18 Oct AT Section – Maine Bigelows to Gorham, NH
This was a southbound section hike of the Appalachian Trail starting at East Flagstaff Road (SB mile 171.8 and ending at Route 2 near Gorham, NH. (SB mile 298.3). This section hike was 126.5 miles over 11 days. I left my car parked at Rattle River Crossing near Gorham, NH, and shuttled to East Flagstaff Road.
Sept 1, 2023
Starting at mile 171.8. Hiking southbound.
East Flagstaff Road to Bigelow Col Campsite (180.4) – 8.6 mile
I started much later than planned, at around 11 am. I soon realized that my original plan to hike 14.7 miles to Cranberry Stream Campsite was clearly unrealistic. Further into the hike, my pace slowed down as I climbed ridiculous verticals that required difficult up-and-down scrambles. Eventually, my legs began feeling like wet spaghetti. I reluctantly accepted the fact that my backup plan to hike 11.5 miles to Horns Pond Lean-to wouldn’t do either. Feeling dispirited, I continued to hike while I questioned my overly ambitious 14-day hiking itinerary. I had planned 12-plus mile days to reach Gorham in order to allow several days to drive to Salisbury, CT for a 40-mile hike on the AT. I had planned on a Connecticut-Massachusetts section that I had skipped on earlier section hikes. Now, the Salisbury hike couldn’t happen and I wasn’t even sure whether I could cover the distance to Gorham, NH in 14 days.
Above is a view of the Bigelows. The closest is Bigelow Avery Peak and further is West Bigelow. Photo taken from Little Bigelow. The climb to Little Bigelow was hard enough, but I had just gotten started. Below is a view of Flagstaff Lake from the Bigelow.
The photo below is my tent is pitched on a platform at Bigelow Col Campsite. There were more daylight hiking hours left in the day, but another brutal climb was ahead and I thought it would be wise to rest and let my legs recover some this first day.
September 2, 2023
Bigelow Col Campsite to The Maine Roadhouse Hostel in Stratton, Maine (188.4) – 8 miles
With climbs up and down steep ledges the trail was punishing even along stretches where there were no lengthy ascents and descents. In fact, I would have given anything to trade for more long stretches of gradual vertical. With an unplanned stop in Stratton, Maine to stay at the highly recommended Maine Roadhouse Hostel, I only made 8 miles. It was time to regroup because I obviously wasn’t going to make 12-plus mile days, and besides, northbound thru-hikers kept raving about the breakfast at the Roadhouse, and that made a good excuse for a short day.
Below is a view looking northeast toward Horn Pond. There are campsites and a lean-to near the pond.
The Maine Roadhouse Hostel was full so Jenn put me in their motel in Stratton. This turned out to be more convenient since it was an easy walk to everything. The grocery store and a restaurant were directly across the street. It was also a short walk to the general store where you could order sandwiches and hamburgers. Here are 3 backpacking bears in front of Jenn’s motel.
September 3, 2023
Stratton, ME to Spaulding Mtn Lean-to (mi 201.9) – 13.5 miles
After only 16 miles over 2 days, I was worried that I would be starting the morning with an 1800-foot climb up Crocker Mountain. I set off with a steady pace and was pleasantly surprised to find that the climb was unlike the Bigelows. The climb was somewhat normal. The descent down the north side of South Crocker was a beast of drops and ledges as the trail dropped to the Cirque. I had already come to expect that kind of hiking in Maine.
The south side of the Crockers was a welcome break from rock climbing, but the only views were of mushrooms.
Below is the Carrabasset River which might have been a difficult crossing during the heavy rains earlier in the summer. I stopped and soaked my feet as I enjoyed a leisurely lunch of tuna fish wraps. Upon crossing the river the trail began a straight-up ascent. It was hot and as typical this week, my shirt was soaked in sweat. All I can say is that was glad to be climbing than having to go down those treacherous rock faces. Once I neared Sugarloaf Mountain, the trail turned to an easy surface and gentle slope as it continued toward Spaulding Mountain. I chose to bypass the side trail to the peak of Sugarloaf, the 2nd highest mountain in Maine. Some thru-hikers took that side-trail to see the views and the ski resort and most importantly to spend the night in the old gondola building where they could charge their phones. It would be a nice place to stay if the weather was bad. Today I had climbed over or past four 4000-foot peaks including North Crocker, South Crocker, Sugarloaf, and Spaulding Mountains.
