It was an easy, uneventful 2 mile hike from the road to Cranberry Stream Campsite, our destination after our stop in Stratton. We had an easy crossing of Stratton Brook. There had been a footbridge at this location, and I see by the ATC Newsletter that a new one was put in place a day or two after we went by. The trail was a well traveled worn path, up to 8 feet wide in places. It was likely used by local hikers who could take a 4.6 mile side trail a little further on, which lead right into Stratton.
It was 3:45 when we arrived at the campsite. It was a narrow bumpy clearing to the right of the trail. There appeared to be designated spots to put up tents but we chose a more level area at the far end of the clearing, next to a large fallen tree. We put up our tent and draped our socks and wet shirts over the fallen tree. I went to filter water from a slow moving stream a little further up the trail. This whole area gave me the impression of being in an urban park. The trail was a wide dirt path and there was a log bench just above the stream. As I headed back along the trail to the campsite, I noted how visible the campsite and our tent were from the trail. I always feel a lot safer when the camping spots are far from a road and also not adjacent to a well traveled section of trail.
We relaxed on log benches at one of the tent sites and ate the sandwiches we had bought in town. We heard chain saws not too far away, but in the woods it is difficult to know the distance to a sound source. We now wonder if it was someone working on the big logs to be used for the footbridge. A number of people went by, including a group of young people with adult leaders. They wore backpacks and were heading South, likely just finishing the Bigelows, our target for the next few days. They stopped for a few minutes and looked into the campsite. I had the impression that they had planned to stop here for the night, but after a discussion, they were on their way.
We went to bed before dark again, after washing up and using the outhouse. This privy was very new. It was built a few feet off the ground and entirely covered in wire to stop the porcupines from eating it. There were not many good places to hang food, so I decided to place our food bags inside a garbage bag and place it in the privy. There was no one else around and it was an easy way to keep it away from animals.
There was a very loud thunder storm starting around midnight and petering out in the early morning. The crashes were very loud and made me nervous but the count between the flashes and the thunder showed that the storm was not right on top of us. We waited until the end of the storm around 7:30 AM to get up. We took our time getting ready, and shook as much water off the tent as possible before packing our bags. We left camp around 9:30 AM.
The plan for this 34 mile section was to take two days to get over the Bigelows and then another two days to get to Pierce Pond. On the morning of the fifth day we would make it to the ferry to cross the Kennebec River into Caratunk .
The start of the day was easy as we were on the wide dirt path for a short time. The trail got gradually steeper. Soon we were on a narrow path in wet mossy terrain. It was a cloudy damp day and it was dark in the woods. The ground was soft underfoot, the plants were wet and there was water everywhere. As the trail climbed, it wound its way through and over a jumble of large slab boulders which formed a cave system. I wondered what kinds of animals lurked in the holes that I could see under the rocks.
There were a great many steep climbs up narrow rocky ravines. We did our best to not get our feet too wet but it was hard to avoid the small streams and trickling water running down the ravines as we pulled ourselves up from rock to rock, grabbing onto small trees and branches as we climbed. Small pools collected in depressions in the flat areas above the ravines, feeding the streams. These were short flat sections interspersed among the steep climbs and here the water was trapped by roots, rocks and debris pushed to the edge of the trail by the running water. We kept alert as we stepped over and around wet roots and rocks as we continued our ascent.
This terrain lasted most of the morning, climbing nearly 2000 feet over a distance of 2.5 miles. We worked very hard, proceeded very slowly, and took three breaks. We met three section hikers from Quebec who had camped at Avery Memorial Campsite between two peaks of Bigelow Mountain. The two guys said that the thunder storm had been right on top of the mountain and had been fantastic. The girl with them shook her head and said that she had thought she was going to die. We also met two SOBO thru hikers named HOLLYWOOD and ROWDY.
