May 28-29, 2016.
Memorial Day weekend...what better way to spend it than a couple of days in the woods? Only problem is I have been having a mental block when it comes to staying out in the woods overnight ever since coming off the AT attempt two years ago. Only one way to cure that problem which is to tackle it head on and bury myself deep into the woods so I can't make it out by nightfall. Finding such a place isn't much of a challenge since I have quite a few places left to do in some wilderness areas. Knowing I still have the Carters region with the most miles left then that is where I am heading.
In order to maximize my time then an early start would be needed and I headed north before the sun came up. Making my way through Conway and turning right onto Old Town Road then a left onto the dirt forest road leading to the trailhead for East Branch Trail. Passing by the rebuilt section that was wiped out by Irene and then shortly turning left at the fork. Just up the road and there is a massive dark brown moose in the road. Unfortunately I spooked him and he quickly disappeared into the woods before I could get a shot of him with the camera. Arriving at the trailhead which is at the end of East Branch Road and I am shocked there are vehicles here already at 6:30 in the morning. I pack up and take off passing by the still sleeping overnighters heading down the old railroad grade. It doesn't take long before I hit the wet mucky section that would set the tone for this trail.
A half hour up the trail and finally what I was hoping for begins. The trail traverses right next to the East Branch. It is supposed to be a hot sweltering weekend and I figured it would be cooler in the valley next to a river. Up ahead is the first major crossing of the day, Black Brook. But with the dry weather we have been having it is a very shallow rock hop crossing.
Passing by some fresh bear scat and the trail heads through some nice open woods.
For the most part the trail is pretty easy to follow. The book warns it can be difficult to follow but even in the overgrown sections the trail corridor was easily visible. Beginning the first climb of the day and it has taken me two hours to reach the wilderness boundary which is just below the height of land.
Traversing the high spot for a nice walk and then back down into the boggiest section of trail so far. The book warns of this section but I was hoping it would be dry with the conditions we have been having this year. Not to be the case as it is a spongy wet area and staying dry is a challenge. The good thing is it does not last long and soon I am at the end of the trail where it junctions with Wild River Trail.
With the river right there this looked like a good spot to drop the pack and rehydrate. The temps are rising rapidly being in the 70's already and the humidity is thick. A quick rinse in the river and a refill of my water bottle as I drink a liter before moving on. The plan is to continue north on the Wild River Trail and after fifteen minutes it is time to move along. The trail is a mucky deteriorating mess and off to my left in the distance is the Wild River. The bog bridges are rotting away (being in a wilderness area the rules for trail maintenance are quite different) and being in the valley is not what I expected in regards to the relief from the heat. The river is not close to the trail and the sun is finding it's way through the trees making it warmer than I would like.
Fallen trees across the trail are left unattended adding to the wildness of the area but for the most part the trail corridor is a no brainer to follow. A couple crossings of the Wild River when it decides to reappear and soon enough I reach a lonely junction for Eagle Link. No time for this trail today as I forge ahead and soon enough reach the crossing of Red Brook just above where it feeds into the Wild River.
Time for another water break and this time some snacks to keep fueled. Dropping my pack on the other side of the brook and I down another liter of water and refill from the brook. Sitting down on the ledgey outcropping I eat my morning break and enjoy the sound of the rushing water. Looking around I see two steel pins sticking into the rocky shore from what I suppose where anchoring points for a long gone logging bridge. Refreshed I reluctantly move along from my peaceful spot and continue along the Wild River Trail. About twenty minutes up and where the river comes back next to the trail there is some serious erosion going on. Not sure if this started with Irene or Sandy but the trail is a very narrow strip along the undercut embankment. A look back and just how dangerous it can be when the earth finally lets go.
The next crossing is just up ahead where Spruce Brook feeds into the Wild River. It's another easy rock hop across as the water levels are suffering. Once across the site of the former Spruce Brook Shelter is right next to the trail. Any man made structure has been deemed to be removed from the Wilderness areas. Something I have mixed feelings about. I head up the hill to check out the tentsites and then return back to the trail.
