Day 134: Horns Pond Lean-tos

Day 134. Big day today! As you can tell in the enthusiastic photo above, someone has reached a big milestone on their Appalachian Trail journey. Spoiler alert, it’s me. Your humble and obedient blogger, Sharkbait, has officially put 2,000 miles under his feet on his way from Springer Mountain to Katahdin.

Ok, so that photo was actually closer to the 2015 mile mark, but no one had put sticks on the ground at the real place, and I forgot to do it too. So a few miles later, an old signpost did just fine to commemorate the moment for me.

Today was a nice hike. Not as good as yesterday, as the open ridgeline walks were gone again, but still very pleasant. With a few exceptions, today’s trail was very well groomed. Wide, soft, and sans obstruction. There were a few steep areas on Crocker’s south and north peaks, and again coming up from the Highway 27 crossing into the Bigelow mountains, but nothing as bad as Maine gave me a few days ago (screw you, Moody Mountain!). Oh and the mosquitos were bad, but manageable.

Overall it was a pleasant day hiking. I opted not to go into the town of Stratton at the Highway, and instead hiked the 5 more miles up Bigelow Mountains to the Horns Pond Lean-tos. I didn’t need a hotel again so soon, and I’m good on food supply for a couple more days … but it was a hard temptation to pass up nonetheless.

I arrived at the shelter area pretty early and was impressed with the condition. This campsite is huge, complete with 3 shelters structures, 2 brand new privies, and a half dozen tent areas next to a gorgeous pond. A caretaker stays here during peak season, and he/she has done a wonderful job with the whole area. There are even big plastic buckets with secure lids at each tent site for your food. No need to hang my food bag tonight, nice.

A few other weekend campers are here with me, and I sat at the Pond with them for a while when I first arrived. The 3 of them were very nice, and asked me many questions about my experience over the next hour. While chatting, I took a dip in the cool water, gave myself a much needed bath, then sun bathed on the rocks. It was, simply put, a GREAT way to end the day.

We then all ate dinner together, where I learned that they are part of a volunteer group that helps maintain the AT and it’s wilderness conservation in Maine. They had plenty of stories to share as well, and I enjoyed hearing about their passionate work to maintain these hiking lands as I ate. We also swapped animal stories. They liked my late night bobcat encounter back in PA.

I never did see the caretaker, but if I do tomorrow, I will commend him/her on the fine privy craftsmanship. These two pig toilets are immaculate. Shiny, odor-free, and overlooking an incredible view. Who knew a toilet could be so impressive!

As it was still early, I worked on last week’s video after dinner. I know this one may be confusing to follow for those who didn’t follow along on the blog during the week … but hey, that’s not my fault. Sure I was in Gorham, then the AT, then back in Gorham, then back on the AT where the pictures left off the day before … but viewers will just have to read my story to learn why. (Answer: Appalachian Trail 1, My loyal Friends 0). I’ll try to post it tomorrow.

Tomorrow also brings the South Horn, Bigelow, and Avery Mountains. They look steep in my guidebook, but I already climbed up most of the elevation today. And I hear it is a lot of fine ridge walking again, so that sounds nice.

Oh, and no, I didn’t pee on that awful family last night. But in chatting with the other guy who tented in the area too … he agreed I should have.

… Ok, sorry to end on a scary note, but just as I finished typing this up, a search and rescue team walked into camp. It’s about 9:30pm, and apparently a hiker named Jennifer activated her SPOT device (emergency locator beacon) just north of here, near the top of South Horn. They were hoping for information from SOBOs, who may have last seen her. I stepped out to talk and help, but didn’t have much to offer. They thanked me for what information I could share (mainly that she wasn’t here and I hadn’t seen her), and continued on. It’s late and dark, and that’s a scary situation for an emergency in the woods, but I hope this hiker is found quickly and safely.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1989.2
  • Start Time: 07:40
  • End Mile: 2007.8
  • End Time: 17:10
  • Miles Hiked: 18.6
  • Miles to Go: 183.1
  • Lodging: Horns Pond Lean-tos

Day 133: Spaulding Mountain Lean-to

Day 133. Full disclosure, I finished and scheduled last night’s blog before I actually got back to the hostel. There was no cell service there, so I assumed I’d go right to bed after my outdoor shower. Not the case!

