Steve sent this e-mail to us right after my harrowing experience on
through four flooded streams in Maine. He and Deb have lived in New
Hampshire long enough to fully appreciate the dangers of running and hiking in
the mountains of his home state and Maine.
The Hardrock 100-miler in the beautiful San Juan Mountains in southwest
Colorado is probably Deb's and Steve's favorite ultra race, one I've never
dreamed of doing. It's hard to get in, and it's very difficult to run because it
crosses several "fourteeners," mountains above 14,000 feet. Snowmelt often
causes creeks to flood on the course during the early July race, which is what
Steve is referring to above. Me run Hardrock? After doing the AT through New
Hampshire and Maine, I'm considering it for the first time.
Happy birthday a day late, Steve, and thanks for your encouragement and
I digress . . . After we got back home another ultra-running friend,
Jeff, sent us this note about the Whites (would you believe Jeff's birthday is
tomorrow?? Happy birthday, buddy!):
". . . this book is worth
reading. There is a chapter very similar to what happened to you on Mount
Madison but with tragic results. I would not have recommended this to you
before your hike. When you read the part about Madison, your bragging rights
will double. It is called, 'Not Without Peril' and subtitled something like
'150 Years of Misadventure in the White Mountains' . . . "
I'm using these quotes from two experienced ultra runners who live in New
England and regularly run in the mountains of New Hampshire and Maine for a good
reason: to warn readers who plan to run or hike there for any length of
time - and in any season - to be careful.
Hopefully my journal entries during our (mis)adventure run have given you
fair warning about some of the potential dangers of running/hiking above tree
line in the White Mountains and the Mahoosucs or after a lot of rain has fallen.
If not, go back and read
144 at minimum. I was aware of the dangers each
of those days and managed to get through them relatively unscathed, but the
results could have been deadly.
Many people just don't realize all of the dangers awaiting them on the
Appalachian Trail. I certainly didn't, and I thought I researched pretty
thoroughly before setting out last spring. By far the most dangerous and
difficult states are New Hampshire and Maine.
Some mountain ridges are narrow, steep, and exposed. Some have long drops
into oblivion if you slip on a wet rock. Tree line is as low as 3,000 feet on
some ridges, exposing you to gale-force winds and disorienting fog, rain, sleet,
hail, or snow any month of the year.
As Jeff and Steve remind us, many people have died in these mountains, even
in the summer. There is a sobering list on top of Mt. Washington of the visitors
who have died there.
Maine not only has the perils above, it also has the most creeks and rivers
without bridges of any state along the AT. The warning we received from Bear, an
overseer in the Hundred-Mile Wilderness, is so true: you're in less
danger crossing rivers on the day it rains than AFTER several inches of rain
have fallen. I learned from other hikers that the flooded streams I crossed on
September 17 were even worse the next day. If I had taken off on Saturday as
originally planned, I would have encountered higher, faster rivers on Sunday
(which I took off to recover from Saturday's trauma!).
Bottom line: please arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can
before heading out to do any of these weekend, one-week, or two-week runs/hikes
I'm suggesting below for NH and ME. Know the route, know the ESCAPE routes, carry extra
clothing and supplies in case you're out there longer than expected, have
contingency plans, let someone know where you're going, and don't do anything
heroic or stupid. It could cost you your life.
All that said, and despite my griping and moaning about how tough New
Hampshire and Maine were, those are the two states with the most places to which
I want to return as soon as I can to share my favorite places with Jim!
You probably expected that, didn't you??
IDEAS FOR RUNS/HIKES IN VERMONT
I loved Vermont. The AT isn't particularly runnable
through much of the state, but the forests and mountains and valleys are so
doggone beautiful that I enjoyed almost all 150 miles in this state. It took me
five full days and parts of two others to go the distance, plus two days off for
rest and medical appointments. It was the last state going north in which I was
able to consistently cover at least twenty miles a day. See Days
This is a pretty bog pond from Day 105:
The first hundred miles head mostly north in the southwestern
part of the state, sharing the treadway with the even-older Long Trail. Near
Sherburne Pass, the trails separate. The Long Trail continues north to Canada
the AT goes almost due east to Hanover, New Hampshire.
