Beth and I spent the holiday weekend on a backpacking trip along a small portion of the Appalachian Trail in Maine. The original plan was for us to leave the house Friday morning and start the hike. Then turn around early Saturday afternoon and head back, arriving back where we started on Sunday. Unfortunately, Hurricane Arthur had some input on that plan (it poured all day Friday), so we shortened the hike and left on Saturday morning instead.
This was a trail Beth chose, as she hiked it last fall during Outdoor School. Only then, it poured the whole time. Her teacher said it was the worst he had ever seen it during a backpacking trip, and he has many, many of those under his belt. She was miserable during that entire trip, and wanted to give it another shot during better weather.
Well, the weather was better, and according to Beth, the trail was in much better condition. But it was, I think, the muddiest trail I have ever hiked on.
When Beth did this last fall, very little of the trail was above water, which was mostly “six inches deep” (according to her). Maybe it was!
Parts of the trail were pretty steep:
This was about the only place there was a “view” (though all of the trail was beautiful). It never came above the treeline.
There was a huge colony of some kind of liverwort growing on this pine tree.
At one point, she thought she recognized the Little Swift River Pond campground, and we diverged from the trail. Only it was not the Little Swift. It was South Pond. Beth remembered these boats:
Only it wasn’t “these” boats, it was some other boats. Then, since we had unknowingly taken a side trail, we had difficulty finding the trail again. Beth consulted the map (as did I), until we concluded that we were at South Pond, not at Little Swift. We backtracked until we found blaze markings again, and continued on. This shows the importance of not pressing on when you’ve lost the trail. It’s better to go back until you find the markings!
I just have to show more photos of muddy trail. An awful lot of the trail looked like this.
And a lot of the parts that didn’t, looked more like this:
In spite of the slogging, there were rewards. I saw some “Common” wood sorrel (Oxalis montana), which is not nearly as common as “regular” wood sorrel (O. stricta).
I think the only time I ever see this purple-veined sorrel is on backpacking trips! I suppose the “montana” part of its binomial name suggests a reason.
It was pretty common to see moose scat on the trail in the places that were not too muddy (or under water), so we were hoping to see a moose or two. This bog was an excellent place to find one, but we didn’t.
They probably saw us though.
Here’s one that grows on my property, but which rarely blooms there:
You can Kalmia angustifolia, just don’t call me late for dinner!
This one was perhaps the highlight of the trip for me:
This is a pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule var. alba), even though it’s white. I had never seen one. There are white lady’s slippers that are pretty rare, and belonging to a different species, and I have never seen any of those either. But this one can be identified as a member of the “pink” species, because it has a slit running down the front of the flower. The other species in the genus have little round openings at the top of the flower – more like a slipper vs a shoe without its laces.
Here’s a shot of the pair where I tried to get the entire plant(s) in the shot:
We stopped for “lunch” around 3:00pm, or maybe later. It was chilly outside, and once we quit moving, Beth was getting chilly. I had my sleeping bag stuffed (very snugly) into my backpack, making it nearly impossible to get anything else out of it without removing the bag. So I tossed it to her while I prepared some pasta.
Neither one of us remembered to bring a spoon or a fork, which made eating the pasta something of a challenge. Not as hard as eating the soup would be later that evening! So as the sun was setting, I started carving a make-shift spoon out of a small sapling someone had cut (and conveniently for me, left 12″ or so sticking up out of the ground). It soon grew too dark for knife work though, so I laid it aside until morning. But once the sun came up, I made quick work of it, and we were able to eat our oatmeal with relative ease.
I think the most abundant plant along the trail was bunchberry (Cornus canadensis). When we started the hike I noticed that most of them had already dropped their sepals (which most people understandably mistake for petals). I suggested to Beth that if we had been there two weeks earlier, we would have been treated to a carpet of bunchberry blooms. But later in the hike, we transitioned into an area where they still held onto their sepals:
We stopped at “the view” again on the way back and rested up a bit. There was only a little more than a mile to go by then. I was admiring the mud stains on my pant legs:
Luckily, those pant legs zip off, so I was sure to do that before going into the tent.
One plant I was looking for was the Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispudula), which belongs to the often-featured-on-this-blog, Wintergreen (G. procumbens).
I first saw this on a backpacking trip a couple of years ago, but didn’t know what it was then (I identified it from the photos I took when I got back). So this was the first time I was able to look at it and know what I was seeing.
As we descended the trail towards the car for that last mile, I decided to try my hand at dead reckoning. I would look ahead for a land mark, estimate the distance to it, and add that to the distance covered already as we approached it. Then find the next landmark and do the same. Eventually, I switched to estimating where the next 100-feet would be, because I was pretty tired, and that made the arithmetic easier. I was pleased that by the time I figured we had another 500 feet, we could hear the stream near the parking lot, and we could also hear the occasional car. I stopped dead reckoning at T-minus 200 feet, and we were pretty close to 200 feet from the parking lot then. This was my first attempt at that, and I rather liked the results!
We got to the car around 1:00pm and drove south to Dixfield. We stopped at a diner and had lunch, and then drove home (about three more hours).
I have to say I’m pretty sore now, but I think I’ll know a lot more about that tomorrow!