We left Hurd Brook Lean-to at 7:45 AM on July 16, planning to do 13.4 miles to
Katahdin Stream Campground at the base of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park. The
first 3.5 mile section to the end of the Wilderness was relatively level but the uneven path
was littered here and there with rocks, causing us to be wary of twisting an ankle. In this
section we met a man with a white beard coming towards us. Even though we only had
two days left in our hike, he becomes an important part of the story of our 2002 hike.
JOJO SMILEY and NOMAD
He introduced himself as NOMAD and said he was on his way to meet JOJO SMILEY
who would be coming out of the wilderness today. We said we had heard part of their
story on the trail grapevine and read some things in trail registers. JOJO SMILEY thru
hiked the AT in 1999 (we never met her that year) and NOMAD had done the same in
1998. They met when they both did the trail again in 2000 and became part of a close
knit group of hikers that year.
In November 2001 JOJO began her hike of the Eastern Continental Trail which starts in
Key West Florida, includes the entire Appalachian Trail and then continues beyond
Katahdin on the International Appalachian Trail to Gaspe Quebec. (The journal of her
hike is at http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=446 ). NOMAD volunteered to give her trail support on the AT in New Hampshire and part of Maine. He would meet her wherever possible at the end of the day. This allowed her to slackpack many sections and to have a comfy bed at night. To make a long story short, when it came time to leave her, he couldn't do it. Instead, he left a marriage proposal on a tree at a trailhead. JOJO's journal entry with the proposal is at
More about the two of them later.
It only took us 1.5 hours to do the 3.5 miles to the end of the 100 Mile Wilderness. We
then headed down the paved road to the right, and crossed the bridge over the Penobscot
Across the bridge was the Abol Bridge Campground and store where we bought a couple
of days worth of supplies, in case bad weather delayed our climb of Katahdin.
There were still 9.9 miles to our destination, but our material indicated that there was a
log book somewhere near here for thru hikers to register for one of the 12 shelter spots.
MA stayed at the store while I followed blazes up the road for some distance looking for
the register, without success, so I went back to the store.
We sat out front relaxing with subs and drinks. HEIDE and DOUG came up the road and
joined us for a snack. I am not sure what DOUG purchased (pickled egg I believe) but he
made a big fuss about how awful it was. A bus from a rafting company went by, loaded
with young people going white water rafting on the upper section of the river. We filled
our bags at the spigot on one of the buildings and were on our way.
A half mile of paved road walk brought us to a gravel road to the left which lead to a
high foot bridge over a stream. Across the bridge was a small kiosk with Baxter State
Park information. Behind a small door was the registration book for tonight. Only CHAD
had signed-in so far. We followed the former gravel road for 0.5 miles then headed into
the woods toward the Penobscot river.
For the next 6.5 miles we went upstream, with the flowing water on our left. The first
portion was along the river then along Nesowadnehunk Stream. The lower section of the
river was wide. We could see a few homes or cabins on the opposite bank (and a cabin or
two on our side) and we could hear logging trucks on the road on the other side. The trail
was level and often came close to the water. We saw big rafts loaded with young people
heading downstream, having been through the wilder water upstream.
We had to cross a number of streams which emptied into the river. The maps indicate
that there are footbridges across the streams but I recall them as planks. If the mouth of
the stream was too wide, the trail would head up the side stream for a short distance
before crossing. These streams were mostly rocky, some with the water flowing over
large rock slabs.
The higher upstream we went, the narrower and wilder the river got. There was the
constant sound of water rushing through rocky terrain and rapids, and tumbling over falls
into pools. When we left the river to follow Nesowadnehunk stream, the terrain began to
climb a little. The water became wilder as the stream narrowed. We had two tricky fords
of a side branch of the stream. Between the two fords we crossed the boundary of Baxter
State Park. For both crossings, we had to go upstream along the branch before coming to
the crossing. The first crossing was particularly tricky as we had to climb onto a large
boulder from which two long planks extended across, a few feet above the rushing water.
The trail moved a little away from the water as it got a little steeper. To our left we came
to side trails leading to views of Big Niagara Falls and Little Niagara Falls. The trail
levelled off and joined a newly constructed nature trail. We came upon a few family
groups who were staying in the park. As I said, this section was new, and from what I
recall reading, was intended to keep AT hikers away from certain areas of the park.
We were now approaching Daicey Pond where, until this year, there had been shelters
reserved for AT hikers. The shelters provided a great view of Katahdin across the pond.
The trail now contours away from that area before coming close to the pond on a new
section of trail. There are no longer views of the mountain.
The trail then went through damp areas on puncheons and at one point the puncheons
were more like floating walkways hugging the shore of a pond. We chatted with a
friendly park warden we met coming the other way. We then came to a road walk which
lead us to Katahdin Stream Campground, our destination for the night.
