I’ve come up with some pretty crazy ideas in my head for different adventures. Most never come to fruition, some end up drastically altered for safety, money, or time constraints, and some take a lot of time to come true so we’ll see how they turn out. My latest might’ve been one of the most epic, difficult, and satisfying adventures yet.
But not even I could predict how it would go.
The master plan involved hiking 70 miles from Gulf Hagas in Central Maine to the base of Katahdin through the infamous 100 Mile Wilderness, and to make it there just in time for the third weekend of June, the date we always climb Katahdin in my family. At the final hour, before I left to head to my parent’s house in Orono to spend a night before being dropped off in the vast Maine wilderness, Colleen decided she wanted to come with which was great. So we hurried up and got her packed up and ready to go, and drove up to Orono.
We woke up on Sunday, the 19th of June, and jumped into my dad’s truck for our ride to Gulf Hagas in Brownville, Maine. Colleen and I had just done the Gulf Hagas Loop hike a few weeks prior, so we knew the way pretty well. Where was the post about that adventure, you ask? On the way home we broke down and got stranded in Augusta, Maine for a few days. Needless to say, I wasn’t crazy interested in writing at that point.
At about 11 am we reached out trailhead, Dad snagged a few pictures of us to display at our service if/when a carnivorous moose made us a snack, and we were off. With 70 miles separating us and the Abol Bridge at the base of Katahdin, I figured we’d get there late Thursday or early Friday.
We forded the chilly West Branch of the Pleasant River and set off on a gradual uphill. After a robust 5.5 miles, we made it to the Carl A. Newhall Lean-to for a late lunch break. Surrounded by overly friendly squirrels, we read the trail register, laughing at the trail names within, and enjoyed what would prove to be one of the very few empty lean-tos we’d encounter on our journey.
This first day consisted entirely of getting up and over the impressive White Cap Range, starting first with 2,683-foot Gulf Hagas Mountain. From there, we went just under a mile to the Sidney Tappan campsite in the shoulder between two mountains. Dismayed to find the water source severely lacking, we made the choice to push on and get to the next site on the other side of the range. This decision, which could’ve left us stranded in the dark on top of the mountains, proved to pay off in a ton of different ways.
A little crestfallen to find the Tappan Campsite so underwhelming, we set off on another 0.7-mile stretch and reached the summit of the West Peak, at 3,178 feet. And then it was 1.6 miles to the wooded summit of Hay Mountain (3,244 ft.) through a beautiful high elevation meadow full of butterflies and flowers and all kinds of storybook stuff like that. Finally, we went 1.7 miles to the summit of White Cap Mountain (3,654 feet), the tallest mountain we’d run into on our trip. The views were absolutely stunning, and we got our first glimpse of big K, sitting like a hazy dream at the very edge of the horizon. It was pretty hard to believe in six days we were slated to be on top of that big ol’ hill. We ran into a northbound hiker who, after being informed by us that the big mound on the horizon was Katahdin and the end of his journey, whispered “f*ck yeah” and kept eating up the trail with his headphones in and his poles clicking away at a manic pace. We didn’t’ see him again the whole trip, and he proved to be the only north bounder we’d run into.
From the peak of White Cap, we hiked 1.4 miles down the bag side of the mountain to the Logan Brook lean-to, which was; you guessed it, full already. It was a blessing in disguise as it forced us to tent fairly close to the beautiful little brook, which had a nice little waterfall. After that, we inhaled some macaroni and cheese, had some jerk flying squirrel fly right into our lantern light and brush by Colleen’s head, and laid down and fell asleep by 9:30
Stats for Day One:
Mountains: 4 (Hay, West Peak, Gulf Hagas, White Cap)
Rivers: 2 ( W. Branch of the Pleasant River, Gulf Hagas Brook)
Day Two – Rescue & Scruffy
June 20th started for us at 5 am (shout out to the Circadian Rhythm). We were on the trail by 6 am, in that magical light right after the sun comes up, and ready to crush some miles. We got moving quick, leaving a lean-to full of south bounders just starting to stir awake, and I knew we were going to make some crazy miles today. We put down 3.6 miles quickly, arriving at the East Branch lean-to hoping for a snack break, only to find it still full of sleeping hikers. Seriously, when do these guys hike? We opted to go a little bit further to the East Branch of the Pleasant River where we crossed and had “second breakfast” along the river. I can promise you, there are not many things better than a Pop-Tart on the trail in the early morning. Pop-Tart reps, email me, let’s work out a sponsorship deal.
After our hobbit-inspired second breakfast, we went another 1.6 miles to Mountain View Pond, which I thought would be memorable for its picturesque views, hundreds of pollywogs, and for Colleen taking a now-comical fall on some of the rocks. Little did I know…
As we sat on the rocks and just enjoyed the views for a quick water break, about 50 feet off the trail, we heard a very faint “Hello?” coming from one of the trees. It was not, in fact, a pine tree asking for assistance. It was a large, 40-50-year-old woman, completely topless, breasts swinging in the wind, accompanied by her tiny dog that, ironically, was wearing a doggy vest. They introduced themselves as Rescue (the hiker) and Scruffy (the pup) and explained that they were trying to make it to Gulf Hagas, a distance of over 15 remaining miles, by 8:30 that evening.