After arriving to the top, it was a gradual 0.75 mile, bumpy, rocky descent to Horn's Pond Lean-tos. It was 1:00 PM, so the morning's speed had been less than 1 mile per hour. We came to a building that seemed to have been a shelter at one point. A young lady there, directed us to the water source and the lean-tos. She was getting ready to hike over to Avery Campsite, where she would be doing the caretaker duties that night. We told her we would see her there later in the day. She warned us that severe thunderstorms had been forecast.
We followed the path she had shown us. A sign for water pointed to the left down a
wooden walkway and another for the lean-tos pointed through the woods. The trail
through the woods arrived at the back of the two shelters and went between them. There were two hikers packing up at the one on the left and we headed to the other one, where we met an elderly gentleman in conversation with the caretaker, a young woman named Martha who successfully thru hiked in 99 with the trail name JOYFUL TEARS. We had not met her on the trail.
The gentleman said he was in his late seventies but I thought that he looked in his late fifties. He had hiked up here for a couple of days to fish in the pond out front of the shelter. He was getting ready to leave because he said that the fishing would not be good after the rain. He had a very heavy pack which included his fishing gear and his heavy waders. He said he had brought some backpacking ice cream on this trip. It was a backpacking product that had the taste and texture of ice cream. He said it was good.
After an hour's rest and our peanut butter and tortilla lunch, we packed and headed back up towards the trail where I stopped to filter water. The water source was a long shallow pool of water along the last portion of a wooden boardwalk. Apparently it was a spring, but I did not see where water flowed in or out of this pool. There were signs advising out how fragile this source was and requesting that people not contaminate it. I could see that it would dry up in hot weather.
We continued up Bigelow in the afternoon heading for Avery Memorial Campsite,
situated in the col between the West peak and Avery Peak of the mountain. The trail was mostly rocky as was most of the terrain, especially in higher elevations. The first 0.5 miles was a steep 700 foot climb up to South Horn Peak, followed by a short descent and a bumpy 1.5 miles to the base of West Peak, which was another 700 foot climb over 0.5 miles. Once on top we decided to take a picture of me, close to the edge (not too close, because I hate heights). This entire time, we kept our eyes and ears tuned to the predicted thunderstorm.
It was a short quarter mile descent of 500 feet to the campsite where we arrived at
4:30PM. We were pleased with the 2.5 hours it had taken to do the last 3 miles. There had once been a shelter at this site, as per our older material, but we knew it no longer existed. A map attached to a tree indicated that there were a half dozen tent platforms here, spread out along a side trail loop which returned to the main trail a little further ahead.
We headed through the trees down the side trail and soon came into the open on a slope with high grasses. It was very desolate and depressing. There were dead trees standing here and there and the brown grass was so high that we could not see the tent platforms until we got close to each one. The trail was rough and narrow and obviously pretty new. We chose the last tentsite because it was closest to the privy and there were no dead trees nearby. It was more in the open than some of the others, which could be a problem in the wind.
It had been cloudy all day and the wind was picking up a little. It felt like the storm was on the way. I hoped that it would not be as bad as the one the group experienced here the night before. We were in an exposed area on top of a mountain in a col between two peaks. It could be an interesting place during a storm. Here is a picture of rocky Avery Peak, our climb the next morning, taken from our tent platform. We hung our sweaty clothes on nearby branches and quickly put up our tent. We had water remaining in our bags, so I started supper on the edge of the platform (see picture). I then anchored the tent by passing a rope though the loops at the bottom of the tent and then through the eyes of screws on the side of the platform. . It seemed pretty solid. We placed our boots under the vestibule on one side of the tent.
After supper I continued along the side trail heading back to the main trail, looking for water. I met the caretaker on the steps of a small cabin. She had never been here before and thought the water was back down the way I came. I scouted around and could not find it. I knew there was water a short distance further along the AT, so I headed that way. This section of trail was not a path but a steep climb up Avery Peak. It could best be described as rocky uneven steps of all sizes. I was in my sandals, carrying the water filter and dromedary bag and had to try to keep my balance as I went up. After 5 minutes I came to the water source, a spring coming out of the side of the hill next to the trail. Rocks had been placed to form a pool for the water to collect and a wooden frame had been placed around it.
