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Almost to Katahdin: Appalachian Trail Section Hike to the Kennebec River

Section hiking progress towards the 2000 mile patch by Don "Photon" and Dave Johnston.


by Don Johnston and Dave Johnston | 2005-06-21 03:00:00-06

Almost There: Appalachian Trail Section Hike Trip Report - 1
Don (left) and Dave (right) Johnston at the trail head, summer 2004.

Maine! The final state in Don's (Photon) 15-year quest to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) one piece at a time. The New Hampshire-Maine state line is a touchstone for through-hikers and section-hikers alike, one that hints that this 2,174 mile quest might, in fact, have an end. Accompanied by my brother Dave, I not only crossed this line, but pushed another 130 miles into the heart of Maine, literally to within sight of the climax: Katahdin!

Over the past 15 years I have pushed slowly up the trail, using spring vacation until I was so far north that spring hadn't actually arrived yet. Two years ago I switched to summer hikes and, accompanied by Dave, completed the section from the Long Trail in Vermont through the White Mountains to Gorham, New Hampshire. This year we continued the journey over the last of the Whites in the Mahoosuc Range, over Saddleback and the Bigelows, to the Kennebec River in central Maine.

The maps for this section show that the trail will retain the rugged character it assumed at Mt. Moosilauke at the south end of the White Mountains. However, in this section the tempo will be increased as the ups and downs are closer together. Due to shelter spacing, we were faced with a choice between short 8-hour days and long 14 or more hour days. We decided to do this 147-mile section in 12 short days with three resupplies to allow time for photography and to keep the pack weight down through this rugged section.

After driving about 800 miles, Dave and I arrived at the endpoint of our trip at the Kennebec River to drop off a car. River and Trails Northeast, which also provides the ferry service across the Kennebec, graciously provides private, monitored parking. While transferring my gear to Dave's car, I discovered that I did not have the resupply package I intended to drop off on the way back down to Gorham. Fortunately, the Rivers and Trails store is well equipped for through-hiker style resupply and I cobbled together a 3-day supply of food with minimal compromise. We drove down to Gorham to spend a night at the well-known Hikers Paradise. The next day we were dropped off at the AT crossing of Route 2 in the valley between the Carter Range and the Mahoosucs where we had ended our section two years before. The hike was on.

Segment 1: Route 2 to Grafton Notch

We set out with 21-pound (Don) and 25-pound (Dave) packs, including food, water and fuel. My pack had more cottage industry gear and thus was the lighter of the two. Dave's pack held better photo gear, including a full height tripod. For footwear, I was trying out Salomon Tech Amphibians, a mesh river shoe, while Dave used Lowa Renegade Gore-Tex lightweight boots. We both brought trekking poles capable of supporting our full weight to save our middle-aged knees on the expected steep ledgey descents.

Almost There: Appalachian Trail Section Hike Trip Report - 2
There were a lot of photogenic spots along the first portion of our trip. Here is a rare photo of Dave (the photography nut) at a rest stop on 3,565 foot Mt. Success.

Despite our late start on this 12-mile day, we did not hurry, pausing for photography including the obligatory tripod shot at the trailhead sign at the start of the climb. The weather had been wet in recent weeks, and there was a lot of water on the trail. This section is characterized by frequent wet areas traversed by bog bridges in varying stages of age and condition. As I walked over a floating bog bridge, it sunk below the surface and I had wet feet. Not unexpected and it felt nice and cool. The mesh river shoes do not retain water and my socks started drying after I emerged on the other side. I had with me Gore-Tex socks to put on in the event I needed to keep my feet warm in cold rain and wind but never needed them - this would turn out to be the wettest my feet got the entire hike.

We climbed steadily to Mt. Hayes and the first of many views. The weather was consistently warm (but not hot) and muggy, so the views were generally hazy and unremarkable. Still, there are few better rewards in hiking than summiting out above the forest, and we had a fair amount of that. After about eight miles, we reached Page Pond. The trail traverses the outlet over a 60-foot long beaver dam, just inches above water level, providing the unusual sensation of walking across the surface of the lake. We continued to climb progressively higher bumps, reaching the subalpine zone, then undulating between forest and subalpine scenery. We arrived at the shelter at Gentian Pond by 5:30 p.m. At dusk, we watched a moose cow feed in the pond as her two calves cavorted on the far shore. This was a fairly sedate day, although my notes say the trail was rugged. It turned out be just a warm-up for what was to come.

