not many places where that happens on the AT.
The black flies and mosquitoes are out in force, now. I guess that was inevitable. At least they can’t seem to keep up with me while I’m hiking, so there’s an extra excuse to keep moving.
Day 3: Lots of Water
It seemed like it would be an easy day, with no major climbs and no significant elevation change, but the trail can be tricky that way. The first part of the day was a part I always forget, the walk down to the Kennebec River, but it’s six miles of trail, which is never a small thing. Even though it was almost all downhill, the rocky, rooty trail never gives you an easy step.
After taking the ferry across the Kennebec (one of the most unique experiences on the AT), came a long walk along Pierce Pond Stream. The stream was still very swollen from the weeks of rain earlier this month. The waterfalls near the trail were so powerful, it was scary to be anywhere near them. The strength of the rivers and streams here is pretty astonishing.
The rest of the day wound around big ponds (Pierce Pond and East and West Carry Ponds), separated by deep, remote forest. The ferryman said he thinks this section is wilder than anything in the 100 Mile Wilderness, and I’m inclined to agree. I crossed a few logging roads along the way, but otherwise it was just the forest and me, with not even a whisper of humanity around.
Day 4: The Bigelows
The black flies and mosquitoes were joined by noseeums in the night, so once I awoke I had to get moving fast. On the trail by 5:30, and on my way to Flagstaff Lake. I crossed a few of the trails of the Maine Huts system, reminding me I’ll have to come back here again soon.
Clear skies in the morning gave way to passing showers in the afternoon, but I still had some fine views from the peaks along the way. The AT in the Bigelow Preserve is one of the most spectacular sections of trail anywhere, not to mention one of the most difficult. The steep climbs and the rocky mountains slow down even the hardiest hikers, even without the day’s sweltering heat and humidity. I could have done without the last bit, but the mountains themselves never disappoint.
My intended goal for the night, the Horns Pond campsite, was positively crowded (three people, plus the caretaker), and would have made for a great night’s stay, but I had visions of a stay in town in my head. I’ll have to come back to this campsite sometime soon– great hikes and views all around, and apparently great fishing in the pond. For now, though, I hurried down the AT and got a ride into Stratton, one of my favorite trail towns. Of course, hurrying through this area is a bit shameful, with how gorgeous everything is, but I’ll try to make it up by coming back later in the summer. For now, my feet could use a day off.