My 1983 Appalachian Trail Hike in Photos

 

I wrote a ton in words in my journal as I hiked the Appalachian Trail. I also shot a ton of Kodachrome slides in that pre-digital age. I've scanned all my old AT slides and posted them with short text blurbs connecting them to their parts of the story. I'd never tried to connect all these slides with all these words before. It helped me remember details of that long-ago hike in new ways. These pages are a chronological visual journal of the hike. Probably one of the oldest thru-hikes on the Internet to get one.

 

More pics from my 1983 Appalachian Trail hike. Table of Contents is here.

 

Jerome Brook Lean-to, ME - Chairback Gap, Barren-Chairback Range, ME

My hike September 23, 1983 was all about the Kennebec River, although I would never see that waterway that day. By far the widest unbridged water crossing on the entire Appalachian Trail, the river needed to be forded before mid-morning, when water releases from upstream dams would often increase the depth of the river at the ford to neck deep or higher within a span of minutes. I could go no more than the 16 miles to the Kennebec that day, and I also needed to be close enough to cross in the early morning. A 1000-foot climb began today's hike. The trail crossed the wooded 2240-foot summit of Roundtop Mountain, where a couple of tiny peepholes through the trees looked out across the lake country.

Descending back to the lowlands, I followed or crossed a number of very old logging roads. September 23's portion of lake country was a remote, forested region of enormous ponds, wide marshlands, and low ridges.

 

As I mentioned, sixteen miles was my limit of travel today. Knowing that, I lingered at Jerome Brook Lean-to until 8:15 this morning, and took my time all day. Nevertheless, I arrived at Pierce Pond Lean-to at 2:30, having already completed thirteen of those miles. I had intended to hike the remaining three miles to the river and camp beside its bank, but I fell in love with Pierce Pond and decided to pass the night upon its shore.

That night at Pierce Pond, I stayed awake very late as night fell without an electric light in sight to challenge the majestic blaze of the universe above. A lone coyote sang out from the surrounding ridges, mournful howls mingling with the haunting insane laughter of the loons out on the pond.

 

I still awoke September 24, 1983 at around 6:00 a.m. I did not need sleep that day. I was running on buckets of adrenaline. I lay around in my sleeping bag for more than an hour, having decided not to miss the breakfast at Carrying Place Camps, a short quarter mile side trail from the shelter. I left as the morning sun started burning the morning mists from the pond.

I arrived at the dining cabin at 7:35, just after they had opened. Money was growing short, so I was forced to get by on the $3.50 #1 Breakfast: twelve pancakes, three sausages, juice, and unlimited coffee. Oh, well. Coffee mugs were huge, and you helped yourself from a large, antique-looking cast-iron pot which sat warming on an old potbellied wood stove. The cook dished out the pancakes three at a time, and tons of butter and syrup were set out on the tables.  It was great to have a large, hot meal in my stomach as I prepared to face the icy waters. The proprietor filled me in on the exact spot where the river should be forded and pointed out the easiest route to that spot on the map. I returned to the shelter to grab my backpack and hit the trail at 8:00. The river was waiting.

By 9:00, I was making my way along the rocky shore towards a point adjacent to the gravel bars and rapids which marked the shallowest part of the river. The most common method of wading the hundred-yard-wide river was to remove socks and hiking boots and cross in running shoes, retaining dry footwear for hiking upon reaching the far shore. My boots were gone; running shoes were all I had. On the rocky riverbed, bare feet were not an option. Stripping off my socks and running shoes, I removed the shoes' insoles and put them back on. At least my socks would be dry.

The initial fifteen or twenty yards to the gravel bar was almost anticlimactic. The current was strong, but the water was barely ankle-deep. Although frigid, it would be tolerable so long as I could manage to keep it from reaching... shall we say... no higher than my upper thighs. I had picked up a staff of driftwood along the riverbank to use as a prop against the current but had hardly needed it crossing that first set of rapids. I took a brief break on the gravel bar, the sun feeling nice on my numbed feet.

 

Still September 24, 1983. Still Chapter 23.

About halfway across, the going grew tougher. Fragments of gravel washed inside my shoes by the stream were digging into my feet. The river was above my knees and the current remained strong and relentless. The bed was a shifting mass of smooth, round, slime-coated stones which tended to roll beneath my feet as the waters endeavored to flip me over. I almost went under a couple of times with all my possessions. I slowed to dig my feet down several inches into the piled-up rocks with each step for a little support as I inched toward the east bank.

