45 Years on the Appalachian Mountain Trail
Goose Eye Sundew
Signals of Change
It's All About Trust
The Women's issue
A Note from Our Guest Editor
There are a lot of stereotypes about hikers. They wear tech-clothing. They talk only about three things – gear, miles and food (mainly food). They stink. And they have beards.
But stereotypes never tell the whole story. The Appalachian Trail is host to many – from teenage hikers setting off on the biggest hike of their lives to a group of like-minded friends summiting a mountain together. From scientists with oddly-shaped gear tethered to their packs to rescue volunteers setting off to aid fellow hikers. There are people seeking questions, people seeking answers and people seeking a respite from either. The stories in this issue tell about five different ways of experiencing, adventuring, studying and managing the Appalachian Trail landscape (all without beards). The Appalachian Trail landscape is a place for people to connect with that which surrounds them, whether “that” is ants and sundew, panoramic vistas and plummeting waterfalls or hiking companions. We hope that as you read these you can also feel connected to the Appalachian Trail landscape in Maine, whether you have a beard or not!
The mission of the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust is to preserve and protect the land along the Appalachian Trail in Maine for public benefit. In Maine, the footpath travels through a corridor of protected lands that is, on average, just 1,000 feet wide. Unlike many other states where the A.T. traverses through expansive tracts of protected National Forest, the majority of the narrow corridor of A.T. land in Maine is bordered by private land, much of which is not protected from development.
The 281-mile stretch of the A.T. in Maine is a resource for outdoor recreation, ecological values, human health and well being, and is an asset communities along the trail can leverge for growth and prosperity. Protection will ensure that future generations have an A.T. landscape that can be enjoyed in perpetuity.
For more information visit www.matlt.org
Gillian Schair is a mom, the founder of the Ladies Adventure Club, a winter sports enthusiast and a long-time board member of the Maine Women’s Lobby. The website for the LAC is www.ladiesadventureclubmaine.com
Mary Hauprich is a recently-retired firefighter and ocean rescue swimmer, and served as a columnist for National Fire & Rescue Magazine; she has been a member of the Waldo County Search and Rescue Team for the past six years, and is learning to live without a fire pager attached to her.
Claire Polfus is the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Maine Program Manager and is based in Farmington, Maine. She works across the Conservancy’s programs in Maine including working with volunteers of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club on trail projects, coordinating the Monson A.T. Visitor Center and the Maine Youth Trail Stewardship Coalition, liaising with state and federal land managers and serving on the board of the Maine A.T. Land Trust.
Alford Lake Camp, in Hope, Maine will be celebrating its 113th summer of guiding girls and young women toward greater self-confidence, through programs based on character-building and self-sufficiency. Alford Lake Camp is one of the oldest girls' camp in the world, drawing campers from across the United States and the globe. Find out more at alfordlakecamp.com.
Located in the western Maine mountains, the University of Maine-Farmington is exceptionally positioned to conduct research on these unique, climate-sensitive ecosystems along the beautiful AT corridor. For more information on this project, visit:
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Map by CCGIS, From the book “Enduring Heights” by John & Cynthia Orcutt available at www.johnorcuttnaturephoto.com
By Jen Peter
In early August, they appear at the base of the hill at our camp in Hope, Maine, a group of strong teenage women, and sometimes a few young men, with bandanas, packs, well worn-in boots, and deeply tanned faces, holding hands as they slowly hike up the last peak of their summer-long adventure, back to civilization. They were last seen seven weeks earlier as they embarked on their trek, leaving early one June morning to take a van up to Baxter State Park, to gasp at their first view of mighty Katahdin, and then to be left on their own for a hike of more than 300 miles along the Appalachian Trail.
The summer of 2019 will mark the 45th time that Alford Lake Camp sends a group of 14- and 15-year-old campers into the wilderness for a journey of endurance and friendship and blisters and mosquitoes, bulgar and dehydrated vegetables, hard-earned vistas achieved carrying packs weighing as much as 50 pounds, and a life-changing immersion in the rigors of outdoor survival known as AMT.
The camp launched the Appalachian Mountain Trail trip in 1975, the brain child of a few counselors who loved to hike and thought the older campers could use a bit of a challenge, something different. At the time, the longest trip offered at the all-girls camp was a three-day canoeing journey on the Damariscotta River. The idea was somewhat radical for the time, and maybe even still: Let’s hike the Appalachian Trail for the whole summer, without any contact with camp, packing all of our food from three different re-supplies at post offices along the route. Let’s see if we can be completely self-sufficient. And somehow they did it, a group of seven campers (all girls) and four counselors who spent the summer hiking from Shelburne, NH to Baxter State Park. Along they way, they learned some important lessons:
Going north to south would make a lot more sense. Launching right into the Mahoosucs and Old Speck was not easy on leg muscles not yet toned by weeks of hiking.