The terrain is more rocky, rooty, and boggy here than in the
southern New England states. The elevation is higher, the climbs and descents
It is all preparation for New Hampshire and Maine - but it's
Here are three recommendations for short trips (weekend to a
week) on the Trail in Vermont. If you want to cover more miles, add some to the
south or north. Speedsters who aren't interested in resting or sight-seeing can
complete Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in two weeks - but they'll miss
GLASTENBURY MOUNTAIN, VT - one of my favorite runs was
the 22.6-mile roadless stretch from VT 9 to Stratton-Arlington Road east
of the town of Bennington. Glastenbury Mountain (elev. 3,748 feet) is in the
middle of this section, which has over 9,000 feet of gain and loss. Although the
Trail was too rocky and rooty for me to run much, I loved the fragrant spruce
and balsam forests in the sub-alpine zone, the hardwoods and birches at lower
elevations, the proliferation of bright green ferns and moss, several large creeks (with
bridges), and two pretty ponds. See
106 for photos and details..
Jim and I enjoyed the beginning of the next section north to
Stratton Mountain and Stratton Pond on
107, but I didn't like the rest of that 23-mile section up and over
Bromley Mountain as much. Stratton is high enough (3,936 feet) to get into the
sub-alpine zone again. It's a moderately-difficult climb from either direction
but runnable going down. You can talk to the caretakers who live up there in the
summer and climb up the fire tower to look out over the pines.
Stratton Pond is very pretty. The AT doesn't follow it for long, but
you can hike another path around it. The Trail is fairly rocky right next to the
pond, as shown below:
From Stratton-Arlington Road, it's seven miles to Stratton Pond
via the AT.
You have several options from there: 1) go back the same way,
2) take the Stratton Pond Trail loop back through the valley, 3) continue on
another five miles to Old Rootville Road, or 4) keep going past Bromley
While we were in this area Jim found the perfect boon-docking
site for our camper on forest service land back off VT 9 east of Bennington.
This is part of the huge Green Mountain National Forest, so I'm sure there are
lots of free places to camp all along the AT up to Wallingford. There are also
private campgrounds, motels, quaint inns and B&Bs, and hostels in the area.
I regret that I didn't get to see any of
Bennington, a thriving college town full of history
and art. You can drive through or past several
covered bridges, take historic walking tours past
beautifully restored buildings, see the largest collection of Grandma Moses
artwork, visit old monuments and cemeteries, and attend festivals like the
"Moose Fest" that Jim enjoyed so much (see
Days 106 and
108). Just up the road is the large
Norman Rockwell Exhibit in Arlington, the famous
illustrator's hometown. And in the winter, Bromley Mountain is a
ski area. The AT goes right up one of the slopes!
BAKER PEAK, VT - this is an interesting section through
the Green Mountain National Forest with great views from Styles and Baker peaks,
a cool climb on colorful rocks on Baker (see photo below for part of the ascent), beautiful forests (dry hemlocks and
hardwoods lower down, wet sub-alpine evergreen bogs higher up), numerous creeks
and rivers, two suspension bridges, a river gorge, and two scenic alpine ponds
with caretakers. There are also dozens of playful rock cairns at the
intersection of the AT and White Rocks Cliff Trail, a delight to behold in the
middle of the wilderness! See photos and details on
The downside (?) is that it isn't very runnable with all the
rocks, roots, and treacherous bog boards and there is about 11,600 feet of
elevation gain and loss - but the 27 miles from Mad Tom Notch (USFS 21) to VT
103 near Clarendon are a lot of fun. I did the section in one day. There is a
forest service road (UFFS 10) twelve miles north of Mad Tom Notch if you want
If you're backpacking, there are seven shelters plus other tent sites in the 27
There are several towns in this area with motels and B&Bs
(Manchester, Wallingford, Rutland). This section ends near the Killington area.
