Where You’ll Find Me: Risk, Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate Matrosova by Ty Gagne

Where You'll Find Me: Risk, Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate MatrosovaManaging risk in the outdoors, particularly that of winter in the White Mountains, requires learning hard lessons.  Focusing on one tragedy can have its pitfalls, but Where You’ll Find Me: Risk, Decisions, and the Last Climb of Kate Matrosova by Ty Gagne (TMC Books, 2017) is respectful of that tragedy, avoids sensationalism, and expands in scope to use the narrative as a guideline for the analysis of risk.

Gagne’s book follows the ill-fated attempt of the Northern Presidential traverse by thirty-two year-old Kate Matrosova in February 2015, and the ensuing rescue and ultimately, recovery operation.  Gagne presents a scrupulously researched narrative and timeline of events, which is interspersed with maps, drawings, and analysis.  The level of detail is astounding, and simultaneously gives the reader a bird’s-eye view of the unfolding drama along with granular details about the people on the ground.

We see Matrosova’s movements in comparison to other hiking groups in the White Mountains on the same day, and what the would-be rescuers were thinking, feeling, even eating.  To his credit, Gagne keeps the reader hoping for a different outcome for Matrosova throughout the book, even though the ending is already known.  All this detail leads to the central question of the book: if someone this fit and prepared lost her life, what measures can be taken to ensure one’s own safety?  Gagne addresses Matrosova’s planned route:

In establishing bailout points and packing cell and satellite phones, a GPS device, a map, and a personal locator beacon, Matrosova is acknowledging the existence of risk on the traverse.  She has established a risk management plan.  But given her inexperience in the White Mountains, is her plan comprehensive enough to address the multitude of exposures that exist there, especially in winter?

After explaining the steps to an effective risk management plan, Gagne goes on:

A key to all this is timing.  Even with a well-developed risk management strategy and the ability to implement it effectively, Matrosova will have to decide if and when to trigger alterations to her original plan.  In the end, it will be the timing of her decisions that will make all the difference.

Gagne describes this timing, including the rapidly worsening weather, and subsequent warnings issued by the Mount Washington Observatory after Matrosova had already embarked on her hike.  As Matrosova slowly falls behind her self-imposed timeline, her challenges become more and more complex, and Gagne explores the biases that may have factored into her decision-making.  Whatever the reason, these decisions found her exhausted, frostbitten, and facing “an impenetrable wall of wind,” on Mt. Adams, “80-plus-mph headwinds,” that caused her to turn back, at a point that was too late to save her own life.

In the background of this heartbreaking human drama, Gagne illustrates the science of survival, with details regarding the functioning of the locator beacon, the progression of hypothermia, the record-setting extreme weather, and tactics and techniques of Search And Rescue (SAR) personnel.

Gagne fittingly ends the book with an account of his own February 2016 anniversary hike to where Matrosova’s body was eventually found, guided by her GPS track, and by one of her would-be rescuers.  The conditions are different, far milder, and Gagne and his companion are together, well-prepared and equipped, but the ghost of loss still lingers on the periphery: “As I turn my back to the col and make my way down, I say my goodbyes to Kate.”

 

 

Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure, by Patricia Ellis Herr

Up: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure by Patricia Ellis Herr

Connecting kids with nature is a simple matter of allowing that inevitable relationship to happen.  The difficult part is deciding what boundaries to set, letting go, and helping children deal with the unexpected challenges they may encounter.  How to do that?  One path is described in Up – A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure, by Patricia Ellis Herr (Broadway Paperbacks, 2012) , the story of Patricia Ellis Herr and her daughters Alex and Sage, and the quest of her older daughter Alex, then five, to summit all forty-eight of New Hampshire’s peaks over four thousand feet before Alex turned seven.

Herr begins the book with an anecdote about a failed attempt to summit Mt. Tom, thwarted by a lightning storm.  This story sets the tone for the book: the weather forced Herr to make tough calls, and to explain her rationale for those decisions and the results to her daughters, including the realization that things can happen for which it can be impossible to prepare.  Also, there was chocolate at the end.

The idea to bag all of New Hampshire’s four thousand footers was born following another hike, this one of Mount Tecumseh in April 2008, when Herr and her daughters eventually turned back, unprepared for the deep snow at higher elevations.  Herr then researched the appropriate hiking gear and preparation, and they returned to summit Tecumseh that June, unknowingly beginning Alex’s quest.

