Unless you plan on suicide, I would strongly recommend waiting until at least June, or later.
Gear is strewn about my office in the basement. The smell of new carpet lingers in the air mixed with remnant wafts of oil from a leaky fuel tank from last weekend. I’m cleaning, writing, packing methodically yet furiously. Battery charging, memory card wiping, food repackaging, duffel-bag loading—all because in five days we depart. Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness (100MW), the most rugged and remote section of the Appalachian Trail (AT), lies a few hours north from my home in Portland. The plan is to be the first (likely) crew to travel the length of this section in one push in the winter. It’s kind of a hair-brained idea. Everyone I talk to thinks we’re nuts. We might be.
The quote at the top of this post was found during my own research for the trip. When you Google “100-Mile Wilderness in winter,” the link to the WhiteBlaze forum is the first hit. Aside from that, there’s nothing. Someone on the AT hiker forum was inquiring about the same trip we’re doing back in 2012 and as in most forums, the comments are hilarious. Basically, “yer gonna die!” is the typical response. The man back in 2012 launched into the trail in March of that year, and after a day-and-a-half and only 11 miles of travel, he licked his wounds and limped out of the woods 89 miles short of completing the trip. That might be us, too, but I’m hoping we’ll make it a tad farther than that.
Just a few weeks ago I, myself, was huffing and puffing at 12,000 feet outside of Leadville, Colorado. My lungs burned and my legs shook in the skin track. Despite spending a week in the mile-high city before heading higher into the mountains, my sea-level lungs strained in desire for more oxygen-rich air. As I closed in on the ridge line, but lost ground to my friend Cameron, all I could do was hope he stopped soon. He knew I was getting ready for this 100MW trip, and he had the pedal to the metal. I dug deep, caught up to him, and thankfully we transitioned to moving back downhill through untracked, waist-deep powder (it pays to go with the locals for the secret stashes!).
Going to Colorado three weeks before this trip was great as I’ve been training all fall and winter—at the gym, in the mountains of Maine and New Hampshire–wherever I can, in hopes I’ll feel strong the day we hit the trail. When I had the idea to travel the 100MW in winter, I hadn’t even set foot on the trail–like ever. So when October rolled around this past fall, and the majority of thru-hikers had finished their treks for the year, I launched onto the trail to get beta for myself. I didn’t think the folks on whiteblaze.net really knew what they were talking about, so I had to go see for myself. What I found was that the trail is rugged, remote, and pretty brutal! I’ve done backcountry trips all over the lower-48 and spent six years living in Alaska, but the Maine mountains are no joke. My goal was to assess the potential hazards—stream crossings, route-finding, best mode of travel, etc. What I came away with was a plan hopefully setting us up for success.
We’re going to snowshoe with packs for the first 45 miles, over the section of trail that would make pulling sleds a nightmare. Then we’ll meet a gear drop and transition to skis and sleds for the remaining 55 miles where the elevation mellows out, and we can hopefully travel on some streams and lakes. Of course Maine has had a super wacky winter and conditions will ultimately dictate our speed and efficiency. The temps look warm, with days in the 30’s and nights in the teens and 20’s, but that could always change. There’s a ton of snow up there so we won’t really know how things will go until we step out of the car and onto the trail.
Thankfully we have the best gear. After 20 plus years of experience doing this kind of thing, I know that gear can make or break a trip. Thanks to Big Agnes, we have the Crosho UL -20 sleeping bags, Insulated Air Core Ultra sleeping pads, some Third Degree closed-cell foam pads, a Shield 2 and a new Copper Spur HV2 Expedition. When food, water and shelter are the three biggest keys to survival, I’m stoked to have the shelter component dialed.