Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Back to the Wilderness


It had been 7 years since I last completed the entire Hundred Mile Wilderness (HMW) in one push, and never had I attempted it northbound (Monson to Abol Bridge).  With my Fastest Known Time (FKT) over this route being taken down earlier this year, I was excited to give it another shot and see how fast I could do it, and to spend some quality adventure time in my favorite place.

Ready to take off from Monson.

I wasn't really planning on doing this in November, but after postponing an October attempt, and the delayed onset of winter conditions (it was 70 degrees the day I flew into Maine), I decided to go for it.  The temperatures dropped quickly, but weather conditions were still pretty good for the most part.  I did underestimate the difficulty of trail finding, however, with the trail buried in newly fallen leaves.  I always thought the frequency of the white blazes along the Appalachian Trail were a bit too much, but not when you are navigating from blaze to blaze with no trail in sight.

There's a trail in there somewhere.

I first met my crew (Dad and sister Regina) at Long Pond Stream (Mile 14) only 20 minutes behind my projection for FKT pace.  It seemed like we were the only people in the HMW that day.  In fact, other than a deer hunter I ran into near Leeman Brook (3 miles after starting), I would not see another human other than my crew for the rest of my journey.

Crossing Long Pond Stream.  No rope but water was low.

The next section, the Chairback-Barren Range, is the most difficult of the HMW, but also my favorite.  Fewer hardwoods up high also made for fewer leaves and easier navigation.  With sunset just after 4pm, I would be dropping off Chairback Mountain to the crew at KI road (Mile 30) along with the setting sun.  I was excited to see that my Uncle Sam had joined the crew.  My 9 hours from Monson to KI road was the fastest I have ever done those 30 miles, but still a little slower than I was hoping for.

Uncle Sam joins the crew at KI.

Luckily, the icy waters of the Pleasant River stayed below the knees as I forded to the other side and began my biggest climbs over Gulf Hagas, Hay, West, and finally the tallest peak, White Cap, which pops out slightly above treeline at 3644 feet.  The wind was whipping up there with wind chills below zero.  I stopped just long enough for a White Cap summit photo before making the steep descent to Logan Brook and, eventually, my crew below where it was a balmy 20 degrees with no wind.

White Cap summit.  High point of the HMW.

Although short of half-way in terms of distance, the West Branch Ponds Road at Mile 45 felt like well over half-way in terms of effort, with much easier terrain awaiting over the last 55 miles.  I would also be seeing my crew more frequently from this point forward.  The long night had me knocking off the next couple of segments pretty quickly, with some actual extended running.  I would leave my crew at Jo-Mary Road (Mile 59) at 4am and still in darkness.  Now at 20 hours in, almost 3 hours slower than I wanted to be at this point, I knew any speed records were out of reach.  I still wanted to make it to the finish at Abol Bridge, hopefully before the next early sunset, so I could take in the great view of Mount Katahdin from there.  However the wheels would sort of come off for me over the next 15-mile section to Nahmakanta Lake, which would take me a whopping 7 hours.

Lower Jo-Mary Lake just before sunrise.

Mount Katahdin view from shores of Pemadumcook Lake

Reaching my crew at Nahmakanta Lake at 11am (27 hours since leaving Monson), I did a little math in my head and decided I had enough.  I took a ride to Camp Pine, our family camp, and relaxed the rest of the afternoon and weekend, leaving enough in my legs to enjoy some beautiful hikes over the next couple of days.  We ended up getting a pretty good snowfall later that evening, so I was pretty happy to be sitting comfortably in the cabin by the woodstove.

Hiking the Gulf Hagas Rim Trail.

I'm a little disappointed that I still haven't completed the HMW northbound, but I'll hopefully give it another shot next year under better conditions.  I'm still not sure which way is easier, or faster.  Going southbound, like in 2013, I made great time over the easier terrain in the first half and then slogged my way through the more difficult sections later on tired legs.  Going northbound this time, I made pretty quick work of the harder sections early, but had nothing left in my legs when I hit the easier terrain.  The next attempt will be northbound, regardless, since that challenge still remains for me.  I hope for many more adventures in this wilderness that I like to call "home".

My Splits (mileages based on AT Data Book):
Leave Monson Route 15 - 8:00am
Long Pond Stream (Mile 14.1) - in 11:42am-out 11:52am (3:42-3:52)
KI Road (Mile 29.9) - 5:08pm-5:28pm (9:08-9:28)
W Branch Road (Mile 44.7) - 11:06pm-11:20pm (15:06-15:20)
Kokadjo Johnston Pd Road (Mile 51.6) - 1:39am-1:45am (17:39-17:45)
Jo-Mary Road (Mile 58.5) - 3:47am-4:05am (19:47-20:05)
Nahmakanta Lake (Mile 73.7) - 11:15am-DNF (27:15-DNF)


  1. Good stuff. More moon pies maybe?!
    Nice to see your pics, Uncle Sam, and Regina.

    HR odds next?

    1. Hey Mike! Yes it was nice to see the family and spend some time in the wilderness. Dale already released the HR odds. I've got 5 tickets and a 33.8% shot of getting in. Hopefully we both get our names drawn. It would be fun to run it with you.