During the peakbagging journey, they encounter unexpected obstacles, including the fear of “stranger danger,” the preconceived notions of other hikers regarding women and young children, and an aggressive spruce grouse.  Herr turns these challenges into teachable moments, and Alex quickly gains confidence, and even makes some converts.

Alex is clearly a unique child, and uses a fountain of energy to power up and down the mountains in the beginning.  Herr brings Alex back to earth, however, with a lesson from Alex and Sage’s father, Hugh, who relates the story to the girls of how he lost his legs on Mount Washington in the winter of 1982.  A rescuer was killed by an avalanche while looking for Hugh and his climbing partner, a mental burden still carried by Hugh.  The story has the desired effect, and Alex learns to be more careful, and respect the danger inherent in the White Mountains.  This comes in handy during the ensuing months, as Herr and Alex hike through the winter and spring seasons, and learn, “Real hikers know when to continue and when to turn back.”

By the time the family, by this time accompanied by well-wishers, summits peak number forty-eight, Mount Moosilauke, in August 2009, they have accomplished much more than the physical challenge.  Herr and her daughters have had conversations along the way wrestling with existential questions, mortality, motherhood, gender roles, and societal expectations:

What matters now is that they know, from experience, that they can accomplish something big, something huge.  What matters is that, for the rest of their lives, both my daughters understand that to reach a goal, they must put one foot in front of the other and persevere.  They know that they must expect and prepare for challenges.  They know to ignore the naysayers and, instead, to have faith in themselves and their abilities to learn what they need to know.  Above all else, they know that little does not mean weak, that girls are indeed strong, and that practically anything is possible.

This winning book, punctuated by mountaintop photos and small, sweet moments, shares a family’s triumph, and illuminates the lessons inherent in nature, waiting there to be elucidated by a mindful parent.

10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018

10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018
Katahdin – Knife Edge 2018

When we aren’t hiking, we often consume content related to the outdoors.  Podcasts are a great way to maximize transition to the outdoors and spark discussion during long drives to trailheads.

Outdoor content can be uneven – we tried some hiking podcasts that were basically unlistenable, for reasons ranging from long-winded alcohol or cannabis-infused monologues to insufferable condescension regarding non-thru-hikers.  Also, the experiment of podcasting while hiking never seems to work, and devolves quickly into nonsense conveyed over heavy breathing.

But the best podcasts can capture unique moments, seen through the interesting lens of people new to the outdoors, or drawn from experienced adventurers through long-form interviews.  They can also illuminate topics in science or history in a relatable way, including land and wildlife management, lightning, wildfires, and climate change.  Listeners can also experience life-or-death situations in the safety of their homes and cars and gyms, taking lessons and inspiration with them when they venture out into the outdoors.

These are the ten best (and several honorable mention) hiking and outdoors podcasts we listened to in 2018.  These are unscientifically and unfairly arranged by our own unique interest and enjoyment, with a brief description of each podcast, and the best audience and suggested gateway episode for each one.

A warning – playing podcasts or music on external speakers while hiking is basically a capital offense.  Playing podcasts or music through headphones/earbuds while hiking is somewhere in the spectrum of inadvisable to mortally dangerous.  Just from a common sense standpoint, why would you want to have your hearing and attention somewhere else if you want to maximize the benefits of being immersed in the outdoors (or, more basically, fail to hear the bear you just startled)?  All that being said, hike your own hike.


10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018

1. Outside Podcast

Outside Magazine has long been the leader in outdoor storytelling, and they launched this podcast in March 2016 with Science of Survival (killer bees or hypothermia, anyone?), expanding it to include The Outside Interview and Dispatches.  Each episode is a stand-alone experience, and the podcast explores every conceivable aspect of being outside.

Best for: Everyone – wide variety of outdoor topics in a tight, well-produced format.

Episode to Try: A Very Old Man for a Wolf (April 24, 2018)


10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018

2. Wild Ideas Worth Living

Host Shelby Stanger enthusiastically interviews leaders in outdoor fields, with a focus on “how they’ve taken their own wild ideas and made them a reality.”  Listen to this podcast for insights on breaking the mold and living wild from skiers, surfers, astronauts, authors, climbers, runners, and entrepreneurs.

Best for: Dreamers.

