20.8 miles, 2105.6 overall, 78.6 remaining (Carl A Newhall Lean-to)
When I wake up I can hear the APE team packing up. I think I can perhaps leave around the time they do today but I’m mistaken. By the time I’ve packed up everything in my tent and climb out, they are gone. Philly Steve is still here though and we wind up leaving within a minute of each other, him in the lead. He sets a fast pace though up the first climb and is pretty quickly out of sight.
I immediately notice I don’t feel as strong as yesterday. It is really starting to get annoying that I can’t power through the trail like I used to. I did mention this to the other nobo’s at breakfast at Shaw’s yesterday and the others admitted to having similar problems lately where their legs just feel heavy. We suppose it is simply the cumulative effect of hiking 2000+ miles. I think some of it may also be mental. I have a hard time seeing things through to the end. Some people get a lot of satisfaction out of crossing things off of lists. I’m not that kind of person. I’m much more interested in learning what I can from something and then moving on. Perhaps that is partly why I have no desire to move on to the PCT or the CDT. While I’m sure they are beautiful trails and they could be a lot of fun, I’ve done long-distance hiking now. I know what it is about and I’m ready for a new experience. That makes the last few miles of the trail difficult as in my head I’m ready for something new but my body has to keep grinding away until the end.
The first climb brings me to the Barren Ledges. I see a sign for the Barren Slide but the side trail looks steep so I decide not to find out what it is. I suppose it is a rock slide, but part of me hopes it was some sort of giant wilderness ride. The next climb is to Barren Mountain where at the top there is a large tower with a ladder. It looks a bit old and rickety but it seems to offer a great view and I figure if it weren’t safe there would either be signs or it would have been torn down, so I climb the ladder. From the top I get what I think is my first view of Katahdin. It is hard to tell because we are still miles away and I don’t have a topo map to compare against, but it is generally northeast of me and appears to be a large mountain all by itself, as I have heard it described. I’m disappointed that I have no way to tell for sure if this is my first sighting of “the mountain” until I get back to civilization.
The next few hours take me over a few more peaks with a couple of similar views to what Barren Mountain already provided me. More interesting to me is whether or not it is going to rain. There was a 70% chance last time I checked the weather. The clouds are threatening and several times it starts to sprinkle but the downpour never materializes. I make it to the shelter 11 miles away relatively dry to find the APE team and Philly Steve about to leave after eating their lunches. Apparently they’ve been here a while, which doesn’t surprise me given how much faster they hike than I do lately. They continue on while I settle in for a lunch of fish and cheese tortillas. The shelter is Chairback Gap Lean-To and I recognize t as the last one Rusty Bumper passed last year before breaking his leg. It is a stark reminder of how close I am to finishing and how close we always are to having our hike ended.
The next several miles are mostly downhill but they begin with a steep drop down a rock slide (not the ride kind). It is difficult to find the course of the trail among the pile of rocks but luckily there are some southbound hikers coming up who point the way. I pass the time on the downhill listening to The Sherlock Holmes story Valley of Fear. It isn’t as interesting as many of the others I’ve listened to as it winds through a long and largely irrelevant backstory, but it suffices to keep my mind occupied along the stretch of trail.
At the bottom I reach the day’s ford. On the other side the APE team and Philly are taking a break, which they continue while watching me change shoes and walk across. They might not admit it (actually they probably would) but I’m sure they are hoping for me to provide some entertainment by falling in. Once I reach the other side they get moving again but I fall behind as I need to get more water before I move on. As they leave some dayhikers arrive, another sign of the non-wildernessiness of the 100 mile wilderness. They have done a 10 mile loop around the Gulf Hagas trail which is known for some beautiful waterfalls. Unfortunately I don’t think to take their picture until after they have left.
The last 5 miles to the shelter go by quickly. They are a long, steady uphill made easier by the fact that this section is so heavily traveled by the day hikers heading to the Gulf Hagas loop. Trails that get heavy use always tend to be wider, less rocky, less steep, and well-maintained. When I reach the shelter the others are still setting up their tents. I grab some water and hang out at the shelter where a couple of section hikers are staying for the night. Her name is April Showers and unfortunately I’ve forgotten his. They turn out to be former thru-hikers. April Showers informs me she has section hiked the whole trail once, thru-hiked it once, and is now working on section hiking it a third time. I get to pick their brains about the trail ahead, looking for a good spot to increase my mileage and make up time (I lost another 2 miles today versus where I planned to be) as well as where I should take my on-trail zero. At first they suggest White House Landing for the zero, obviously not understanding my goal. Once I re-explain that I want the zero to be on the trail they suggest the Antlers campsite 27 miles away as a good place to zero. That is where, when I had originally planned my mileage back in Monson, I had wanted to get to tomorrow so it seems like a good option. However the chance of rain tomorrow is 80% and, if I hike in the rain, I’m not likely to go 27 miles with the last 3000 foot mountain in this section.
As I go to bed I decide to let the weather dictate my actions tomorrow. If it looks like the weather will hold off then I’ll leave early and hike as far as I can. If it looks like rain then I will simply zero here to avoid getting soaked, killing two birds with one stone. As I get into my tent I can hear thunder in the distance, and as I go to sleep the rain begins on the Appalachian Trail.