Ten minutes up the trail and unbelievably I meet up with another hiker coming towards me. I really didn't expect to see anyone out this far especially on a trail that looks like it doesn't see much use. Ten more minutes and I am at the next junction with the Black Angel Trail. The plan is to take the left hand portion tomorrow and head up to Carter Dome. Today it is a right turn which leads down to a crossing of the Wild River. The book states this can be a dangerous crossing at high water but today it is a very easy rock hop, no need for the waders today. On the other side and the Wild River Trail continues to the left and The Black Angel Trail heads up to the right on an old logging road.
To the right I go as this trail leads up to Rim Junction where I was just two weeks ago. It's a steady climb up to to a saddle in between two unnamed peaks. Off to the right is Cedar Brook which is constantly in earshot but never in view. A short steep descent awaits on the other side of the saddle as the trail makes its way down to the Blue Brook valley. An easy crossing of the brook and then a climb up to the now abandoned site of Blue Brook Shelter. Another casualty of the Wilderness rules that do not allow man made structures within its boundaries.
Down the spur trail and just like Spruce Brook there are tent pad sites to make up for the lack of a shelter. Back up to the trail and the climb continues passing by this giant bracket which would provide good cover during a rain storm. Finally I reach the Rim Junction and pause for a second before heading down the Basin Trail towards Wild River Campground.
Ten minutes down the trail and I reach a junction I had forgotten about, Blue Brook Connector. At the junction are a father and son and the father is all red in the face. It looks like the heat and humidity have gotten to him but who knows maybe that is his regular appearance when he is hiking. They are headed up to Rim Junction from the campground and then down the way I just came up. I head across the connector thinking I'll probably run into them later on when I am heading back on the Wild River Trail. The connector is a fairly flat run that junctions right where the spur for the tentsites begins. I have no idea how I did not see this earlier but I definitely missed it. I blame it on the heat! Back across and then a left to continue down the Basin Trail which is a vibrant green with the new leaves of the season.
Somewhere ahead I heard what I thought were voices but no one shows up on the trail. This continues off and on for a bit and either I am hearing things or they are heading down ahead of me and I just can't catch them. Above the trees a cliff comes into view and it is impressive as I never expected this sight out here. And the voices I was hearing earlier reveal themselves, there are two rock climbers up high.
One is sitting in a pocket controlling the rope while the other is near the top working his way up.
Yeah no thanks...I'll stick to my measly trails! Down to my left is Blue Brook and it is quite neat in this spot. One side of the brook is the cliff face and the side closest to me is exposed granite slab. The trail follows the brook for some time reaching a spot where the trail crosses it just below a small cascade/waterfall.
At the crossing is a pretty large group of young hikers taking a break looking quite tired. Not sure if they are coming up or heading down but they are scattered on the crossing path which irritates me with their lack of etiquette for letting people through. On the other side the trail mellows out the rest of the way down to the campground. On the other side of the Wilderness boundary is a good long stretch of bog bridges. A few minutes later and I have reached the end of Basin Trail and the parking lot for Wild River Campground.
There are picnic tables at the hiking lot and I sit down to take a break for food and water. I contemplate making a meal but just don't feel like digging through the backpack to set everything up. As I sit there eating my snacks I start thinking about getting out of the woods. The temptation of showering and sleeping in my own bed tug at me. The original intent was to camp out somewhere near the Black Angel Trail junction and head up to Carter Dome in the morning for some more redlining. I look at the map and start adding up the miles to make it back. It's only 10.5 miles back and almost 4:00. If I push it I could make it out by 8:30 or 9:00 just as it is getting dark. A dubious feat but I have an outside chance of making it. Finishing up with my mind made up it is ten minutes after four as I head over to the beginning of Wild River Trail. The trail winds through the woods avoiding the campsites before reaching the old logging road making the traveling easy. Reaching the junction with Moriah Brook Trail and I divert to see the closed suspension bridge before they decide to take it down. The banking has been eroded away and the forest service would rather remove it than replace it. This is the second bridge (Thoreau Falls) that they are recently trying to not replace and is quite the hot topic amongst the hiking community.
