2019-Day 97: White Cap and a pond of our own edition

July 29, 2019 

I slept pretty well until a thrush of some sort (aka Star Trek bird) decided to sing its robotic song around 440am. I finally fell back asleep right as Oakland announced that she was getting up. I reluctantly pulled on my ankle brace to prep for my walk to the privy. Everything in the tent felt clammy. I could already hear other people shuffling around in their tents, which immediately gave me privy anxiety. I did, indeed, have to wait my turn for the wooden box of spider doom. I heard a loon call while I stood in the dim light. Thankfully the flies weren’t active yet. It was challenging to make my body cooperate while knowing that someone was probably outside waiting for me to be done, but I managed as best as I could.

When I got back to the tent, we changed into our vaguely moist clothes, packed most of our gear, put in our contacts, and ate breakfast in our bug-free private space while the world stirred and clamored around. The two guys we’d leapfrogged with yesterday were gone before we’d finished breakfast. The minute we set foot outside the tent, we applied bug spray. The tent bottom wasn’t as bad as it could have been, which is always a nice surprise. I felt anxious as we put the final touches on our packs and did a visual sweep of the area. We have three peaks to summit this morning with the high likelihood of wet rocks given the rain yesterday, the amount of moisture still in the air and the lack of sunlight.

The morning started with the climb up to West Peak. We were surrounded by spindly, dense pines as we made our way through the humid air. There were a fair number of stone steps with the occasional root explosion and – gasp – two switchbacks!

There were bright green tips of new growth on many of the pine tree limbs. Towards the top, the trail eased up into a bed of pine needles and smaller rocks that were slippery, but easily avoided.

We were both sweating buckets because of the elevation change and the humidity. The trip down from the tree-covered West peak was mostly moderate and West Peak was a forgettable wooded plateau. The older Asian hiker from Sidney Tappan came down the mountain at twice our speed over the slippery rocks. We swept ourselves out of the way as he raced past us. Somewhere on the descent, we saw a red spotted eft, which was our first one of Maine! Its bright orange body glowed against the greens and browns of the forest floor.

There was a short flat stretch before the ascent to Hay mountain, which was another moderate climb with little in the way of scrambling that led us to another wooded peak. We made good time up and over Hay mountain, with a brief pitstop to admire a large green snake (2nd pic below).

We were at the base of White Cap by about 8:30. As we enjoyed an easy stretch of trail, we ran into the two guys we’d been leapfrogging for a couple of days. I decided we needed to get their names (partially so I could stop calling them “the two guys” in my notes). We stopped to say hi while they ate their breakfast on a rock and found out that their names are Frostbite and Tanker. Then came the climb up whitecap, which was immediately a full court press, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected based on my friend Halfway’s warning. There were steeper sections, stone steps, and fleeting views of foggy mountains behind us.

We made it to the plateau below the summit sooner than I expected. I had imagined these three peaks to be a consistent mess, so I was happy to have another flattish, piney stretch.

We ran into a SOBO flip flopper who asked if we were headed to Katahdin. When we said yes, he started rambling about what lay ahead with no awareness of whether we had any of the same priorities. Neither of us paid close attention to his unsolicited tour guide speech and politely extracted as quickly as we could. There was a short rocky stretch right as the trees opened up. I saw a mountain that I thought was Katahdin to our left, but Oakland thought it was too close. I wasn’t sure so I didn’t take a picture or disagree with much fervor. The trees closed back in again for a short stretch before we reached White Cap’s rocky, partially open summit.

We dropped our packs and made small talk with an older section hiker wearing a West Virginia T-shirt. He told us that descent was manageable with the exception of the annoying rubble just below the summit. We put on our rain coats to avoid getting cold after sweating our way to the top of the mountain. I was so happy that it wasn’t raining, partially because of the impact on my body temperature and partially because we would have missed some astounding, albeit hazy, views. Here are some of the surroundings in pic & video form:

We took a side trail to get a peek at Katahdin, and it was in fact same mountain I’d seen on our way up (along the horizon on the left side of the frame in first pic)

pano of Katahdin view from White Cap summit

Then we went back to our packs to have a late snack. We had delayed our mid-morning break until the summit, so I was starving, per the usual. We continued to admire the hazy views and stuffed our faces in silence.

Levi arrived a few minuted later with sweat-soaked shorts. He sat near the summit sign and ate snacks while rolling a cigarette. Frostbite and Tanker arrived shortly after Levi. Everyone was clearly taken with the views. We left after about 30 minutes of snacking and general lolly gagging. The section hiker had aptly warned us about the northern side of the summit. We picked our way carefully over the rockpile with Katahdin looming on the horizon in front of us (today’s top picture).

The footing eased up considerably after we dropped below tree line. There were a few tricky spots, but it was primarily moderate with frequent stretches of stone steps.