I wasn't as thrilled with the next 21-mile section (
110) that included Killington and Pico mountains, but they'd be the
logical next place to hike if you want to keep going north for more miles. We
liked camping at Gifford Woods State Park between Sherburne Pass and the town of
Killington. The AT goes right through this small park, which is a
birders' paradise during the spring and fall
migratory seasons. Lovely Kent Pond is adjacent to Gifford Woods. See photo of
the lake on
WOODSTOCK, VT AREA - one of my favorite trail towns (although the AT
doesn't go right through town) and convenient to most of the Trail from Gifford
Woods State Park to Hanover, NH. See
Days 74 and
for photos and information about
the Woodstock/Quechee Gorge area.
This is a great spot for families to spend some time. Woodstock is one of the
most picturesque New England towns we've visited with its beautifully maintained
historic houses, lovely flowers and village green, lots of
interesting shops and restaurants, scenic horse farms, numerous covered bridges,
maple sugar and dairy operations, and historic sites. There are lots of
little paved and dirt country roads that would be fun to
cycle or run, if you prefer to run on roads. Deep
Quechee Gorge is also interesting to visit.
It took me less than two days to run from Gifford Woods SP to the Connecticut
River on the VT/CT state line. On
112 I covered 24.1 miles to Pomfret Rd. just north of Woodstock, and
I ran the remaining eight miles to the state line (and another sixteen past it)
Day 113. These are easy miles compared to what's north and south on
the AT - lower elevations, easier climbs, smoother trail. There are still nice
views from high meadows and hills, though.
If you have time, run or hike across the Connecticut River to Hanover, NH and
through the Ivy League campus of Dartmouth College.
There were a lot of people out shopping,
socializing, and attending a large wedding the Saturday I passed through.
Dartmouth encourages hikers to spend time on campus and attend
cultural and other events. You can find out what's
going on by doing an internet search before you go.
IDEAS FOR RUNS/HIKES IN NEW HAMPSHIRE
New Hampshire arguably has the most fantastic scenery along the
entire Appalachian Trail, mostly because you're above tree line so much. I can't
think of any place along the 161 miles of Trail that isn't spectacular. Most of
it beckons me back. The part I disliked so much (the Kinsmans in the rain) would
be fun on a sunny day when I'm not in a hurry.
As one fella who hikes here
frequently told me, "On a sunny day, you can't beat the
Whites. On a rainy day, they're terrible." Amen!
This is a view of distant mountains as I climbed to Franconia
Besides avoiding these mountains in fog and high wind, do
your best to avoid them any time the rocks are wet. They can be very dangerous
if you slide off a boulder or ledge.
And follow your map closely. The AT is sometimes hard to follow
because trails often go by their original names and there are numerous
intersecting trails. New Hampshire is the state most in need of a few cans of
white paint to mark blazes!
It's hard for me to choose just a few places here since I liked
most everything I saw on the AT in New Hampshire, but here goes.
I spent eleven
full days (some very short, though) and two partial days to get through
NH, plus only two rest days. That means the average runner (or a speed hiker)
can complete New Hampshire in two weeks. This included some very long days,
however, because of less road access than most other states. See
Days 113 through 127.
Here are four suggestions for shortening the mileages I did:
use side trails with the AT to make loops (the side trails are usually less
gnarly than the AT), do out-and-backs, use the hut system for overnight stays,
or backpack some nights.
I talked about the marvelous hut system in the White Mountains
Days 118 and
119. I had so much fun at Galehead Hut that I
want to return there or another hut some day with Jim so he can experience it,
too. There are eight back-country huts high in the Whites, plus three lodges in
valleys, where hikers can stay overnight. Several are open in the winter for
skiers and snow shoers.
Jim found some great national forest campgrounds as we trekked north. There
are also nice sites at state parks such as Franconia Notch and Crawford Notch
and private campgrounds like Timberland near Gorham. Because the Whites are so
popular you should have no trouble finding rooms in any of the towns through
the area as long as you make reservations ahead of time.