Coming down with my full dromedary was even trickier. The weight of the water made it difficult to keep my balance and was propelling me forward. In some spots I had to make long steps downward or stretch out far to the next rock. The sandals made it difficult and as I made each downward step, my foot slipped to the front of the sandals banging my toes against rocks.
As we did our evening routine, we noted that we would be alone again tonight. We
washed up, filled our water bottles for the night and our bags for the next day, and made sure everything was either covered or stored away from the threatening rain. I found a place to hang our food at the top of the stairs near the door to the privy. It was hanging out over the side of the hill and seemed safe.
We had a good night sleep before the thunderstorm arrived at 5:30 AM. It was a little noisy and a couple of crashes seemed close but all in all it did not bother us much. We were just hoping that it would help cool things down and would stop before we set out. The map showed a relatively easy 7.5 miles to our next destination, so we saw no reason to rush out into the rain to get ready. We finally got up around 8:30 AM, after the storm had blown over, and were on our way by 10 AM.
The first 0.5 miles was a quick and strenuous 300 foot rocky climb up Avery Peak. It was another hot day, but it was cloudy and windy on the 4000+ foot peak . MA had to carry her hat in her hand as she walked. The views were great of the nearby peaks and Flagstaff Lake. I took a picture of MA with West Peak behind
her. It was a short walk across the rocky top where we went by an abandoned fire tower. The descent was pretty easy. It began with a 1000 foot drop over a distance of 0.5 miles and then the slope got easier and the second 1000 foot drop covered a distance of 1.5 miles. The lower elevation was quite lush and green and damp, with lots of moss everywhere. There were a number of large boulders that had to be contoured.
We were passed near the bottom by an ultra-light NOBO hiker. He did not say a word as he whisked by us and was soon out of sight. His pack was not much bigger than a day pack and an umbrella was tucked in the back of it. This is a trademark of the ultra-light followers of Ray Jardine, a main proponent of this style of backpacking in which the adherents carry even less than light backpackers. I have heard of some whose pack weight without food and water is about 9 pounds. They can tell you to the nearest 1/10 of an ounce, the weight of everything in their packs. We heard later that this particular hiker did another 26 miles to the Kennebec River by the end of the day. The canoe ferry across the river is only available in the morning, and we heard a rumor that he did not want to wait until the morning, so he walked across the deep river hanging on to his inflated air mattress. MA and I would only get to the river in three days.
It was very hot, so we did not hesitate to stop when we came to the first water source as we approached Safford Notch near the base of the mountain. Our remaining water from the previous night was getting low. Here I am sitting on the trail filtering water. Believe it or not, there is water amongst those rocks. Behind me, you can see the trail that we have just come down. Notice that the trail maintainers have maneuvered rocks to make the trail easier. The second picture
shows the wet rocks that the spring is running down. The water collects in a little pool at my feet. My wet shirt is clear evidence that it is another very hot day.
When we reached the floor of the Notch we met two SOBO thru hikers named SOGGY FEET and ANIMAL. They had spent the night at the Safford Notch Campsite. At the junction with the campsite trail, we met a SOBO couple. It was past noon and was a late start for the day's hike. One of them was having problems and they did not seem overly anxious to start climbing Avery.
Now that we had successfully done Bigelow Mountain, we had a little less than 5 miles over Little Bigelow Mountain to Little Bigelow Lean-to situated part way down the other side. The profile map shows a nice gradual ascent of 700 feet over a distance of about 2 miles followed by a bumpy 1.5 miles along the top of the mountain, before a descent of 1200 feet over the last 1.5 miles. However, the map does not show heat can affect your hiking.