Episode to Try: Scott Jurek – How to revitalize your purpose, tackle the longest trails, set records, and write best-selling books


10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018

3. Outside/In

Host Sam Evans-Brown “combines solid reporting and long-form narrative storytelling to bring the outdoors to you wherever you are.”  This show sneakily weaves in science to explain and explore the outdoors.

Best for: The intellectually curious.

Episode to Try: The Sky is Burning


10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018

4. The Firn Line

This show might be worth it solely for the intro and background music, created by host Evan Phillips, an outstanding musician.  Phillips’ goal is “to have meaningful conversations with extraordinary people; the folks who choose to live full-value lifestyles, in the most wild and rugged mountains on the planet.”  Phillips interviews notable climbers in this Alaska-focused podcast.

Best for: Lovers of Alaska (and music).

Episode to Try: Alaska Vibes: Conrad Anker


10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018

5. Dirtbag Diaries

This might be the most wide-ranging podcast on the list.  It’s a collaborative effort, best described by the creators as an expansion of “the campfire tale,” and each listener is guaranteed to find an outdoor story that will resonate deeply and personally.

Best for: Lovers of outdoor travel stories.

Episode to Try: Better Than Good Enough


10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018

6. She Explores

This podcast hosted by Gale Straub is focused on female exploration, and has a variety of interviews and stories covering the topic, as a gateway to longer discussions.

Best for: Adventurous women.

Episode to Try: Episode 80: The Musical Mountaineers


10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018

7. Out There

Out There, hosted by Willow Belden, “explores big questions through intimate stories in the outdoors.”

Best for: Reflective explorers of the inner landscape.

Episode to Try: How do I make my children fall in love with nature?


10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018

8. Backpacker Radio

Backpacker Radio, co-hosted by Zach Davis and Juliana Chauncey, covers thru-hiking and long distance backpacking, complete with trail correspondents, interviews, and recommendations.

Best for: Thru-hikers and aspiring thru-hikers.

Episode to Try: #22 | “Guthook” on Building the Most Popular Thru-Hiking App


10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018

9. The First 40 Miles

Hosts Heather Legler and Josh Legler focus on backpacking, with advice and content regarding food, gear, long-distance trails, and other hiking topics.

Best for: Couples and parents.

Episode to Try: 181: Raising the Next Generation of Hikers and Backpackers


10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018

10. Trust the Trail Podcast

Hosts Scott & Ariane use their experiences to convey lessons (and laughs) about the outdoors.  No topic is too broad or too small, and there are great insights in these episodes on hiking and backpacking.

Best for: Outdoor adventurers.

Episode to Try: Episode 72: Weighing in on Trail Magic


Honorable Mention:

10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018

Tough Girl Podcast

Anyone seeking inspiration should check out this podcast, hosted by Sarah Williams, with stories of women overcoming great challenges.

Episode to Try: Susan Conrad – Kayaking ‘the Inside Passage’


10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018

The Adventure Sports Podcast

Unbelievably prolific podcast, with in-depth interviews twice a week with a wide variety of outdoor enthusiasts worldwide.

Episode to Try: Ep. 444: Winter Adventures in New England – Jay Atkinson


10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018Hike Like A Woman

This podcast by Rebecca Walsh provides inspirational trail stories for and by outdoor women.

Episode to Try: The #1 Thing We Can Do To Raise Brave Children

 


10 Best Hiking and Outdoor Podcasts of 2018

Hike or Die

Hosts Tom Griffin and Craig Brinin talk about hikes and adventures in Australia and beyond, with realistic advice and insights, all in Australian accents.

Episode to Try: Episode 004: Hiking with girls (April 25, 2018)


 

Disagree?  Have suggestions?  Leave a comment or Contact us.

 

 

 

 

Appalachian Odyssey: A 28-Year Hike on America’s Trail, by Jeffrey H. Ryan

Appalachian Odyssey: A 28-Year Hike on America's Trail, by Jeffrey H. Ryan

I first heard of Jeffrey H. Ryan’s book Appalachian Odyssey: A 28-Year Hike on America’s Trail, (Down East Books, 2016) at an engaging February 2017 talk Ryan gave at Frontier Cafe Cinema and Gallery in Brunswick, Maine, complete with a slide show of photographs from his almost thirty-year journey in sections of the Appalachian Trail (AT).  The timing was perfect – in the teeth of the Maine winter, I saw again the possibilities of getting on the trail.

