My buddy Ryan V., posed the idea of hiking the 100MW to me July 2012 while we were backpacking the West Rim Trail in PA. At the time I didn’t think much of it beyond my curiosity of the 100 Mile Wilderness' lore. This past February 2013 I spit-balled backpacking it this summer and within 24 hours Ryan proposed some dates. That is a clear sign that Ryan is IN! Like myself, he is a knuckle-dragger at times for committing. That being said, I thought"guess I'm in too!", as I was just spitballin'. Over the next few months we hammered out the details regarding lodging, shuttling, expected daily mileages, campsite selection, map studying etc. Compromises were made on both ends regarding trip itineraries. We have differing philosophies on backpacking. I'll admit, I am weak in the, "stop and smell the roses" category. I see the hike as a challenge, and; "ask, how fast can we do this!" Ryan, is much more inclined to stop at overlooks, and take it in. He was put off initially that I was not going to bring a camera(I did bring a camera) for this trip. Frankly, I'm more interested in pics that have people in them than landscapes, because to me, the people are the story.
I over-analyzed the crap out of "my system", which included a LOT of testing, both on trail, and in the backyard. What cook kit, what backpack, what clothing, what sleeping bag, etc, etc. In the final week I elected to go the alcohol route rather than canister because, I didn’t want a hot breakfast. I don’t really like hot breakfast's but have done them in past, and not really even sure why. When I decided I wasn’t cooking breakfast, it made the alcohol stove more appealing. We were figuring 4 nights on the trail, but budgeted food for 5.5-6days. That being said, I realistically really only needed 6oz's of alcohol(brought 8). If I was doing hot breakfasts and hot dinners I could have probably gotten away with a Snowpeak Litemax ti,...but JUST. My Jetboil SOL is twice as efficient(and was a safer bet regarding fuel use), but that setup weighed 5oz more than my Litemax setup,...and every ounce was being scrutinized for this trip!
A few weeks prior to our departure we met at my house to go over each others gear, as we could not coordinate a gear-shake-down hike prior to this trip. Much of Ryan’s gear is older, and towards the mountaineering end of the backpacking spectrum; wicked heavy, overbuilt for a few days in the woods during the summer. We trimmed a few pounds from his base weight, and ended up at 23.7 pounds,...BASE WEIGHT! My base weight for this trip to 100MW was 8.4 pounds.
A few days after our meeting I offered to lend him one of my backpacks. I dropped some off for him to evaluate. Ryan is a busy, busy guy. He works a ton of hours, and is always pushing himself to limits on some masochistic endeavor. The week before our 100MW hike he rode his bicycle to WV for a family reunion, something he does annually. August 10th he is participated in the Nightmare Tour of Lancaster County, PA. A bike tour that circumnavigates the county. He rode 282 miles that day.
Ryan picked me up at 4am Saturday morning. While loading my gear into his trunk, I noticed the pack he chose to use and commented. He said he never compared them, and didn’t make time in his schedule to do so. Ryan admitted early that he may pay the price for not investing enough time in preparation for this trip, with regards to food, and gear selection.
We made KILLER time driving to Maine. Stopped and had pizza at Otto's in Portland(highly recommend this place!), and then stopped in Freeport, ME to check out LL Bean, Patagonia, the North Face outlets. I picked up an awesome piece of down kit at Patagucci. We made it to Abol Bridge Campground with hours to spare. Abol Bridge is the northern terminus of the 100MW. We scheduled a shuttle from Phil Pepin to picks us up and drive us to his place for the night, outside on Monson, ME, the southern terminus of 100MW. Phil operates a business catering to backpackers; resupply, slack-packing, shuttling, etc. The AT is a 2 minute walk from his compound, and a little over 3 miles from the start of the 100MW. While driving us south Saturday evening Phil is prepping us for the pain we're going to experience, and the wonders of this section of trail. I'll say now, that later in our hike, I asked Ryan if he got the idea Phil thought we were full of it and we were biting off more than we could chew regarding our planned daily mileages. Ryan fully believed Phil thought we were nuts and incapable. Many times he offered to slack pack for us, or do food drops, or picks us up at a log road crossing if we couldn’t finish. Phil did say most thru hikers take 6-7 days for the 100MW and most weekend warriors take 8-10. We wanted to do it in 5 or less.
We arrived at Phil's compound a bit after 9, and very ready to hit the hay. Sunday morning we awoke to excellent weather. Phil encouraged us to mark our maps with campsites he highly recommends, and we did. By 6:30 AM Sunday, we were trail bound!
As we hit the trail my mind was running wild; whats the trail pathway going to be like? Is it really that hard? What critters will we see? How much rain are we going to be exposed to? How deep are the stream crossings? BAM! While walking along Lake Hebron, we heard a pronounced splash in the lake. Ryan spotted a Moose! We watched this moose for several minutes. Very awesome, and it was the last moose we would see along our journey. A little more than three miles into our trek we crossed Maine Rt 15 and entered the fabled 100 Mile Wilderness. We stopped to take the obligatory pic of the warning sign advising hikers to have at least 10 days of supplies prior to entering the 100MW. At this point the trail is getting very rugged. I’m familiar with hiking in Pennsylvania, and many regard PA as rugged. No WAY compared to this! After a few miles we stopped at Leeman Brook Lean-to(in Maine they're referred to as Lean-tos, not shelters, but I’m calling them shelters). Two thru-hikers arrived minutes behind us. Logan and Ned left Monson that morning too. Within minutes Ryan and I were on our way again, and shortly after, Logan passed us. We stopped at Little Wilson Falls for some pics, really amazing, and quite dangerous! While climbing past Wilson Valley shelter, Logan rejoined the trail from a nap, and motored ahead. At the top of a no name vista, Ryan and I broke for lunch. I took a cue from Aussie Andrew and brought Laughing Cow cheese wedges, turkey peperoni on pita bread. Ryan had gorp and itty bitty turkey sausages. While relaxing Ned caught us, spoke for a moment and carried on. It was almost 2 when we hit the trail again, and we had a lot of elevation to gain before turning in. At Long Pond Stream, there was a tent setup already, and frankly, I was a bit envious, but pride and ego were on the line and we needed to grind out another 5 miles(all climbing). About 2/3rds of the way up Barren Chairback Range we encountered, Barren Ledges, and barren slide. It was pretty magnificent. Back to the climb, I was hammered, Ryan, was huffing, and quiet, but kept a consistent pace. We made it to the top and had to put our headlamps on the make the rest of the way to Cloud Pond Shelter. Eventually we made it to the .4mile side trail to Cloud Pond, and shelter.