Our second day was sunny and warm. There were many short rugged ups and downs plus the high peaks of Mt. Success, Mt. Carlo, and the Goose Eye (West, East, and North) peaks. The peaks were clear like the balds down south. Although we hadn't yet hit 4,000 feet, the peaks extend well into the krummholz zone and provide both subalpine scenery and decent views. The combination of the moist landscape and warm weather encouraged tiny flies, which loved to buzz in a small swarm near our sweaty faces. From the West peak of Goose Eye, we could see the route the trail would travel for miles ahead. We spotted Mahoosuc Notch, Mahoosuc Arm, Old Speck, Baldpate, and beyond - the next two days of the route. Along the way, we crossed the state line into Maine, a landmark noted by numerous northbounder's notes in the log at the next shelter.

We arrived at Full Goose Shelter early and had time for reading, a nap, and battles with bold and greedy ground squirrels before dinner. This was only a 10-mile day, but it put us on the edge of the renowned Mahoosuc Notch for the next day. Several southbound hikers (self-proclaimed "slackers" hiking for the fun of it, of all things) arrived late in the day and we exchanged trail information. They said we would have fun going through the Notch.

Almost There: Appalachian Trail Section Hike Trip Report - 3
Don negotiating boulders in Mahoosuc Notch.

Almost There: Appalachian Trail Section Hike Trip Report - 4
Baldpate Lean-to.

Mahoosuc Notch. I have heard tales of it for many years. A 1,500-foot deep, narrow canyon with a bottom consisting of huge, angular boulders sloughed off the cliffs above. The trail travels about a mile through the notch, following a tiny watercourse that can occasionally be heard gurgling under the boulders. The air trapped in the notch is distinctly cool and even in August we saw several patches of ice in the deep crannies between boulders. The reported time to travel through it seems to range from one to three hours. I feared a tough time ahead, having gone through Devil's Gulch on the Long Trail. However, I have found most of the famous sections on the AT are easier than expected. Since we were unsure of how long it would take us to traverse Mahoosuc Notch, we rose early to make sure we would meet the ride that we had arranged to meet us in Grafton Notch. We walked through a beautiful alpine meadow between the peaks of Fulling Mill Mountain before plunging into the west end of the notch. After collapsing and stowing our hiking poles in our packs we headed in. The joys of a light pack were evident. The notch required dynamic rock hopping, occasional hand-over-hand scrambling, confident footwork, and squeezes through crevices. While not able to bounce through as adroitly as we would have without a pack, it was clear that it would have been more difficult with larger, heavier packs. At every juncture there were multiple ways through and we found that choosing high routes was the easiest. We were through in an hour. As the southbounders had predicted, it was more fun than intimidating. The reputation of Mahoosuc Notch was probably earned among old-style backpackers with bulky 50-pound packs.

The climb up the other side to Mahoosuc Arm, on the other hand, lived up to its reputation as a long, steep climb with plenty of scrambling. This was a quintessential White Mountains trail: straight up the side of the mountain over uneven rocks, ledges and erosion-exposed roots, 1,250 feet in a mile. We rested at Speck Pond, pushed up Old Speck Mountain, finally reaching 4,000 feet. We were well ahead of schedule, and with only the descent to Grafton Notch left we had plenty of time to take the side trail to the lookout tower on top where we found great views of the back of the notch, the Goose Eye peaks, and ahead to Baldpate.

During the 2,500 foot descent, the overcast thickened and we got our first drops of rain. We descended to the road in Grafton Notch by 3:00 p.m. and had 3 hours before our scheduled pick up by Stony Brook Campground staff. The schedule called for us to stay at Stony Brook for the night, pick up our resupply, and go 16 miles to Hall Mountain Lean-to the next day. With the extra time in our schedule for the afternoon, we began to hatch another plan. If we could hitch a ride to Stony Brook and convince them to return us to Grafton Notch a day earlier than arranged, we could hike the 2.5 miles to Baldpate Lean-to instead of staying in the campground. This would make the next day's mileage more reasonable. Almost immediately, a day hiker returned to the parking lot and offered us a ride. Once at the campground, we paid for our reserved night there, picked up the resupply, and the staff gave us a ride back to the trail at Grafton Notch. We arrived at Baldpate Lean-to before dark and before the rain got serious. It rained hard overnight but stopped by the morning. There were a number of people (including a Maine Appalachian Trail Club work crew finishing their tour and heading into town) at this shelter.