Now, just in case Rescue is one of the two dozen people who frequent this blog, I’ll simply say she looked like she wasn’t going to make it. Equipped with a huge backpack, no map, and lacking the ability to cross a rock field without step-by-step assistance from Colleen, it’d be a long shot. Add in the fact that she thought she had already gone over the summit of White Cap (she confused Little Boardman, a 2,017 footer, with White Cap, a 3,654 footer), and it wasn’t looking good.
Why was Colleen helping her and not the 6’4, lifetime hiker Tyler? Well apparently I’m still 14 years old and the sight of a stranger’s breasts made me so uncomfortable that I regulated myself to making sure the rock I was sitting on didn’t float away, and making sure I looked anywhere BUT the circus walking through the woods asking for our help.
After helping Rescue and Scruffy over twenty feet of trail and listening to Rescue bemoan the condition of the trail (I thought the trails were amazing), we finally were able to saddle up the packs and keep going on our hike. We went up a very challenging 1.6 miles up Little Boardman Mountain (or White Cap Mountain, if your name is Rescue) and had a nice lunch break with beautiful views of the White Cap Range we had gone over just the day before.
We descended almost half a mile to the Kokadjo-B Road, where the gods of hiking blessed us with two beautiful, hand carved wooden hiking poles someone had thrown into the woods, most likely out of frustration at learning they still had a long way to go both ways. Those poles would stay with us all the way to the end of our journey and came home to Old Orchard Beach with us.
From there, we went about a quarter mile and saw a side trail leading to a sand beach on the shores of Crawford Pond. So, seeing as we had the whole thing to ourselves, we stripped naked and jumped into the cold water. I can tell you, swimming in a wild pond, naked, and there being nothing but silence all around you is a truly beautiful moment.
We left our little blissful spot shortly after cause, shit, we’ve got like a scabillion miles to go. We hiked three more miles out to the Cooper Brook Falls lean-to and had a quick snack break. At this point, Colleen’s feet began their descent into…something else. She realized she had two or three blisters on her feet, so she used to few Band-Aids we had to cover them up and we just kept walking. We covered a crazy 7.9 miles to the Antlers Campsite, a beautiful peninsula on Lower Jo-Mary Lake. We were treated to a beautiful sunset, a crazy moonrise, and a night of relaxation after a long, long day of hiking.
Stats for Day Two;
Mountains: 1 (Little Boardman)
Rivers: 6 (Unnamed Inlet Brook, East Branch of the Pleasant River, Mountain View Pond outlet, Crawford Pond outlet, Cooper Brook, Mud Pond outlet)
Blisters: 5 (Colleen) 0 (Ty)
Day 3- Nice and easy, just keep swimming
We slept in, starting off June 21st at around 8:30 am. By 9 am, we ran into our first moose of the trip. The big beautiful cow moved away from the trail long before we saw it, only provided a short glimpse of herself before melting into the thick forest.
We kept hiking to the other side of Lower Jo-Mary, stopping at a sand beach for a quick water refill before our uphill for the day began. We went 1.8 miles up and over the Potaywadjo Ridge to Potaywadjo lean-to, grabbed some more water, and just kept on walking. We came to the shore of Pemadumcook Lake and got our first legit view of Katahdin. Funny how it’s ALWAYS stunning when I see that mountain. It’s like nothing else.
Over the logging roads and through the rivers we went to the Nahmakanta Stream Campsite, where we enjoyed lunch. After that, we went along the stream 3.2 miles to its source, Nahmakanta Lake. We walked along the beautiful lake to Wadleigh Stream lean-to 2.6 miles later. Once again, the lean-to was full. But this time it contained a rowdy group of Australians and their two big beautiful husky dogs. You know Colleen was tired because she didn’t go visit the pups.
We cut the day short, still a little sore from the previous day’s marathon, and went to bed before the sun went down to get a nice early start the next day.
Day 3 Stats:
Rivers: 6 (Lower Jo-Mary inlet, Deer Brook, Nahmakanta Stream, Tumbledown Dick Stream, Prentiss Brook, Wadleigh Stream)
Blisters: 10 (Colleen) 1 (Ty)
Day 4- Pollywogs and Lemonade Daydreams
Before bed the night before the morning of June 22nd, we took a look at the map and realized we had right around 20 miles left to get to the Abol Bridge on the Golden Road. Not wanting to split that into two short days, we decided to just go for it. After a night of dreaming about endless soda and candy at the Abol Bridge Store, we got up at 5 am, quickly broke camp, and hit the trail at 5:40. We decided to go up the nearly 2 miles to the top of Nesuntabunt Mountain before taking breakfast. Once up there, we realized we made the right choice, as we enjoyed oatmeal overlooking Nahmakanta Lake and picture perfect views of Katahdin and it’s surrounding mountains.
