Gorham to Hanover

Day 30: 15.2 miles
Gorham, US rt. 2 to Carter Notch Hut.

Our first day in the Whites took us through the Carter peaks in the Wildcat range. The climbs were long, but not as difficult as the Northbounders had been claiming.

What was supposed to be a ten mile day turned into a 15 mile day complete with our first Hut encounter.

In the Whites, a series of huts were constructed by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC, also known as the Appalachian Money Club) as a means for tourists to see the rough ranges in relative comfort. They come complete with bunk rooms, a mess hall, indoor composting toilets, and caretaker quarters for the staff. For a mere $120-$160 a night, one can have dinner, a sound night’s sleep, and breakfast, all with a view. Most of those pennies go towards the logistical nightmare that is the caretaking staff literally carrying all supplies to the hut on their backs. There are no roads up there.

Thankfully, the AMC has designed a few alternatives for the frugal thru-hiker. They are as follows:

Work-for-stay. Huts will employ 2-8 thru-hikers during the breakfast or dinner hours in exchange for a spot on the mess hall floor and leftovers.

Stealth camp. If the forecast isn’t life threatening, staffers are happy to point out the nearest tenting spot, usually located outside a .25 mile radius around the hut for environmental impact reasons.

Armageddon. If the weather forecast shows truly unsafe conditions, huts will accept as many thru-hikers as will fit on their floors.

Some members of our tramily were lucky enough to secure a work for stay this night, but we were directed to a stealth camp for the evening.

Day 31: 10.7 miles
Carter Notch to Osgood Tent Site

We started off the day with a bit of a miscommunication with the tramily. Because some tramily members did a work for stay, we assumed they would be staying late to eat breakfast leftover. Turns out, they were on dinner duty and left early. Some of us staying at the stealth site missed the memo and had a late start to the day.

We climbed out of the notch and summited Wildcat before descending to Pinkham Notch visitors center for a food resupply. We had lunch there with two section-hikers who are currently studying Philosophy at…Pitt! H2P!

A short hike to Osgood tentsite placed us right at the base of Mt Madison, our gateway to the spectacular Presidential Range.

Day 32: 10.1 miles

Osgood Tent Site to Lakes of the Clouds Hut

In hopes of beating out a storm, our day began early with a sunrise ascent of Mt. Madison. It was a very rocky climb, more boulder scrambling than trail hiking as we neared the peak… Or what we thought was the peak – Mt. Madison had a number of false peaks leading up to the final summit. This turned out to be the only view we saw from a peak in the Presidential Range due to heavy fog and light rain.

After hitting the top, we carefully made our way down to the Madison hut. Many people at the hut were only just leaving for the day, but we were already 3 miles in and over a mountain by 8 am.

Our tramily had split into its two regular hiking parties. As we filled water bottles in the hut, some members of the advance team managed to take the wrong side trails right after the hut and had to turn around to get back on trail. We had a front row seat to the confusion and got to watch them reroute from the warm comfort of the hut.

The Presidentials are decently marked with sign posts and Cairns, but due to the alpine environment, the trails scarcely have white blazes. As we got farther up Mt. Washington, those cairns became harder and harder to see through the thick cloud covering the mountain. We had few instances of navigational uncertainty but fortunately we managed to stick to the trail (unlike our amigos who got lost again). After what felt like an eternity, a man standing about 20 ft. ahead of us bellowed, “Congratulations! You made it!”

‘Made it where?’ we thought, looking around confused.

Five steps later we saw a building through the fog: we had arrived at the peak of Mt. Washington, the second highest point on the trail! Slowly we wandered around the top, following our noses to the building containing concessions. Many chili dogs, warm beverages, and moments of rest later, we pushed on to Lakes of the Clouds hut.

At Lakes of the Clouds, Levi and I did our first work-for-stay. After all of the paying guests finished dinner, the “croo” (mostly college aged kids who work at the hut) showed us to delicious leftovers and our work assignment: dishes. Following work, we laid out our sleeping pads on the mess hall floor. Unfortunately for us, several guests were still in the middle of a card game during ‘lights out’ and they continued to play loudly and with much headlamped commotion. We didn’t get to sleep until 11 pm.

Day 33: 11.1 miles

Lakes of the Clouds Hut to Dry River Campsite

As we picked at leftovers and waited for friends to finish work for stay, we met a former thru-hiker named Neon who had hiked to the hut with the intention of delivering trail magic to hungry hikers. Score! We stayed at the hut for awhile talking to him and another hiker named Jet about our trail adventures while eating Neon’s apples and homemade pizzas.