Segment 2: Grafton Notch to Route 4 (Rangeley)

I was beginning to really appreciate the advantages of my pack when staying in shelters. On this trip, I am using my Gearskin from Moonbow Gear. This pack unbuckles and opens up flat, forming my nearly-full-length bed for the night. Gearskins can be customized to your preferences at the time you order. Mine has been customized so it is essentially a pad sleeve with hip belt and shoulder straps attached. When lying down, the hip belt is located in the small of my back providing support right where it is needed and the shoulder straps are spread wide so they are to the sides. I sleep well on this and the support of the hip belt in the small of my back has prevented the back pain I used to get when sleeping on totally flat pads. My sleeping pad in the sleeve also serves as the pack frame when the Gearskin is folded and buckled into a pack form.

Almost There: Appalachian Trail Section Hike Trip Report - 5
Don on a ledge on Cascade Mountain with his Moonbow Gearskin pack. Mt. Washington and Mt. Madison in the background.

This has advantages in shelters because you do not need to find a place to hang your pack where it will be out of the way. With the pack opened up to form a bed my sleeping bag gets placed over it and all other gear forms a pillow. Inside the pack I had three sacks plus a tent. Food bag on the bottom, sleeping bag next, and everything else in a sack on the top followed by the lightweight tent. This is a very efficient system that saves time in packing up. Packing now consists of stuffing the sleeping bag in its sack, folding and buckling the pack, putting the food bag with fuel bottle and any extra water I am carrying in the bottom, sleeping bag sack next, then the top sack containing everything else, followed by the tent, and finally buckling the top shut. My pack-up time has dropped a full 30 minutes since I started using the Gearskin pack.

We climbed to Baldpate Mountain in shifting, cloudy remnants of last night's storm. The West Peak was not treeless but we could see ahead to the well-named East Peak of Baldpate, a depilated dome that would be more at home in the Adirondacks than the Whites. Clouds blew and roiled in the col between the peaks and occasionally pushed up over the top like vaporous glaciers. The clouds came and went as we traversed the col and provided a variety of dramatic scenes. The final ascent over slabs was steep and wet enough that shoes tended to slip on the rock. When we got there the top was socked in, providing that sense of other-worldly isolation that in some ways is superior to unlimited views. Even so, the summit cleared before we left and revealed a sea of clouds punctuated by numerous ridges poking above the clouds. This scenic hat trick on Baldpate was one of the highlights of the trip.

The weather provided more scenic drama and made it an interesting morning as the clouds cleared. The terrain eased off for the rest of the day and we walked mostly in woods. Not long after Surplus Pond I heard some noise on the trail about 10 feet ahead that seemed odd, and thinking it was some animal I stopped to look more closely. The noise seemed to be near the base of a tree, and as I watched, the base of the tree splintered and the tree fell. This is the second time a tree has fallen near us on hikes.

At Hall Mountain Lean-to I took the side trail to the "Gun Sight" and could see the view across Sawyer Notch to Moody Mountain and Old Blue. Tomorrow looked like a more challenging day. For me the long climbs up Moody Mountain and Old Blue Mountain were as tough as anything we had seen so far. In one place, the route up was in the process of sliding down the mountain, adding a little more danger and challenge to the ascent. My left knee was beginning to bother me a little and looked a little swollen. We were mostly traveling through woods where trees blocked our views, even at the top of 3,600 foot Old Blue. The trail got more interesting in the second half of the day with a long section of bog walk and a stand of never-logged red spruce. The highest peak of Bemis Mountain was unspectacular, but its lower peaks (Third, Second, and First Peaks) were very scenic. Rock slabs and a variety of subalpine vegetation along the trail made interesting photographs. We stopped for the night at Bemis Mountain Lean-to.