The ascent was along a path that worked its way up through wooded terrain. It was really quite beautiful through here. We stopped once for a break. When we reached the top, it seemed that the ridge was one massive boulder heading easterly. The path headed in and out of wooded areas as it proceeded along the round top of the mountain. The best places to stop and have a break along here were on the bare rock when we came into the open. They gave us great views, but unfortunately, these places were also the hottest. We fared pretty well on the summit but we were consuming quite a bit of water and the heat was tiring us. We met a few people in this section including a lady about our age who was doing a long section hike on her own.
The Eastern end of the ridge is obvious. There is a little crest in the boulder forming this end of the ridge, and the trail makes a 90 degree turn, heading down this sloping boulder, off the ridge, and into the woods below. We sat down and took a break at this fantastic spot. The views of the surrounding mountains were incredible. We spoke to two hikers here. One was young SOBO called CRISPY whose aim was to carve his name in raised letters in or around every shelter on the trail. This practice was frowned on by many of his fellow hikers. CRISPY was soon on his way and we chatted with GREENHORN, a 19 year old college student taking a few weeks away from his summer job to hike this section of trail all the way to Katahdin. GREENHORN was out of water, so I gave him a few ounces to tide him over till the next water source, 1.5 miles further on at the shelter. He was going to be staying at the shelter and was anxious to have a dip in The Tubs, a
series of pools in the stream close to the shelter. This was the first we had heard of The Tubs, and we thought we knew of all the important spots on the AT. He hurried off ahead of us, in search of water.
The trail gradually meandered its way down the mountain. It was a path which made its way through woods and along the side of lightly wooded slopes, dropping slowly as it went. We met a few hikers going the other way, including two SOBO's named COACH and FAT TONY. Everyone was talking about the heat. After some time, we heard the sound of rushing water and soon found ourselves following a rocky stream a few feet below us to our left. We came upon GREENHORN sitting on rocks at the edge of the stream. He had two full Nalgene bottles but had to wait another 10 minutes before drinking. He did not have a filter and was using iodine tablets to purify his water. The tablets took 20 minutes to do their job.
A side trail crossed the stream and headed a short distance though the trees to the Little Bigelow Lean-to. There were two SOBO young girls here named FRAGGLE and SHERPA. It wasn't long before I had grabbed the water filter and dromedary bag and headed with MA to The Tubs. The sign lead us 100 feet through trees to the stream located down a small embankment. There were a couple of small pools which were waist deep as we sat in them, fully dressed. We rinsed our shirts to try and remove the sweat. I filtered water and we immediately drank some of it. We stayed at this spot for some time relaxing (picture of MA).
Although the water was refreshing, we could not stay in for long periods as it was extremely cold, painfully cold in fact. I went down stream where I found a large deep pool at the base of a small waterfall. I would have liked to swim, but the temperature of the water discouraged me.
There was a large fire ring out front of the shelter and not far from it, a cooking counter had been erected. It was essentially a long, flat, one foot wide log, about four feet off the ground on top of a couple of posts. I guess it was to discourage people from cooking in the shelter. In any event, it was handy, so I set up the stove and made supper. GREENHORN was making his meal at the same time and showed me the food he had brought. He knew little about the trail and the foods for backpacking so he decided to carry his entire two week food supply. All his meals consisted of Ramen noodles. He had purchased as much as he needed, and emptied all the packages into a large zip-lock bag. He kept the flavour packs separately. The rest of his food consisted of two large bags of trail mix which would serve for his other meals and his snacks.
The bugs were really bad, so we told the three of them that MA and I would be tenting. As it seemed that nobody else would be showing up, the girls erected their tent in the shelter. This would protect them from the rain without the need for a fly, and would keep the bugs off them. GREENHORN liked the idea and did likewise.
We put up our tent at the far end of the large clearing behind the shelter, next to the path to the privy. It was a great spot. It was a flat open clearing with a few high trees Best of all the ground was soft and there were no roots. We draped our damp clothes to dry on nearby bushes, hung our food bags on the mouse hooks at the shelter and retired for the night while it was still light out. We had a good night's sleep despite the heat.
