16 September 2018

Mad Dogs and Englishmen!

It was three years ago when we were last here and the three humans, Alan, Brec and Sandy, went to see the movie, "A Walk in the Woods" the Bill Bryson film about walking the Appalachian Trail, 2000 miles from Georgia to Maine. We, that is us Bears and Alan had just walked our first Camino and Alan thought it would be really cool to walk the whole trail!! Brec had said then that he could not afford to take six months off to walk it, but thought we could do the bit of the trail that goes through Connecticut. 

Meanwhile, after Alan had replacement knee surgery, he was having doubts about doing it, because he did not think that he could carry the weight necessary for such a trek. Brec also was having difficulty getting time enough off, so sensibly he modified the original idea to "just walking up" the last bit of the trail, Mount Katahdin in Maine! This mountain is 5267 feet high or 1606 metres. Alan had visions of it  being like a hike up Ben Nevis or Snowdon, all of which he has done many times in a former life. 

The boys had much fun sorting out and buying the extra kit necessary. We were to go off into the wilderness of Maine, far away from civilisation, running water, toilets and shops or restaurants even. More items were needed than required on a simple Camino pilgrimage. Alan did his best and managed to keep the weight to below 15 kilos even with the extra items of airbeds, trowels, rations  for four days and 2.5 litres of water.

It was some 469 miles to Millinocket in Maine where we first had to report to the Ranger Headquarters. The long drive took over eight hours including the stops, but the car was filled with much laughter as the two men talked and laughed till their sides were hurting. At one stop they found statues of bears and a Moose. My goodness we thought the Moose is huge and we all hoped to see one.

Having got our authority at the Headquarters we entered Baxter State Park at the Togue Pond Gatehouse and drove up to the Roaring Brook Campsite. Here we again had to check in with the Ranger. Rangers live on sites throughout the Park, so there is always someone to go to for advice. He now gave us all the various do's and don'ts of the Park and in particular we were to be careful of not attracting bears or other critters by leaving food out. Here we were to lock it all in the car. Further up in the wilderness we had to put the food up on a bear line!!

The Ranger Station at Roaring Brook

We were allocated to lean to number five which was directly next to the Roaring Brook which really was loud. Alan was thankful he had remembered to bring his earplugs. 

Alan did not want us wandering off to get lost in the woods so we had to remain in the pack, while he rolled out his bedding. He had only brought his light Camino sleeping bag and that first night, even with his Poncho Liner it was cold on the feet and knees.

Each of the sites come with a campfire area and wood is provided at a price for cooking or just for fun. Our humans decided that as it was now damp and cold they would not bother with a fire which would need attention. So after a wander around the campsite they made their own individual meals and were in bed and asleep not long after it got dark.

In the night our BBF got up to go to the loo or latrine and discovered that above the forest canopy were a myriad of stars. He was so thrilled and said it was like being back at sea in the Pacific and nearly woke Brec to share it with him.

We were up at dawn with the larks and after breakfast and tea we set off for the five kilometer hike up to the Chimney Pond Campsite. 

These pictures of the path are misleading for it was a scramble over rocks and boulders all the way and with a climb of some 1000 feet or 304.8 metres! This hike was in no way similar to a walk up Ben Nevis. It took four hours and 25 minutes to arrive.

This was our first view of the mountain which was shrouded in mist.

All journeys do come to an end and so we arrived, but found the Ranger not there, so we made ourselves comfortable in the nearest lean to. Alan then found one nearer to the latrines and so we now moved there, only to find in the end that we had been allocated lean to number seven which was far away from the nearest outhouse.

Do bears poo in the woods? Well not these Bears that's for certain. The ranger again warned of bears, a mother and her cub had been seen near the camp recently, so strict discipline was called for.

The humans, for pooing in the woods had armed themselves with the necessary hardware. The ultra light blue trowel was Brec's, Alan had the heavier and cheaper plastic one. Neither were needed, however, and Brec is speculating if he can get his money back when he returns it to the store, with the argument that it didn't work! Alan remarked that having such a swish light trowel is like having fire insurance, so he should be thankful he didn't have to use it!!

The prospect of meeting a bear, however, in the middle of the night was real so bear bags were hung on the line provided.

That evening the cloud cleared a little and Brec sat at the pond and painted the scene. All who saw it agreed it was good and that Brec definitely has talent.

Now as it got dark choices had to be made about what to eat. 