Dried pasta, while light, does not make for a good daily staple. Teenagers hiking up to 8 miles a day need more sustenance.
More resupplies were needed. Self-sufficiency is a great goal, but it’s possible they took it a bit far that first trip long ago.
Since then, more than 300 campers -- mostly girls, but boys too -- have completed AMT, incorporating the lessons of those who came before them. They start at Katahdin, generally now a group of eight campers and two counselors. They still have pasta on a regular basis, but they also have stir fry, quinoa, rice-and-bean burritos, and even pizza cooked over a fire (thanks to something called a fry bake). The resupplies, which now come every week, are delivered in person by camp counselors and include a 10-pound block of cheese, letters from camp and family, and always a special surprise from camp -- ice cream, home-cooked chicken or deli sandwiches. Maybe even real pizza.
Much about the trip has changed, as the world and outdoor gear has changed. For one, they no longer wear cut-off jean shorts as they did that first trip, but an all-quick-dry wardrobe -- two pairs of shorts, two shirts, one pair of long pants. GoPro cameras have been added to daily journals as a way to document the days and weeks of hiking, the singing, the swims, the laughter, the quiet steady trudging to a mountain peak when speaking becomes more difficult. Each trip leader now carries a GPS device that allows them to check in with camp if there is a problem or if someone has to be evacuated, which has happened from time to time.
But the most essential parts of the trip have remained the same. The trail, the peaks, seven weeks of life lived in green and brown hues. Rising before dawn each morning to make the most of the daylight and give themselves leeway if the unexpected occurs. The pain of the early days, when the mosquitoes swarm in Baxter State Park and the hiking boots inflict blisters on tender feet. The routine of putting the tents up each night, and packing them up the next day, of arranging packs in a particular way day after day. The excitement of coming upon sparkling bodies of water. The songs. The inside jokes. But most of all the camaraderie, the bonding that occurs when a group of people lives in close quarters for weeks, encountering and overcoming adversity -- like the summers when it rained all but four days or the summers when the rains never seemed to come. Or when squirrels got into the gorp bags. When -- as one former camper said -- all the conveniences and excess stuff of their winter lives fall away and “it’s just them and they’re all each other has got.” Not everyone who goes on the trip is a hiker. Not everyone is a jock. All that anyone needs, said one counselor who led the trip several times, is the right attitude. “You have to be mentally resilient, you have to want it. Everyone can do it. You get your routine and you figure out.”
And then suddenly, they are on their way home. After traveling no more than about a mile an hour for seven weeks, they are picked up in a van that travels 40 to 50 miles per hour, making them cling to their seats, as the world suddenly begins to speed up. The bright colors all around them -- at gas stations and along the side of the road -- are almost blinding after a summer of muted tree-trunk brown and fir-tree green. Then they arrive back at camp, still a singular unit, a bit nervous about the outside world, repeating the jokes and singing the songs. As they walk up the last hill to the farmhouse at Alford Lake, to the silent throng of adoring campers, waiting to hug them and cheer their arrival, they savor for one last moment all that they have accomplished.
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45 Years on the Appalachian Mountain Trail
In June 2007, I returned home to Maine after four years away at college. This time, rather than driving home, I walked back via the Appalachian Trail. I had walked for 1900 miles to get back to The Way Life Should Be (which, happily, is still written on a sign at the state border on the Trail). As I found out then, and in the years since, it’s not uncommon for Appalachian Trail hikers to describe Maine as the highlight of the Trail. Maybe there’s a little bias for those of us who have walked so far to get there, and especially for me since I’d been looking forward to getting home, but Maine's mix of alpine peaks, rivers, lakes, and deep northern forests are unlike any other place on the Trail.
One of my most lasting memories is from the top of Pleasant Pond Mountain, near the Kennebec River, where one of my hiking companion’s from Virginia marveled at the vast wild openness before us, seemingly untouched by humanity. He didn’t notice the lone camp on a lake in the distance, or the logging road disappearing into the woods below, but those are minor details. Nowhere else on the Appalachian Trail could we see so far and see so little sign of human impact. All these years later that’s still the thing that draws me back to hiking the Maine section of the Trail over and over again. While solitude wasn’t my main goal in 2007, these days it’s something that I cherish more than almost anything on a good backpacking trip, and something I can rarely find anywhere else in the east.
