#16 Thru-Hiking the AT: Rangeley, ME, to Monson, ME

Above: Perched on a lookout knob on Bigelow Mountain’s West Peak…looking east. The photo gives a good representation of how expansive the views are. You have to imagine the clouds, breeze, cool air, and the 360 degree sights — I felt so small.

Originally posted by Great Miami Outfitters on September 3, 2015

Posted by Great Miami Outfitters.
 This is the 16th blog entry of his trip. The adventure continues. Chris has 115 miles (or approximately 5%) of his thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail to complete. Chris “Pacer” began his 2015 Appalachian Thru-Hike on April 7, 2015.

#16. Rangeley, ME
 to Monson, ME

115 miles left… 5% to go! 106 miles hiked this leg through southern Maine. Maine has lived up to its reputation for difficult hiking… but what beautiful hiking.

Absolutely perfect hiking weather. Cool enough at night to get bundled in the sleeping bag, and cool enough (and low humidity) during the day to prevent the usually drenching of sweat. We have been so lucky regarding rain… we haven’t had any. Maine gets lots of rain. We hope the streak continues so the mud is easy to navigate in the 100 Mile Wilderness. We’ve been quizzing SOBOs; it sounds like most of the stagnate deep mud has firmed up, and the water is now below the walk boards.

Our Nero at the Rangeley Farmhouse was short, but very enjoyable. We arrived around 11:00 and went straight to the grocery store to resupply and to buy everything for dinner that night… steaks, potatoes, a big salad, sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions, Gorgonzola crumbles, sour cream… dessert was a pint each of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. We rushed back to the Farmhouse… dry out our tents and got showers. Many hostels have loaner clothes so you can wash everything to include your town clothes. The men’s clothes weren’t very good, so I picked a really swanky woman’s top that looked like something Stevie Nicks wore back in the 70s–when I lifted my arms, I had wings… it was an awesome look! I absolutely looked like a hippy. Our dinner was the envy of everyone that walked by. We filled the whole table with food. We all agree that this was our favorite Trail dinner yet–high quality and perfect!

The rest and food was much needed because we were headed straight up a 2,500 ft climb the next morning and bouncing over a couple more mountains… Saddleback Mountain, followed by the Horn, then Saddleback Junior. The peaks were very windy but we got some amazing views and stayed the night at Poplar Ridge Lean-to. The next day we climbed Mt Abrams, Spaulding Mountain, and Sugarloaf Mountain. Most of these peaks have 360 degree views from their summits… the clouds mix with the horizon and cast interesting shadows across the land far below. I hope I can remember half of these views the way I saw them when I look through the pictures.

The next day was a big push to get over the the Crocker Mountains and then into the small town of Stratton for an overnight stay at the Stratton Motel. Just before the Crockers is the location where the Appalachian Trail was fully completed–the last section was laid in by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1937. South and North Crocker are both above tree line and have granite slabs near the top. We enjoyed the views at the top and descended a couple hours to Highway 27 where we called for our ride to the Stratton Motel. The Stratton Motel had just been purchased a week earlier by the same owners of the Rangeley Farmhouse. They recently moved from Colorado, and are trying to make the hiker/fishermen/outdoor business work. They’re also getting the kids in the business early. Their teenage son tried to get me to rent his bike for $5… he started working me down to $2.50 when I pushed back. I didn’t even hint that I wanted to ride it–he was selling hard!

We really needed a good break. The tough climbs were wearing us down. I ate A LOT in Stratton for lunch. We shared a couple interesting appetizers: fried fiddle heads and poutine. Fiddle heads are young ferns that have just started to grow; they’re still coiled up and haven’t unfurled yet. Poutine is a Canadian version of french fries… they put a heavy brown gravy and cheese curds on top of the fries. We enjoyed both. After a full lunch at the White Wolf, I walked across the street to the grocery store. I got a lobster roll at the deli, followed by family size bag of chips with 1.25L of Mountain Dew, then a pint of ice cream… second lunch. Before I left the next morning, I weighed myself… I’m down another 4 lbs since I stepped on the scales in Connecticut. I weighed 169 lbs; 35 lbs dropped so far… that’s heavier than my backpack loaded with water and food for 4 days! I’m absolutely amazed how much I can eat and still drop weight!