Here is the 2nd 2000-mile trail marker that I saw. I had passed the first one about 7 minutes earlier.
Here is where the last section of the AT was completed that linked up the entire trail. I tented at Spaulding Lean-to which was crowded with weekend hikers and thru-hikers. Several thru-hikers staying at Spaulding had accidents earlier in the day. A guy from Germany had fallen and dislocated his shoulder. Another hiker had come along and evidently knew something about medicine and had relocated the shoulder and offered Percoset. I overheard a conversation between the patient and a thru-hiker with medical knowledge. He described different types of shoulder dislocations along with methods for relocating each type. He also counseled about the advisability of taking the Percocet. I believe recommended Percocet only for that night to help him sleep. He recommended switching to Ibuprofen in the morning and said it wouldn’t be a good idea to hike while on Percocet. Another thru-hiker had fallen on her head earlier that day while hiking and talking on the phone. She said that she lay there and wondered whether she would be able to get up. She had a nasty-looking bump and a red mark on the front of her head.
September 4, 2023
Spaulding Mountain Lean-to to Redington Stream Campsite (mi 212.5) – 10.6 mi
Below is a photo of Saddleback Junior. I was ready to hike beyond Redington Stream Campsite, but above Saddleback’s treeline was a no-camping zone. The next possible camp spot was another 6.3 miles at Piazza Rock Lean-to. Redington Stream Campsite was positioned well for an early morning climb of The Horn of Saddleback the next day, but the campsites at Redington were damp, dark, and dreary. I began setting up my tent only to discover that I had left all my tent stakes behind at Spaulding Lean-to. That realization made me feel just a little more dreary. I broke off pieces of limbs to use as tent stakes.
September 5, 2023
Redington Stream Campsite to Little Swift River Pond Campsite (mi 225.4) – 12.9 mi
All morning I thought about a plan to acquire tent stakes. There was an off-the-grid hostel called The Hiker Hut about 8.1 miles from Redington. I thought that I could get a shuttle into Rangely from there or if I was lucky, The Hiker Hut might have a hiker box with some tent stakes.
Here is the Hiker Hut. It was a nice stop a short walk from the trail. I bought 6 nice used tent stakes! I also bought snacks and hand-washed clothes in a bucket filled with creek water. I put on my damp clothes and let them dry as I relaxed in the sun on the porch. As I gazed over the gardens admiring the flowers, I noticed several large plants that were at least 7 feet tall. I quickly realized the familiar foliage of cannabis. The owner of the Hiker Hut needed to leave to shuttle a hiker and asked that if I was going to hang out very long, could I greet any arriving hikers and tell them that he would return shortly. I answered, “No problem” and asked him about taking a shower. I paid $5 for the shower and he explained how to operate the “rustic” shower. The outside shower was fed from a creek and heated with a 5-gallon propane tank. There was a nice view of the creek and the forest from one side of the shower. Tarps provided privacy from the other 3 directions. It felt great to be well-fed and clean.
The owner of the Hiker Hut lives in the Himalayan region of India during the off-season for his Hiker Hut.
The next 13.1 miles from the Hiker Hut / Rangely on ME Route 4 to ME Route 17 at mile 220.6 marks a rare break from the steep climbs and scrambles of southern Maine. This section has a lot of lakes and boggy areas. Canoes with paddles and life jackets that are positioned on 2 of the lakes are evidently made available to passersby. I would return to this 13-mile section on an “AT Highlight” hike.
Here’s a view from when I took a canoe out on South Pond (mile 222.8).