The next morning we encountered some trail magic while crossing Route 17 where cans of Coke and Oreos in a cooler were provided to hikers. The rest of the day was a conspicuously low elevation jaunt past ponds and bogs. The largest of these, Long Pond, has numerous camps and cabins along one shore but is apparently only served by float plane, one of which we witnessed. The trail passes a great lunch spot with some tables on a sand beach at waterline facing out on the water. Later, we passed a classic north woods peat bog with pitcher plants. Although the day was by no means boring, we cruised the 17.7 miles to Route 4 easily. We caught a ride into Rangeley for our resupply and our night at Gull Pond Lodge. Proprietor Bob O'Brien's converted house on the shore of Gull Pond is hiker-friendly to the extreme. Bob really takes care of hikers, providing transportation wherever and whenever it is needed and setting out a vast selection of breakfast foods in the morning. This is an almost-obligatory waypoint for through-hikers, with good reason.

Segment 3: Route 4 to Route 27 (Stratton)

In the morning, we began our climb of Saddleback Mountain under heavy overcast. We took a short side trip to Piazza Rock. This huge slab jutting out from the side of a ridge might indeed serve as a public square - if there were a town there, that is. From the wear at the edge on top many have stood on the brink and pondered the drop to the forest below.

From Piazza, the trail climbed steadily past scenic Ethel Pond and Eddy Pond, and then steepened for the 1,700 foot climb to the top of 4,120 foot Saddleback. Because of the threatening rain, Dave hiked without a shirt, drawing comments from day hikers. Even though it never rained this proved to be a good strategy, as the air was warm and muggy even above tree line. This being a Saturday there were many people on the mountain, some of whom were with a group getting oriented for a survey of alpine plants. They were accompanied by the MATC (Maine Appalachian Trail Club), steward for the section, who pointed out where the proposed wind farm would be located, towering 400 feet above the summits in the middle distance. He was unreserved in his condemnation of the project.

The summit of Saddleback is a true alpine climate. The rounded ridge top stays above tree line for more than a mile before dipping into a col and then rising again to The Horn. While we were on Saddleback the clouds rose and the wind began to pick up. We learned that a front was supposed to head in from the northwest, bringing thunderstorms and "damaging winds." It was tempting to go slow and take in the view and alpine details, but we had two more treeless peaks to cover. We picked up the pace but by the time we reached The Horn the wind was blowing steadily at around 30 mph. It was still warm and there was no evidence of an organized storm so we took pictures and moved on toward Saddleback Junior. When we got above treeline on Junior, there was an obvious front moving toward us so we hustled off and down to Poplar Ridge Lean-to.

Almost There: Appalachian Trail Section Hike Trip Report - 6
Don on the summit of Saddleback Mountain wearing his infamous fishnet shirt.

The caretaker for this shelter has been maintaining it for something like 40 years and has placed there a number of laminated sheets detailing the history of the shelter and answers to questions hikers had written in the shelter log. The shelter floor is made from baseball bat-diameter saplings. Back when the shelter was built, the first hikers of the season would spread spruce boughs across it to make a comfortable sleeping surface. These days, hikers bring their own sleeping pads. There were a number of hikers here for the night and one pair was having trouble with the cleaning wire for their white gas stove which could not be reinserted. Many of us were familiar with the process but no one could get the wire back in so they used their fuel with another hiker's stove.

The rain held off until most of us had eaten dinner then it came down in buckets and the winds howled. Even in this relatively sheltered location, some rain was blown into the shelter. It was windy and rainy all night.

The rain stopped about 6:00 a.m. and the sky soon cleared. We descended to Orbeton Stream at 1,500 feet and then immediately began climbing back above 3,000 feet. We passed several scenic mountain streams on the way up Lone Mountain on a nicely graded trail (for the northeast US that is.) We took a side trail 1.7 miles to 4,049-foot Mt. Abraham, a long, exposed ridge perpendicular to the main ridgeline. Mt. Abraham is essentially a pile of talus reminiscent of Mt. Washington and the Northern Presidentials. This was the only time on the trip where my mesh Salomon shoes were at a disadvantage over more thickly sided leather shoes. I had to be careful to keep from wedging the side of my foot between rocks. Mt. Abraham offered 360-degree views, including Sugarloaf ahead, and the Saddleback group behind us.