Ryan, having thru-hiked the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) in the early 1980’s, began his Appalachian odyssey with a hike of Mount Katahdin with eight friends, including eventual AT companion Wayne Cyr, in September 1985.  Hikes on the AT in Vermont and Massachusetts followed, and Ryan realized that he was completing the AT in sections, beginning a twenty-eight year quest to finally complete the 2,181 miles of the trail.

Ryan’s book breaks up this journey with Cyr into twenty-four chapters, including photographs, maps, gear lists, and salient historical facts about the AT and its surroundings.  The anecdotes and (often self-deprecating) trail stories are excellent, and my personal favorite was the saga of a hungry Vermont porcupine, and the havoc it wreaked on the underside of Ryan’s parked vehicle, punctuated by the instructive note entitled, “Why Porcupines Love Working on Cars.”  Ryan concludes the chapter describing his unexpected porcupine encounter with an understanding:

Because it’s the unexpected that fills life with excitement, joy and gratitude.  When you let go of your expectations and allow journeys to unfold before you, you discover they are filled with wonder – clouds screaming past the moon, climbs to summits with vistas beyond belief, hoards of black flies that send you into the tent, porcupines that eat vehicles and strangers that give you a lift to the hardware store just when you need it most,  I wouldn’t trade one bit of it – not even the black flies, the forced vacation or the $900 repair bill – for a more predictable and less fulfilling walk through life.

Throughout the book, we continue to see this theme resonate, and readers of the right age can nod, and remember not being able to reach people by cell phone, or puzzling over a map, prior to the advent of GPS and Google Maps.  The appeal of returning to a new section of the trail each year for Ryan seems to include this passage back to a world of limited priorities, of perspective, of strictly the essential.

While many trail journals are immersive, and discuss the alternate thru-hiker universe, Ryan’s is different, as he also explores the physical and emotional challenges of getting on and off the trail in sections over the years.  The physical effects of residual stress from work and travel, the betrayals of aging and benefits of maturity, and even the changes in technology on the trail over time are currents running through this book.

In following Ryan and Cyr through the years and miles, it’s impossible not to start seeing it through their eyes and pick up the trail shorthand they use.  “First flat spot” to a hiking partner is a three-word utterance that says all that needs to be said about exhaustion, and the need to pitch a tent and call it a day.  Ryan’s inner “drill sergeant” is the alternately self-motivating and abusive internal voice that drives him up and down hills when his reserves of energy are gone.

A brief encounter with a solo thru-hiker at the Sawmill Overlook in Virginia who admits to having the “Virginia Blues” causes Ryan to re-evaluate the mental load being carried by himself and Cyr on the trail.  The Virginia Blues are the result of a formerly ambitious thru-hiker’s realization during a 550 mile section across Virginia of the realities of the length and deprivations of the trail, a two thousand mile endeavor with a 75% dropout rate.  Ryan’s thoughts on the Virginia Blues are an unmistakable metaphor for the trials of middle age, the broader trails we all walk alone and together, and the societal supports we all need.

These times of exhaustion and doubt, however, are like the low points in the rolling “sawtooth” terrain Ryan crosses in his section-hiking journey – left in shadow by peaks bathed in sunshine, unexpected kindnesses from strangers, hot meals, and special places inaccessible except by the AT.  Ryan conveys tricks of the trade in breathing, arranging gear, and staying in the game mentally, and says this about continually moving forward:

But my greatest source of strength was the reason I was out here in the first place.  From the beginning, I have felt that it is a privilege to walk through some of the most fascinating and inspiring places on earth.  It is something that makes me feel more complete and connected to nature than any activity I can imagine.  Trying to do it for as long as I can is the greatest gift I can give myself.  Yes, there are tough days.  There are also many more glorious ones – just like life in general.  And experiencing them out here helps keep things in perspective when I return to the man-made universe of projects, deadlines and the like.

Every person who punches a clock can understand Ryan’s realization that “my greatest challenge in getting to the trail wasn’t the travel, it was carving out the two week chunk of time I would need to make the trip happen.”  But Appalachian Odyssey shows a blueprint for finding a balance between the things we must do, and those we dream of doing.

An Amateur’s Guide to Hiking Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness

View from Barren Ledges on Barren Mountain, 100 Mile Wilderness
View from Barren Ledges on Barren Mountain, 100 Mile Wilderness.