Neon hiked with us for awhile and we stopped for a bit at Mizpah hut.

On our way around Mt Eisenhower, Rerun, a member of our tramily, had the misfortune of twisting his ankle on the flattest terrain of the trail. His ankle ended up being the size of a grapefruit by evening.

A difficult climb down from the range (including an actual descent of a rock face) left us exhausted. Luckily, we were able to hitch to a campground with showers and laundry. The night was capped off when a very nice camper whose sons had thru-hiked the PCT purchased us trail magic beers.

Day 34: 14.7 miles

Dry River Campsite to Galehead Hut

The morning started off with a long incline, but we enjoyed unobstructed terrain. Magically, the incline flattened out and we relished in smooth flat trail. Around every corner we thought it might take a steep turn uphill, but the red carpet trail lasted almost five miles. It was glorious and we were making excellent time.

After a steep climb up a cascade we arrived at Zealand hut and had an early lunch there. One of the volunteers at the hut asked us about our plans for camping that night given an impending hailstorm. We had mentioned a lean-to, but the caretaker urged us to push a few miles past it to the shelter of an enclosed hut. She stated that hut personnel know to take in hikers given dangerous weather conditions, and suggested requesting a work-for-sleep deal.

Great climbs and views led to our eventual arrival at the Galehead hut. Unfortunately, the caretaking team was made up of volunteers while the usuals were out for a required caretaker banquet. These volunteers were not up to speed on safety protocol for thru-hikers and were adamant that no more could stay at the hut. Furthermore, they alleged that hikers should be able to proceed an additional three miles over dangerous terrain even in the impending conditions. The caretakers were rude, loud, and even resorted to using profanity in their misguided frustration. Multiple members of our group cried. It was after much discussion that the caretaker yielded and we spent the night.

Day 35: 2.8 miles

Galehead Hut to Garfield Ridge Campsite

The storms held off until morning, so we decided to book it away from the formidable volunteer caretakers towards the Garfield Ridge Campsite lean-to.

The trail was steep, rocky, and included scaling the face of a waterfall.

Once in camp, we wrapped up and waited out the storms.

Day 36: 10.2 miles

Garfield Ridge Campsite to Lincoln, NH to stay at The Notch Hostel

The storms died down, but fog haunted us on our ascent of Mt Garfield. We were very fearful that we wouldn’t have any views on one of the most scenic ridgelines in the world, Franconia Ridge. As we ascended Mt Lafayette, however, the mist parted and revealed 360 degree views of spectacular mountain ranges.

The ridgeline was exhaustingly beautiful, and the wind was downright tenacious. We were very thankful for our rain gear as the wind was so strong that we could walk straight while leaning 20 degrees to the right.

Once down from the ridge, we hitched to town and gorged ourselves on McDonalds and pub fare.

That night we stayed at the Notch Hostel, a wonderfully organized place run by a woman named Bookie.

Day 37: 16.2 miles

The Notch Hostel to…Lebanon!

Bookie dropped us off at Flume Visitor Center and we took the .9 mile bike trail back to the AT. Maybe it was the coffee at our final hut, but the penultimate peaks of the Whites went by like a breeze. The Kinsmans were rocky, beautiful, and we felt good hiking them.

All went swimmingly until we hit the base of Mt Wolf. Levi tripped on a root and landed face first on a boulder. The initial bleeding was intense as forehead wounds usually are, but subsided after 10 or so minutes. Levi was able to brace for the fall and did not exhibit any concussion symptoms.

We were able to reach out to Keith and Delaina, college friends of Kristen who live in nearby(ish) Hanover. Thankfully, they chose to drive over an hour to pick us up at a trailhead and drive us to a clinic.

After some initial cleaning of the wounds, the doctor determined that no stitches were needed. This was cause for celebration in the form of beer and buffalo chicken pizza.

Day 38: Zero in Hanover

Doctor’s Orders.

Day 39: 18.5 miles

Back on the trail to Jeffers Brook Shelter

Taking a zero day really paid off, despite the circumstances. Our day started off on our escape route (Reel Brook Trail) and took us by the scene of the incident just before Mt. Wolf. Mt. Wolf was more technical than expected, and made us glad we had gone back the way we did two days prior.

After a quick mile of smooth trail, we ascended Mt. Moosilauke. The jury is still out as to whether that’s pronounced moose-ill-lock or moose-ill-lock-ee, even among locals. All we can say for sure is that the first 1.5 miles of climbing were pretty close to 1.5 miles of actual climbing. While it wasn’t something we weren’t used to, it was a fitting final 4k climb in the Whites.

