100 Mile Wilderness | Appalachian Trail
In my journal, the first words at the top of the Day 2 page are: SO HARD!
I woke on the morning of September 3rd to the sound of the stream nearby. I hadn’t slept much, but I’d expected that. It was my first night in the woods, and at a campsite that wasn’t an official stop on the trail. But, nothing bad had happened. No bears, no strangers, not even a rogue rustle.
That morning, I thought about the best system for breaking down my campsite. I wanted efficiency and logic. There’s nothing like carrying all your possessions in a limited amount of space to bring forth a fierce desire for optimal organization. I decided the first, most important task of the day was boiling water for coffee. I fired up my little stove and set to work packing the things in my tent. Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, clothes, electronics. Next I broke down the tent and started stuffing my pack.
Big things went on the bottom: sleeping bag, tent, and clothes bag, then the smaller things like the sleeping pad, electronics bag, and toiletries bag pushed toward the front of the pack, then the large (heavy) food bag against the back of the pack. On top of that went sandals (Tevas), easily accessible for water crossings. In the brain of my pack I had my water bladder, which isn’t normally what people keep up there (it’s usually for more essential items) but it worked well for me. I stowed all my snacks for the day in the hip pouches and took my coffee and Bobo’s bar to the river for breakfast.
I set out around 7:30am and passed Slugundy Falls and Long Pond Stream Lean-to. From there, things got rough. There was no flat terrain. Every mile was a series of ups and downs over roots and wet rocks. This section of trail also has multiple peaks, starting with the Barren Ledges and leading up to Barren Mountain. It is a steady, strenuous climb with an amazing view at the top. Lake Onawa and Borestone Mountain are visible to the south.
Over the next seven miles, the trail climbs up and down across the Barren-Chairback Range, over Fourth, Third, and Columbus Mountains before starting the ascent of Chairback Mountain. I passed Chairback Gap Lean-to around 4pm and it was already busy. There were people in the shelter and multiple tents in the woods. I wasn’t ready to stop, but I was definitely getting tired. I wanted to at least get over Chairback, although my goal had been to reach Pleasant River, just past the Ki Road. Chairback Gap was another dry spot, so either way, I had to keep going to water.
During my push over Chairback Mountain, the weather was doing wild things. It would sprinkle and then the sun would come out. Huge, dark clouds rolled in and wind whipped over the mountains. The view was outstanding, with mountains, forests, and lakes all around. The descent from the Chairback summit was tough thanks to rough footing and wet rocks from the intermittent rain. Dusk was falling, and I was getting anxious about setting up camp. I had my sights set on East Chairback Pond, one of Phil’s campsite options.
I was trucking along when suddenly someone was behind me asking to pass. It startled me, and I turned to find an ultra runner behind me. He was only carrying a water pack, jogging over what I considered to be pretty treacherous terrain. He said hello and ran past. Not long after, I came to the side trail leading down to the pond. When I reached the campsite, there was a tent already set up, and the occupants were inside. I’m willing to bet the runner was in that tent with whomever was assisting him.
At this point, it was dark out. I put on a headlamp and hung a smaller light on a nearby tree. I got my tent up quickly, and less than thirty seconds later, it started to pour. I threw all my gear in the tent and dove inside. And this, I learned, is why you always set up shelter first!
The rain passed quickly and I was able to heat water for food. I was worried I hadn’t made my mileage goals for two days in a row, and I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to make up. In retrospect, I can say day two was an exceptionally hard day. There was another doozy coming, but on day two I was still adjusting to the pack weight, there was literally no flat ground (i.e. no breaks), and I hadn’t slept well the night before.
Although Day 2 ended well after dark and behind schedule, the good news was that so far I’d had no issues with blisters or injuries, and I was happy to be spending a night with other people nearby.