We sat at a covered picnic table in the campground and had a snack. According to the
literature, AT hikers can stay at a one of the two new shelters at a nearby place called
The Birches. There is only room for 12 people but we were more than a month ahead of
the NOBO rush so there wouldn't be any problem. We had to find the ranger station to
register for The Birches and for tomorrow's climb up Katahdin. I questioned a ranger
going by in a truck and he pointed to a building and said he would be there in a few
minutes. We got a little turned around trying to get to it, but we finally crossed a foot
bridge over Katahdin Stream to the ranger station.
We went through the screened porch and into the dark interior to fill out forms. Why was
it dark? Well, Baxter State Park has no electricity. The park was donated to the state by a
former governor and has strict rules to protect the environment. Only a very small area
of the park is open to the public and there are strict limits on the number of people and
vehicles allowed into the park each day. For example, people who want to climb
Katahdin often line up at the park gate at 5 AM, because once the parking lot is full, no
other vehicles can get in. The rules also restrict many modern conveniences, so there is
no electricity and no phones, and cell phones are not permitted.
I think the fact that the northern terminus of the AT is in the park, creates a few problems
with regard to the strict usage rules and they try their best to accommodate the thru hiker
population. In busy thru hiker season, there is always the possibility of having to get a
place in town. The recent trail and shelter changes in the park were an example of trying
to address the thru hiker situation.
Back outside, we checked the map the ranger had given us for the location of The
Birches. It was going to be at least a half mile walk to get there. We wondered if CHAD
was there because he had not yet registered. A man approached us and asked if we had
seen his son and two of his hiking buddies. He mentioned their trail names and said they
were supposed to be getting here today. We said we hadn't and when we explained
where we had come from today, he surmised that they were behind us but walking a lot
faster than us. Yes, I guess it's easier to walk faster than us old folks.
There was no water source at the Birches so I would have to fill my dromedary at the
stream before leaving. I went over to the foot bridge and sat on a platform next to the
water and struggled to push water through the clogged filter. Hopefully this would be the
last time I would be doing this on the trip. MA walked over from the building and took
my picture. Note that I am still wearing the same shirt as in 1999 and have the same hat
(actually a newer version of my trade mark red hat from 1999).
As MA is walking back I hear a number of people coming across the bridge behind me.
All of a sudden, someone yells: "PA ...MA" , and a few other things. Standing above me
on the bridge are STITCHES and WALKING HOME, with a group of people, including
NOMAD. MA came running back and there were hugs all around. STITCHES said she
had thought she knew MA when she had seen her from far, but it was my hat that
confirmed who we were.
We were introduced to the three other people, all part of the group who hiked with JOJO
SMILEY and NOMAD in 2000. They are TENNESSEE, a young man in his twenties,
COLORADO, who is in his forties and CAMO (CAMOUFLAGE) who is in his fifties
and wears camouflage clothing. They are all here to meet JOJO when she arrives.
WALKING HOME works in the park and invites us to join them all for supper at her
place. We agree and we arrange to be picked up later at The Birches.
MA and I walk over to The Birches, where we find two beautiful new shelters not far
from the road. Our arrival wakes CHAD, the only person here. We are hoping to get
changed before being picked up but the group arrives immediately to pick us up. We
leave our full dromedary for CHAD and take the rest of our stuff with us. I don't know
how we crammed the 9 of us and our two bags into COLORADO's van. We headed to
WALKING HOME's place which turned out to be a cottage next to an administration
building right in the park.
We had a wonderful evening of socializing, trail talk, and updating ourselves. (Here is a
appetizers and drinks. Because of the two unexpected guests, WALKING HOME added a
few items to the meal to stretch it. WALKING HOME had her foot in a cast and was not
too mobile. STITCHES was only here by coincidence. A planned hiking trip had fallen
through so she came to Baxter to visit WALKING HOME.
We found out that the three friends from 2000 had come here to join JOJO SMILEY as
she continued her hike to Gaspe on the International Appalachian Trail (IAT). Nomad
would provide vehicle support. I was really impressed with the home-made tent and
backpack that CAMO had designed and put together for himself. They were made of
silnylon, were very light and waterproof and included many innovative features.
WALKING HOME offered to put us up for the night or let us tent on the back lawn but
we decided that we would likely get more rest at The Birches so STITCHES drove us.
At the shelters, there was a fire in the fire pit and a large tent set up on an adjacent
platform. CHAD was in front of the fire with the man who had been looking for his son,
as well as the man's son and friends (BOTCHER, SIR ISAAC, MILLHOUSE, and a
section hiker named CRINKLE). HEIDE had breathing problems so she and DOUG were
bedded down in the shelter that was less affected by the smoke. STITCHES left and we
settled into the other shelter with CHAD.
We were up early the next morning and headed for the ranger station where we took two
of the day packs that are available for thru hikers to use for their ascent. We could have
left our backpacks here, as many thru hikers do, but WALKING HOME would be taking
ours. We walked over the footbridge dropped off our backpacks and met JOJO and group
who were starting their hike to the mountain. We went over to a picnic table where
CHAD introduced us to his girlfriend, and then we were on our way. It was 6:45AM..