Given an impending early morning rainstorm, we decided to push an additional 6.9 miles over the peak and down to a shelter at the base of the mountain. The peak included an alpine zone with unusually long grass and 360 views. It was relieving to be able to compare the intimidating terrain we had come from to the more welcoming terrain ahead.

Day 40: 15.7 miles

Jeffers Brook Shelter to Hexacuba Shelter

The early morning showers held off until about 10 am, which allowed us to take advantage of the smooth terrain. Mt. Mist was a relative breeze, and a 3 mph pace came naturally to us.

Unfortunately, heavier rains came through just as we started Mt. Cube, a granite capped peak not unlike many we saw in Maine. Slick surfaces and leftover fatigue from the previous day slowed us considerably. While we had our sights set on a 21 mile day, we decided to play it safe, dry out, and recharge.

Day 41: 17.7 miles

Hexacuba Shelter to Moose Mountain Shelter

The rain paused for a few hours giving us an opportunity to make some substantial miles, but then it came back with a vengeance. We trudged through one of the worst storms of the trip thus far, but managed to make it to leaky Moose Mountain Shelter with time to make dinner before nightfall.

Day 42: 11 miles

Moose Mountain to Hanover

Still soaked through from the day before, we hiked down into the city of Hanover for some much needed showers, laundry, pizza, beer, and gelato.

What’s in a resupply box?

First of all, “What IS a resupply box” might be on the minds of some folks reading this, so let’s respond to that first. A resupply box is a box of supplies that a thru-hiker arranges before the trail to be shipped by someone else while the hiker hikes. We pre-packed about 20 boxes before leaving and Kristen’s saintly parents are shipping them out upon request (roughly 10 day intervals).

Not all hikers arrange resupply boxes and prefer to purchase all food and materials on-trail. We DO shop on-trail to supplement our boxes, but love getting a steady supply of certain goods and the ability to request additional items which are also stored at Mom and Dad Sawl’s place. For us, resupply boxes make sense because many of the items inside the box were registry gifts from our wedding. Yes, some friends and family members purchased the items below as wedding gifts.

So, what comes in these mysterious “resupply” boxes? Lots of stuff… Most importantly–inspiration! But here are the contents of a typical box:

*Some Ellendale honey (for mixing into tea, oatmeal, and peanut butter tortilla wraps).

*Dehydrated Sriracha

*8 packages of Ramen. We typically buy Knorr sides and instant potatoes and mix Ramen in with those.

*Powdered drink mixes like Gatorade and Propel and assorted snacks– Cliff bars, Oatmeal, Goldfish, Kind bars etc.

* Carnation instant breakfast. We like a 3:1 ratio of breakfast packets to water bottles once per day.

*Additional goodies: dried fruit, instant coffee, Cheezits, jerky

*Non-edible supplies: wet wipes, sanitizer, toothpaste, and the paper AWOL guide pages for the next section of trail.

Anything else?


Sometimes we ask Mom for items on reserve. These are things that we either a) already own and feel silly buying and/or b) things that we don’t need a lot of, but you can’t buy in small quantities at grocery stores.

  • 2ft. pieces of aluminum foil to use as a wind-screen around the alcohol stove.
  • Cut pieces of window insulation film which we use as a ground sheet beneath our tent.
  • Travel sized toothpaste
  • Toothbrushes
  • Frog-toggs rain gear
  • Hair ties
  • Band-Aids/medicine
  • Ziplock bags
  • Clothing

We like to ship the boxes to places we’ll be staying instead of post-offices, just in case we arrive in a town after business hours or on a Sunday. Most hostels will accept boxes for free if you stay there.

Additionally, once per month Kristen’s Aunt Dana is sending us boxes of Georgia pecans and snacks. These are great by themselves on trail, but are especially tasty in peanut butter honey wraps or in oatmeal!

I think that’s all for resupply boxes. Keep those questions coming!

Rangely to Gorham

Day 20: 4.8 miles to Little Swift River Pond campsite.

Our stay at the Hiker Hut was blissful. We woke up to the sound of the rushing stream and enjoyed some tea with the owners of the Hut. Instead of hitting the trail early, we hitched back into town for some more food and a stop at the post office. We managed to catch a hitch into town with a local artist who owns an art gallery on the main road. After spending some time in the gallery, we cozied up in a coffee shop and did work online updating the blog, posting to Instagram, dowloading audio books, and calling some family members.