Although the main attraction in the Whites is the wealth of sports and
recreation (camping, hiking, fishing, skiing,
etc.), you can also enjoy sight-seeing from your vehicle,
taking a moose tour, walking through gorges, taking scenic railroad rides,
riding a tram up and down a mountain, driving up Mt. Washington, hunting for
numerous covered bridges, attending a wide variety of festivals and cultural
events, visiting unique shops, running the Mt. Washington Hill Climb . . .
Oh, I was listing mostly non-athletic activities, wasn't I??
There are many things to do in the Whites. Collect information before you go,
and pick up more maps and brochures when you get there.
SMARTS AND CUBE MOUNTAINS, NH - just before entering the White
Mountain Range, these two peaks offer a bit less strenuous climbing than farther
north but marvelous views and lots of rocks to climb and ooh and ah (colorful
swirls and stripes to distract you from the serious climbs!).
I did these mountains, as well as Laurel Ridge and Eastman Ledges, as part of
a 24-mile section on
Day 115, but you can shorten it to14 miles by
starting at Lyme-Dorchester Road and ending at NH 25A instead of going on to NH
25 and still get both Cube and Smarts. There are also some other nearby trails
in the area.
MT. MOOSILAUKE, NH - a popular mountain to hike on the weekend, and
the first really serious one in the Whites at 4,802 feet. I hiked it southbound
from Kinsman Notch/VT 112 to NH 25/Glencliff so I could climb UP the very steep
north side instead of go down it, which would have been harder on my Granny
Knees. Jim had the pleasure of going up AND down that side, as he did an
out-and-back with me to the summit. See
116 for photos and details. On a clear day, you'll have awesome
views. Avoid this climb on a wet day; it's dangerous.
Woodstock and North Woodstock, NH are nearby towns with lots of rooms,
campgrounds, and various diversions.
One attraction we missed is
Lost River, where you can take a self-guided tour
along the river gorge and waterfall, through boulder caves and the Lemon
Squeezer, and under a rock formation called The Guillotine (NY also has a Lemon
Squeezer in Harriman State Park, and Virginia has The Guillotine near Roanoke).
FRANCONIA RIDGE, NH - one of my two favorite places in the Whites!
There are only a couple of miles above tree line, but the hike up and the views
on top are just spectacular from Little Haystack, Lincoln, Lafayette, and
Garfield mountains. It's a popular place, judging by the number of day-hikers on
the ridge on a sunny Thursday morning! My guess is that most of them hiked up on
side trails and either hiked back down the same day or stayed in nearby
Greenleaf Hut or the Liberty Spring campground.
This ridge is part of a very long roadless section on the AT from Franconia
Notch (US 3) to Crawford Notch (US 302), a distance of 28 miles over some rough
terrain with oodles of elevation change. I had to break it up into two segments
and stayed in the delightful Galehead Hut the first night. See additional photos and
Days 118 and
These were two of my best days on the Trail, despite the difficulty of the
hike (like the 3,200-foot ascent to Mt. Lafayette). The northern half is easier
and has more runnable miles and elevation loss. It's all beautiful. You could
spend days here, enjoying the three huts or other campsites, exploring side
trails on either side of the ridge, chilling out by the ponds and waterfalls.
There are state park and national forest campgrounds on either end of this
section near the notches. Local tourist attractions are
The Profile, The Basin, The Flume, Echo Lake, and Cannon Mountain Tramway
Franconia Notch and Arethusa Falls, Silver Cascade, and
Flume Cascade near Crawford Notch.
SOUTHERN PRESIES, NH - this is my other favorite section of the AT in
New Hampshire, from Crawford Notch to Mt. Washington, a distance of 12.6 miles
with considerably more elevation gain (about 6,000 feet) than loss (about 1,000
feet). It's worth the effort!
About five miles are above tree line and the views
are just awesome on a clear day. I think it's more interesting to go north here
(the uphill direction) than south because you can see Mt. Washington in the
distance once you get on top of Mt. Webster. It's fun to mark your progress as
you get closer and closer to it. See
Post #8 for photos and details.
