After a restful night at White House Landing, and a hearty AYCE pancake breakfast, it was time to hit the trail again. Bill shuttled the three guests across the lake to an old logging road landing near the AT, and I sped off southward. The rains yesterday had soaked the lowlands thoroughly, and the low clouds had yet to burn off, so the early part of the day was a damp hike through soggy trails.
The first order of the day, a few miles in, was to explore a side trail to a rocky ledge on Potaywadjo Ridge. The trail rose steeply from the shores of Jo-Mary Lake, into a blueberry- and lichen-covered granite outcrop with amazing views over the lake, Jo-Mary Mountain, and the lowlands between. It was a totally unique view, since this section of the 100 Mile Wilderness is mostly lowlands with few elevated views. The mass of Jo-Mary Mountain seemed so huge from this sub-1000 foot ledge, and the lakes and forest surrounding had a surreal quality to their silence, the fog clinging around the edges of everything.
I had a long way to go, so I couldn’t sit and relax too much. Lower Jo-Mary Lake is now on my list of places to visit by canoe or kayak later on, though, since the Potaywadjo Ridge and The Antlers Campsite (one of the most beautiful campsites on the AT) are both located close to the shore. It looks like you could paddle across Pemadumcook Lake from near Millinocket, and portage to the Jo-Mary Lakes pretty easily. The 100 Mile Wilderness by boat would be an entirely different experience.
The clouds burned off throughout the afternoon, and a dry, cool breeze erased the effects of yesterday’s rain. I passed over a dozen northbound through-hikers, all nearing the end of their journeys. It must be that time of year when the front of the northbound crowd hits the end of the trail. Hiking against the flow always makes the crowds seem bigger, since you run into everyone rather than gradually passing them. Most people didn’t stop to talk very much, and that’s okay. I remember being a northbound through-hiker and feeling overwhelmed by the flood of southbounders as I neared Katahdin.
I ended day 3 at Logan Brook Lean-to, with four other hikers. This wouldn’t have seemed like too big a crowd, normally, but there were also two summer camp groups tented nearby, so it felt cramped. Happily, the company was really wonderful. Midnight, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club’s ridgerunner for the Whitecap and Chairback Range was camped in the shelter, so we had some great conversation about the AT (he through-hiked a year or two before me, and has been close to the hiking community ever since). It was great to pick his brain about the Maine AT, as well, since he had an insider’s perspective. His job is a hard and thankless one, but I will say that he handled it amazingly. The four shelters in his range were the cleanest in the 100 Mile Wilderness.
Day 4 started with a short hike to the top of Whitecap Mountain, the highest in the 100 Mile Wilderness, and one of the best views anywhere. I hiked slowly in order to let the clouds burn off, which they partially did. After arriving, I had the summit to myself for 45 minutes (and it would have been much longer, but I had to move on). I sat and watched the dense clouds to the north dissipate as they hit the Whitecap Ridge, and I listened to the sound of utter silence. This isn’t a sound that many people can find, even in wild places, so I drank it up, knowing how rare it was. That long break made the trip for me– as unwild as the 100 Mile Wilderness can be, that one experience was enough to convince me it’s still the wildest on the AT.
The walk down from Whitecap is a long one, so I zoned out for the next ten miles. The number of people picked up again when I neared Gulf Hagas, but dropped again once I crossed the Katahdin Ironworks Road to climb Chairback Mountain. This is the territory of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s newest camp and hiking trails, so I thought I might see more people on Chairback, but it was just as quiet as Whitecap had been. Strange. I thought hikers were drawn to mountains up here just like anywhere else. But it turns out Gulf Hagas has a stronger pull.
I camped at Chairback Gap with three southbound hikers, and had a great evening full of laughs and stories. Again, I realized that seeing lots of people in the 100 Mile Wilderness wasn’t always a bad thing. After the good company at Logan Brook, and now the good company at Chairback Gap, I remembered that I’d camped alone plenty of nights on the AT this summer, and with good company all the rest of the nights. You don’t always get an empty campsite, but you can usually count on good neighbors. If I had really wanted to camp alone, it wouldn’t have been hard to find a place away from established campsites.
In the morning, the forecast of clear skies through the weekend failed. I started hiking in a light rain, and continued that way for the rest of the day. I wasn’t too upset, since I’d had such a good day yesterday, but I decided I would have to come back to see Barren Mountain and a few of the lower ledges near Wilson Streams later. For the day’s hike, I hadn’t decided if I should push 27 miles to my car, or stop 10 miles short, finishing the trip the next day.
I passed several northbound hikers (some whom I had met in the White Mountains only a few weeks ago!), and the rain eventually came harder. The trail in the last miles of the 100 Mile Wilderness travels through several big streams, up and over some jagged slate ridges, and along many beaver bogs. The slate ledges and gorges are, like the forest further north, the kind of landscape that is just too beautiful for my camera to capture properly. So I decided I would have to come back again sometime soon.
In the meantime, I had a strong urge to finish converting my GPS data into the next section of the AT for my iPhone apps, which helped make up my mind to do a big day of hiking. Rather than stopping a few miles short of the road, I pounded my feet and eventually worked my way to the car, finishing the 100 Mile Wilderness. As I approached the road, I heard the sound of cars whizzing by and realized, as I had on Whitecap, that I had indeed been in a wild area. This was the first car sound I had heard since entering Baxter Park, 8 days earlier. Also, it was the first I had turned on my phone since then. So what if there were lots of hikers in the Wilderness. I had successfully escaped the two largest influences of modern society for over a week. That’s as much as a modern American can really ask for.