Overview

With the right preparation, the 100 Mile Wilderness (100MW) can be a challenging but enjoyable eight-day hike (and for thru-hikers and experienced “speedhikers,” who can rip off 20-mile days, substantially less).  Dad (41) and daughter (12) completed this in two segments in 2017 and 2018.  We definitely allowed ourselves extra time to enjoy places we liked, or to recover from wet gear or injuries, so plan on ten days.  Our 100 Mile Wilderness journey finally complete, we took a look back and came up with a better plan of attack.  So, here is our guide, with a suggested itinerary, and a packing list.

Direction: There are arguments for going south to north (like we did), or alternately, starting at Abol Bridge, and finishing in Monson.  The northern part is substantially flatter (read: faster) terrain, so starting with a heavy pack might be easier north-south, eating up food weight as you move south.  But starting from the south, and climbing over the Barren-Chairback and White Cap ranges might make your tired legs want to finish with the more gently rolling terrain of the north.

Timing: When we started the 100 MW, we did so at the end of June/beginning of July.  Once we got down from the higher elevations, the heat was oppressive, and the bugs were brutal.  We later finished the 100 MW at the end of September, and it was cold at night, but pleasant during the day, and there were no bugs.  I think a happy medium would be the beginning of September (assuming your work/school/life allows this), which would still be warm enough to enjoy dips in the lakes and streams, cool enough at night to sleep well, and at the very tail end of bug season.  One caveat to this plan – AT Lean-To’s and tent sites may be fairly full, as many thru-hikers will be making their last push to Katahdin.  Some water sources may also be dry by this time of summer, depending on the rains.

Resupply: We didn’t do this, but it’s worth considering.  Some purists believe that it’s cheating, but lightening your pack enough to enjoy your walk in the woods might help a great deal, and it’s your hike.  Shaw’s Hiker Hostel (Monson) and the Appalachian Trail Lodge (Millinocket) are two reputable providers who can coordinate food drops for you along the 100MW.  They can also provide advice, shuttle service, help you stage your vehicle at either end, and provide a place to stay before and/or after.

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East Branch, Pleasant River, 100 Mile Wilderness.

Suggested Itinerary


Day 1: ME-15 in Monson to Wilson Valley Lean-To (10.4 mi)

Overview: Day One is a rolling hike, getting used to a heavy pack, and fording several streams.

Highlight: Little Wilson Falls, a sixty-foot waterfall (mile 6.6)


Day 2: Wilson Valley Lean-To to West Chairback Pond (14.1 mi)

Overview: Day Two is a longer day (start early), with a ford of Long Pond Stream, and a a steady, strenuous ascent of Barren Mountain, to an up-and-down traverse of the Barren-Chairback Range, ending with a tent site on West Chairback Pond (.2 mile side trail).

Highlight: Views from Barren Ledges (mile 6) and insectivorous pitcher plants in Fourth Mountain Bog (mile 10.4).


Day 3: West Chairback Pond to Carl A. Newhall Lean-To (11.8 mi)

Overview: Completion of Barren-Chairback traverse, and descent to the fording of the West Branch of the Pleasant River.  The afternoon ascent up Gulf Hagas Mountain along Gulf Hagas Brook will feel long, without many landmarks (note: camping or campfires are prohibited south of the Gulf Hagas Cut-off trail to north of the West Branch of the Pleasant River).

Highlight: Dizzying descent of Chairback Mountain, and a welcome downhill hike through pine forests to Gulf Hagas and the tall old-growth pines of the Hermitage.

Change-up: AMC Gorman Chairback Lodge and Cabins, on Long Pond, accessible via Third Mountain Trail or K-I Road.  This AMC Lodge is a place to rest, get clean, relax, and enjoy the wilderness.


Day 4: Carl A. Newhall Lean-To to East Branch Lean-To (10.8 mi)

Overview: A long ascent of the White Cap range, then a descent to the East Branch of the Pleasant River.

Highlight: Cold, clear spring water from the spring near the Sidney Tappan Campsite (source of Gulf Hagas Brook).  Summit of White Cap (3,654 ft), with great views (on a clear day) that include Katahdin.


Day 5: East Branch Lean-To to Antlers Campsite (16 mi)

Overview: A climb over the saddle between Big and Little Boardman Mountains, over Little Boardman, a long walk past Crawford Pond and Cooper Pond (watch for moose) to Antlers Campsite on Lower Jo-Mary Lake.

