HWY 27 to Kennebec River
MILES 2,001 TO 2,038
Atop Avery Peak, elevation 4,090 feet, I looked north to lake country. The sun cast down on the far horizon, a far contrast to the overcast sky and cloud that began to creep across the Crocker Mountains, Sugarloaf, and all those bumps to the south.
I was exhausted, to be honest. Days stacks upon days of climbing, almost relentlessly. Three, four mountains a day, most adorned with snow and ice, most without another person to share a story with. But a change of pace waited at the bottom of the Bigelow Mountains, and in fact, anything beneath 2,000 feet, because it was there I knew I’d be on dry ground.
Hiking on snow is tough. It’s slow moving, unpredictable and abusive. I racked up quite a canvas of bruises, and honestly, I don’t know how my knees made it through uninjured. When I was hit by a car ten years earlier, I was left with a list of life-long damages, including a high risk for hyperextending my right knee. I fear the day it might just rip. But it’s a small risk to take to seek the reward of this magical year-long experience.
Now, as I mentioned in the last post, I took the old AT over Sugarloaf Mountain. Sitting at the summit, while absorbing the scenic vista, I scanned the contours of the Crocker and Bigelow Mountains. I was bypassing the Crockers, which would be entirely in snow, with few views. I was also bypassing part of the Bigelow Mountains, as my route would descend from the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain, walk the highway for a few short miles, then take the Firewardens Trail to Avery Col. It was a beautiful trail, passing Stratton Pond, and similar to the AT, it was a steep trail up to the ridge, but it was well-built with rock stairways, and being south-facing, it was without snow or ice. As soon as I met the junction with the AT, there be the snow. I was so proud of myself to embrace this route, and to not feel obligated to suffer. This is my thru-hike and my life afterall, but in years past it was a different story.
Now, unlike the month I spent trekking across Colorado’s record-breaking snowpack in 2011, which often sent me post-holing up to my knees, thighs and occassionally further, and which was melting insanely fast beneath the hot summer sun, this snow was less deep and usually hard. But not entirely, and I’ve certainly hiked several miles crashing to my waist. And in Maine, there are so many bogs and bog logs and so many opportunities to posthole onto a hard surface, like one of those logs, or a rock, while other times I find myself having stepped through the snow and right into the bog. Thank goodness I traded in my old boots, which I’d been wearing for 900 miles, for a new pair, the waterproof membrane totally in tack. Dry feet are happy feet.
After the Bigelow Mountains, I loved the moment when I descended down from the mountains, and followed the trail as it wrapped around Flagstaff Lake. The afternoon had warmed just enough to feel its heat on my cheeks, and the lakeshore beheld an inviting lunch. I laid on my pad, stretched out my legs and arms, and wished for time to sit still. I need more moments like this, I thought, because Maine is hard people. Even wrapping around lakes, my pace was inconsistent, fluctuating from 1-3 miles an hour. There are rocks and roots and fallen wood, as trail crews have yet to be so kind to come sweep the trail of such obstacles. Boy do those volunteers have their work cut out for them, and I thank them in advance for helping to maintain this trail.