Cooking was done individually, just like in the Army, though this time with a small cooking pot and stove which fit inside each other. The paraffin blocks smelt like dried fish, not at all like the hexamine, Alan remembered.Water was got from the pond and then treated with iodine pills. Alan now cursed himself, for he had bought in a sale a water filter and had left it in the car, as being too heavy for the climb. The water when treated looked like cold tea, but of course tasted of iodine.

By morning the clouds had gone and we had a fine view of the mountain.

The distance for today was shorter than yesterday only 2.2 miles or 3.54 kilometres, but with an ascent of 2353 feet or 717.2 metres. Again the pictures do not do justice to the steepness of the climb. For that is what it was, much of it was a climb not a walk up a steep hill on a simple path.

We were all quite tired when we got to the top of the Saddle Trail and we still had a way to go to the summit.

By this stage Alan's thighs were screaming with pain and beginning to cramp up. He only got us to the top by shear force of will.

But my, oh my, the views made the hard effort to get there worthwhile. It had taken our humans four hours and fifty minutes to get to the top. Both were tired, but perhaps Alan was the worse off for he was most concerned about his own ability to descend and get back in one piece. It was now 1230 hrs and their turnaround time was to be 1300hrs, but after only 20 minutes at the summit, Alan began the slow hard trek down, leaving Brec to draw and paint a little.

We sat here at the Saddle looking at the long way to go to the Pond which one can just identify at the base of the mountain. The climb down was harder in many ways than the climb up. Often one had to be careful not to topple forward off the mountain. It was often easier climbing down backwards hand over hand. Without the hiking poles neither human would have made it in anycase.

Alan now cursed himself for another error in thinking. He had not felt the need to carry 2 litres of iodine water to the summit, so only had one and now two thirds of the way down was running out of water to drink. He had also left his iodine pills in the bear bag on the line in the camp! When he got to the stream crossing the track he asked this nice couple if they had any iodine pills to spare! Jess and Katie had  something better, a light weight water filter system with which Jess filled up Alan's bottle from the stream in less time than the telling. It was pure cold delicious water to drink and Alan couldn't thank them enough for saving his life.

It took us four hours and fifteen minutes to get back down and Alan was pooped! Back at the lean to while stripping off his sweaty clothes and doing his best wash and dry himself with wet wipes we were visited by a rabbit.

The view from our lean to

Brec soon arrived back and had brought the bear bags with him so as the sun set the humans cooked their meals, got more water out of the pond, hung the bear bags back on the line and went to bed, perchance to dream.

After only five minutes Alan was up with terrible cramps in his calves and thighs, which eventually subsided so he could sleep the sleep of the exhausted.

In the morning Brec wanted to do some more painting at the pond before we departed for the Roaring Brook Campsite. He met another artist there and learnt about a painting competition which was taking place. This particular chap had brought up a complete full scale plein air painting set.

We had lunch in the covered area in the Chimney Pond Campsite and were joined there by three Amish young men in their 20s. Two were twins and they had got up early rode from their home some long way away on their bicycles, caught a bus and then cycled into the Park as far as Roaring Brook. We had seen them around 0800 hrs this morning on their way up to the summit. Now it was noon and they were returning and intending to be in bed at home that night. We chatted amiably to these nice young men who admitted to having the love of God in their hearts.

At around 1245 hrs now we all set off back down the hill. The Ranger was surprised that we had left it so late and were now hiking out in the heat of the day. Alan replied, Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. He was the Englishman and so Brec was the............ She laughed.

It was another lovely warm day and occasionally we had fine views of the mountain as we hiked out.

One can see the exhaustion in our humans faces here, though one with a tremendous sense of achievement at having done what they had set out to do. 

We were the first in the Bunkhouse and so had the choice of where to sleep. After they had eaten they sat in the Bunkhouse and then four young men came. They were all bright keen young men who were going up and down the mountain the following day from Roaring Brook.

On Saturday 15 September we were up at dawn and after throwing all the kit in the car set off for Millinocket for breakfast.  At the gate to the Park there was a long line of cars wanting to come in. It was after all a Saturday. Many clearly thought they had got up early enough, but now they would have a long wait to get into the park at all, let alone set off up the mountain! After breakfast in the local McDonalds, they went in search of souvenirs and also the Gallery where the Plein Air Painting Competition had taken place. Curiosity satisfied it was off on the long drive home.


We had a short stop by the bears and the moose as we did on the way up.

We arrived back in Milford and after showers and something to eat our humans are more or less back to normal! We on the other hand have a new companion called Baxter to take with us back to Germany!