Highlight: Swimming in Crawford Pond (5.1 mi)


Day 6: Antlers Campsite to South End, Nahmakanta Lake (11 mi)

Overview: Short climb over Potaywadjo Ridge, pass Pemadumcook Lake, walk along Nahmakanta Stream to south end of Nahmakanta Lake.

Highlight: Swimming at sand beach on Lower Jo-Mary Lake (1.7 mi), and Lake Nahmakanta (11 mi).

Change-up: for a break and a hot meal, try White House Landing Camps on Pemadumcook Lake (look for the sign along the AT), who will pick you up by boat if you call, (207) 745-5116, and meet them at a landing off the old Mahar Tote Road (appx 5.1 mi south of Nahmakanta Lake).


Day 7: South End, Nahmakanta Lake to Rainbow Stream Lean-To (10.7 mi)

Overview: One last mountain to cross, Nesuntabunt, then a long, forested walk to Rainbow Stream Lean-To.

Highlight: Swimming holes near Rainbow Stream Lean-To (10.7 mi).


Day 8:  Rainbow Stream Lean-To to Abol Bridge (15 mi)

Overview: Last day, peaceful walk alongside Rainbow Deadwaters and Rainbow Lake, a short ascent and descent of Rainbow Ledges, and a last push across rolling forest and bog to Abol Bridge.

Highlight: View from Rainbow Ledges (9 mi), and finishing.


 

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Mountain View Pond, 100 Mile Wilderness.

Packing List

We will assume that, if you are hiking the 100 MW, you have already chosen your pack and boots, know if you want hiking poles (yes, please, especially on wet, rocky descents), and know how you will cook and purify water.  We overpacked, and this list (with links to what we used) cuts out non-essentials like a mini-fishing rod (we didn’t catch anything), and firestarter sticks (we only made two fires – in designated areas, of course, and birch bark worked nicely).  Dad had a 75-liter, sixty lb pack because he didn’t want to come up short on supplies with a kid in the woods, but this can be done with a much lighter pack.  Remember to leave no trace (empty meal pouches make great trash bags to carry with you).  Also, waterproof Stuff Sacks are essential to streamline your packing, keep items dry, and double as bear bags to suspend your food at night.  Would recommend at least two (one each for clothing and food).

Exterior:

Water:
  • Osprey Hydraulics 3L water reservoir (this can be heavy, but you don’t have to fill it all the way.  You may also prefer 2 smaller liter-size bottles with purification tablets, instead)
  • MSR Sweetwater Microfilter for water purification (see above)

Camping/hygiene gear:

  • Headlamp/batteries
  • Solar lantern (lightweight, collapsible, and lights up interior of tent at night)
  • Tent and ground cloth (we used Kelty Salida 2 two-person, with ground cloth).  Some try to cut weight by just using a sleeping bag and pad, and using the AT shelters, but we found that they were crowded and noisy, and the tent gave us the option of finding a beautiful spot early, or pushing a little further, and just finding a flat spot at night.
  • Lightweight sleeping bag (we both used Marmot NanoWave 55, which was perfect)
  • Sleeping pad (Therm-a-rest ProLite Mattress was compact and comfortable)
  • Wicking towel (Packtowl UltraLite Towel wrapped around clothing doubled as pillow)
  • Mosquito headnet (get a long one that you can tuck into your shirt)
  • Parachute Cord (this is great, with StuffSacks, for hanging food up at night, making repairs, and attaching things to your pack)
  • Baby wipes
  • Raingear (your choice, would suggest high-quality lightweight jacket and pants, rather than poncho)
  • Maps (we used Maps 1 through 3 of the Official Map and Guide to the AT in Maine)
  • Compass
  • Ivory soap in Ziploc (99.44% pure, and it floats.  Perfect for cleaning up in lakes/streams)
  • Gold Bond foot powder
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Sunblock
  • Bug spray w/Deet
  • Toilet paper
  • First Aid kit: tweezers, bandaids, moleskin, itch cream, ibuprofen
  • Folding knife
  • Duct tape (mini-roll)
  • USB solar charger (this is pretty neat, lightweight, and recharges while you hike, using the sun.  Great way to keep juice in your phone for photos or proof-of-life text messages when cell service is available)

Eating (mesh bag for cookware) :

Clothing (this will vary based on timing- this was our mid-summer list):