And while I now know much more about how the land has been shaped by humans over the centuries, that doesn’t diminish the wild character of the northern woods. If anything, I’ve come to appreciate more and more the vast effort that goes into keeping the Trail protected, maintained, and sustainable. What’s more, from working at the Green Mountain Club, maintaining trails with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, and volunteering with Natural Resources Council of Maine and MATLT, I’ve learned so much about the even greater effort that goes into protecting the land beyond the Trail, guaranteeing access for recreation to public lands, and balancing the needs of multiple uses in the areas the trail passes through. These are all tasks that go largely unnoticed by hikers, but that’s part of the joy of exploring the Trail— even after hiking the whole thing, you find there’s much more to discover than just what you see around you.
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It's All About Trust
By Mary Hauprich
The only one I know who’s brave enough to call me at 3:00 in the morning is my search and rescue boss. That’s invariably when he calls, and this particular morning was no different. The search he was calling about, however, certainly would turn out to be: a missing woman hiker near the Appalachian Trail in Maine.
It’s useless to go back to sleep after such a call, so I got up, crept around collecting my gear while trying not to wake sleeping humans or dogs. My gear bag is always ready, except for the few additions of fresh snacks and water, so there wasn’t much else to do, then, except grab a shower, drink some coffee, and think about the deployment.
I thought about this woman, in her late sixties, who hiked the Appalachian Trail from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Her destination was Baxter State Park, Maine. She was last seen just shy of that, and that’s all the information I had. I wondered what inspired her to take this bold and beautiful journey. I wondered if she had ever been afraid along the way, or if she had thought of quitting, or if this was, perhaps, her one “last hurrah” before she got older and might not be able to make such a trip. I marveled at her progress thus far, and decided we better hurry up and find her so she could finish the job - she was so very close.
I also marveled at the level of trust this one individual put out to the universe. This woman trusted her husband to meet her at prearranged stops with more supplies; she trusted her fellow hikers and travelers to respect her and be kind to her; she had to trust in the trail stewards that clear the trails and post the waypoints; she had to trust Mother Nature not to give her anything she couldn’t handle; but mostly, she had to trust herself. The A.T. ain’t no sissy, and I wondered if I had the guts to hike it myself, as I had sometimes daydreamed.
I met with my team well before the sun began its ascent. I had only been on the team for a few years at this point, and never personally searched on or around the Appalachian Trail before. We chatted and joked about the need for more coffee and early-morning “bed head” and other goofy topics - the way emergency responders everywhere cushion the weight of a serious task ahead. The chatter belied what was really going on in our heads - what would the weather be like, what terrain would we likely encounter, do we have spare gear, and spares for the spares? We knew the search area was vast, mountainous and remote. Would we be able to find her?
The responsibility we take on as searchers is never taken lightly. We imagine a lost person is our lost person - a sister, cousin, a child, our mother - and the gravity of these thoughts keeps us going through long, fairly arduous days. On this particular day, we drove for some hours, arriving at the command post a little early. There we were briefed and escorted by a warden to our “shuttle area” - several more miles winding up and through and over a very rough road indeed - and finally to the spot where we parked our vehicles. The rest of the journey would be via ATV, and included several miles flying over gorges on rickety “bridges”, through underbrush that nearly pushed us off our seats, and, during one fairly dicey moment, as close to going ass-over-teakettle with a large firefighter and an even larger vehicle landing on top of me as I ever care to get. The ride was iffy, but I trusted this guy volunteering his time to drive me to the middle of nowhere and not get us killed, to know where he was going, and most importantly, to remember to come back and pick me up at the end of the day.
Between bouts of robust prayer during that excursion, I could occasionally glimpse a bit of the A.T. in the distance through the vast surrounding forests. We were well off the trails that day, but occasionally we’d hop on a section of trail to get to our next search grid. We greeted hikers and shared good wishes, and felt as if we were peeking into a private, buzzing, pleasant hive of hikers and day-trippers, all bustling around the lifeline of the marked trail. But we never stayed on it for long.
You know you’re where you belong when you look around and see so much beauty it almost hurts. How do you describe the sights and the intoxicating scents and the brushes with the unknown? How do you tell someone what it feels like to be searching on land so thick with vegetation, you can’t see your partner who is eight feet away? How do you explain the cadence we fall into, the quiet checks and commands down the line as we search, completely trusting our equipment, our abilities, our teammates?
We didn’t find our lost person that day. In fact, after tens of thousands of manhours and over two years of searching, we never found her. But her family trusted us to keep searching, and we did. Her remains were eventually discovered by a land surveyor, where she took a fateful turn off the trail and never found her way back.