Further up the Wild River Trail and reaching the river itself a wall of debris impressively blocks the old pathway. I assume this is the destruction left by Irene when she came through about five years ago. Making my way around the wall of downed trees and the view from the river is just as amazing. Piles of intact trees creating a wall better than any beaver could make.
A few minutes up the trail and an odd area, in comparison to what I just witnessed, a grassy little meadow untouched by Irene. A short distance up the logging road and erosion has made a good mess out of the easy walking trail.
Passing by an area where the erosion is visible on the opposite shore of the river and soon enough a section of where the trail has been absorbed by the erosion on this side. The path cuts above the erosion but passing through it is shaky as the exposed slope is not that stable. Almost back at the junction with the Black Angel Trail and through an opening are the footing remnants of the old Spider Bridge that once spanned the Wild River. Amazingly I never run into the father and son and hope that they are alright as I reach the river crossing.
Crossing to the other side of the river and I stop for some water maintaining my hydration all day long at every chance, drink a bottle...fill a bottle. I've hiked about a quarter of the distance I need to get back and it took less than an hour and half to get here. I pack up and keep pushing but as I move along reality slowly seeps in that it will be later than I hoped if I make it out. Not a big issue as I have two headlamps but there are some small ups and then the crappy sections which will be hard to do with the light of a lamp. I push on as this is the easier section passing by the tentsite at Spruce Brook. A couple is setting up at the old shelter as I zip by and cross the brook. The next crossing is Red Brook and I can start to feel the effects of the long day as I climb up the small banking. I can feel my body start to drag even up the small incline. Reaching the junction with Eagle Link and I am having a hard time catching my breath as I sit down on a boulder trying to collect myself. Never feeling this way before I resign to myself that I am not going to make it out of here tonight and I better start looking for a spot to set up for the night. Still not being able to regulate my breathing I slowly head up the trail and praying I find two trees close enough to hang my hammock. About a 100 yards or so up and I find a spot that will do. I take off my pack and pull out my hammock gear and my hands start trembling. Coupled with the breathing issue and panic starts to ebb in as I have no strength to do anything. Shit...I am in the middle of the woods where very few people hike and I have no idea what is going on with me. Even my lips are starting to tremble as I sit there trying to collect my thoughts and calm my breathing down. I know it is not dehydration as I have been constantly drinking all day and still sweating and peeing clear. With no other options I force myself to eat one of my peanut bars and drink some water. I think I just used up all my reserves and not making that meal a few hours ago has caught up with me. It takes about thirty minutes of slowly eating and finally I feel like I can finish setting up. Slowly I move about as I hang the hammock and then the tarp finally settling in and lying down for the long night.
Thankfully I fell asleep and listened to the condensation drip down off the trees onto my tarp throughout the night. Around six the next morning it was time to get up and pack up. By 6:30 I was back on the trail and off to finish this little "adventure". It ended up I did 18 plus miles yesterday and I only have 5.5 more to go to get out of here. Everything is soaked from the overnight dew as I make my way out with my pants easily becoming wet from the overgrown trail. It only takes two and a half hours to get out and who knows how long it would have taken last night even if I had found the energy to make it. I somewhat accomplished what I wanted to but not in the way I had planned or envisioned. I did stay out but underestimated my will or desire to do so. I know I have had some issues sleeping out for quite some time but had hoped this trip would help. Too many miles with a full pack and the tease of a shower and real bed constantly tugging at me were my downfall. If I had stuck with the original plan things would have been fine and I wouldn't have had the episode I did. But I learned my limitations and how my body reacts so something positive came out of this. Other than that I had a pretty good time in this area and now have more tome to spend in there to finish up the Carter region.
Final numbers: 24.3 miles, 15 hours and 55 minutes.
Redline Miles: 16, Total to Date: 1126.5