Our early dinner was a highly anticipated serving of Pad Thai and veggie lo mein plus blueberry soda. We caught a hitch back to the Hiker Hut and hung out on the porch for our tramily (trail family) to arrive. We had been hoping to rejoin them and were excited they were so close behind.

While waiting, Levi happened to find some shoes on the porch that had belonged to a former hiker–a hiker who decided the shoes weren’t for him and ‘hiker boxed’ them. Turns out, they fit Levi perfectly! In turn, he ‘hiker boxed’ the shoes he had picked up in Monson which weren’t in bad shape but fit poorly. Our first trail magic! Shortly after that, one of the Hut owners gifted us a leather-bound journal as a wedding gift. Sadly, by the time our tramily arrived the Hut was all booked up. They got a bit of trail magic themselves and ended up staying in the home of one of the business owners in town. We hit the trail in the late afternoon for a short hike in an effort to allow our tramily to catch us the next day.

Day 21: 9.2 miles to Bemis Stream Campsite

Levi and I made it to Sabbath Day pond lean-to 5 miles from where we started the day by about noon. The shelter was seated on a hill above a pond which hosted some playful water-dwelling salamanders (maybe?). We stretched out, ate some lunch, and were filtering water when our tramily arrived.

Our tramily includes six others who also started the trail on June 13th. We call ourselves the 613s and we are probably the current largest south-bound “bubble” (grouping of thru-hikers).

After lunch, we decided we had plenty left in the tank and continued on to the Bemis Stream Campsite.

Day 22: 12.4 miles to South Arm Road

We started our day with a climb to the peak of Bemis Mountain, hung out on the ridgeline for most of the day, then summited Old Blue in the afternoon. Old Blue may be our least favorite mountain so far. I don’t remember details (I think I’ve blocked them out), but the ascent was moderately rough and the descent was pure torture. It was a 2k descent over 2 miles, but the campsite wasn’t that far past the bottom.

As we were soaking our limbs in the stream, we met Yukon, the owner of the newly minted Human Nature Hostel, and three time participant on the TV series Naked and Afraid. He was doing his daily runs in the area to transport hikers to his hostel, and while we weren’t planning on staying until the next evening, it was great to meet him.

Day 23: 10.1 miles to East B Hill Rd to stay at Human Nature Hostel

With a shower and laundry in our minds we hiked over Moody Mtn. and Wyman Mtn.

Our stay at the Human Nature Hostel was great! It is a brand new geodesic dome hostel (Yukon did not want to be ‘boxed in’) with a bunkroom in the basement which maintains a 60-70* temperature year-round. We all took showers, did laundry, and got shuttled to all-you-can-eat Mexican dinner.

Day 24: 4.5 miles to Frye Notch Lean-to.
Although we had hoped to hit the trail in the morning, our AYCE Mexican replaced the evening Wal-Mart shuttle and most of us needed to hit Walmart in the morning. Walmart is a dangerous place after nearly a month without one. However, Kristen managed to not break the bank too badly.

On our way we also met up with some other SOBOs who started the day before us. We crossed over Dunn Falls (only soaked one of four feet!) and the hike to the campsite wasn’t too bad. Despite a clear forecast the wind was howling all afternoon and through the night.

Day 25: 12.8 miles to tentsite between Mahoosuc Arm and notch

As we journeyed across the Baldpates, we came across a NOBO who appeared to be drowning in quicksand. He was actually just manuvering across an alpine bog, but without the help of a plank bridge. He was sunk down to his hip, but managed to make it through. We found another route around it.

After tackling the Baldpates we went down into Grafton Notch, and then up over Old Speck (another 4k peak). The descent from Old Speck is know as the Mahoosuc Arm, a notoriously steep stretch with large granite faces leading up to the “hardest” or “funnest” mile on the AT, the Mahoosuc Notch. We took it slow and camped at a site close to Mahoosuc Notch with plans to traverse it in the morning.

Day 26: 7.1 miles to Carlo Col Shelter

The Notch was a BLAST! It was basically a boulder jungle gym. There wasn’t a set path through the Notch, just an occasional blaze of encouragement. Beneath some of the boulders there was still lingering snow and ice from the winter. We took off our packs a few times to squeeze through rock tunnels. The whole endeavor took just over 2 hours.

The remainder of the day was spent summiting 4 peaks and traversing alpine bogs. We spent our first night in a double-decker shelter at the Carlo Col campsite.