  • 3 + pairs wool socks (Smartwool Med. Weight Hiker)
  • 2 pairs Ex Officio underwear (quick-drying, anti-microbial)
  • 2 t-shirts/tank tops
  • 2 pairs convertible pants/shorts
  • Hat
  • Clean long-sleeve t-shirt/shorts in Ziploc (to wear at night/in camp)
  • Lightweight shoes (I can’t wear Crocs, but people love them.  Flip flops are no good for river crossings.  Happy medium may be barefoot trailrunning shoes)
  • 1 jacket or heavy shirt

Food (plan on 1.5 to 2 lbs per person per day, and realize you will be sick of most of it by Day 3, so variety is good.  Get rid of bulky packaging before you hike, and in the morning, take out the food for each day, placing it in more accessible pouches on the outside of your pack):

  • Mountain House freeze-dried meals or packaged (Annie’s) mac and cheese (dinner)
  • Pepperoni
  • Cheese sticks
  • Tortillas/lavash bread (use with pepperoni and cheese sticks to roll up)
  • Oatmeal (breakfast)
  • Peanut butter and/or Nutella
  • Mixed Nuts (mix in with oatmeal, also mixes with dark chocolate are great)
  • Pre-made PB +J sandwiches
  • Granola/Energy bars (rotate flavors)
  • Chocolate
  • Beef jerky
  • Starbucks Via instant coffee and/or hot chocolate packets

Final Thoughts

There will always be better ideas, lighter gear, more efficient plans.  These are simply lessons we learned, and feedback is appreciated.  The itinerary above is intended as a guideline, but there are side trails aplenty, and if you look at our journey, we adjusted to slow down and dry out our gear, avoid lightning and dangerous river fords, and speeded up to push ahead on better days.

If you are taking on the 100 Mile Wilderness, train to do so beforehand, hiking over rough terrain with a heavy pack, and doing multi-day hikes, breaking in all your gear, and finding out where your hot spots/blisters/chafe marks accumulate.  There is no gym replacement or substitute for this.  Our train-up was a fun couple months in the woods of Maine and New Hampshire, increasing distances and pack loads the entire time.

Additionally, have an exit strategy for the 100 Mile Wilderness.  You may sustain an injury or find yourself in a situation beyond your control – that’s why it’s a wilderness, and this is a challenge.  Be realistic, and don’t let pride goad you into bad decisions.  But above all, have fun, and get outside.

 

 

Mowry Beach (Lubec, ME)

Mowry Beach Trail from the Pleasant Street trailhead
Mowry Beach Trail from the Pleasant Street trailhead.

A short distance from downtown Lubec, the easternmost town in the U.S., Mowry Beach is a quiet 48-acre conservation area overlooking Deep Cove, Lubec Channel and Canada’s Campobello Island.  This area, managed by the Downeast Coastal Conservancy (DCC), offers a .4 mile trail from Lubec’s Consolidated School on South Street to a parking area at the end of Pleasant Street, including a 1,700 foot boardwalk.  The DCC publishes a map and brochure, available on their website.

View of downtown Lubec and the international bridge to Campobello from Mowry Beach
View of Lubec village and the international bridge to Campobello from Mowry Beach.

We learned of this beach through a great Cobscook Trails Map and Guide published by Cobscook Trails, with hikes throughout the Cobscook Bay region, a free and widely available (at local businesses) pamphlet which I would recommend for anyone exploring the area.  At the Pleasant Street end of the trail, which we accessed via a short walk from downtown, is 1,800 feet of shorefront along a sand beach.  According to guides, ancient tree stumps can be seen along the lower portions of the beach at low tide, a forest that was present during an era with lower water levels.

On the October day we visited, seals were active, using the rapidly outgoing tide to move swiftly east at waterskiing speeds in the Lubec Channel in search of food.  For sea-glass collectors, this working waterfront has a variety of shiny objects along the shore.  During our walk, we also encountered two people helpfully picking up any garbage left on the beach.

Boardwalk on Mowry Beach Trail
Boardwalk on Mowry Beach Trail.

We turned into the trail, passing bright beach rose bushes. The trail and boardwalk are alive with birds, and we startled a large bird of prey that had been resting in a tree next to the boardwalk, which took off almost straight up, like a rocket (which, in turn, startled us).  DCC’s guide lists rough-legged hawks, northern harriers, and northern shrikes as frequent visitors to the conservation area.