 

By the time I worked my way to within twenty yards from shore, I was fading. I gave up any attempt at following the shallows and made a beeline for land, just wanting to get it over with. Fortunately, the water never rose above mid-thigh (whew!). The riverbed sloped sharply upward for the last five yards. I had conquered the Kennebec. Crossing that river took twenty-five minutes -- probably the slowest hundred yards of my entire hike, but quick and easy for that stretch.  Several minutes later, I took the two pics above, donned my socks and reassembled my running shoes for the first Appalachian Trail roadwalk in Maine.

 

Immediately after the river, the road passed through Caratunk, a tiny village on a small byway just off of a remote riverside stretch of US 201. I stopped at the Post Office to jot off a quick letter and mail it home. There were over five miles of roadwalk from Caratunk to the Pleasant Pond Lean-to, where I had lunch about 1:00. The trail club had included in the guidebook yet another new relocation which had not as yet been completed. I wasted almost an hour, walking two extra miles, in an attempt to locate the spot at which the new trail left the road. I finally conceded that the trail did not yet exist when it dawned on me that the M.A.T.C. would have painted over the blazes along that road once they rerouted the AT into the woods.

The climb up Pleasant Pond Mountain from the shelter was tough. I just plugged on up and took the side trail to the open summit and a sweeping 360-degree view. I could not stand in one spot and take it all in, but I could see for miles in every direction as I circled the flat, scrubby plateau. I peered intently northeastward for a glimpse of Katahdin through the haze but could not pick it out.

After descending from the summit, the Appalachian Trail followed more roads.

 

Still September 24, 1983. Still Chapter 23.

There was a rough gravel logging track through a forest just beginning to turn colors. 

My steady northward progress and the inexorable march of the seasons had finally brought me to an Autumn forest that wasn't atop a lofty ridge crest.  The fact that it was September 24, and I was at a place from which you would have to travel slightly south of due east to reach St. John, New Brunswick, Canada was yet another testament to the long, hot summer of 1983.

The Appalachian Trail roadwalk continued along an improved gravel road which followed a portion of Moxie Pond's lengthy shoreline for two miles, past occasional summer cabins. The southern extension of the pond was a lovely little body of water called Joes Hole, connected to the main body by a narrow neck of water and otherwise surrounded by precipitous cliffs. This roadwalk -- one of the most scenic on the entire AT -- ended just past Joes Hole, at a point where the Appalachian Trail turned into the woods and crossed the outlet stream from the pond.

The insoles and socks came off again as I forded a small stream on submerged rocks, a mini-Kennebec. A mile later, I arrived at Joes Hole Brook Lean-to, having covered an eventful seventeen miles (not to mention that two-mile detour on the first roadwalk and the side trip up Pleasant Pond Mountain), my biggest day since Vermont. It was almost 5:30, and I figured I had done enough for one day.

 

End of September 24, 1983. Still Chapter 23.

September 25, 1983. Indian summer in central Maine. The weather was perfect: fairly warm, sunny days followed by frosty nights. The insects of summer had, for the most part, died off for the year. On the trail up Moxie Bald Mountain from the shelter that morning, I hiked my 2000th AT mile.

I started the day 21 miles from my last trail town, so I got a rare early start. The early morning fog was still burning off some of the valleys.

The guidebook was almost useless once again that morning, describing more relocations which had yet to be completed. The guidebook and map showed the Appalachian Trail going right over Moxie Bald Mountain, but the summit was still off of the AT on a half-mile side trail. It was worth the trip.

 

Still September 25, 1983. Still Chapter 23.

I saw many of the mountains which I had climbed, including Bigelow and Sugarloaf. I also saw the two major ranges remaining between myself and Katahdin: Barren-Chairback and Whitecap. Almost invisible in the misty distance, I glimpsed a lone mountain which may or may not have been Katahdin. I wished I could have been sure. Maybe next mountaintop.

The few trees along the ridge crest that weren't spruce or other evergreens were fully embracing Autumn.

In spite of the long day ahead, I spent enough time atop Moxie Bald to outlast that valley fog I had seen along that cone-shaped mountain's flank earlier.

 

Still September 25, 1983. Still Chapter 23.

I became briefly lost while returning down the side trail to the AT.

I spent more than a half-hour crashing stubbornly around through the dense shrub growth before having the sense to return to the fire tower, which was visible from any point along the crest, and try again.

I know what you're thinking, "Boy, he sure shot a lot of pics on Moxie Bald for a guy near the beginning of a 21-mile day." I never was able to sacrifice everything else to mileage the entire thru-hike. It often got me into trouble.

 

Still September 25, 1983. Still Chapter 23.

Looking back, though, I never regretted the pics I did take on this hike. I wish I took a pic of the fire tower. It was removed about a decade or so after this hike.

After I climbed back up to the fire tower to find the side trail I had lost, I took a few more pics and took that trail back to the AT.

