|Bald Mountain Pond|
My friend Judy and I have been on a roll for the last 9 years, leading backpacks for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Boston Chapter, all of them in Maine, for a total of 9 trips. While many leaders from Boston travel outside MA to hike the bigger, more challenging mountains to our north, many choose to play in the more popular White Mountains National Forest and surrounding areas of New Hampshire. But both Judy and I have been drawn to Maine with it's rugged trails, less popular peaks, and beautiful ponds perfect for backpacking. When I met Judy, she had already section-hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) through the state of NH, and she wanted to do the same in Maine. Little did I know I would join this strange little quest.
The first trip we led together was in 2006 on the Grafton Loop Trail East side which does not travel on the AT. This trail had just recently been completed, and it wasn't often one got the chance to travel on a new trail in New England. I had helped build a tiny portion of it's West side three years earlier, so it was exciting for me to see it's other side. We had a wonderful trip and I've gone back a few times to hike all of the loop several times. After that trip I was hooked on Maine, happy to be backpacking again after a short hiatus, and hungry for more.
In 2007, I decided to join Judy in her quest to backpack the entire AT in Maine, starting with the Bigelows. Since then, we've led one Maine AT trip per year, always in autumn, and almost always on Columbus Day weekend. I've hiked some small sections without her, and I missed one trip in 2012 due to a cold, but we've backpacked nearly all of it together. This year we finished our 7th Maine AT backpack, from Flagstaff Lake to Monson, ME.
With 54 miles, 4 days, and several water crossings, it was bound to be epic. There were 4 of us starting together, 1 of us would meet up midway, 3 cars, and some of the loveliest weather I've experienced in Maine! Lucky for us, it hadn't rained in quite a while, so the water was low and crossings would be easy.
AT Backpack No. 7
The group met at Balsam Woods Campground in Abbot, ME and had dinner at The Lakeshore House in Monson, a classic AT hiker destination, complete with the 100 mile wilderness food bucket for only $25 delivered. The Lake Shore has an open mic night on Thursdays, so we figured we'd enjoy some entertainment as well. Little did we know our fellow hike participant, Tim, was a recent music major graduate. Just after eating, he slipped out of his chair, and before we knew it, he was playing banjo for three songs with the band!
|100 Mi Feed bucket|
|Tim joins the band|
|Maine bathroom decor|
We awoke around 5:45am for an early, cold start, spotted a car in Monson and drove 2 hours to the Flagstaff Lake trailhead. The day was sunny, windy and brisk. We had a 16+ mile day ahead of us, generally flat with easy ups and downs. It was lovely walking along the lake and smaller Carry Ponds. When we arrived at the West Carry Pond shelter, we had out first taste of trail magic from Mary Ann, a local who lived along the Carry Ponds somewhere. She left a box homemade goodies (as she does every 2.5 days!). There was also gum, nuts and other treats in another box. We took a little and left some for the next, though thru-hikers are few and far between on the AT in Maine in October.
|crossing the 2000 mi Mark near Flagstaff Lake|
|Pierce Pond Shelter|
Our second day we awoke to an overcast day, though mild. Our hike today would be the shortest of the trip, but we were up early to reach out to the Kennebec River by 10am and catch a ride on the canoe-ferry. When we arrived at the shore, our ferry-master quickly spotted us. We greeted, filled out the necessary forms and helped paddle our way across the wide, swift-current crossing that is not recommended to ford (crossing via canoe is the officially sanctioned AT way to cross). We were brought across in groups of two, thanked our helpful ferry man, and carried on to Pleasant Pond Shelter. With lots of extra time on our hands, we relaxed by the pond, gathered dead wood and built a lovely fire that lasted beyond dinnertime. Just after dinner, we were surprised by boyfriend Chris' arrival (he/we were not quite sure which day he would join us). Not only did he arrive sooner than we thought, but with fresh-baked treats from the Abbot Bakery - more trail magic! We gratefully ate our dessert, watched the fire die and went to bed by 9pm (hiker's midnight;). Chris had already hiked the previous AT sections (all the way from Georgia over the years) - so he came to Pleasant Pond to join us for the next 2 days north to Monson.
|Vinny making use of the handrails|
|Judy canoeing across the Kennebec|
|I should really run, I already got the signs|
|Pleasant Pond Shelter and fire|
At 5:30am I awoke to the sound of a barred owl... "who hoooooot who hoooooooooooot!" Then the honk of geese, quacking of ducks, the loons... ok, ok, I'm up!
The skies were bluebird perfect with cool temps - another perfect day for hiking. We made our way up Pleasant Mtn, down to Moxie Pond, over a crossing of Baker Stream, and up and over Moxie Bald Mt. Both of the day's summits had beautiful views in all direction - the fall color glowed orange, red and yellow. This was a favorite of the days due to the weather, views and variety of terrain, from mossy corridors to open slab summits. We stuck around on both peaks for a bit before hiking to the shelter on Moxie Bald Lean To - possibly an even nicer shelter location than Pierce Pond! We cooked and ate diner right on the granite slabs that edge into the water - camping in tents only a few feet away.
|A Trio of Gossamer Gear Packs (Type 2, Mariposa 2014, Mariposa 2012?)|
|On Pleasant Mtn|
|View from Pleasant Mtn|
|View from Pleasant Mtn|
|Vinny on the Baker Stream crossing|
|Moxie Bald Mtn|
It was a chilly 34˚F in the morning... but a river otter swimming by as the fog rolled over the breakfast scene made it sweet. We had a 15 mi day ahead of us, so off we went by 7:30am, passing through Horseshoe Canyon, crossing the E & W Piscataquis a few times without incident and walking through the glowing color of autumn leaves all the way to Monson. The day grew quite warm by the afternoon, and pretty soon everyone was down to shorts and t-shirts. To have summer-like weather with the fall colors all around was a real treat.
|Crossing the Piscataquis|
|Chris in action|
|Watch out - hungry hikers coming through|
When we finished in Monson, we jumped into the cars and drove to Pete's Place, a small, general store with some hiking/backpacking gear, sandwiches and ginormous cinnabuns. We celebrated the weekend with food and Moxie, while 2 stuffed river otters watched over us on the wall above. (That's Judy with the Schweppes!)
Next year, we plan to return to Maine to complete the Maine AT, hiking through the 100 Wilderness and Katahdin at it's climax. Thanks to Tim, Vinny and Chris for sharing the miles with us!