At 5267 feet, Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine and the toughest climb on the
Appalachian Trail. The AT goes up to the summit on Baxter Peak by way of the Hunt
Trail, one of a number of trails leading to the top. We would be climbing 4200 feet to the
summit over a distance of 5.2 miles. The profile map was quite imposing, showing a near
vertical ascent most of the way to the top.
Almost immediately upon leaving we were on a wooded path beginning our climb. We
were wearing our fleece on that cool morning but the exertion soon warmed us and we
had to remove them. We were passed by CHAD and his girlfriend, and HEIDE and
DOUG. The latter two were travelling much faster without their heavy backpacks and
would make it all the way to the top with CHAD.
After 1 mile we came to Katahdin Stream Falls and the trail got even steeper, rising 3000
feet in a distance of 2.5 miles. This section began as mostly a rocky trench with a few
boulders to climb and contour. As we approached and went past the tree line, we were
climbing over rocks and boulders from one exposed ledge to another.
There were a few tricky spots but nothing excessively dangerous. In a few vertical places,
there would be a metal rung in a boulder to help get to the next level. Unfortunately,
there must be a rung rationing program because they were sometimes placed in awkward
positions above us, requiring us to pull ourselves up in precarious positions. It often
required arm strength, so I stayed behind MA to boost her. We passed a man climbing up
with his 8 year old daughter. They were going slowly and we figured they must have
started at daybreak. She was enjoying herself and he said she had done it the previous
Progress was slow but we finally came to the edge of the Table Land plateau at a place
called The Gateway. The plateau was a large relatively flat, rock strewn terrain that we
had to traverse over a distance of about a mile, before climbing the last 700 feet to the
summit on our left. We met CHAD coming back with his girlfriend. We offered our
congratulations and said our goodbyes.
Thoreau Spring was flowing, so I filtered a little bit of water before going up Baxter
Peak. This section was a short and steep, rock and boulder scramble with no real
difficulties as we picked our way up to the peak. We arrived at the summit at 11:15AM
on July 17 2002. We were greeted and congratulated by JOJO SMILEY, TENNESSEE,
standing behind the summit sign. I noticed DOUG filming us.
I have to agree with the many thru hikers who say that is anticlimactic to be at the end of
the long trip. You strive for so long for this goal and then all of a sudden it is all over.
You realize that it is the trip that is important and not the goal. We had a fantastic four
years and a wonderful hike this year. We didn't want it to be over.
We took a number of pictures of the beautiful views and the group on the summit. The
We also met the young woman and man who had taken our picture the previous day. Our
ride back to WALKING HOME's place was at Roaring Springs Campground, so we
would have to descend a different route. We decided to go by the Saddle Trail which we
had been told was the easiest.
This route began as a steep rocky descent down to a flat rocky terrain (see picture of MA). We met quite a few day hikers climbing up this way. Many of them were quite
tired and anxious to get to the top. We then came to a sign indicating that the Saddle
Trail headed right over the lip of the plateau down a steep scree gully. We passed two
couples who were taking a break before their descent. Virtually every step in the steep
gravel slope had us sliding. I tried to let myself slide in the loose ground from one solid
rock to another. Someone far below yelled something. A person behind said it must be a
relative of ours. We then realized that STITCHES was below yelling "MA ... PA".
It took about 45 minutes to get down the scree to a stream at the tree line. By this time
we had caught up to STITCHES. The three of us continued on down on a rocky path and
eventually reached the campsite and shelters at Chimney Pond. From that point on, the
descent was more gradual as we proceeded on a more wooded path. We met a few
excited day hikers who told us about moose in the woods. Sure enough, there was a cow
moose and calf in the woods right near the trail. We kept our distance, so as not to upset
We were anxious to be finished as our hike had really been complete when we
summitted. Unfortunately, we couldn't get any speed as the path was littered with large
rocks all the way to the parking lot. It was a long 7 miles from Baxter Peak to the parking
lot where we arrived at 4:30. The group was waiting for us and we were all soon at
WALKING HOME's place enjoying another meal and great company.
As we had requested, WALKING HOME had made motel reservations for us at the
Pamola in Millinocket. We soon said our goodbyes and headed for our first bed in 8 days.
Before STITCHES drove us, we exchanged email addresses with JOJO and offered any
help she would need during her hike on the IAT in New Brunswick.
The next morning STITCHES picked us up and brought us to the restaurant/laundromat
where we had a great breakfast while doing our laundry. We then hung around the motel
pool the rest of the morning and met the group for an all you can eat Chinese buffet. We
then said our final goodbyes. We slept most the day, and arranged for our daughter to
pick us up the next day.
During the summer, JOJO emailed us daily accounts of their IAT hike. One day we
received a message that she had discovered that the Appalachian range continued on into
Newfoundland, so they intended to go there after Gaspe. On their way to Newfoundland
they stopped off at our place. It was a great visit. Lots of seafood and sweets and we
brought them to Costco to re-supply. COLORADO went home from our place, but the
rest of the gang went on to complete the Newfoundland portion of the trip. NOMAD and
MA and I are now talking about doing a one month hike from Springer Mountain in April
2004, with some local friends. Who knows, we may just keep on going North. .