After a few days in Baxter Park, Hans headed home and I started hiking south toward my car through the 100 Mile Wilderness. I gave an overview of the Wilderness a few weeks ago, but it’s worth repeating one major point– the name “100 Mile Wilderness” came about long before the National Wilderness Designation was created, and the 100 Mile Wilderness is NOT a National Wilderness. There are logging roads, shelters, sporting camps, and quite a few people in the area. As I started into the woods near Abol Bridge, it was apparent that this wouldn’t be a hike where I found solitude. I passed many northbound through-hikers in the first hours of the day, all chugging along determinedly to the end of their hikes.
I got a late start on day one, but I managed a fairly long day anyway, with a little help from the cool, dry air and partly cloudy skies. Walking along the lowlands of the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area (where the AT sticks to the vicinity of Rainbow Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever been on) was a delight. The terrain that the AT passes through in this area included two types that are unique on the AT to northern Maine– first, the dark coniferous forests with thick beds of moss below, and second, the lichen and blueberry covered granite slabs of Rainbow Ledges and Rainbow Mountain.
The day ended late, since I knew the weather wouldn’t be so great in the morning. I pushed on to the western end of Rainbow Lake, where I had found a spectacular campsite on my last 100 Mile Wilderness hike (five years ago). This was the kind of campsite you don’t quickly forget: a perfectly framed view of Katahdin over Rainbow Lake, lakeside camping, and practically no hikers. I was able to watch the clouds roll in over Katahdin in the evening, and in the morning I glanced up from my sleeping bag to see a moose silently walk around my tarp.
The rain started on day two sometime mid-morning, but I wasn’t terribly worried. The day’s hike was entirely in the lowlands of the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness and Nahmakanta Public Reserved Land. (As an aside, I just love the place names in northern Maine, which come from the language of the Penobscot Nation. Names like Katahdin, Piscataquis, Debsconeag, Nesuntabunt, and Potaywadjo grace the Hundred Mile Wilderness. Fun names from my home town further south include my favorite, the Passagassawakeag River. The lack of old white men’s names is a good reminder that Maine was “tamed” much later than most of the east coast).
Much of the morning had me walking along Rainbow Stream from the outlet of Rainbow Lake. Again, this section of trail is an absolute gem, going through densely moss-covered forest, along a shallow gorge with jagged stone walls. In a short time I passed the Rainbow Stream Lean-to, one of the dozen AT shelters in the 100 Mile Wilderness (not to mention at least half a dozen official tent sites) that are located in places of superb beauty. This one is in that dense, mossy forest on the bank of Rainbow Stream, right near tall rock walls of the gorge. A shelter doesn’t get much more picture-perfect than that.
Unfortunately, this lean-to also showcased a problem that I saw all too often over the week. More than half of the shelters I passed had atrocious amounts of trash piled beside them. Stuff like food wrappers, medication bottles, clothing, broken trekking poles, sneakers– By the end of the trip I was furious with what I saw. There had been nothing like this on my last trip into the 100 Mile Wilderness. The reason, I’m guessing, is a combination of two things: first, just like the south end of the AT, many people start hiking with no clue what they’re doing, and ditch gear along the trail. Down south, there is a lot more activity on the trail, so volunteers and good samaritans can get in to clean the shelters more often. In the 100 Mile Wilderness, less road access means fewer people cleaning up after jackasses that leave their trash.
I tried not to let the trashing of some of my favorite places bother me too much. The trail aside from the shelters was still beautiful and unspoiled. After leaving Rainbow Stream, I walked along Pollywog Stream, Nahmakanta Lake and finally Nahmakanta Stream, now in a steady drizzle. Only a few views were really killed by the low clouds– otherwise I mostly walked through dense forest with the large streams at my side.
The day got wetter in the afternoon, culminating in an intense downpour as I neared the end of Nahmakanta Stream. A conversation I’d had with two northbound section hikers the day before had given me the idea of staying at White House Landing for a night, and the nasty rain made up my mind. I took the side trail along the shore of Pemadumcook Lake, blew the foghorn, and got a ride across to a little Xanadu in the wilderness.
White House Landing is a Maine Sporting Camp that has been serving AT hikers for about fifteen years. Like most such sporting camps, it is off the grid, accessed only by logging roads or by water. Some hikers pooh-pooh the idea of interrupting the 100 Mile Wilderness with commercial accommodations, but a funny thing about the Maine AT is that the original trail had no shelters east of Caratunk– hikers stayed at sporting camps like White House Landing all the way from the Kennebec to Katahdin. Today, there are few of those camps still active near the AT, but White House Landing, like its owners, is resilient.
I enjoyed an early dinner (the famous one-pound burger) with a wonderful couple from Chicago. They were just starting their southbound through-hike, and it was great to see the enthusiasm they had for the hike. Bill and Linda, the owners of the camp, also provided great stories and conversation. Soon enough, though, I found myself fighting to stay awake– a battle I lost willingly at 7 PM.