The 12+ miles of trail in the southern Presies (Webster, Jackson,
Pierce/Clinton, Eisenhower, Franklin, Monroe, and the south side of Washington)
are easier to negotiate than the 13 northern ones (north side of Washington,
Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison down to Pinkham Notch), where the treadway
is mostly boulders on the ridge and gnarly rocks and roots down the steep
northern side of Madison. I also liked the views better from the southern half
of the chain.
There are two huts in the Presidential Range: Lake of the Clouds is a
mile south of Mt. Washington and Madison Springs is half a mile south of Mt.
For a price, you can drive or take the cog railway to the summit of Mt. Washington. I
recommend family members who aren't hiking the AT do this on a
nice-weather day so they can enjoy the views, visitor center, and
weather station. See
Days 120 (southern Presies),
121 (Mt. Madison in foul weather),
122 (huts), and
126 (Mt. Washington to Mt. Madison).
If you have the time and energy, the next 21-mile section from Pinkham Notch
to US 2/Gorham is interesting and challenging through the Wildcat-Carter-Moriah
range of mountains. It's rugged, steep, and beautiful, with no road crossings.
It took me 14 hours to negotiate but you could do it over two days by staying at
the Carter Notch Hut or one of the campsites. See
Gorham is the closest town to the northern end of that section. It's a
popular hiker hang-out.
IDEAS FOR RUNS/HIKES IN MAINE
The terrain doesn't get any easier in Maine, not for long
anyway. A popular saying is that "It's all training for Maine," meaning hiking
the first thirteen states is all preparation for the rigors of the AT in the
The same warnings apply here as in New Hampshire regarding
hiking above tree line.
An additional warning is needed for Maine: beware
the creek and river crossings because the Maine AT Club doesn't think hikers
need bridges to cross their streams! No siree, not even when they're flooded.
Day 141 for my most traumatic experience on the
whole AT. I'm still having nightmares about it almost two months later.
Here are my recommendations for weekend runs or hikes in Maine.
As in New Hampshire, it's hard for me to choose just a few areas because most of
it was so interesting.
For a week or two, add more mileage north or south. Many section hikers
tackle the Hundred-Mile Wilderness during a one-week vacation.
Maine has a lot of AT mileage (281.4 miles) and much of it is
difficult. There are long roadless miles in some sections that may require
running/hiking after dark, using a side trail to shorten it (as I did on
Days 124 and
127 near Mahoosuc Notch), or staying overnight
on the Trail. There are no huts here, just lean-tos and campsites.
I was on the Trail parts of eighteen days in Maine, plus four
days off for rest or bad weather. See Days 127 to 148 for details and photos.
That's over three weeks, and I felt like I was pushing the envelope doing it
that "fast." I did over twenty miles on six days, including a side trail on
Mahoosuc Notch day (
and on the final day (
up Katahdin (I didn't count the bonus miles either day in my official AT
mileage). The longest day time-wise in Maine (over 14 hours) was the section
through Mahoosuc Notch, Mahoosuc Arm, and Old Speck.
Much of the AT in Maine is in true wilderness areas, more remote
than the "wilderness" in any other state. Cell phone communication is difficult,
there aren't as many nearby towns or campgrounds, and the roads are harder to
find, necessitating good maps and/or topo software. Jim put in a lot of miles in
Maine getting to and from trail heads and our camping spots.
MAHOOSUC NOTCH, ME - I have to return here on a nice day
when I'm not in a hurry. And I want Jim to see it, too. He's gonna say, "I can't
believe you did this on a 20-mile day!" because he knows how tough the last five
miles of the section were over Mahoosuc Arm and Old Speck
This is a very special place on the AT, by far the slowest mile
in its whole length. Some folks take three hours to negotiate the rock maze.