The next day, July 3, was going to be another scorcher. It was already very hot at 7:30, as I unhooked our food bags and finished packing our bags at the front of the shelter. There was no movement from the occupants of the tents in the shelter.
The first 1.5 miles was an easy 35 minute walk on a wooded path down the last 700 feet of Little Bigelow, bringing us to East Flagstaff road where we met a SOBO named DASH. We walked a short distance on the gravel road, crossing a stream and then headed back into the woods and immediately crossed another gravel road. Within 0.5 miles the path came to what the map describes as the East shore of the South East corner of Flagstaff lake. We decided to take a short break on the rocks next to the path at the edge of the water. I had a pop tart as I looked across the small bay where there were a couple of cottages in the trees. In the distance to our right, we could see the bay widening outinto the main part of the lake and beyond that were lush green mountains.
The next 2.2 miles brought us up and over a low ridge to the paved Long Falls Dam Road. It was only 9:30 and we had done nearly 4 miles. Even though the trail and terrain had been great, it was still extremely good time for such a hot day. We seemed to be working ourselves into good shape. But we now needed a long break to rest and to filter water. We crossed the road, went down an embankment and took off our packs. We watched the odd car go by as we sat on our packs having a snack.
I took out the water filter and went a little along the trail where I found a narrow strip of water about an inch deep running across the trail. I filtered enough water into the
dromedary to fill our bags. It was getting very difficult to push water through the filter. I had not purchased a new cartridge before leaving and this one was obviously getting clogged. I hoped to be able to get a new one in Caratunk or in Monson. I went back and filled the water bags and we drank the water remaining in the dromedary.
We put on our packs and within a minute or two we arrived at a small bridge crossing a brook. I had obviously taken water from the wrong place. I had likely filtered ditch water. We soon came to a newly reconstructed logging road and then went part way up Rountop Mountain and then skirted around it along the North slope and then descended to West Carry Pond.. It was nice not to go all the way to the top of a mountain. The trail hugged the pond for about 0.5 miles until we came to a sign pointing up the slope to our right to the West Carry Pond Lean-to. We had done 7.3 miles and it was only 12:05PM. This is the spot that we had planned for tonight on the itinerary we had prepared before leaving home. If it hadn't been for the extreme heat, we would perhaps have had time to continue on to the next shelter which was a flat 10 miles further. But we were hot and tired, and the water looked inviting, so we did not hesitate to call it a day. We went up the short path to the shelter situated among the trees above the pond. We sat on the outside ledge
of the partially shaded shelter to have our lunch.
We decided to stay in this beautiful shelter rather than tent. Hopefully the mosquitoes wouldn't be too bad. We opened our packs and threw some of our things inside to claim the right side. Our stuff was a little spread out as can be seen in this picture, but there was no one else here and we would have it all organized shortly. MA is removing her contacts because we were heading down to the pond for a swim. We went into the pond fully clothed, wearing our sandals (see picture). It was so very refreshing. I stayed in the water quite some time and was still there when GREENHORN arrived. He seemed to find it too early to stop, but the water looked so great, that he soon decided to stay. We spent a very relaxing afternoon lounging in the shelter and swimming. Late in the afternoon, we heard small motors out on the lake. We could not see them through the trees but one of them came close to shore and then someone yelled something. Whoever they were, they knew that there was a shelter at this spot. There is always a slight concern for safety when one spends the night at a spot that is easily accessible. We did not know what to expect, but the motor could soon be heard retreating. I went down to the pond and saw them off in the distance.
We were later joined by two young men, NOBO thru hikers named CHAD and
SWANSON. They were not hiking partners, but just happened to be together at this point in their hikes. They sat on the ledge at the other end of the shelter and we chatted for quite some time. CHAD was the more talkative of the two. It was the usual thru hiker conversation about trail conditions, weather, the trip, pains and injuries, food, equipment, etc. We exchanged some trail stories and they told us about their hikes. They had both started in early March and had been on the trail for nearly 4 months.