Here is my campsite at Little Swift River Pond. Canoes were available here also. I could see leaches swimming along the bottom of this lake, so I didn’t take a swim. The water source was a slow drip from a plastic pipe coming out of the ground. After a long time gathering water, I was disappointed to find that this water had a strong taste and smell that reminded me of diesel and made it almost undrinkable, even when made into coffee. I threw it out and took new water from the pond.
September 6, 2023
Little Swift River Pond to Stealth Site on Bemis Mountain (mile 239.5) – 14.1 miles
Here is a photo of Sabbath Pond from the southwestern end (AT South End). There is a nice beach here with real sand.
Occasionally I would come across these grouse who weren’t too bothered by my presence.
Here is an older thru-hiker named Old Crow who is carrying a massive hiking stick. I guess it had to weigh close to 10 pounds. I couldn’t imagine carrying that over some of the terrain through NH and ME. I also met a 76-year-old thru-hiker who thru-hiked in 1996 and was back at it again. His trail name was Grits and he was from Thomaston, GA. We stayed in the Barn Door Hostel together the night before I started my section hike. Grits was hiking north, so I ran into him again shortly before I saw Old Crow on Bemis Mountain. There must be something about old men and wooden hiking sticks. Grits also carried wooden hiking sticks, but his were short and skinny.
Here is my stealth site on a peak near the peak that is the official top of Bemis Mountain. The following photo shows the sunset view from this site. Other than the first day, the weather has been hot and humid. That night on Bemis Mountain was at least windy and a little cooler.
September 7, 2023
Bemis Mountain Stealth to Hall Mountain Lean-to (mi 251.1) – 11.6 miles
There must not have been any real highlights today, because I only just realized I took no photos today. The real event today was picking up my resupply delivery at the Andover crossing, then deciding to go into Andover with my shuttle driver. Andover doesn’t have anything other than a General Store that doubles as a cafe. I had a burger and charged my phone, then shuttled back to the trail. I also bought a bottle of Pepto Bismol. I must have gotten some bad water somewhere. I had already taken Immodium which I carry with me, but I was continuing to have some stomach pains and thought the pink stuff could help. into Shuttle to Undermountain Road at Salisbury, CT.
Back on the trail late in the day, I was climbing Moody Mountain and thankful that it was a normal type of mountain climb without rock scrambling and cliffs. It was a significant ascent, but it actually had some switchbacks which must have been an oversight by a Maine trailbuilder.
Once over Moody, the trail dropped to Sawyer Brook at an elevation of 1093 feet, then began climbing again to Wyman Mountain at nearly 3000 feet, then dropping again before another ascent of about 1600 feet before Hall Mountain Lean-to. On the final ascent, I passed one of 3 men that I had been leapfrogging since the climb up Bemis Mountain 2 days prior. He was struggling so I spoke with him to give subtle encouragement. I slowed some and waited for him at the top. These three were an older father and adult son plus a 3rd older man (the one I waited up on). They were also hiking to Gorham, NH, but had started further south than me. They carried packs heavily loaded for 10 – 11 days with no plans for resupply. I tried being friendly, but the dad seemed peeved. He later apologized for a belittling remark he made to me, but I could tell his son and friend were embarrassed. I’ve seen it before. It is hard backpacking and harder still for some people to chill and have a good attitude. Though I no longer saw these men, I thought about them in the days ahead as the trail continued to be tough.
September 8, 2023
Hall Mountain Lean-To to Baldpate Lean-To (mi 265.1) – 14.0 miles
Here is a view from Baldpate Mountain.
Here is my tent site at Baldpate Lean-To. I barely got the tent up before it started raining. Another hiker urged me on to Grafton Notch where they were serving whiskey as trail magic. I passed on the opportunity and was glad that I had because my feet were sore from the descents and the next 2 miles would have finished off my feet, not to mention the rain I would have been caught up in.
September 9, 2021
Bald Pate Lean-To to Unofficial Campsite (mi 274.2) north of Mahoosuc Notch – 9.1 miles
It was only 2.3 miles to Grafton Notch and I was hoping to find trail magic. I was in luck! There was plenty of trail magic and I wolfed down pop-tarts and other unhealthy sugary food while sitting in a circle of camp chairs listening to trail stories. I rinsed out socks and hung them on a tree to dry. I forgot them and had to backtrack about a quarter of a mile to retrieve them.
