Photo by Aya Padrón
THERE’S A SECTION of the Appalachian Trail in the backwoods of Maine that’s completely disengaged from civilization.
Known as the 100-Mile Wilderness, it’s remote and quiet and still wild enough to resemble the undeveloped frontier that inspired Thoreau’s 1864 collection of essays, The Maine Woods.
Hikers who enter this territory must be prepared with all of the food and supplies they will require for 7-10 days on the trail. Between the small town of Monson and the country store at Abol Bridge, you will be on your own in the woods.
You Can Do It
The 100-Mile Wilderness may have an intimidating name, but don’t let it scare you. You don’t have to be a hardcore mountaineer to enjoy this route. In fact, it’s quite manageable for the average hiker. Some thru-hikers have reported that the 100-Mile Wilderness contains some of the easiest and most beautiful sections of the entire trail.
The first half of the journey is where you’ll find the tougher climbs. Crossing the Barren Chairback Range (2,670 ft.) and the White Cap Range (3,654 ft.) may be challenging. However, you can revel in the knowledge that the second half of the trip covers considerably flatter terrain.
If the region’s isolation makes you nervous, bear in mind that it’s hardly as remote as you might expect for a “wilderness.”
Parts of the 100-Mile Wilderness are accessible by private logging roads. And you’ll likely encounter other people along the way: locals on fishing trips, outdoor enthusiasts, and intrepid thru-hikers.
Know What To Expect
Once you’ve decided you’re up for the adventure, take the time to adequately prepare. How much food will you need to carry for 7-10 days of hiking? Will your sleeping bag be warm enough?
Even in the summer, nights can be chilly enough to warrant a sleeping bag rated to 35 degrees Fahrenheit.
Purchase official trail maps. They contain lots of helpful information, including mileage, elevation, and shelters/campsites.
To some extent, the distance you hike on a given day will be determined by campsite locations, as you should only pitch your tent in these designated areas.
There’ll be room for revision on the trail, but it’s good to consider your possibilities beforehand; you don’t want to find yourself halfway between two campsites when the sun sets and you’re ready to crash.
One great way to get an idea of what life will be like on the trail is to read what others have written about their experiences. Hundreds and hundreds of trail journals can be found online.
When To Go
The recommended season for hiking the hundred-mile wilderness is between May and November. However, hikers should be aware that winter conditions and deep snow can occur any time between October and May, even as late as Memorial Day at higher elevations.
Mt. Katahdin is technically outside the 100-Mile Wilderness, but since it’s the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and the highest mountain in Maine, consider it an essential side trip.
What’s Your Trail Name?
If you start reading trail journals, you’ll quickly realize that everyone has a trail name. It’s not an honor specifically reserved for thru-hikers.
Section-hikers, too, are welcome to try out a new moniker befitting their trail personality. Taking on a trail name is an essential aspect of AT culture.
To avoid attracting the attention of hungry foragers, plan to hang a bear bag. The Appalachian Trail Guide advises that hikers stow food, cookware, and hygiene-related items in a bear bag suspended at least ten feet off the ground and away from the campsite.
There are several methods for hanging a bear bag. You might want to research a couple techniques and give them a try to figure out what works for you.
The importance of a trusty water purification method should not be underestimated. If you’re relying on an unfamiliar purifier, you might consider taking along some kind of backup. If that new high-tech steriPEN malfunctions on your second day, you don’t want to have to rely on the kindness of fellow hikers to lend you their water filters.
Between May and July, expect to be swarmed with black flies and mosquitoes. Sometimes, the mosquito population can be so dense you’ll squash a trio of insects in a single blow.
Wearing a head net gives you some breathing room in patches where insects are especially thick. It can be terribly unpleasant to hike while you’re breathing in mosquitoes.
Clothing that completely covers your arms and legs provides some protection, especially if it has been sprayed with a repellent.
The Art of Squatting
There are times on the trail when you really need toilet paper. In fact, after you’re all packed, why not throw in another roll? You’ll also want to pack a lightweight plastic trowel. Use it to dig “catholes” for burying waste and used toilet paper in areas without a privy.
Pack Your Swimsuit
The 100-Mile Wilderness is filled with glittering lakes, silent ponds, and rushing streams. After working up a sweat on the trail, you’ll probably find that the water looks particularly inviting. Be sure to plan your hike with enough leisure time to enjoy late afternoon swims.
Whatever else your hike through the 100-Mile Wilderness may be, it’s an opportunity to play outdoors and experience the kind of freedom many of us left behind in childhood.
Do you think you could slide down that waterfall?
Matador editor David Miller left the summit of Mt. Katahdin and started hiking south in August, 1995. He made it as far as Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, before a 50 year snowstorm shut down the entire Mid-Atlantic.
Other Matador hikers include Laurie, who wrote a great article about hiking the Camino Santiago pilgrimage trail in Spain, and JoshyWashington, who discovered at 21, sleeping under a shrub in Sicily that he wanted to travel for the rest of his life.