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.

The trail was a tad damp.

The trail was a tad damp.


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:

And steep in places

And steep in places

This was about the only place there was a “view” (though all of the trail was beautiful). It never came above the treeline.

It never emerged from the treeline

It never emerged from the treeline

There was a huge colony of some kind of liverwort growing on this pine tree.

Liverwort!

Liverwort!


Nice!

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:

At South Pond

At South Pond


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.

The mud was deep

The mud was deep

And a lot of the parts that didn’t, looked more like this:

And so was the water

And so was the water

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).

Common Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana)

Common Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana)


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.

A nice bog

A nice bog


They probably saw us though.

Here’s one that grows on my property, but which rarely blooms there:

Sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)

Sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)


You can Kalmia angustifolia, just don’t call me late for dinner!

This one was perhaps the highlight of the trip for me:

A white "pink" lady's slipper (Cypripedium acaule var. alba)

A white “pink” lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule var. alba)


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:

The whole plant

The whole plant


Nice!

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.

It was chilly!

It was chilly!

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.

Beth models my hand-carved spoon

Beth models my hand-carved spoon

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:

Lots of bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

Lots of bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

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:

Mud-stained pant legs & boots!

Mud-stained pant legs & boots!


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).

Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula)

Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula)


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!

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I spent yesterday and a good portion of today backpacking with some of the Pathfinders in my club. Last month I taught a class on backpacking during Honors Week, but no one can get the patch until they have actually gone backpacking. We checked that box today.

When we got to the trailhead, we noticed that Google was there.

One of Google's Street View vehicles

One of Google’s Street View vehicles


I had never seen one of these before, and frankly, I was never expecting to. While we were still getting our backpacks out of the cars and paying the use fees to the US Park Service, the Google guys popped out of the forest. They gave some of the kids a partial can of Pringles. I think they were just as excited about having gotten something from the Google guys as they were about getting Pringles.

We set out a little after that, and not far up the trail, I found a neat little spot where the trail comes close to the river. We cooked our lunch there, and the kids all seemed to enjoy the stream. David found a perch in the middle of it, and none of the kids could figure out how he got there. Hint – he can jump farther than they can.

David relaxing in the middle of the stream.

David relaxing in the middle of the stream.


Perhaps two hundred yards upstream from there, the trail crossed the river. We forded it with no issues. David crossed it expertly, but some of the kids were a tad nervous.
Fording the stream

Fording the stream

We hiked up, and up, and up. I guess we went in about 2.5 miles which doesn’t seem like much, but with seven kids in tow (plus four adults), and all of them carrying more gear than they should have, it took a while. My plan was to hike all the way to East Pond. I have been there before, but by approaching it from the south. We were coming in from the north. All the while, I was looking for a suitable place to pitch our tents and spend the night, and that was a tough job.

The forest there is loaded with deadfall, and we were hard-pressed to find a place big enough to pitch a tent without it landing on a log. I looked at several places, and then pressed through some really thick hemlock and found a flat, mossy place. It was nice – but I suppose we would have to classify it as a bog. But bog is better than log, so we found the driest places available, pitched our tents, and stowed our sleeping bags in them.

I found some winter berry (Gaultheria hispadula), which I had never seen before. I knew it was in one of my books, but couldn’t recall the name until I looked it up at home.

Winter berry (Gaultheria hispadula)

Winter berry (Gaultheria hispadula)


This is in the same genus as wintergreen, and like wintergreen, it is edible. Most white berries are not, and since I didn’t know this plant, I did not sample it. I will next time though. The books say it tastes just like its close cousin.

I also found this bright red mushroom.

Mario's mushroom

Mario’s mushroom


I have no idea what kind of mushroom it is, and I haven’t looked it up yet. I think it looks like one from any Mario Brother’s video games, so I’m just going to go with that for now.

While pitching the tents we met one minor disaster. One of our tent poles broke. I effected a repair with some duct tape from my pack, and some “available material.”

Tent Splint

Tent Splint


This repair was incredibly effective, and I was rather pleased with myself for having made it. I will have to address it on a more permanent basis soon though.

With our tents pitched and bags stowed, we continued up the trail unladen (for the most part).

We didn’t make it all the way to East Pond as I had hoped. Before we got there, turn-around time arrived, so I turned us around and we went back to camp to begin cooking supper while we still had light.

We beat the sun back to our tents and began supper prep. I boiled up a bit of penne pasta with some broccoli, mushrooms, and garlic that I had dehydrated late last week (just in time). Then I tossed in some olive oil. It was very good if I do say so myself.

Mmmm... this was good.

Mmmm… this was good.


The penny stoves performed pretty well. I did learn of one drawback to using isopropyl alcohol vs denatured alcohol – isopropyl leaves a lot more soot. Everyone (me included) had black all over themselves by the time they were finished handling their pots. It scrubs off the pots easily enough, but I’ve still got it around my fingernails and in my fingerprints. But I think the visible flame (denatured burns with an invisible flame) was well worth the sooty downside.

We didn’t build a campfire. That was partly because there was no good place to sit in the bog without getting wet bottoms, and partly because we were trying to engage in “leave no trace” camping. I don’t think we left a trace either, and I’m pretty pleased about that.

We turned in around 9:00pm, and I got up around 6:30. I ran into some regular wintergreen in bloom – it quit more than a month ago at my house, but I guess the higher altitude made it bloom later here.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)


Sorry for the darkness of that shot. It was handheld, and I was in a hurry (nature was calling). I would have gotten a better shot if I had taken the time to set up the tripod and lengthen the exposure time, but… I had to go!

When all the kids were up, I had them strike the tents and load up again. The plan was to hike back down to where he had eaten lunch the previous day. The bog was nice (really! no bugs, and not nearly as wet as one might imagine) but I wanted to eat in a slightly drier spot. That exercise took about two hours. The tent that I repaired has a somewhat porous floor, so Beth’s “pillow” got wet. She stuffed all her clothing in a pillow case, and that meant that all the clothes she had other than her PJ’s were very damp. So she hiked out in her jams.

The stream was just as nice for breakfast as it had been for dinner. I had pancakes (as did several of the kids). Others had oatmeal, and some had dry cereal. We loaded up again at 11:30 (it was a late breakfast) and in thirty more minutes found ourselves at the cars.

Now I have the tents pitched in the back yard to dry the bog off of them. With any luck, I’ll be able to take them down tomorrow, and consider repair strategies for the broken one.