Next was a climb out of Grafton Notch and up Old Speck. The climb was long with lot of vertical, but it didn’t involve a lot of vertical rock scrambling and ledges. The weather had finally cooled off and by the time I reached the top, I needed my jacket to stay warm. I was glad to finally be out of the heat.
The descent down Mahoosuc Arm was treacherous, but by now I knew the drill. It was toward of the day so I had to take extra care to avoid a wrong move that would have caused a head banging, broken bone fall.
Here is a photo looking down the Arm into what I guess is Mahoosuc Notch.
Here is my campsite right before Mahoosuc Notch. Around 8 other thru-hikers had made it through the notch and were also camping in this site that was spacious enough to accommodate a dozen or so small tents. Just a side note, a couple of days before, I noticed that my chlorine drops had leaked. Without water purification, I started carrying a whole day’s supply of water. I also begged a few iodide pills from a thru-hiker at Bald-Pate Lean-To. Just before the campsite near Mahoosuc Notch, I found a good spring coming out the side of the hill, so I loaded up with untreated water and blessed the water to purify. I saved the iodide for a future spot where the water source wouldn’t be as clean. My strategy was to draw water from as few places as possible so I would be carrying a heavy load of water from here on out.
September 10, 2021
Campsite (mi 274.2) to Genetian Pond Shelter (mi 286.5) – 12.3 miles
Many thru-hikers advised me to take my time through Mahoosuc Notch and enjoy it. They said it was fun. I was starting the notch early in the morning with fresh legs, a full stomach, and a caffeinated brain. When I made it through the notch in 1 hour 7 minutes, I couldn’t believe that much time had passed. I guess my brain had suspended time as I worked out the puzzle of balancing and boulder hopping up and over the rocks. By and large, I took the high route because it seemed faster and easier than crawling through and under rocks. Besides, the higher route enabled me to see ahead so as to avoid dead-ends.
Later in the day, the rain began. The biggest irritation was the trail markers on Success Mountain. Had it not been raining, I would have been able to use the touchscreen on my phone to find myself and the trail using GPS. The wet screen wouldn’t respond. I lost count of how many times I retraced my steps on Success Mountain while trying to puzzle out the trail route and why certain stone cairns led into yellow-blazed nothingness. Finally, I came up with the idea of using my toilet paper to dry the screen and then sticking my phone in the ziplock bag with the remainder of the dry toilet paper. I could operate the now dry screen through the ziplock.
Here is a photo somewhere around Success Mountain.
Eventually, I reached Genetian Pond Shelter. I was wet. The shelter was packed with hikers, some laid out and taking up unnecessary room. Another hiker was arguing with those in the shelter to make room. Those in the shelter only stared blankly back at her while making no move. I didn’t see tent sites. As I stared at the sullen and listless occupants of the shelter, I wondered what to do. Someone was smoking a cigarette. I thought about scouting out the area, but then I might miss out on shelter space. Wet and tired, the obvious thought finally emerged. I loudly asked whether there were tent sites nearby. Someone answered that there were empty tent platforms up the hill behind the shelter. Now that was what I wanted to hear! I never wanted to be in the shelter anyway. I quickly found a vacant tent platform and wondered why those in the shelter hadn’t chosen the tent platform. I didn’t even have to share the platform with another tent.
September 11, 2023
Genetian Pond to US Route 2, Rattle River Crossing (Gorham, NH) (mi 298.3) – 11.8 miles
My last day. I started early. It was more downhill, but as always ups and downs. For some reason, as soon as I left Maine the day before, the trail had gotten easier.
This photo of the state line is from the next to last day. I was literally clambering down rock ledges just a few hundred feet on the north (Maine) side of this sign. On the New Hampshire side, there were no more ledges for miles. Between here and US Route 2 there were some tough spots, but nothing compared to Maine.