“This is the longest wilderness section of the entire A.T. and its difficulty should not be underestimated. Good Hiking!”
So reads the last line of the first sign you encounter after leaving the road in Monson, ME, striking off into the 100-Mile Wilderness (100MW). However, the “hiking” part wasn’t really appropriate for our trip—“slogging” might have been, though.
With tents, sleeping bags, warm clothes and six days of food and fuel loaded into our packs, David, Greg and I strapped on our snowshoes, shouldered the pigs and started breaking trail—45 miles to our next resupply. The temps were as warm as predicted and the snow was punchy. We rarely stayed on the surface and broke thru to our knees or deeper quite often. The trail blazes, usually around head height, were closer to our knees and the route finding was difficult without using the GPS route I’d laid out back in October when I hiked this section of the A.T. in fairer conditions.
Our goal for the first day, and for most days, was to travel around ten miles. With all of us having a decent amount of winter travel experience, we figured we could count on moving along around a mile-an-hour and we weren’t far off. Nearing the end of the day, it was getting dark, the skies were spitting a mix of snow and freezing rain, and our legs felt heavy. But we’d gone the ten miles we’d planned on.
Due to a bit of a snowshoe malfunction, David continually lost ground on Greg and I, so when I heard a wailing coming from behind us while we followed a set of railroad tracks for the last quarter mile to camp, I thought it was David cursing out into the dark again. However, when I spun around, I saw a beam of light growing larger as a huge freight train came steaming around the bend. Thankfully the steep banks had abated, and Greg and I simply stepped off the track with ten seconds or so to spare before the rail cars started rolling by. We certainly weren’t expecting that!
Shortly after our near miss, we got into camp and hunkered down for the night, making dinner and crawling into our sleeping bags. Thankfully when morning came, we felt rested and ready to tackle the next 90 miles.
Over the course of the next eight days, our days and nights became pretty routine. Wake up, get coffee and breakfast going, change out of dry clothes for travel clothes, pack up camp and hit the trail. Conditions varied wildly every day, and we faced unique challenges and obstacles on each section of trail.
Day 2 – Greg and David both punched through beaver ponds up to their knees, soaking boots and requiring a shortened day to build a fire and dry out. We laughed about the fact we really needed a rest day on DAY TWO of our trip.
Day 3 – Longer miles (11+) to get back on schedule over the Barren-Chairback range. Lots of vertical gain, followed by lots of snow. Finally made camp just before dark after eleven miles on the go.
Day 4 – Climbed the last peak on the ridge to pop out of the clouds to under-cast skies. Warm weather mixed with the previous days snow resulted in tons of melting below tree line simulating rain in the woods streaming down from the trees.
Day 5 – Huge slog up and over White Cap Mountain, tunneling through the trees in deep snow and cold winds above treeline. We constantly looked at each other in awe/stupor, like, “Is this really what we’re doing right now?” Thankfully we were treated to our first really views of Katahdin looming in the distance. The landscape alone was worth the price of admission.
Day 6 – Met our resupply early after a quick snowshoe down from just below treeline. Made the switch to skis, sleds and duffels, said goodbye to our heavy packs, and within a hundred feet of the snowmobile trail encountered an impenetrable maze of blow-downs. After going a quarter-of-a-mile in two hours, we made haste and retreated back to the groomed trail and circumvented the nastiness by skiing across a pond and finding an old snowmobile trail to get us back on route.
Day 7 – More wet snow, wet conditions, freezing rain, unfrozen stream crossings and punchy snow. Who says climate change isn’t a thing? When we started planning for this trip, we figured late February would give us the best chances and consistent, cold weather with fast snow, solid crossings and lower humidity. We were wrong on all three counts.
Day 8 – This day saw two hardships. The first, shortly after we left camp, we came upon the Whitehouse Landing, a small lodge in the middle of the 100-Mile Wilderness catering to hikers in the summer and snowmobilers in the winter. It was closed when we got there, but after it started raining (yes, raining) Trapper the dog came ambling around the corner followed by his owner, Linda. She let us in, fed us coffee, muffins and brownies, let us dry our boots out on the wood stove and gave us our first reprieve from the cold and wet conditions we’d faced the entire trip up to this point. The second hardship came when it was time to leave.
Day 9 – Waking up in the morning, we knew this would be a dichotomous day. The first half offered smooth sailing along the frozen Rainbow Lake for nearly six miles of sunny perfection, however the second half required true grit and determination as we ascended Rainbow Ledges and slogged our way out to Abol Bridge, the terminus of the 100-Mile Wilderness. Hauling sleds through a serpentine path, partially broken out by snowshoers, required some patience and more muscle. As we tried to stay in the track of the punched out trail, snow continually loaded into our sleds creating an even heavier load than we’d been pulling for the past four days. Needless to say, it was a bit grueling and we were beyond excited to see the road after almost seven miles of trudging!
Huge shout out to all of our sponsors, but especially Big Agnes. They saw my vision as I did and supported us in every way from the get go. Thank you!
Read Part 1 HERE.