By this time, we were almost out of southern Maine… our last big climb was right in front of us… the Bigelow Mountain Range. These are the last 4,000 ft mountains until we get to Katahdin which climbs over 5,000 ft. It was a long day, but we made it through the entire range in one day. From every view from any of the peaks, there was some kind of water… a river, a lake, a pond, a swamp. Although Benton MacKaye is credited for the vision of the Appalachian Trail, Myron Avery was its creator and worked tirelessly to build the AT. One of the Bigelow Peaks is named after him, and there’s a commemorative plaque on it in is honor… what a monumental feat. It is staggering to see how much work goes into maintaining the AT. To imagine cutting it the first time is hard to get my head around… so remote, so much equipment and people required… for many years. Any benefit from our short break in Stratton was spent in the Bigelows; we were beat up and tired. Luckily, the next day was a pretty easy hiking day. A few bumps to climb over, but no major ascents.

Ascending Avery Peak.

We stopped a couple miles short of the Kennebec River and set up a stealth camp. We wanted to get as relatively close to the river as we could so we could be near the front of the line for the canoe ferry. This canoe ferry is the official route of the AT and is the oldest operating ferry in the USA; it’s also the only human powered ferry. This time of year, the ferry runs twice a day; 9-11 in the morning and 2-4 in the afternoon. If you miss these times, you’re supposed to wait until the next day… strong caution is given to not ford this river. That said, hikers still have to ford many rivers in Maine. In 1985, a hiker drowned trying to ford the Kennebec. The ATC responded by funding the ferry for AT use and made the ferry part of the official Trail. The ferry operator explained to me during the ride that the Kennebec was once much more shallow due to the logging industry. From the mid 80s, the water level is much higher and can be very dangerous with even a little rain. Before 1985, hikers could ford or take the ferry.

We woke early to get to the ferry; we were up at 5:00 am and started packing camp with the light of our headlamps. We scrambled down to the river at 6:00 (just enough light to hike), arriving just after 7:00. There were only 2 people in front of us, Ukalady and Chameleon. They arrived at the river 15 minutes late the day before and had to camp that night to wait for the ferry the next morning. Just after we arrived, many more hikers started to trickle in. We had about 20 hikers in line when the canoe arrived. The canoe trip takes 2 passengers across and only takes 2-3 minutes to reach the other shore. The ferry operator said his record for a shift is 54 hikers and 3 dogs. The ferry delay wasn’t too bad, but it did cost us 2 hours of hiking time. We hiked hard that morning and afternoon and got almost 18 miles. That put us 23 miles away from Monson, where we would take our last zero and get some much needed rest. Since the previous zero we had hiked two-thirds of the Whites in New Hampshire and all of Southern Maine–we were exhausted.

Overnight, I heard a Loon in the distance with the back drop of the stream’s waterfall splashing… perfect sounds for sleeping. The Loon’s call is long, soft, and peaceful. We woke at 5:00 am and started hiking at 6:00… just enough light that we didn’t need headlamps. The only 1000+ ft climb was Moxie Bald Mountain, and we summited and descended it early in the morning. The rest of the day was easy ups and downs. We forded 2 rivers (our first fording)… boots off, camp shoes on for the water crossing. Just last week, this same 23 mile stretch had 6 fords. Streams and rivers have lowered a bit so we were able to rock hop most of the water crossings. At 6:00 pm, we popped out of the woods at Hwy 15 where we would shuttle to Lakeshore House in Monson. A couple hikers that just completed the 100 Mile Wilderness gave us a ride into town. Showered, laundry, and down stairs for dinner at the pub. The food was delicious, and we were crashing… I could see it and feel it. So good to be clean, to be full, and to have a bed. 230 miles since our last zero through the toughest hiking on the AT.  We were in bed by 8:00–completely and totally exhausted.