Our original plan was to stop at Spaulding Mountain Lean-to after just 11.4 miles, leaving 13.5 miles for the next day. However, the trail logs at the previous shelter reported that the Sugarloaf USA ski building on top of Sugarloaf (the second highest mountain in Maine) was open to hikers. This was about 3 miles past Spaulding Mountain Lean-to and would reduce our mileage to the road the next day. The only disadvantage reported was the lack of water on Sugarloaf. We stopped at Spaulding Mountain lean-to and loaded up on 2 liters of water each. The climb up 4,000-foot Spaulding Mountain with this extra weight was noticeably more difficult.

After climbing Spaulding Mountain, we reached the plaque commemorating the completion of the last segment of the AT by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps formed in 1933 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to save the eroding forests and the urban unemployed) at this spot. My energy level was running flat. The rugged trail footing had taken its toll. I ate the last of my food for the day and drank my last water just prior to the climb up Sugarloaf. But the extra effort was worth it. This was a spectacular place. The building is a large, multi-level hexagonal chalet that was originally the terminus of the summit gondola. The gondola has been abandoned and the building is just used as a warming "hut" in the winter. The door was open, with just a sign asking hikers to keep the place clean. There was electricity and lights, and a toaster and microwave had been rigged. The floor-to-ceiling windows offered 270 degrees of view and several picnic tables offered a sleeping alternative to the oiled wood floors. As we watched the sun set over Crocker Mountain, we cooked dinner and relaxed.

Several of us decided to spend the night outside on the concrete porch. Not surprisingly on a 4,200-foot summit, it was quite windy and the wind didn't die down in the evening; it got stronger overnight. The temperature was warm but the wind made exposed sleeping difficult. It was strong enough to blow light sleeping gear off the porch immediately if not anchored to something full time. The railing stopped Dave's down bag from sailing off at one point. Three of us tried sleeping outside. One guy went in after a few hours because the wind was getting in his bag and was chilling him. Neither of us had that problem; in fact we were on the hot side. I had my 17-ounce Bozeman Mountain Works Arc-X quilt and Dave had his new 21-ounce Marmot Hydrogen bag, both with Pertex Quantum shells.

I wore Patagonia Capilene boxers, a Patagonia Dragonfly pullover, and a 1.7 ounce balaclava and Dave wore just a Dragonfly and shorts in his hooded bag. Despite the wind whipping my quilt around constantly, I slept very warm until dawn with the Dragonfly's hood on my head. I sealed the quilt to my neck with the neck draw cord and had the quilt's straps run under my sleeping pad fastening it down to keep out drafts and keep it from blowing away. I had a strap from my pack attached to a picnic table just in case the weight of all the gear in my pack pillow was not enough to keep everything in place when I got up during the night. I was impressed with the wind resistance of my quilt, I was not feeling any drafts. The Dragonfly hood was just what was needed to protect my head from the chilling wind. Despite the wind, we had heavy dew on the exterior of our bags, but it didn't penetrate and evaporated shortly after we went back inside.

The next day we descended steeply to the Carrabassett River at 2,100 feet and then back up to 4,000 feet over the South and North Peaks of Crocker Mountain. The only notable scenery was off trail at a pond in Crocker Cirque. Reached from the Crocker Cirque Campsite side trail, the pond is surrounded on three sides by the steep ridges of Crocker Mountain. The weather was hot for the trip over the mountain and 2,600 feet back down to the road. We caught a ride to Stratton and had a pleasant stay at the White Wolf Inn, a regular small town motel that attracts hikers with special pricing. The White Wolf's restaurant had uncommonly good and unusual food: we had breaded fiddlehead ferns, a main dish garnished with fresh local flowers, and rhubarb pie.

Segment 4: Route 27 to Kennebec River

It took a while to hitch a ride back to the trail in the morning, but it didn't matter since we did not have a long day planned. We encountered a pair of day hikers at the crossing of a dirt road who asked to look at our map. As we resumed our hike, I leapt aside when I noticed a yellow jacket nest in the ground by spotting the guard bee on the ground near a hole. We managed to avoid getting stung at this one. At Horns Pond, we came upon a few hikers and the caretaker for the area. The conversation was about lightweight backpacking, and I was asked about my pack. I shared some information with the caretaker and eventually we moved on.