Mowry Beach conservation area from the playground of Lubec Consolidated School
Mowry Beach conservation area from the playground of Lubec Consolidated School.

We continued through the coastal bog and an area lined with cattails and small trees, emerging behind the Lubec Consolidated School.  For those with mobility issues, intimidated by longer hikes, or entertaining smaller children, this relatively short walk on wide paths and boardwalk is a great side excursion from the village of Lubec.

Cutler Coast Public Lands (Cutler, ME)

Fall foliage on Coastal Trail near Black Point
Fall foliage on Coastal Trail near Black Point.

The “Bold Coast” of Maine is the area of coastal Washington County stretching from approximately Milbridge to Calais, and accessible through a route designated as the Bold Coast Scenic Byway (see map here from Maine DOT), which largely follows U.S. 1 North.  Bold Coast Maine, a collaboration by the Washington County Council of Governments and Downeast-Acadia Regional Tourism, has an extensive site dedicated to the many attractions of this region, with a great interactive map, searchable by interest (Arts and Culture, Food and Drink, Recreation, etc.).  For some area context, including post-hike food and drink, see the post on this blog on Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec.

For hikers, the centerpiece of this great region has to be the Cutler Coast Public Lands, managed by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, which publishes an excellent guide and map. An important update to this map, however, is a rerouting of the Inland Trail, just east of the junction with the Black Point Brook Cutoff, which adds 1.2 miles to any loop using this segment, and was still in place as of October 2018.

Inland Trail Reroute (note 1.2 mile change in yellow), Cutler Coast Public Lands
Inland Trail Reroute (note 1.2 mile change in yellow), Cutler Coast Public Lands

These lands, overlooking the Bay of Fundy, have 10 miles of trails and three remote tent sites (first come, first serve) for hiking and camping with unparalleled views.  We started on the Coastal Trail, which is a 1.4 mile hike east from the parking area off Route 191 in Cutler to the ocean.  According to the guide, this is the easiest segment, and the remainder of the trails are “moderately difficult.”

None of the trails we explored here were particularly strenuous, but the paths are winding and require some climbing up and down over the rolling terrain.  Like Quoddy Head, however, there are sudden cliffs that make it a potentially dangerous place for younger children.  The rocky coastal sections are steep, and footing could be treacherous in rainy periods.  And given the boggy inland areas, the insects in May and June must be fairly aggressive.

Coastal Trail view to south of Cutler Coast Public Lands
Coastal Trail view to south of Cutler Coast Public Lands.

The payoff upon reaching the coast, however, is instantaneous, as the dark rocky cliffs and forested coastline meet dramatically with the ocean in a stimulation of the five senses that can only be experienced firsthand.  We picked our way slowly down the Coastal Trail toward Black Point, stopping at each short side overlook trail to listen to the powerful rumble of the waves and smell the mix of sea spray and pine.

Maine's Bold Coast, Cutler Coast Public Lands.
Maine’s Bold Coast, Cutler Coast Public Lands.

The Black Point Brook Loop, with a turnaround at the beach at Black Point Cove, is normally 5.5 miles, but with the reroute on the Inland Trail, was closer to 6.7 miles, which took us about four hours at a slow pace, with many stops.

We agreed that a better (delayed gratification) itinerary for us would have been to take the Inland Trail first to the Black Point Brook Cutoff, have lunch at Black Point Cove, then hike up the Coastal Trail, so that our route back would take us along the shore (rather than having the forested trail and circuitous reroute on the return trip).

Rocky beach at Black Point, Cutler Coast Public Lands.
Rocky beach at Black Point, Cutler Coast Public Lands.

The Inland Trail was impressive in its own way, however, with variety in flora and fauna, rocky sections, mossy green hummocks, and some open meadows.  The fall colors were much more pronounced in this section, with many deciduous trees and colorful bushes.  We also saw many birds, including a noisy pair of Canada jays near the path.

For those looking for a longer route, or an overnight trip, the Fairy Head Loop is 9.2 miles (10.4 miles with current reroute), including 3.8 miles along the shore front, and this route accesses the three permitted campsites.

This quiet section of Maine’s Bold Coast, where the woods and the ocean come together, instantly became one of our favorite hikes.  Any time a hike ends at a beach (see Morse Mountain), it’s special, and the Cutler Coast rivals any scenery on the East Coast, without the crowds of Acadia.