It was past 10:30 when I rejoined the Appalachian Trail, and I still had almost eighteen miles of hiking before reaching Monson that night. I needed to get moving.

 

Still September 25, 1983. Still Chapter 23.

At the base of the mountain, I made a brief stop at Moxie Bald Lean-to in order to check out Bald Mountain Pond: an enormous lake similar to Moxie Pond and Pleasant Pond, but much more primitive in setting, lacking the gravel roads and summer cabins which lined the shores of those two other beautiful lakes.

From the shelter, the Appalachian Trail followed an assortment of old woods roads and some gravel logging roads above the northwest shore of the pond and along Bald Mountain Stream for seven miles to Breakneck Ridge (a fitting name for a feature over which the AT in Maine passes). The scenery past the pond was pretty, but unspectacular -- definitely connecting trail. I reached Breakneck Ridge Lean-to at 2:45 and spent fifteen minutes reading the register and making my own entry. It was time for a non-stop nine-mile push to Monson.

After this shelter the Appalachian Trail-passed by old, overgrown farm fields, following wide, grassy roads for two-and-a-half miles before coming out onto a paved road. I trod pavement for the next couple of miles, passing through the center of another tiny little village known as Blanchard. Just west of the village on this roadwalk, I saw my second and third moose of this hike: a male and a female making goo-goo eyes at each other in another overgrown field adjacent to the road.

 

I crossed the Piscataquis River (on a truly effete automobile bridge, no less) and made my way through a small village named Blanchard. Downtown Blanchard lacked even a post office or a gas station; it was basically a small cluster of houses. I turned left onto another paved road, which the Appalachian Trail followed north out of town. Finally, the AT left the paved roads behind and followed a rocky, slimy, muddy, badly gullied old tote road east for three miles, passing through recently logged forests and more abandoned farms. This stretch ended on a paved road which followed the shore of huge Lake Hebron for the final couple of miles into Monson. Numerous summer homes and cabins lined the lakeshore. It was definitely not the usual Maine wilderness. Just as darkness began to fall, I came to Shaw's Boarding House, directly on the Appalachian Trail roadwalk.

 

Monson was my last trail town on the AT. The supplies which I carried out the next day would take me to Katahdin. Which brings us to the end of September 25, 1983, and the end of Chapter 23.

Chapter 24: September 26, 1983 was a cloudy, hazy day with a threat of rain. That figured, as I intended to tent that night. The AT followed the main road north out of Monson for a half-mile, and then another paved road for another mile or so. After that came two-and-a-half miles along a gradually-deteriorating gravel road. The Appalachian Trail left the road and entered the woods, soon reemerging at the shore of another beautiful mountain pond. Next, it followed a very rugged course with numerous ups and downs along some slate ridges lie.

I passed two more attractive ponds as I traversed those ridges for five-and-a-half miles.

 

I was wearing boots again for the first time since Rangeley. They were the cheap work boots I had bought in Virginia after the first hiking boots blew out, but at least they gave my ankles some protection from the rocks, unlike the running shoes I had been wearing for ten days.

It was an interesting route despite a lack of views, but the constant short, steep stretches were hard on my body, particularly since I was carrying a pack loaded with ten days' worth of supplies after a long day yesterday.

 

Still September 26, 1983, and still Chapter 24.

I was relieved when the Appalachian Trail came out at Little Wilson Falls, which were fairly spectacular. A large brook roared over precipitous slate ledges into a deep canyon. The ledges were vertical twelve- to fourteen-foot drops connected by extremely narrow steps (which kind of describes much of the Appalachian Trail in Maine). I killed a lot of time taking pictures and simply enjoying the falls.

 

The descent to Little Wilson Stream was fairly sick. The water was a bit high at the ford; my feet got a little wet -- no big deal. The highest water was ankle-deep over the submerged rocks. I did not even bother to remove my boots or socks.

About five minutes past the ford, the new 1983 Maine guidebook directed me to cross an old tote road which used to be part of the Appalachian Trail. Well, the AT turned right onto that road, so apparently the M.A.T.C. included another relocation in the guidebook they had not yet gotten around to finishing. That meant I was on my own until Barren Slide; there was no description of the old trail in the guidebook. I stopped for the night at Little Wilson Campsite, on the bank of Little Wilson Stream about a mile downstream from the falls.

 

End of September 26, 1983. Still Chapter 24.

The night was unseasonably warm and muggy. I could not seem to get moving when morning came September 27. I did not make it out onto the trail until almost 8:00. The rain never had arrived, and the night's clouds were beginning to break up, although the air remained fairly humid. It appeared that another stretch of warm, hazy weather was on tap. The Appalachian Trail was a roadwalk for the entire distance to the next shelter. I have no idea of how many miles it was, as this section was not in my guidebook, but it took me almost two-and-a-half hours to complete. I reached the end of the roadwalk at Long Pond Lean-to at 10:30 and spent forty-five minutes zoning out.