It's hard to describe and even harder to photograph the
house-sized boulders (below) without other people around to show perspective. I was
under so much pressure to get through it as fast as possible (it took me about
an hour and a half), and I wasn't with
anyone I knew, so it wasn't much fun on
127. That's why I want to go back and have FUN with it the next time.
You can day-hike the Notch by going up the Mahoosuc Notch Trail
off the Success Pond Road out of Berlin, NH. There are several side trails from
this road that make accessing the AT on this long roadless section easier for
shorter hikes. Otherwise, the Notch is 23 miles in from US 2 near Gorham or
seven miles south from Grafton Notch/ME 26 going over Old Speck and Mahoosuc
Going south seven miles from Mahoosuc Notch to the NH border are
significant climbs and descents over several mountains (Carlo, Goose Eye's three
peaks, and Fulling Mill) with magnificent views. Going north seven miles from
Mahoosuc Notch are the rugged Mahoosuc Arm and Old Speck. There is a beautiful
shelter and lots of tent sites at Old Speck Pond, which was crowded when Jim and
I passed by during Labor Day weekend. There is a large parking area at Grafton
Notch to accommodate crowds. If you want more solitude, hike or run this area on
The closest campgrounds to Mahoosuc Notch are near Gorham, NH
and Bethel or Hanover, ME.
THE BIGELOW MOUNTAINS, ME - this was one of my top-ten
favorite sections on the entire Trail because of its spectacular beauty. Most of
the 19 miles from ME 27 to Long Falls Dam Road that I did on
Day 135 lie within
the protected Bigelow Preserve. Because of its gorgeous views above tree line and
accessibility from three side trails, it's another popular place for day hikers.
To have the Trail more to yourself, stick to the AT and go on a weekday.
This section isn't easy. There is significant elevation gain and
loss and the Trail is pretty rugged, with some steep climbs/descents. You can
shorten it by using side trails or by stopping two miles shorter at East
Flagstaff Road. If you're backpacking, there are lean-tos and tent sites on
Bigelow and Little Bigelow Mountains.
The views of Flagstaff Lake (below), nearby valleys, and distant
mountains, including Mt. Katahdin, are just marvelous on a sunny day like I had.
I wanted to spend more time on Avery Peak but I didn't have the luxury of time
that day. I had plenty of company, too - it was a Sunday. A dozen other folks
who made the 3,000-foot ascent from the valley were spending time on the peak
while I was there.
To add more mileage, you could go north another 17.6 miles
to Caratunk and the Kennebec River, which you cross in a canoe (see
137). This section has much less elevation gain and loss and follows
the beautiful Pierce Pond Stream for several miles.
The closest town to the Bigelows is Stratton on ME 27. It has
restaurants, grocery stores, motels and inns. There is a campground near
Flagstaff Lake in the Eustis area. You can
swim, fish, raft, canoe, kayak, and sail on the lake or
mountain bike on miles of trails. Golfing,
skiing and other winter sports are popular at
Sugarloaf Mountain in the Carrabassett Valley.
Caratunk is another very small town but there are places to
stay. We had a great campsite close to the Kennebec River at Northern Outdoors.
Days 137 and
for more information about Northern Outdoors and a photo of the campground. This
"adventure resort" also has motel rooms, cabins, a
restaurant and bar, a mini brewery, and offers
whitewater rafting and kayak touring, fishing, and hunting
and snowmobiling in season. Nearby is a 68-mile
cycling loop in the Kennebec River Valley along the Benedict Arnold Trail
through farmland and mountainous terrain.
Less strenuous activities in the lake and mountain areas of
Maine include driving scenic byways, visiting country
fairs and festivals, seeking out covered bridges, having lunch at little general
stores, enjoying music or theater performances, and visiting local historical
sites and museums.
HUNDRED-MILE WILDERNESS, ME - the popular designation of
the section of the AT from Monson to Abol Bridge, so named because there are no
re-supply points here.
There ARE roads, if you can find your way along the
logging roads. It's difficult but not impossible with good maps from the Katahdin Ironworks /
Jo-Mary Multi-Use Area through which part of the AT passes,
as well as detailed state maps like the DeLorme atlas or topo software. We used
all three, plus regular state maps. Route-finding was still challenging.
Fortunately, it was easier to find my way on the AT because it
was mostly well-marked.