Day 27: 16.1 miles across the border to Gorham

To Kristen’s delight, the boulder scrambling a là Mahoosuc Notch continued just after our campsite. I guess Maine wanted to welcome or bid adieu to it’s hikers in style. Less than .5 miles into our day we crossed the Maine- New Hampshire border!

Aside from a short struggle up Mt. Success, New Hampshire showed us something that we hadn’t seen in awhile–easy terrain. It was a long day, but not a particularly challenging one. We found a tent site by the river right outside of Gorham and settled in for the night.

Day 28: .9 miles to Gorham

After hiking in the wilderness for a month it was strange to be walking on the shoulder of a road. We passed a broken dam, houses, buildings, street lamps, a short bridge, and a railroad track. Things so common in everyday life seemed so out of place.

We arranged to be picked up at a gravel parking lot by the owners of the Barn, a hostel in Gorham. The owners showed up in a pair of old tanks; a White Cadillac with duct tape tail lights and blue-leather interior and a burgundy Mercury to match. Both trunks could fit at least three dead bodies, and they both squealed from the breaks, tires, and probably everything else. We had our own hiker-trash entourage.

Day 29: Zero day at The Barn

The Barn is the longest running hostel in New Hampshire. It is connected to Libby House BnB and is run by a great guy named Paul (whose cousin runs the BnB). The Barn has two floors: the first has a bathroom/shower, kitchen, laundry area, pool table, sitting area, and a bed; the second has what seemed like a hundred beds of varying sizes spread across the loft. We enjoyed all Gorham had to offer. Highlights include Dynasty Buffet (all you can eat for $10), fudge and an ice cream sandwich, access to Walmart, a cool sensory garden at the local park, lots of moose statues, and a post office to ship home 6 lbs. of unneeded gear. We sent home our leaking sleeping pads and bought new ones at a local gear shop. We also received some exciting items in the mail: a resupply box from Mom Sawl, a box of pecans and chex-mix from Aunt Dana, and Kristen’s new shoes and P-style from Amazon. It was a fabulous day of relaxing and ended with a homemade cake!

End of the 100 Mile Wilderness to Rangeley

Day 10- 9 miles. We started our day off right with blueberry pancakes, eggs, bacon, and hash browns for breakfast at Shaw’s. It took us a while to get everything packed up and sorted, so we got a ride back to the trail from our good friend Pegleg.

The trail to Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to was a very smooth 9 miles. In fact, the side trail up the hill to the lean-to was the most challenging part of the day! There were 11 of us at camp that night.

Day 11: 13 miles. We left camp and headed back to the bottom of the hill to fill up water at a stream. We hiked alongside the Piscataquis river for a while and eventually had to ford it. We found a good place to cross with an island in the middle and continued on to Moxie Bald Mountain. After the peaks in the 100 MW this one wasn’t so bad to summit and still boasted beautiful views. We headed down the mountain to Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to and were joined by many from the night before, plus a international student group of some sort. The privy had a hornet’s nest inside, but the brook had easy access to cool clear water.

Day 12: 14.7 miles. Pleasant Pond Mountain was a much bigger challenge that Moxie Bald. We had an early start on the day and made it into Caratunk by early afternoon. Stopping into town wasn’t originally part of our plan, but Levi’s sleeping pad had some leaks and he needed something to sleep on until Rangeley. Plus, the Kennebec River ferry only runs from 9-11am and we had missed it by a long shot.

We stopped at the Caratunk house hoping for a room, but sadly it was a full house. We did however partake in milkshakes, a pulled pork sandwich, and resupply. Fortunately, the owner was a very kind three-time thru-hiker who let us hang out on his lawn and use the WiFi, then drove us to Northern Outdoors where we had some delicious food and beer with friends, then stayed the night in a A-frame canvas tent with the JKTrekkers and Happy. And we all got showers.

Day 13: 4 miles. We got a shuttle from Northern Outdoors to the trailhead, then walked a short ways to the ferry. I use the term “ferry” loosely. It is actually a canoe rowed by a hiker and a sweet man who keeps SOBO hikers entertained while they wait with his golden retriever pup. After making it across, we hiked some pretty easy terrain to Pierce Pond stream falls. Kristen did the whole thing in her sandals because she had accidentally packed all of her socks and didn’t feel like re-packing. At the falls, we stopped for a bit with our companions the Gentleman Hikers and Happy, then pressed on towards Pierce Pond lean-to where we hoped to stop for lunch and continue on before the rain came.