Levi passed us on the way down. Two NOBOs nearly ran past us in such a rushed manner that I joked to them about getting to a race (they were not amused). Neither of us can or want to hike that fast, although I secretly wish it was a choice for me rather than an “I can’t do that or I will fall on my face” situation. We reached a flatter section, and I joked about having hit another “switchback.” We also got another view of mama K on our way down.

We made it to the next shelter around 11:15am. Levi was already there taking another break. We stopped with the intention of getting water and moving on. We dropped our packs by the picnic table and took the short side trail to a cold and beautiful little stream with a few small cascades. Frostbite and tanker arrived as we filtered our water by the shelter. They apparently saw a porcupine chewing on a tree trunk and caught it on video, which I missed because I went to take a picture of the stream.

Oakland and I left around 11:30. As we put our packs on, I joked about wanting to eat early, but Oakland wouldn’t let me because she wanted to hike until noon. I felt silly pushing the issue because it was on the early side for lunch, and it’s always nice to shorten our post-lunch distance. I immediately regretted our choice because the bugs intensified and there was nowhere decent to sit.

We had no way of knowing how long either of those circumstances would persist, and when I’m in pre-lunch mood, I assume all hardships will last forever. Thankfully I was wrong. A little after noon, we settled onto two low rocks basically on the trail. Oakland gifted me a baby bel cheese from her stash, and I had that with sliced sausage in a tortilla to take a break from peanut butter. Sidenote: tuna packet wrappers make great cutting boards:

The bugs were thankfully not as horrible as they had been a few minutes back, especially given the muggy, hot day in progress. As we ate, we could hear loud mechanical noise that sounded like logging or construction of some sort. The 100 mile wilderness was proving to be far less “remote” feeling than the name would imply. Halfway had warned me that that would be the case, but it was still disheartening. Levi, frostbite and tanker all passed us at our lunch rock and laughed at us for having stopped only a mile past the shelter. Frostbite went so far as to claim that we were late for lunch as he tromped past us.

We vacated our lunch rocks around 12:45pm. I felt tired and clunky after lunch. That evolved into being hot and itchy, with cranky appearing not far behind. There were rocks to navigate as we continued down towards a logging road.

When we made it to the intersection, we had to wait for a truck to pass. It definitely had a big American flag in the back windshield and Trump 2020 sticker. 

*Real time update: I’m editing this entry less than a month before the 2020 election while Trump galavants maskless around the White House having tested positive for COVID19 and calling it a “blessing.” No big deal). Real time mini-rant over.*

We crossed the gravel logging road and went through a few boggy stretches though nothing too long or horrible. We both made it through with dry feet, despite one particularly dangerous bog board that wobbled sideways and tipped all the way up when Oakland stepped near the end of it. She gasped as the board rose behind her, and I thought for sure I would hear the splash of her foot dropping into the water, but she came out unscathed.

Then we went through long stretch of dense blow downs on both sides of the trail. It was confusing and hot because there was no shade. We eventually entered a shadier section of woods with rocks and roots on a wide path that occasionally narrowed with pine trees closing in on the trail.

We stopped to put on more bug spray and were passed by two older guys hauling ass up the trail. We both immediately went into resource scarcity mode and worried that they were going to take the tenting spots by the pond we intended to stop at for the night. We didn’t bother picking up our pace because there was literally no way to stay in front of them with the poor footing and their long-legged pace. We continued onward, both a bit grumpier than before.

The forest closed in on itself and was super rocky for about 100 feet and then opened back up to a more reasonable mess. We passed a shelter where Levi was taking a break with the men who’d just passed us. We secretly hoped to stay in front of them while also continuing to grate against the fact that it was highly unlikely. A couple of minutes past the shelter, we came to a small stream with what appeared to be a tricky rock hop. I was confused and hoped we’d just missed a turn.

I checked guthook to confirm our path and proceeded to get obliterated by mosquitoes. They bit me through my shirt on my chest and my side while I cursed at both the bugs and the fact that we had to cross the water in front of us (East branch of the Pleasant River). The older guys arrived and went around us, proceeding to stop for water in the middle of the river on the rocks we needed to make it across. We were both so aggravated that we stood silently fuming on the riverbank for a minute. One of the hikers finally realized we wanted to get through and made space for us to pass. I was anxious about the rock hop, but it was spaced at a more manageable distance that it had seemed from the water’s edge. The next picture is the view is looking back after having crossed and the second picture is from the rocks in the water.

One of the hikers lingered in the middle of the stream and rinsed his shirt while the other hiker sat on a log. I asked him where they were headed. He replied, “somewhere between here and the next shelter.” Vague, and not helpful for my neuroses.