Hikers are advised to allow at least ten days for the trek. You
can do more miles here per day because the terrain is all under 4,000 feet.
However, the Trail is still rugged, boggy, and there are numerous creeks,
rivers, and pond outlets to cross. There are few bridges, so if it rains hard
you may find yourself taking extra days off to allow the streams to return to a
safe level to cross.
It took me six days of running and hiking, including two days
with fewer than ten miles, to get through the Wilderness, plus one day off after
Flood Day (141).
Barring flooding, five days should have been adequate for me with no rest days.
See Days 141 to 147 for photos and descriptions of the Trail.
This is a typical stream fording in the wilderness on a
non-flood day (yes, the thigh-high water was running very fast):
There are hiker services in Monson and Abol Bridge but little
else. Both have nearby campgrounds where we stayed (Balsam Woods, a private
campground near Monson and Abbot Village, and Abol Bridge Campground right at
the bridge where the AT crosses the Penobscot River). For the middle miles, we
stayed at a gorgeous lakeside site in the Jo-Mary Campground.
This area is great for outdoor recreation
in the mountains and lakes but there isn't much in the way of
non-recreational activities unless you drive to Greenville, Abbot Village,
Guilford, Dover-Foxcroft, or Millinocket. We stopped in Greenville a couple
times to get groceries, do laundry, and walk around the charming waterfront area
(it was on the way to and from one of the trail heads we used).
Lake lies to the north of town, offering all kinds of recreational
MOUNT KATAHDIN, ME - in Baxter State Park. Avoid weekends
and wet or foggy weather!! On the sunny Saturday in late September when I summitted
the mountain, there must have been a hundred hikers at the top! It was
the busiest day they'd had this year.
Even on a weekday, get in line to enter
the park by 5:30 AM or you may find yourself in a fix like we did on
148, unable to park at Katahdin Stream Campground for the most direct
AT ascent to
the summit. You may want to go up or down a different trail - there are several. Get information
about the campgrounds and trails before your arrival.
There are good reasons why this park is so popular and the
number of visitors is limited. It's a challenge to climb Katahdin but the views
of valleys, mountain ranges, and lakes are outstanding from the summit. Some
folks are content to just camp and fish and hike in the mountain's shadow, never
venturing to the top. C'est la vie. See
148, Post #6,
Post #8 for summit photos.
You don't have to wait to summit Katahdin until you've done the
whole AT. Some folks are ONLY interested in Katahdin, or do it before finishing
because of the weather.
Baxter State Park closes on or before October 15 and remains
closed until sometime in June. Even in the summer, rangers won't let hikers
ascend if the weather is deemed unsafe. The last 2,200 feet up the mountain are
above tree line and totally exposed to weather similar to that in Greenland or
Labrador. The day I was there was sunny and fairly warm below, but cold and
windy on top. Be prepared.
It's a tough climb up. Some say the 4,200-foot gain in only five
miles is the worst on the entire AT. I think they're right. Not only are some
parts very steep, they're also difficult over the rocks. The worst section is
the middle third on the official AT route (the Hunt Trail). You've got to be in
good shape to make it up and down this mountain.
Most people stay in Millinocket if they aren't camping at Abol
Bridge or one of the campgrounds in Baxter SP. Millinocket has lots of
places to sleep, eat, and shop. There are historic
buildings and museums. And it's the gateway to the
recreational opportunities at Baxter SP, nearby lakes, and the Penobscot River
(camping, hiking, fishing, kayaking, whitewater rafting, wildlife tours/moose
watching, snowmobiling, etc.).
ENJOY YOUR TRIP!
There's a lot to do in New England besides hike and run on the
AT. It's the same in EVERY state. I know I've barely scratched the surface of
fun places to spend a day or more along the AT. I hope you can enjoy several of
these sections soon, or find others that better suit your ability and taste.
I'm looking forward to visiting many of these places again and
spending more time enjoying some off-trail activities that we didn't have time
to do this year.
As I heard repeatedly from other hikers on the Trail, once
you've done the whole AT you never have to go back again and do the places you
disliked - only the ones you liked!