Their goal for today was Pierce Pond Shelter, another 10 miles further on. That would put them 4 miles from the canoe ferry across the Kennebec River. This time of year the ferry operates two hours a day between 9AM and 11AM. If they stayed here tonight, they would have to get up early in the morning to do the 14 miles to the ferry before it stopped running at 11AM. They studied the profile map which showed the terrain between here and the ferry to be pretty flat. They were both tired from long mileage in today's heat and the pond did seem inviting. Also CHAD seemed to be enjoying relaxing here with us. So, they decided to spend the night here, and leave around 5 AM in the morning.
We all enjoyed the camaraderie at supper time and during the evening. CHAD and SWANSON set out their sleeping bags at the other end of the shelter and GREENHORN decided to tent in the woods because of the bugs, which had begun to be more ferocious as dusk approached. When we went to bed, I did some logic puzzles and noticed that CHAD was listening to a tiny little radio. Both he and SWANSON were in their bags which were zipped to their waists, while their heads and the exposed portions of their upper bodies were covered by a fine bug net. I was a little jealous of them during the night as I was continually being woken by mosquitoes on me and buzzing around my head.
In the middle of the night I was woken by MA in a rush to get to the privy. She came
back and took an Imodium. It happened again around 3:30AM and she took another one. This had me a little worried because it is always a concern when someone is ill in the woods far from help. Of course, I tend to worry too much, and MA told me it was no big deal. In any event, I couldn't sleep and we sat on shelter ledge looking out into the darkness. The other two soon got up and started getting ready in the dark. CHAD said that he thought a moose had woken him. I think it was MA heading to the privy.
They had a bite to eat, shone their lights into all corners of the shelter to make sure they hadn't forgotten anything and were on their way before 4:30AM. CHAD told us later that they made it to the ferry by 9AM. As we were wide awake, we decided to get going in order to get a few miles in before it got really hot. We noticed another tent behind the shelter. They must have arrived and set up after dark. Maybe this was the moose. We were on our way by 5:30AM.
We followed the pond for 0.7 miles and then made a sharp right turn. According to the Companion we were now on the Arnold Trail heading through the Arnold Swamp. Benedict Arnold and a large army used this trail en route to attack the British in Quebec, in 1775. They bogged down in the streams and swamps of the area and, as a result, were so weakened that the attack was unsuccessful. The trail was not as bad as we had feared. The ground was soft and the trail was wet and muddy in spots but there were puncheons in some of the worse places. Puncheons are essentially log foot bridges lying along the ground; in the really bad areas, they are nailed on each end to small logs to keep them above the messy ground.
At the 2.4 mile mark we came to a dirt road which we followed a short distance to the left and made a sharp right onto another dirt road, crossed the stream, and then turned left back into the woods. There was evidence that the trail at one time crossed both roads, but it seemed very boggy through there and it was likely felt that it would be less trouble to have the trail cross the stream on the road. The terrain remained boggy and we had to be careful in some places where the swamp water was a few feet deep and the bog bridges sank a little as we walked along them. At the 3.6 mile mark we came to the west shore of East Carry Pond. We walked along the edge of pond for about 0.5 miles and at the NE corner the trail actually got so close to the water that we had to walk along strategically placed boards and logs to get over low areas and shallow streams emptying into the pond.
The trail then went out over the edge of the water where there were more boards and where we had to do some rock hopping. Despite everything, the early morning walk was pretty good so we hiked non-stop for 2 hours. There were a few mosquitoes but we had DEET and the fact we did not stop also helped.
After leaving the pond, the trail rose slightly and then went along the side of a slope. As we walked, we heard the sounds of heavy logging equipment and of large logging trucks struggling up a hill, somewhere through the trees higher up the slope to our right. After a short time, we crossed a main logging road and then continued on through the woods where we were again in swampy terrain. At one spot we heard movement and splashing on our right. We looked closely through the thick bushes and saw a female moose standing knee deep in a puddle. We could not see her clearly enough for a photo.
