Jerri's letter made us smile. We have ambivalent feelings, too, about the end
of our fabulous journey along the Appalachian Trail.
As you can imagine, I'll have several post-trek journal entries regarding my
thoughts, what I'd do differently if I knew then what I know now, gear and
nutrition reviews, "best-of" lists, and so on.
If you have any suggestions for the "best-of" list, please let me know. I've
started some categories but would like your input, too. For example, I'll let
you know what some of my favorite places were along the Trail and why,
friendliest trail towns, most runnable areas, nicest waterfalls, best places to
see various wildlife, etc.
And I'll give you some websites where you can read the AT journals of other
thru-hikers this year and in previous years. After I get home I'm looking
forward to reading what other 2005 hikers I've met have written since I haven't
had the opportunity to do that while on the Trail myself. There are enough
www.trailjournals.com to keep you busy reading for the rest of your
life - and they include other trails besides the AT.
OLD BLUE AND ELEPHANT
I headed north again today, covering six mountains in the Old Blue/
Elephant/Bemis Mountain Range. There were nice views from the smooth granite
rocks on top of several of the mountains, although none were technically above
tree line. The summits were covered in krummholz, the short scrub forest of
gnarled and twisted pines that live in a harsh environment of strong winds,
extreme temperatures, high solar radiation, and lack of nutrients.
The highest elevation today was 3,600 feet on Old Blue. Bemis Mountain is
nearly as high but the views were better on the lower "first" and "second"
peaks. AT hikers get the grand tour of the peaks of these mountains as the Trail
winds around and around the smooth rocks. I had fun making all the turns and
curves. Fortunately, the blazes and rock cairns were frequent or I would have
gotten lost in the maze. MATC even used arrows and this AT symbol to mark the
The smooth rocks on the mountain tops were also about the only
place I could run today. This was another gnarly course with difficult rocks,
roots, and muddy spots to negotiate the entire way. I was surprised it took me
so long to hike it - 7:45 hours.
Another reason for the slow pace was the difficulty of the steep
climb at the very beginning and the steep drop going down to Bemis Stream. Both
had me wishing for a little flatter terrain.
The 750-foot rise in the first half mile sure got my attention!
This is reach-out-and-touch-the-trail-in-front-of-you steep. It was also narrow,
overgrown, and rugged, with large steps and metal rungs required to negotiate
the rocks. The climb became more gradual and moderate the next mile and a half,
then was steep again, with lots of rock slabs, the last half mile to the peak of
Old Blue. The total gain here was 2,190 feet in three miles.
NOW THAT'S OLD!
After the sparsely wooded black spruce and balsam fir summit
came a fairly steep 700-foot drop to the saddle between Old Blue and Elephant
Mountain. "Here, at the col above Clearwater Brook, you stand in a forest of
balsam fir and red spruce that have never been harvested by humans. Trees within
your sight have been dated back to 1620. For some distance south and north of
this point, you pass through a forest that is nearing the end of a natural cycle
. . . the ancient spruce are deteriorating, and the forest is beginning to break
out." (The Official Appalachian Trail Guide to Maine, p. 25)
Now I think that is pretty cool! I tried to find really old
trees but my non-scientific eyes didn't know what to look for. So I enjoyed the
dense forest and the sounds of limbs rubbing against each other in the wind,
sometimes sounding like people talking. This was another beautiful sunny day
with winds about 15 to 25 MPH at the summits and gaps between mountains.
Bemis Mountain and its three lower peaks came next, looking like
a roller coaster on the elevation profile. On either side of the summit of Bemis
(elev. 3,580 feet) I saw pile after pile of moose poop. The woods were really
dense, and I couldn't see or hear water. Why would moose be up this high? And
what would I do if I met one on the Trail here? There was no escape for either
Gave me something else to think about! I rounded each curve
carefully, in case a moose was standing in the Trail. Fortunately, I didn't see
one under these circumstances. I'm still waiting to get that classic photo of a moose
(or two) knee-deep in a bog, munching on whatever it is that they eat in there,
water dripping from their mouths.
Going down one of the slopes between the Bemis peaks I ran into
"Hokie Hiker" going southbound. This is his last day on the Trail this year. He
and his four buddies will be back next year to continue hiking north to
Katahdin. I saw several other section and day hikers, but no thru-hikers.
[I forgot to mention yesterday that Jim gave a ride to "Doc," a
thru-hiker I met several days ago, from Andover back to the East B Hill Road
trail head. He's taken hikers to and from towns many times, meeting more hikers
this way than I see going north on the Trail! That's one reason I enjoy doing
some sections SOBO, so I can see more NOBO's.]
I enjoyed a few minutes sitting on a rock on the last Bemis peak while I ate
a cookie and looked out to taller mountains to the northeast. Is that Saddleback
Mountain? The Bigelow Range? Sometimes it's obvious which mountains I'll be
climbing next and sometimes it isn't. It's still too soon to see all the way to Katahdin.
Then I began a 1,100-foot descent, sometimes very steep, to Bemis Stream. I
employed my full range of downhill techniques designed to protect my knees and
avoid falling down. I may not be graceful but I get the job done!
I was a bit concerned about fording Bemis Stream. The AT trail description on
the back of the map said the creek splits around an island and that the two long
crossings can be difficult in high water. Since there is still water standing on
the Trails, I didn't know if Bemis would be higher than normal.
Not to worry. I forded a section about 25 feet wide that was only calf deep.
Then I crossed three short land areas (islands?) and three totally dry, rocky
creek beds. This is quite a drainage area and I wouldn't want to be caught here
after a lot of rain.
Yesterday, Bear (at The Cabin) warned Jim and me that our biggest obstacle
the rest of the way isn't hiking in the rain but hiking after a lot of
rain. Swollen creeks have thwarted many a hiker in Maine. Crossing them when
they are high is very dangerous and not a risk I'm willing to take this late in
After Bemis Creek I had another mile up to Route 17 and today's finish. I
took this photo of the large Mooselookmeguntic (love the name!) Lake from the
This is a popular vacation spot because of all the water and Rangeley Lake
State Park. Jim was going to move the camper to the park today but instead
backed into the very large AT parking lot half a mile down the road from the
trail head where I finished today. He didn't see any cars parked here
yesterday or today, so we're hoping we can boondock a couple days without
getting run off by the local sheriff. It's a great spot and I didn't mind the
half-mile run (downhill) to the parking area.
Our plan tomorrow is for me to go southbound on the next 13-mile section so
I'll again finish just up the road. That way Jim doesn't have to go anywhere to
get me in the afternoon - and I'll see more hikers. I don't mind the net
elevation gain; it's a fairly easy section compared to others recently.
We spent a while today figuring out the remaining segments to Katahdin. This
is a trick in Maine because of the lack of obvious road access. But with the
information we have from the Shivers, Bear, DeLorme Topo USA 5.0 software, and
various internet sites, Jim has found enough back roads and logging roads to
break up long sections into manageable bites for me to run and hike. I'm doing
short enough sections that I plan to keep going without any breaks until I
finish, unless it rains or I get an over-use injury that requires rest.
On to Katahdin!!