From there we went 2.8 miles down to the Pollywog Gorge, which is featured in the Bible- I mean, the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer- as one of Maine’s most unique natural features. Incredibly steep, the hundreds of vertical feet of tree stacked upon tree upon tree kind of made our heads swim as our brains struggled to comprehend the gorge we were looking at. Our minds freshly blown, we went another mile to the crossing over the Pollywog Stream to have our snack break.
From there, it was 2.4 miles along the gorgeous Rainbow Stream to get to the Rainbow Stream lean-to. And, what’s this? An empty lean-to! What luck, one of the most beautifully situated lean-tos we came across was completely empty. We sat on the bridge over the beautiful stream and let our feet soak in the world’s most perfect foot massager, ate our body weight in almonds, and really soaked in the moment.
It’s a good thing we soaked in all those good vibes because the next stretch of trail would prove to be probably the most miserable one of the trip. We had 7.2 miles along first the Rainbow Deadwater chain, then along Rainbow Lake itself, through an unbelievable amount of muck, and the first bugs to actually make me curse the gods for ever putting biting flies on this planet. Right as we neared the end of our collective ropes, right on the brink of descending into full-blown insanity, we reached the end of the lake. Hallelujah.
From the end of Rainbow Lake we climbed 1.8 miles to the crest of the Rainbow Ledges. Disappointed to find that it was not, in fact, an upbeat gay club situated deep in the North Maine Woods, we thoroughly enjoyed the Rainbow Ledges for what they WERE, which was awesome. Devastated by forest fires in the 1920s, we walked along the near-bare ridgeline, enjoying views of Katahdin to the north and the entirety of what we’d crossed to get here to the south.
One part of the view we didn’t like was the growing thunderstorm coming up from the south. We put on our rain jackets and made sure the camera was double bagged, and hustled a very long 2.4 miles to the Hurd Brook lean-to. After the Rainbow Ledges, which was both the morale and elevation high point of the remainder of the trip, everything seemed to take an infinite amount of time longer to accomplish. After getting to the lean-to we hiked the longest 3 miles of my life, through a huge cedar bog, where we finally, mercifully, came to the Golden Road.
We rejoiced, kissed the dirt, expressed our amazement of seeing telephone poles, and held hands as we walked down the road towards to Abol Bridge. We crossed the bridge, saw we missed the 7 pm closing time at the store by 15 minutes, and dragged ourselves the 1.2 miles down the dirt road to Camp Ernest Living, the Neville Family cabin on the West Branch of the Penobscot River. Our journey was finally over.
Day Four Stats;
Mountains: 1 (Nesuntabunt)
Rivers: 5 (Pollywog Stream, Murphy Pond outlet, Rainbow Stream, Rainbow Lake outlet, West Branch of Penobscot River)
Blisters: 12 (Colleen) 1 (Ty)
The first thing I have to say is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tougher person than Colleen Geaumont over these four days. When we’re on the trail, we become much more of a partnership than a romantic couple, so I can say this objectively and viewing her as strictly my hiking partner and not necessarily my girlfriend. I know a lot of people I’ve hiked with who would’ve quit after day two. A dozen blisters, two twenty-mile days, nothing fazed the girl. She used an old bandana cut up into strips as bandages, and hiked 70 miles in four days. My dad even said, “I know a lot of Marines who aren’t that tough.” So to Colleen, I think you read these, so just know how proud I am to have you as a hiking partner!
All in all, this was the kind of trip you tell kids about years and years after the fact. All the miles, the mountains, the river crossings, the crazy characters we met, the viewpoints, the trail meals, the sounds, sights, and smells. A lot of these things can’t be conveyed obviously. This post is essentially just a trip log. Coll and I both work hard to take great photos and videos while we do awesome things 1) because we love it and 2) because we love sharing what we see with others who can’t.
People may look at this trip and assume they could never do this, whether it be due to a lack of time or a lack of skill. To that, I call baloney. We had to take a week off from work, and we’re two kids living paycheck to paycheck trying to afford rent in Old Orchard while saving up to get a place in the Portland area for next fall, AND saving up for a van. We still took the week off because we firmly believe there is an epidemic of people living just to work rather than just working to live. As my dad puts it on Facebook sometimes, “you weren’t born to pay bills and then die.” And as far as skills, the only way to get better at hiking or camping (like most things) is to do it! Maybe don’t start with the most isolated section of the Appalachian Trail, but just start somewhere you’re comfortable. Get out there and do it! I want to read about YOUR adventures, your memory making weekend, your life. So go on and do it!
Blisters: Way too many
Finally, a few pictures picked out of the hundreds we took…
Stay tuned for the next post, detailing our trip up and over the Knife Edge to the summit of Katahdin by the grace of the storm god Pamola!