We chatted briefly with a young couple section hiking south and then successfully rock hopped across a stream. We took our packs off here and I filtered water. We had been on the trail for 2.5 hours and had already done 6.3 miles. We were really pleased. Soon after starting up again, we met a couple around our age, named CHATTIE CATHY and BEANIE. He had hiked sections in previous years and this year his partner had joined him. This was their second day on the trail, having taken the ferry the day before and stayed at Pierce Pond Lean-to. We exchanged information about the terrain with this happy couple and were on our way. Again the trail rose a little and followed along the side of a slope. A stream ran through the valley down the slope to our left, and the terrain seemed very wet. Eventually the trail started descending through the woods and we soon spotted a privy to our right and the shelter down the hill to our right on Pierce Pond. It had taken us 5 hours to hike 10 miles. It was only 10:30AM but there was no use going on because it was nearly 4 miles to the Kennebec river and the ferry stopped at 11AM.
It was tricky finding our way down to the shelter which was situated on a large ledge above the pond. I then scouted out the area back towards the trail for a tent spot but nothing looked good. There was a small ledge close to the water below the shelter, but it seemed too small for our tent. We would be in a shelter again tonight.
Like so many ponds in Maine, Pierce Pond was actually a large lake. The shelter was located at the end of the south-eastern arm of the narrow 4 mile long pond. It narrowed in the distance and then widened again and curved out of sight. The only hint of civilization was across a little inlet to our right where a number of children were playing on a dock They were a little too far for us to hear their voices. A few times during the rest of the day, groups would appear on the dock and take off in motor boats. They would soon disappear beyond the narrow into the next section of lake. The dock belonged to Harrison's Pierce Pond Camps, a resort situated about a quarter mile from the Pond. They offer a 12 pancake breakfast to hikers but reservations are required the day before. We decided not to bother, as it is nearly a half mile walk along the AT to the Camp and also we did not want anything to delay our hike to the ferry in the morning.
I sat on the edge of the shelter looking out over the pond to the mountain range beyond.and was joined by a hiker who had come over on the ferry that morning. He was a seasoned AT hiker in his late thirties who was out here for a few weeks. He had spent the night before at one of Steve the ferryman's cabins, and had gone to the nearby micro-brewery and pub with Steve. He was concerned about the fact that hikers seemed to be avoiding Steve's place which was only a few miles up the road from the trail and right next to one or two restaurants. I listened to him for some time while I enjoyed the peaceful view and watched him eat a couple of bagels with peanut butter and a bag of chips. I never got his name. I had heard that Steve's main problem was that hikers did not want to wait till he finished ferrying in order to get a ride to his cabins. As a result, he was rumored to be thinking of quitting the ferry. We were planning to stay at Caratunk House which was right near the ferry and the trail.
A hiker arrived carrying a heavy pack. He was in his late forties and seemed a little overweight. He took off his pack and proceeded to some hiker type chores: caring for blistered feet; going down to the pond to wet his bandanna to wash and cool himself; checking his maps and material; and having a snack. When we finally spoke, we found out that his name was ZULU and that he had thru hiked in 2001. He was only section hiking this year and had started at Caratunk. He said he wasn't in as good a shape as he would like. He had been here about 30 minutes and was concerned that his hiking partner FROGCALLER had not arrived. She finally did arrive, without her pack, explaining that she had not seen the shelter and had gone right on by. She finally realized her mistake, dropped her pack and retraced her steps. We were surprised to find out she was ZULU's mother. By this time it was about 12:30 and they wondered whether to continue. We described the terrain for them and told them how long it had taken us. They decided to push on to West Carry Pond Lean-to.
I took a dip in the pond off the end of the large boulder down below the shelter to the left (see picture). GREENHORN arrived and did the same. We took a picture of GREENHORN sunning himself on the boulder after his swim. We also took a picture of the lean-to as seen from the pond. We spent a very relaxing afternoon. It occurred to us at that time, and many times since, how wonderful things were. It was a beautiful warm afternoon in a shaded shelter at the edge of a quiet pond in the mountains. It was so peaceful, the view was spectacular and it was all free. A nice way to spend July 4th.
