Sunday, September 19, 2021

NOBO on the HMW

Last November I sat at Nahmakanta Lake, 74 miles into my first northbound (NOBO) attempt at the Hundred Mile Wilderness (HMW), and decided I had enough.  My pace was slow and no speed records were going to be set but I still had a bit of regret for not finishing the trek to Abol Bridge.  This past Labor Day weekend, I took care of some unfinished business.

The starting line in Monson.

Unlike last November when I was the only one in the Wilderness, this time I would be joining many NOBO thru-hikers nearing the end of their long journeys which is very inspiring.  I loaded my pack with little candy bars and was happy to spread some "trail magic" at every chance.  While wanting to finish in a respectable time, the most important thing to me was to make it to Abol Bridge (the northern terminus of the HMW).  A setback from a knee injury this spring made any expectations for the Fastest Known Time (FKT) very low.

Panda was one of many thru-hikers I would meet.

My sister Regina (trail name "Whispering Pine"), with a little help from "Pa Pine", would crew me from all the typical access points.  After now doing this nearly 3 times, they have the crewing plan down to a science.  An AT thru-hiker herself, Regina was also glad to meet many of this year's NOBO class and made sure they were well fed.  I felt a bit like a celebrity at times as many of the hikers I came upon already knew me after meeting my crew earlier.  I could only shrug my shoulders and try to convince them that they were the ones doing something remarkable.

My first aid stop at Long Pond Stream with Dad.

So how did the run go this time?  I paid little attention to the time during my run but did some analyses after.  I ended up hitting all of my splits to Jo-Mary Road (Mile 58.5) very close to my split times last November.  In fact, my elapsed time leaving Jo-Mary Road was identical to the minute.  This was a bit disheartening because I felt much stronger this time, however my pace stayed the same.  I also experienced a lot of rain during the afternoon and evening of Day 1, making the already difficult footing downright treacherous at times.

Obligatory selfie atop Whitecap Mountain.

I feel like the 15 miles from Jo-Mary Road to Nahmakanta Lake is sort of the crux of the route going NOBO.  This section is where the wheels fell off for me last year.  Although not a difficult section in terms of climbing or descending, it just seems to come at a difficult point where the fatigue can really set in and you're too far from smelling the finish.  Despite not feeling all that great, I ended up doing this section nearly 2 hours faster than I did last year.  This wasn't too surprising since I was moving VERY slow last time before calling it quits.


I made a very quick stop for resupply at the beautiful Nahmakanta Lake and was very excited and reinvigorated to now be moving onto some trail that I had only previously done SOBO back in 2013.  It was also nice to take off from the lake with many thru-hikers getting a late morning start for their day.  They were already well aware of what I was up to after hanging out with Whispering Pine for most of the morning.  A couple of hikers even set the pace for me on the steep climb up Nesuntabunt Mountain.  I couldn't believe how fast they were moving with their heavy packs and over 2000 miles already on their legs!

I came into Pollywog Stream in the hot afternoon sun after running very well through the 8 mile section from Nahmakanta.  Maybe I pushed that section a little too hard because as soon as I sat down for a brief break in the shade I wasn't sure if I could stand back up.  Regina fed me a plate of watermelon, refilled my water bottles, and after about a half hour break (by far my longest pit stop) sent me on my way for the long final 17-mile stretch to Abol Bridge.  Unfortunately, I now knew I would be going into a second night and would not be greeted by the view of Katahdin at the finish, but I was going to finish.  Thirteen minutes before midnight, after a very long 17 miles, I was hugging the guard rail of the bridge and my NOBO adventure was complete!

Last aid stop at Pollywog Stream.

My 37 hours and 45 minutes were even slower than the slow time I expected, but really just a confirmation of how difficult this route is.  Given a smooth gravel surface over the last 17 miles of terrain, I think I could have jogged it in, but instead it took me 8 hours!  I just wasn't capable of moving very fast through the non-stop rock and roots anymore.  All I could think was "how did I run through this section in 3.5 hours going SOBO 8 years ago?".  Now that I have finished both directions, I really think SOBO is the way for me if I want to go for a fast time on the HMW.  Of course, I also look forward to another NOBO passing of the HMW at a much slower pace starting from Georgia in the not too distant future.

My hats off to Barry Howe for lowering the overall FKT to 29 hours and 6 minutes last week on a supported NOBO effort!  Read his report here.

So I leave this trip to Maine with my heart and soul filled again by the HMW.  It was really a perfect long weekend combining this adventure with some well-deserved relaxation at Camp Pine with friends and family.  In a few days I'll see if I left enough in the tank to complete my 3rd Bear 100.  Honestly, after laboring for over 37 hours on the HMW, these Rocky Mountain trails feel smooth as butter.

My splits:

Strava link here

Gaia GPS link here


  1. Nice work Rob, especially with the knee issues at the outset. I agree that the section between Jo Mary and Nahmakanta lake is a crux section going NOBO in that you have to move fast when you are least feeling like it. I found the last 4-5 miles of it to be particularly frustrating and slow. I literally spent almost an hour thinking I was going to get to Nahmakanta "any minute". Hope you can take a good crack at the SOBO route when you are fully fit and healthy. Knowing the route and planning a smart pace strategy for each section will be a huge advantage for you. As my dad likes to say, "youth and strength are no match for old age and cunning".

  2. Thanks for the encouragement Barry! With more experience also comes more years on this body but I'll keep trying to tip this balance in my favor.