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.