The aforementioned rain came ahead of schedule though, and we found ourselves crossing a giant dam in rather slick conditions. At the Pierce Pond Lean-to we decided to call it quits for the day and snuggled in our quilts for some relaxation time. Not a nap. No one is going to…zzzz.

We woke from our midday naps when the Brothers (aka Double Up and ReRun) showed up to the lean-to. They told us of a mystical forest lodge serving huge pancake breakfasts and coffee. The Gentlemen Hikers headed away to follow the blue blazes and sign us up for breakfast.

It was a chill evening, complete with a picturesque sunset over the pond framed by laundry drying on the lean-to

Day 14: 17.7 miles. Started off the day with a short jaunt to Old Man Harrison’s where we enjoyed 12 pancakes apiece (apple, blueberry, and raspberry) and hot coffee. After breakfast, we hiked a brisk bit to West Carry Pond lean-to, but the trail was flat so we carried on to Little Bigelow Lean-to in order to get a leg up on the challenging Bigelow range. We had the campsite all to ourselves, and enjoyed a trip to “The Tubs” and the the use of our first dual privy.

Day 15: 15.3 miles. The Bigelows were beautiful but incredibly challenging. Steep faces of the mountain were unconquerable by foot alone and often times our way up was a bare root hand-hold. What looked like smooth terrain on the saddle was instead a horizonal rockslide, and the fastest way through involved balancing on the sharp edges of splintered boulders.

Once safely on top of Avery Peak, we had access to cell service (via US Cellular, of all carriers) and had a moment to call home. This brief contact with humanity also brought with it a flash flood alert, necessitating a push to the next town, Stratton, a mere five miles away.

We arrived at the Stratton Motel that evening, and celebrated with our first zero day (a day with zero miles hiking) the following day.

Day 16: 0 miles

We slept, we ate, and we ate some more.

Day 17: 13.5 miles

Despite a late night catching up on Westworld, we awoke early and took the 6:30 shuttle back to the trail. A SOBO “tramily” (trail family) of mostly recent college grads started the day with us, but soon were left in our dust…they caught up to us later.

The Crocker peaks were a blur, but Sugarloaf provided one of the craggiest climbs thus far, capped by a stunning valley view. An impending rain storm had us spooked, but the echoing thunder never turned to lightning. We passed the 200 mile marker without even noticing (the mark of true professionals). A quick climb over Spaulding peak led us to our campsite where we had a chance to dry out and rest.

Day 18 (the best yet): 16.9 miles.

We woke and climbed down deep into the Orbeton Valley. Once across the Orbeton Stream, we ascended into the Saddleback range, reaching the Poplar Ridge lean-to by lunchtime. Our next endeavor, Saddleback Jr. gave us a run for our money, but stunning views left us wanting more. We had a choice between camping nearby or pressing on over two 4k peaks to a lean-to only 1.8 miles from town. Pressed by an impending storm and drawn by a stacked resupply, we pushed on. This ended up being our best decision thus far.

The Saddleback Range is justly named, as its two main peaks – The Horn and Saddleback – are formed and spaced much like their equestrian namesakes. To add to the stunning shape of the formation, the entire saddle boasts pristine alpine scenery, some of which is hundreds of feet lower than treeline on the outer faces of the peaks.

We had a 360* view of surrounding valleys, lakes, rivers, and ponds as we clambered down the horn and back up Saddleback. Although the difficulty of terrain judged by rockiness and incline hadn’t changed much, we spent that section encircled by majestic views.

Our day ended with a quick descent and a stay at the Cadillac of Maine AT shelters, Piazza Rock Lean-To. The shelter had skylights, and the two-seater privy had a cribbage board. What more could you ask for?

Day 19: 1.8 miles

Day 19 took us a short distance into the outskirts of Rangeley where we picked up a room at the Hiker Hut, a collection of small huts along a stream completely removed from the grid save a collection of solar panels and a generator. After a streamside outdoor shower, trip into town brought juuuust enough wifi to finally get this post out (though no luck with needed shoes).

We are still having issues posting photos to our website, so please visit instagram.com/MtnMortons for illustrations.

A Day in the Life

A trail update is on its way soon! Currently we are taking a Zero-Day in Stratton to wait out rain and let some friends to catch up.

We’ve had a couple of people ask what a typical day on the trail is like, so here goes:

5:00 am- Sunrise. If a NOBO (Northbound hiker) stayed the night in the lean-to, they’re already gone. The one’s we’ve seen are the fastest of the fast. NOBOs may slow down as we reach the back of the pack. Around this time, people start rolling over and waking up. Not us, or at least not Kristen.