The Bigelow Range is justifiably well-known for its excellent alpine scenery and as the last high range before Katahdin. Horns Pond is a large, beautiful tarn at the base of The Horns (not to be confused with The Horn on Saddleback), a pair of peaks that were not named for their resemblance to musical instruments. Across a long col is 4,145-foot West Peak which is separated by a much narrower col from 4,088-foot Avery Peak. We planned to get to Avery Memorial campsite in the 3,800-foot col between the two high peaks at a minimum that day, but would continue to Safford Notch campsite if there was time.

Almost There: Appalachian Trail Section Hike Trip Report - 7
Don reviewing the day's pictures at Avery Memorial Campsite. We set up the Nomad 2-4-2 to wait out a storm before climbing above timberline on Mt Avery.

As we climbed the South Horn, we began to hear thunder. On top we could see that a significant storm was passing through the valley just to the north. As we climbed West Peak, it looked like there was another storm headed right down our ridgeline. For safety we needed to be off the peaks. With the storm approaching, we descended to Avery Memorial campsite and set up our tent at 3:15 p.m. as the wind and rain began. The storm passed in about an hour, so we continued on and climbed Avery Peak. The storm had cleared the air and the view was about the clearest of the trip, with interesting remnants of storm clouds billowing all around. While not certain, we thought we could see Katahdin. We lingered on top, enjoying the changing view and taking pictures, until after 6:00 p.m.. We had only 2 miles and 1,500 feet to descend to Safford Notch, but this turned out to be the single most annoying section of the trip. The footing was awful and the trail poorly routed. We arrived at Safford Notch campsite at dusk - 1.5 hours for a downhill 2 miles.

There was a small Scout troop at the campsite and they assisted us in locating an available site. Later, one of the leaders came down to tell us to feel free to tell the Scouts in a nearby tent to quiet down if they bothered us. Somehow this turned into a conversation about lightweight backpacking, and I was asked to show some of our gear to the Scouts in the morning.

As it turned out my brother thought he had left his glasses up on the peak so he went back up and down the awful trail in the morning. (As it happens, the glasses were caught up in the Dragonfly in his pack all along, but this made for an invigorating early morning hike to the cloud-shrouded summit.) This gave me plenty of time to give an impromptu lightweight backpacking clinic to the Scouts. Most of our gear was of interest with many questions about our packs, Nomad 2-4-2 tent, Aqua Mira water treatment, first aid kit, emergency kit, flash lights, etc. Also covered was food and trail hygiene. Gear was passed around and they were impressed with the lightness of individual things like the Evernew pot with a pie plate foil lid and a bowl cover for storage instead of a stuff sack. They wanted in particular to see my alcohol stove in operation. There were many exclamations of awe as the water quickly boiled. With the water boiling, one of the hungry Scouts retrieved his oatmeal so the hot water would not go to waste. When Dave returned, the clinic ended and we packed up.

Little Bigelow Mountain only rises to 3,000 feet but has numerous views along its 1 1/2 mile ridgetop. As we descended, the trail turned into a perfectly groomed footpath and soon we were cruising for the first time. The next 7 miles to West Carry Pond Lean-to consisted of gentle rises over low mountains and skirting lakes. The crossing of Long Falls Dam Road marks the passing of 2,000 miles from Springer, and "2000 MI." is painted in the center of the road - less than 200 miles to Katahdin. I am almost there.

We got to West Carry Pond Lean-to in the middle of the afternoon and watched the squirrels conduct their own pre-Olympics. At this pond cedar trees suddenly became ubiquitous at the shore and in wet areas. We hadn't seen any cedar previously, but they were increasingly common as we continued north.

In the morning, we spent some time exploring Arnold Point, where Benedict Arnold and his army crossed the pond while on their way to invade Quebec during the Revolutionary War. This section of the AT follows part of the route of the "Arnold Trail" where Arnold's army used East, Middle, and West Carry Ponds to portage between the Kennebec and Dead rivers. The portage was a disaster, with the men sinking in bogs up to their waists while carrying 400 pound green wood bateaux. Fortunately, the trail has been improved considerably since then.