We had an awesome campfire until after 10pm, and it was fantastic! After my fun outdoor shower, a bonfire was lit by the guests. The owners of the hostel, Steve and Cathy, made popcorn for us, then brought out a guitar and asked if anyone played. I said I did and would be happy to play as long as people wanted, which ended up being late into the night. Besides me, there were 9 others congregating around the fire, and everyone joined in singing songs at one point or another. It was a perfect evening and one I’ll surely never forget. As I went to bed, Cathy joked that this hostel has always reminded her more of a rustic summer camp … being a camp guy myself for years, and still sitting at the fire, I told her I couldn’t agree more.

Side note, contrary to my confusion yesterday, Steve and Cathy do have a “home” on site. But it’s no more than a 1-room cabin next to the unattached 1-room kitchen. The whole property is just timyb1-room buildings and flower gardens . You can see their home in the pic below. From left to right is their bedroom, kitchen, hiker bunk house.

Then, guess what happened when I woke up this morning? I had the BEST day in Maine! It’s true, all the whining and complaining (mostly out loud to myself) the past week was all forgotten, as today brought a fantastic day of hiking again.

Beautiful trails, incredible summit views, a mile of gorgeous ridge walking in the sun, and even a waterfall. When I think back to this state of my journey, I know I’ll think fondly of today. Before lunch, I had scaled Saddleback Mountain, The Horn, and Junior Saddleback’s peaks … each providing breathtaking views in all directions. In fact, from the top of Saddleback, you could even make out Mt. Washington to the south and (supposedly) Katahdin to the North. I couldn’t see the latter, as it’s still 200 miles away … but they say it can be seen.

Some other fun anecdotes today. The Piazza Rock Lean-to privy had an interesting feature, so I learned. If you ever feel like pooping in the woods AND playing cribbage with a friend … this is the place for you! I’d love to meet anyone who actually attempted a game, haha.

Also, found some blueberry bushes on the summits today. They were not ripe yet, but they are getting close. Maybe a few weeks away from good fruit. Another alpine berry was starting to bloom there also, which may have been crowberries, but I’m not sure. I have only seen those in Alaska, but they looked and tasted close to the same. Don’t worry, they weren’t anything poisonous.

I also had a fun rest-stop at the Poplar Ridge Lean-to. This is one of the oldest shelters on the trail and is known for its informative binder of Q&As that accompany the registry. A volunteer built it up over his 50+ years of maintaining the trail in this area, and he had a good sense of humor. There are nearly 75 responses to hiker inquiries over the years, my favorite being #18 pictured below. Affirmative action mosquitos … brilliant.

Only a couple problem areas today. One was my 7th fall, which was totally my fault. I lost the trail (per usual) near the waterfall, and was using my Guthook app’s GPS to find it. But I was also walking, and I stepped on a loose rock, causing a rough stumble down the dirt hill. I scraped up my leg a bit, but nothing too serious. So, I yelled at myself (out loud of course), cleaned the leg as best I could in the stream, and hiked on.

The other annoyance today came at the end. When I arrived at the Spaulding Mountain Lean-to, another group of teenage girls were here. A different group than before, but still annoying as they took up all the camping areas in front of the lean-to. But that wasn’t the worst of it, I found a secluded place to string up my hammock about 50 yards behind the shelter and then went to get water. When I came back, a loud and obnoxious family of 3 had decided to setup their tent RIGHT NEXT TO ME.

I mean, come on. There were at least a dozen other tent sites between me and the shelter. Why go next to me?? And I’m not kidding, their tent is literally 3 feet from the end of my hammock. When I walked up, they jokingly said, “we hope you don’t mind, we couldn’t find another place.” I thought to myself, that I would be happy to find them one … most likely in the creek, where I wanted to throw their tent (with them inside) into.

I’m a nice, inviting, friendly and social guy … but this is seriously invading my personal space. They loudly ate their dinner on a log between our tents (no joke, 1 foot away from me) and then loudly “went to bed”. I write that in quotes because they proceeded to talk, giggle, bicker, and make loud movement noises on air mattresses for the next 2 hours. I can hear every word of their conversation, and every breath they exhale as I write this.

A really crummy way to end such a nice day. I was wrong to think that teenage girls would be the problem here. This married couple with their 25 year old daughter all sharing a small 3 person tent, close enough for me to pee on them, are. Hmm, maybe I should do that. A little late night revenge pee? It’s better than my other dark homicidal thoughts right now…

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1970.5
  • Start Time: 07:30
  • End Mile: 1989.2
  • End Time: 18:10
  • Miles Hiked: 18.7
  • Miles to Go: 201.7
  • Lodging: Spaulding Mountain Lean-to