Along the way, I crossed the tracks of the Canadian-Pacific Railroad, the official southern boundary of the North Maine Woods, an enormous wilderness tract owned by several giant paper companies. There were few roads, towns, or villages.

 

Today was just another one of those days when I could never get going. I was constantly taking long breaks for no apparent reason. The fifty-odd pounds of supplies crammed into my backpack may have had something to do with that, or the culprit may simply have been Maine Disease. That is what northbound thru-hikers have taken to calling the condition which afflicts us in this state with a reluctance to speed the end which is now so near. We slow down to savor all of the sights, stop for the night early, and our daily mileage drops. It was a weird day, what with a severe dose of Maine Disease and the increasing magnetic pull of Katahdin battling it out for control of my mind and my body. Apparently, they reached a sort of a compromise, because I moved very slowly and stopped frequently all day, but I kept pushing onward until after nightfall and put in nineteen miles.

 

Maine Disease notwithstanding, the Barren-Chairback Range was a hike which demanded extra time. The Appalachian Trail traveled a rugged course with constant sharp ups and downs through high, windswept forests. Dusky fir and spruce rose above black, spongy ground cluttered with masses of dark gray boulders. Moss and ferns in vivid greens brightened the perspectives.

The traverse began with a long, arduous haul up Barren Mountain from the Long Pond Stream valley. The trail's first breakout from the woods was about halfway up the mountain at the top of Barren Slide, where fractured slate cliffs trailed a jumble of boulders far down the mountainside, leaving a path of destruction which had obliterated a huge chunk of forest. I took another long break there. Lake Onawa's long, irregular shoreline dominated the remote, forested valley below. It was a gray, overcast, humid day, but clear enough for the eye to enjoy some views. There was not much for my camera to pick up, however. Still September 27, 1983. Still Chapter 24.

Just past Long Pond Stream Lean-to, along the climb up Barren Slide, the number of remaining trail miles dipped below a hundred.

 

Up at the top, an old fire tower featured sweeping 360-degree vistas limited somewhat by visibility conditions today. The blurred vastness of Maine's famed Sebec Lake was barely discernible several miles to the south. A line of mountains to the north beyond the narrow S-curve of Long Pond were mere ghosts in the haze.

The trail continued eastward along a humpy and hummocky ridge. Masses of slender downed fir limbs and plenty of dead trees lie amongst the moss and rocks. Cloud Pond lay on a small plateau tucked below the narrow ridge crest just past Barren's summit. The first glimpse of the pond was a shallow pocket cove at the eastern tip. Tall strands of water grasses rose above the surface of the water. Sunlight on the rippling waves was reflecting moving lines on the grasses -- a gentle strobe effect which was rather hypnotic.  Lily pads bobbed in the shallows, while rocks and driftwood lined the shoreline. The dark spruce and fir surrounding the lake were gnarled and shaggy, their trunks covered with a grayish, scaly fungus.

Not a lot of thought was given to naming many of the peaks of the Barren-Chairback Range.  Fourth Mountain was a mother climb, and the summit ridge a series of rugged knobs, but there were some nice views to the north and east.

 

It was still a warm, hazy day, but enough of the haze had cleared away to give me my first real distant vistas of the day.

 

Still September 27, 1983. Still Chapter 24.

Third Mountain was scenic, but a five-star pain in the butt for a backpacker. Its entire ragged length was a series of abrupt knobs separated by strip bogs nestled in dry ravines, pocket rock-garden meadows, and open rock ledges with views back west toward Fourth and Barren Mountains.

When I finally staggered up to its main summit beside an impressive line of cliffs, I saw some great views of the entire range from Barren Fire Tower to Columbus Mountain and East Chairback Pond with Whitecap Mountain beyond, but traversing that mountain chewed up all kinds of time -- the one commodity I could least spare. So, I naturally took a half-mile round trip detour to check out West Chairback Pomd.

 

Still September 27, 1983. Still Chapter 24.

The overcast finally cleared completely as I climbed the day's final mountain. From the top of Columbus (below), I had haunting visions of the deepening colors of the post-sunset above the trees to the west and a good view of twilight settling over the ponds and mountains north and east. I needed my flashlight along the short drop into Chairback Gap, which made for slow, hazardous going on the rough footway.

I finally dragged into the lean-to at 7:30, well after nightfall.

 

End of September 27, 1983. Still Chapter 24.

I'm still not done. More AT pics here.