6:00-6:30ish Now we can start getting up (with Kristen’s permission). The higher the temperature, the easier this is. Typically we do any needed wardrobe changes under our sleeping quilts, then deflate the pads and pack our clothes. We smush clothes, quilts, and sleeping pads into our compactor bags inside the bottoms of our packs. If we feel like it, we heat up water to make oatmeal and coffee. There’s nothing quite like peacefully sitting surrounded by nature, sipping a pot full of steaming coffee (according to Kristen. This is slightly stressful for Levi as he wants to start moving). Otherwise, we pour Carnation Breakfast Essentials powder into a water bottle and divvy up snack food for the day before packing food bags into our packs.

6:30-7ish One last privy stop and water bottle fill before hitting the trail. Typically lean-to sites have wooden privy shacks (more on those in a later post) and water sources close by, though nowhere near one another. Gotta avoid Giardia!

7ish-12ish Hike. Stop frequently for breathers if traveling uphill because we still haven’t got our trail legs. The trail so far has been rocky and rooty so we go around 2 mi/hr. Occasionally we stop for water fills at streams/springs, make some Gatorade or Propel, and eat Cliff bars/Poptarts/Snickers. If we hit a good resting place like a lean-to or mountain top we may also make peanut butter and Nutella tortilla wraps. The more calories, the better!

2:30 Our typical rule is if we hit our mileage goals by this time, we reward ourselves with more hiking. In other words, if we arrive at our intended lean-to stop for the day we sign the trail register and move on to the next one.

Sometime between 4:00-7:00 we hit our final campsite or lean-to for the day. Don’t worry moms, in Maine, it doesn’t get dark until almost 9. With our 3-person tent sometimes we are unsuccessful finding a tent site and choose to sleep in the lean-to. We have only slept ONCE by ourselves. Typically we have plenty of SOBO friends sharing the site (more on them later, too) and someone else gets a fire started to keep bugs away.

We arrange our sleeping area (tent set up or pad/sleeping bag set out) and then begin filtering water and making dinner. Kristen makes Ramen or mashed potatoes (or some combo of the two), plus olive oil for dinner and Levi does the dishes. Basically he scrapes the pot, swishes it with water, and swigs what remains. Delightful. Sometimes there is evening cocoa, cider, or tea before bed.

Then we sleep (usually before sundown).

Baxter SP and the 100 Mile Wilderness

Day 1 – 5.2+5.2 miles, 8000+ ft in elevation change.

Our first day started with us climbing 5.2 miles and 4000′ to Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin in order to start our journey south. The climb was tough, and included multiple rock scrambles. Some locations included rebar hand and foot holds, but most had the climber depend on granite and friction to make their way up.

Views above treeline were breathtaking, and the alpine ecosystem was packed with beautiful low-lying vegetation.

Once we reached the northern terminus, we started the AT by turning around and going down the same way we came up. A seasonal spring near the top was dry, leaving many of our group without water on the first few miles of the difficult descent. The granite was rough enough to chew a rubber piece off the bottom of Levi’s shoe.

Thankfully, the full group made it to the peak and back without issue, and set up camp at Katahdin Stream Campground.

Day 2 – 17.8 miles

Day 2 saw less elevation but more miles. Upon leaving the campsite, we hiked 9.1 miles to exit Baxter State Park. Right outside is Abol Bridge with wonderful views of Katahdin when the weather is clear. We weren’t so lucky. We had our first rainy day.

Shortly thereafter, we entered the 100 mile wilderness. Entering from the north end means instant gloomy overgrown and mossy ancient forest. Roots and rocks coat the ground, and an incredible silence fills the air.

After a few miles, we started an ascent to rainbow ledges, a granite capped hilltop with occasional views of the expansive wilderness. We ended our day by setting up a rainy camp next to Rainbow Lake, the only flat tent site for a few miles. Luckily, the rain stopped by evening, and despite dropping to 35 F the condensation on our tent was not bad.

Day 3 – 15.2 miles

Day 3 started slow as we were trying to dry out everything from the day before. The trail took us by some beautiful lakeside views as well as some mountaintop panoramas.

We first started feeling the effects of food intake and got zonked at separate points. Camp at Wadleigh Stream Lean-to was particularly buggy.

Day 4 – 13.5 miles

Day 4 was limited in elevation but included very tricky terrain. We wanted to break 20 miles, but unexpected miles of swamp rock-hops and root scrambles encouraged us to leave some trail for the next day.