It seemed likely that they would end up at our pond because there’s a camping restriction past the pond. We left the river and continued to feel anxious about real estate. We tried to pick up the pace when the terrain allowed for it. The trail took us up into rocks and roots, which I wasn’t expecting, so we stopped to make sure we didn’t have another mountain to climb for the day. It turned out to be just a small uptick in elevation before it flattened back out.

I was sweating profusely yet again because of the hill, but it felt good to climb. The trail flattened out to rocks and roots with some occasional easier leafy sections. It was hot, and I felt constantly thirsty, but it was hard to stop because the bugs swarmed at any sign of hesitation. They were perturbed by our bug spray, but somehow one of them always found a safe spot to bite, and feeling them bounce off my legs in large numbers drove me crazy.

We finally made it to the southern edge of Mountain View Pond and had to cross a rock pile where the outlet stream trickled away from the pond. Despite the rushed feeling of finding a tent site, I took a minute to check out the view from the rocks. Sadly I snagged my shirt on a tree and ended up with a tiny hole in the sleeve.

The older hikers arrived at the rocky outlet stream right as we walked away. I hoped they would linger for the view. We saw frostbite and tanker at the first campsite. My heart sank, but we knew there was another option around the bend. We dropped Oakland’s pack at a possible campsite to claim it for ourselves, and then went to explore another stealth spot off of a side path described in guthook. We took a slight left at the blue tape, as directed by guthook, crossed over a few blown down trees, and found a rooty, but workable site with a decent view of the lake and a nice breeze. We decided to stay here rather than set up at the smaller, more wooded site off the main trail. Oakland went to retrieve her pack, and I started grooming the ground. We set up the tent, covering a couple of peskier roots with our small supply of backup towels. Then we took off our shirts to try to get our sports bras to air out. I wished we could take everything off, but it felt too scandalous (stupid patriarchy).

We heard voices and could hear southbound hikers making their way around the edge of the pond. I was secretly glad that our campsite wasn’t visible from the AT because it was about 200 feet off trail. We plopped on our zseats and ate snacks. Neither of us could tell if we’re eating enough, so we decided to split an extra bar for more calories. Then I put my bed together and laid down on it like a zombie. My eyes felt so heavy as a warm breeze blew through the tent doors. I fell asleep while Oakland made a belated 500 mile sign. Then she shook out her sleeping pad which collects dirt in the divots and joined me in the tent to set up her bed. We both drifted in and out of sleep for about 35 minutes. By then, the air had stopped moving, which turned the tent into a sweatbox even with all the doors thrown wide open. We heard distant rumbles of thunder that thankfully never produced any rain. Eventually, we forced ourselves to go exploring for a place to throw our bear line. We’d both seen options back near the trail intersection, and we did indeed find a good tree near there. I got our line on the intended branch in about 5 tries. We decided to hang one line for both bags because they’re almost empty. Then we went back to camp to make dinner. The bugs got worse because of the still air. I had to put my calf sleeves back on to increase the number of barriers between me and the vampires. I set my food up to “cook” and went to collect water from the pond. I followed a path that led away from campsite down to the water’s edge. There were canoes locked to a metal railing, which was confusing because it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.

I didn’t really want to drink pond water again, but I also didn’t want to walk 0.4 miles round trip for spring water. A little frog hung out in the shallows while I scooped water into my sawyer bag . I admired the reflection of trees and puffy clouds and soaked in the silence, which was quite the change from last night with a thousand people milling around the Sidney Tappan campsite.

We ate dinner with our raincoats on to deter the bugs. We washed our dishes between our entree (chili mac!) and chip courses. I was sadly very close to being out of fritos, so I ate them sparingly to save some for tomorrow’s lunch. Then I had a mini snickers and 6 m&ms for dessert. Oakland counted them out at lunch like the precise weirdo she is, and I wrote it in my notes for the day, so we are clearly made for each other. Then we brushed our teeth and flossed while walking around after being hunched on a log for too long. The mosquitoes were abominable by our bear line, so we made quick work of hanging our food bags while swatting madly. When we got back to our campsite, Oakland took a bio break and hunkered down in the tent. I scoured the pond edges for moose, but didn’t see any. I finally got in the tent to avoid the bugs. Oakland looked at guthook maps while I started the drudgery of working on my notes. She fell asleep around 8:30. I’m finishing this to the sound of bullfrogs, frustrated mosquitoes that can’t get into the tent, a passing plane far overhead, frogs, crickets in the distance and faint sounds of rippling water that could be a moose walking around, but I can’t tell for sure, and I’m not willing to check. 

Mile 2115.2 to mile 2126.1 (10.9) – stealth spot at Mountain View Pond

Checklist total miles: 994.8 

Oakland total miles: 517.4 

Creature feature: tiny frogs, ducklings on the pond, song sparrows, a medium sized green snake, the first Maine red spotted eft! 

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