Late in the afternoon, we were joined by two young SOBO girls named ROCK HOPPER and TREE LADY. Very nice young ladies. They had crossed on the ferry in the morning and had taken their time doing the 3.5 miles to get here. The trail follows Pierce Pond Stream to get here and they had stopped at the many falls and pools along the way to enjoy themselves. A thru hiking couple in their thirties arrived soon after, accompanied by their large black dog. They also had spent some time along the stream. Their names were PROFESSOR and MISSPERCEPTION.
We spread our stuff out on the left side of the shelter and the two girls took the other side. There was much more room but the others wanted to tent. PROFESSOR and MISSPERCEPTION scouted around and decided there would be enough room for their tent on the large rock at the edge of the water to the right of the shelter. They went swimming off the rock where they were situated. She held on to a rope that he had tied to a tree for her. GREENHORN did some exploration around back and, late in the day, he finally decided to set up his little tent right next to the shelter. Here is a picture of part of the group at the shelter:GREENHORN, PA, PROFESSOR, ROCK HOPPER and TREE LADY.
After the rest of us finished supper, PROFESSOR began preparing their meal. He
patiently collected kindling and wood and meticulously built a fire in the pit in front of the shelter. When he was satisfied with the heat, he filled a large blackened pot with water and balanced it on rocks over the fire. It took some time for the water to finally boil and when it did, he waited some time before placing a number of packages of Ramen noodles in it. I believe this was the one and only time we saw a hiker preparing a meal over a campfire. It was a long process and I admired his fire-making skill, his technique and his patience. He was a very relaxed individual and did not mind the time it took to cook this way. I mentioned to him that I did not worry too much about boiling water for our meals since I filtered all our water. He found this strange because, as he said, boiling water was the best method of ensuring the safety of the water. I guess I simply did not have his patience.
We spent a relaxing evening and turned in early because we did not want to take any chance on missing the ferry. When we went up behind the shelter to use the privy and clean up for bed, we noticed that two new arrivals had managed to find places for smalltents on the slope back here. I guess the rest of us were just too fussy.
We left at 6 the next morning. We immediately crossed a dam which seemed to consist mostly of a jumble of logs which restricted the flow of water out of Pierce Pond into Pierce Pond Stream. This morning's hike would follow the stream all the way downhill to the Kennebec River. We soon crossed a side trail which lead from Harrison's camps to their boat dock, and not long after we crossed a dirt road. We continued downhill with the sound of rushing water never far away from us to our right. Once in a while we would come close to the stream and see the rushing water cascading over falls, slamming into rocks and dropping into pools. There were a number of side trails leading to scenic spots where the group from yesterday had stopped to swim but we did not follow them as we were concerned about making the ferry.
There was a tricky crossing of a side stream over a makeship bridge of three logs, but otherwise the hiking was great. We should not have worried about time, as we arrived at the river crossing at 8 AM, an hour before the ferry started. We took off our packs and doused ourselves in DEET to wait for the ferry. Some time later we were joined by GREENHORN. We could see by the muddy wet rocks that the water was low. Years ago hikers would have to ford this deep river on foot, however this could be dangerous as there are dams upstream which are opened without notice and which instantly increase the speed and depth of the water. After a thru hiker drowned in 1985, the free ferry service was started by the ATC.
Around 9 AM we saw some activity on the opposite shore. A man arrived with a dog and dragged a large canoe into the river. He loaded a hiker into the canoe and made his way towards us. When he reached our side, he helped the hiker out, handed life jackets to MA and I, and gave us instructions for boarding. After we signed waivers, he helped us and our packs into the canoe. Steve was very friendly and helpful. As we crossed he explained about the services in Caratunk and area. On the other side, we followed a short path leading to the main road, passing a few SOBO's heading to the ferry..