We spent the night at the Antlers campsite, which was a beautiful lakeside site with (gasp) cell service. Good company was had, and we got word from a speedy section hiker regarding others who started the same day. Many are still on trail, but a few others have dropped out.

Day 5 – 19.7 miles

The return of the miles. We got an early start and a nice boost from smooth trails. 12 miles were down by lunch, which is when we picked up our paint bucket food resupply for the rest of the 100 mile wilderness. With full packs, we decided 7 more miles and 2800 feet of elevation gain was a no brainer.

We ended our day at Logan Brook Lean-to halfway up Whitecap Mountain, the 100 Mile Wilderness’ highest peak. The camp site is a small tent city tucked next to a beautiful cascading ravine. Kristen almost caught the lean-to on fire while cooking in the wind, giving her the trail name Danaerys.

Day 6 – 12.8 miles

The day started off with a windy and foggy ascent of White Cap Mountain followed by a rough ramble through the White Cap range. The subsequent peaks allowed for great views and brief breathers before the next rocky descent.

Rain and the looming Chairback range inspired us to stay the night at an unnamed campground.

Day 7 – 11.1 miles

Day 7 took us into the Chairback range, by far the toughest challenge yet. We tackled Chairback, Columbus, Third, and Fourth mountains and had enough. The mountains are so exhausting that they gave up naming them after the second one.

We took a short side trail to beautiful Cloud Pond and spent a couple of hours drying out before taking an early bed time.

Day 8 – 16.2 miles

After a good night’s rest, we decided to get ourselves in good position to exit the 100 Mile Wilderness by the next day.

Great views on Barren Mountain led to a long day of PUDS (pointless ups and downs) and some scenic stream crossings. We settled down at Leeman Brook Lean-to a few miles from the exit, ready to heal up and chow down the next day.

Day 9 – 3.0 miles

After an early start, we made it into Monson just in time for breakfast at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel. We were met by a few familiar faces and many more have since joined.

We’re in Maine!

We made it to Maine on Sunday evening after a long but picturesque drive through PA, NJ, NY, CT, MA, and NH. Fortunately it only rained for an hour or so, and being able to belt out Frankie Valli and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes kept us trucking along.

We’ve just boarded a bus that will take us to Medway, where we’ll catch a shuttle to Millinocket and the AT Lodge. We’ve already met a few potential thru hikers who will be starting the trail over the next few days. The levels of preparedness vary quite a bit from hiker to hiker.

As for us, we’ve been preparing for this for over a year both mentally and logistically. You could say we’ve been preparing physically, but that’s stretching the truth a little bit. (As they say, “The AT gets you in shape for the AT,” right?) We have gone through many iterations of backpacks, tested out sleep systems, and experimented with bug protection. We read numerous books, including a joint effort of Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis, a book about mentally preparing for the AT. If I had to recall, we also probably spent over half of our premarital counseling sessions talking about hiking and life on the trail.

In addition to preparing gear, we’ve been able to prepare our responses to common questions. Will you carry a gun? How do you get food? Will you sleep in a hammock? What do you do about bugs? Bears? Ticks?

Our answers have changed over time, but currently stand at: No; via resupply boxes and stops in town; nope–we have a 3 person tent; and Permetherine/Picaradin and headnets, run and shout, and nightly tick checks in addition to bug protection.

It was difficult to arrive at answers to some of those questions. It was comforting when we both blurted out the same answer (Will you be hunting squirrels on the trail? No! Are you trying to finish the whole thing? Yup!). But more often than not we had to do some further discussing (How many pairs of underwear will you take? Will Kristen sleep in a hammock?) The most memorable of these was probably last 4th of July when Levi surprised his family (and Kristen) when he declared, “We won’t even be carrying a cookstove!”

Excuse me?

“Yup. No cookstove. They’re heavy and we can just cold soak our meals.” (Whatever the heck that means).

That changed.

We ‘compromised’ with a 30 gram cookstove that burns both alcohol fuel (not the good kind, though) and esbit tabs. Kristen can have her coffee and Levi can have much more pleasant mornings.

Sometimes it wasn’t about compromising, but about solidifying our reasoning. Yes, our backpacks are really really light and no, we aren’t carrying many items that some people think are entirely necessary for surviving for 6 months in the wilderness. If it weren’t for all of the supportive yet curious friends and family members, we might not be able to explain why, though.

Anywho, here we are, prepared as we’ll ever be with many a thanks to all of you who’ve expressed interest in our journey!