This morning we all wondered into Pete’s next door for breakfast at slightly different times and collected at the same table… BigSky and Blazer first, then Pom Pom, then me. I ordered the 100 Miler–looked like the hiker breakfast we see town to town. I found out after I ordered it that it was a “food challenge”… that would have been good to know before I ordered it. If I ate all of it, I’d be one of the first with a picture on the wall, and I’d get a big pin. I was actually a little afraid when I saw how much food there was–the portions were huge… far more than it sounded like when I ordered it. I had Pom Pom, BigSky, and Blazer staring me down as I attempted to put it away. If I cracked, BigSky was ready to pounce and gloat… I wouldn’t hear the end of it all the way to Katahdin. I crushed it!… they took my picture for the wall, and I got the prized button that will go on my backpack.

100 Miler at Pete’s Place in Monson, Maine… three 9″ pancakes, real maple syrup, a pile of fried potatoes, 3 eggs, 3 bacon, 2 thick pieces of wheat toast from home made bread, a large bowl of oats, coffee, and orange juice. The toast was phenomenal–best toast I’ve ever had!

The rest of the day, we plan to watch movies, rest, and recuperate. Tomorrow, we enter the last stretch of the AT known as the 100 Mile Wilderness that leads us into Baxter State Park where we will summit Katahdin on 10 September. We’re experiencing many of our “lasts”: last town stop, last zero, last etc… bittersweet. Our families are all set to meet us on the other side–very excited to see Jamie. She and I have so many changes coming over the next couple months. The AT has certainly prepared me for uncertainty… I’m ready!

One last update coming next week after I summit Katahdin and complete my thru hike.

Trail Tale:
As BigSky, Blazer, Pom Pom and I headed back to the trail after a quick break in Rangeley, we started talking about a hiker that went missing a little over 2 years ago in this same area. We were heading to Poplar Ridge Lean-to that night, and it happened to be the last known location of Geraldine “Inchworm” Largay, 66. Inchworm started her thru hike in Harper’s Ferry, WV, and was hiking north to Katahdin. After Katahdin, she would flip-flop to Harper’s Ferry and hike south to Springer Mountain, GA, to complete her thru hike. Her husband was supporting her throughout the hike with a car, always in the vicinity of his wife and available for pick ups, resupplies, etc… he was her full time support team. Inchworm’s disappearance received national coverage; numerous searches have turned up no clues.

In 2013 (the year Inchworm disappeared), Blazer did an AT thru hike, and Pom Pom did an AT section hike in New Hampshire and Maine with her son… both of them had brief connections with Inchworm before her disappearance. Pom Pom and her son caught a ride with Inchworm and her husband while in Maine. Blazer hiked a separate trail a year earlier with Inchworm’s 2013 hiking partner that hiked with her from Harper’s Ferry to Massachusetts. Both Blazer and Pom Pom were stunned when they realized they both had connections with Inchworm.

Inchworm’s disappearance has come up while we’ve hiked off and on since Georgia, but the first couple days back on Trail here in Maine, we talked about her a lot. Blazer, who is from Cincinnati, drove to Maine about a year after she went missing to assist in a search; the Appalachian Long Distance Hiker’s Association organized the 7-day search. As Blazer and I hiked, he showed me several places they looked and how they conducted the search. The caretaker for the Poplar Ridge Lean-to has worked that section of Trail for more than 40 years. He showed them the quickest access trails; how far a vehicle could come in; where the AT used to go; on and on.

The early main theory was that she had a stroke, was disoriented and wondered off Trail.  Early searches of the 27 mile stretch didn’t turn up anything, so theories around foul play started to form. However the manner of her disappearance, these kind of situations are very rare on the Appalachian Trail. I never met Inchworm, but she was on my mind much during this leg… my heart goes out to her and her family.

Until next time…


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