The whole day was a cruise past several ponds and low elevation forest. In a wetland next to East Carry, we saw both pitcher plants and sundew. We photographed some of the waterfalls along Pierce Pond Stream as we descended to the Kennebec River. With only a few miles to go, we didn't see the yellow jacket nest in the ground and the guard bee expressed his painful displeasure on Dave's leg.

We arrived at the crossing point on the Kennebec a little after 2:30 p.m. The ferry service is free and exists because the Kennebec is not a free flowing river. It rises and falls quickly and unpredictably with the water releases from the power generating dams upstream. Hikers have died trying to ford this river here due to the rapid rise of the river and the powerful current that comes with that. The ferry is actually a canoe. After we signaled, the canoe came across and picked us up. When the canoe first landed, there were lots of exposed rocks on our side of the river. But as we put on PFDs and loaded the boat, the river rose. We got in as the rocks disappeared. As we crossed, the river continued to rise and when we hit the main current just past the middle of the river, we were soon pointed nearly straight upstream just barely making headway crossing the current. Even though the water is clear, the bottom of the river was not visible. I was glad we had not tried to float across on inflatable pool rings as we had heard someone had done recently (with two kids!). That misadventure caused quite a stir and scrambling of rescue personnel to be on hand just in case it didn't work out.

With a short walk to the road, our trip was over. I have completed one more piece of the Appalachian Trail. Katahdin is now no longer just an abstraction at a little over 150 miles away. I wanted to call work and say I was not coming back... I am almost there.

Gear Lists

Don “Photon” Johnston’s Gear List
Clothing Worn While HikingOuncesGrams
Mesh long sleeve shirt - REI Sonora t-shirt, no longer made4.5128
Patagonia Baggie Lights3.9111
SmartWool Light hikers2.879
REI Spring Gaiters2.160
Solomon Tech Amphibians27765
Watch Casio Alti-Thermo1.851
Wallet Ziploc1.337
Hat Patagonia - Vented Broadbill Hat3.394
Hip pads1.131
Other Items Worn or CarriedOuncesGrams
Leki Poles -with Ultrapod attached23.2658
Other ClothingOuncesGrams
Western Mountaineering Flight Down Jacket (stored with sleeping bag)10.9309
Patagonia Dragonfly pullover windshirt3.291
Nylon side zip pants4.8136
Silk weight boxers2.879
Socks - Fox River VVS or SmartWool Light Hiking2.879
Gortex socks for use with Salomon Tech Amphibians3.599
Silnlyon chaps2.674
Disposable shower cap0.13
Disposable Poncho2.057
Bozeman Mountain Works SpinPoncho LITE with added arms8.4238
Head net0.823
Sunglasses - Sporteyz in Oakley cleaning case0.617
Zephur jacket - Patagonia 2000 model 8.8249
Capilene Balaclava - Patagonia for hiking in cold1.748
Shelter and Sleep SystemOuncesGrams
Nomad 2-4-229.4833
Mt Washington Pad (Red)7.5213
Mt Washington Pad (Red)8.2232
Bozeman Mountain Works Quantum Arc X quilt in Turkey bag17.4493
MoonBow Gearskin24.7700
MoonBow Pack Cover2.262
Cooking and WaterOuncesGrams
High performance alcohol stove2.365
Aluminum pie pan bottom0.13
Alcohol fuel bottle0.823
Evernew Titanium 0.9 liter pot with EZ foil lid 3.7105
Drinking cup - plastic soup cup0.823
Food stuff sack1.440
Kitchen Bag: Lexan spoon, toothpaste, tooth brush, lighter, Ibuprofen, water bag cap with holes for washing up6.0170
Spectra 825 bear bag rope, 50 feet minimum1.028
Water bottle2.674
Platypus water carrier2.982
Glad Stand and Zip bag - water scoop and wash bag0.617
Aquamira - in painters mesh bag and Ziploc baggie2.365
1 liter soda bottle - for carrying water with Gearskin pack1.543
Other EssentialsOuncesGrams
Camera Olympus Stylus 400 Digital with battery7.0198
Spare battery in plastic bag1.337
Spare battery (third spare camera battery)1.234
ARC AAA LED Flashlight (0.8 oz, adds to kitchen bag weight)00
First Aid Kit: tweezers, wet proof tape, Pro tick remedy, Neosporin Antibiotic ointment, various band-aids and butterfly closures, prescription Cortisone cream, 0.5 oz alcohol, 4 Imodium, 4 Benehist, 4 Compeed, folding scissors (0.4 oz)3.7105
Repair/Emergency kit: water proof matches, nylon repair tape, needle and thread, whistle, platypus patches1.645
Toilet trowel0.720
Toilet paper - 1 oz per week1.028
Hand sanitizer0.926
Bag to contain trowel, paper, and sanitizer0.26
Pack towel0.514
Notepad - waterproof journal paper, 0.1 oz for 3 sheets0.411
Insect repellent1.543
Blistex or Banana Boat - Use as sunscreen for hands0.411
Consumables (for 3-days between resupply)OuncesGrams
fuel (1 oz/day)3.085
food (36 oz/day)108.03062
Weight SummaryPoundsKilograms
(1) Total Worn or Carried While Hiking3.01.4
(2) Total Base Weight in Pack12.25.5
(3) Total Weight of Consumables8.94.1
(4) Total Initial Pack Weight (2) + (3)21.19.6
(5) Full Skin-Out Weight (1) + (2) + (3)24.111.0
Dave Johnston’s Gear List
CategoryGear Item
Clothing Worn While Hiking
Nylon shorts
REI boxers
Button-front shirt with two pockets
Baseball cap
Synthetic socks
Lowa mid-height GTX boots
Other Items Worn or Carried
Komperdell hiking poles
Other Clothing
Frogg Toggs rain top
Patagonia Dragonfly
Cloudveil pants
Clothes bag (pillow)
Patagonia Capilene expedition-weight top and bottom (for cold nights that never happened)
REI mesh boxer underwear
Extra socks
Marmot lightweight fleece
Balaclava and Manzella glove liners
K-mart lightweight sandals
Shelter and Sleep System
Marmot Hydrogen 30° sleeping bag
Original Ridgerest full-length pad
Kelty Flight pack, frame sheet and stays, two side pockets, belt bag, water bottle holster, shoulder strap-mounted pouches for photo gear
Cooking and Water
Evernew 1 quart pot
Original Photon Stove
Fuel bottle
Measuring cup
Lexan spoon
12 oz storage tub (for oatmeal)
Glad 12 oz cup and cozy
Platypus 4-liter water bag
Aquamira, paint filter
Half-gallon milk jug w/ top cut off for dipping
Other Essentials
Princeton Tec Scout headlamp
O4 brand single LED as backup
Maps, ID, credit cards, cash
Medicine bag (usual stuff plus ibuprofen, powder, chafing ointment)
Toilet kit
Food bag: about 2lbs/day for 3 days; bulk items (coffee, pills)
Sony DSC-S85 digital camera
Lens adapter
0.7x wide angle lens
2x telephoto lens
768k of Memory Sticks
Spirit level for panoramas
Extra battery
Alosak bags for camera and other gear (rain)
Slik lightweight tripod

About the Authors

Don Johnston has been an avid backpacker since 1988 preferring week long or longer hikes. In addition to his Appalachian Trail mileage, he has completed the John Muir Trail twice, the High Sierra Trail, the Tahoe Yosemite Trail, the Northville Placid Trail, and The Long Trail. Don is the inventor of the "Photon Stove™" alcohol stove. He designed and owns the original Arc Alpinist sleeping quilt. Working with Kurt Russell, he prompted the construction of and owns the first Nomad Lite-N-Airy tent. Don is a Network Administrator at a Montgomery County, Maryland High School. Don hopes to complete the final 150 miles of his AT quest in summer 2005.

Editor’s Note: Don sumitted Katahdin on August 19, 2005, completing his quest to section hike the Appalachian Trail.

Dave Johnston, with more limited vacation time, has backpacked with Don on many occasions and is an avid photo buff. He grabs time to hike when available in Virginia and West Virginia and has hiked in the Grand Canyon, Saguaro National Park, the Adirondacks, and part of the Florida Trail. Dave is a building codes and standards specialist and used his experience with the gas industry to provide valuable input during the development of the "Photon Stoveā„¢". He currently is the Technical Director of the Vinyl Siding Institute.


"Almost to Katahdin: Appalachian Trail Section Hike to the Kennebec River," by Don Johnston and Dave Johnston. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2005-06-21 03:00:00-06.