No one should leave this earth without experiencing its wild side, without putting themselves in direct contact with a wilderness so stunning, words simply don’t suffice. To live, breathe and sleep in nature. It’s an experience you will never forget. Trust me.
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Goose Eye Sundew
By Claire Polfus
Mahoosuc boardwalks are not for the faint of heart. Even with the recent replacement of many of the narrow planks by stalwart trail crews, the quicksand-esque suction of the bogs of Maine’s rugged, western-most mountains erase safe passage from sight. Hikers must gingerly inch across the mud-covered boards or risk plunging hip deep into the morasses of peat. Yet, on a recent hike across the Mahoosuc Range to celebrate the summer solstice, my hiking companions and I found ourselves searching not for safe footing as we crossed the alpine boardwalks, but for a sticky little plant.
The high elevations of the Mahoosuc range host some of Maine’s most diverse and interesting alpine bogs. These bogs are formed when bedrock depressions along the ridge hold water. Overtime, organic matter accumulates in the water and turns to peat. Only plant species that can tolerate cold temperatures, harsh winds and oxygen-less, saturated conditions can survive in the Mahoosuc alpine bogs. Plants like Labrador tea, baked appleberry (also known as cloudberry) and black crowberry that are most common found in northern boreal and tundra landscapes thrive in Maine’s alpine bogs. My favorite alpine bog plant, the round leaved sundew, is much smaller, which is why we needed to crouch to identify its glistening laminae.
Round leaved sundew is a carnivorous plant. Its leaves have evolved with circular ends covered in sticky tentacles or laminae that glisten in the sun. The tentacles trap insects and the plant digests them with enzymes in order to extract ammonia. The sundew then converts the ammonia to nitrogen, which is a critical plant-nutrient in short supply in bogs.
When we spotted the sundew, we hunkered down on the boardwalks on Goose Eye Mountain to take a closer look. The sweeping panorama of western Maine disappeared from view and a new, smaller landscape emerged. We watched as ants summited the bumps in the sphagnum moss and cheered (or booed, depending on your species preference) as they inched closer to the sundew rosettes. They followed their own summer solstice journeys as they made their way across the hummocks and tussocks of the square yard of bog in our view. We took a moment to marvel at something tiny – the sundew, the ants, the feathered tendrils of sphagnum - before we continued on our very long hike on the longest day. That moment has stuck with me since.
Perspective is important when thinking of protecting something as vast as the Appalachian landscape or as long as the Appalachian Trail. Those of us who work and volunteer in the Appalachian Trail community can get sucked into both the enormity of the task at hand and the minutiae of the details. We count how many rock steps we have installed and tally the costs of the countless more we need to insure that the treadway is not susceptible to erosion. We cross countless boardwalks in thinking of how and when we will replace them and where that should be placed on our capital plan. We assess viewsheds using objective criteria and prioritize conservation using computer models.
And we do all of this so we and thousands of others can look out from Goose Eye or Old Speck and feel the thrall of Maine’s beautifully-wrought combination of trees, rocks and water. So that we can safely experience the unique ecosystems of our northeastern mountaintop alpine zones without dire impact. And just as importantly, so a marvelously evolved sundew plant can thrive in its own small part of the world, digesting ants that stray too close to sticky little tentacles.
Signals of Change
By Julia Daly and Rachel Hovel
It’s a long climb up to Speck Pond or the Horns Pond, and when you arrive the views across the water probably seem timeless. Those of us lucky enough to return to these and other mountaintop lakes along Maine’s A.T. notice little obvious change year after year. While these lakes are (fortunately) protected from land use changes, there are other changes at play below the lake surface and in the annual seasonal transitions that lakes undergo. Because lake environments strongly reflect conditions within their watersheds, the mountain-top lakes along the A.T. are a perfectly-suited environment for us to better understand how Maine’s High Peaks respond to climate change. For example, warmer winter temperatures might reduce snowpack and ice cover and, in turn, alter summer water temperatures. In 2008, Julia established a monitoring program on several of Maine’s mountain-top lakes in order to track these and other changes.
Maybe you’ve seen some of us on the trail, the small group with large packs and odd poles who say they’re just in for a day. Or maybe you’ve arrived at the water’s edge of one of the lakes during a dry spell and noticed a small float on the surface and wondered what it was? Every summer, we and our undergraduate student research assistants take many day-hikes to carry inflatable kayaks and the rest of our field equipment to each field site. At each pond, we measure water clarity and dissolved oxygen and collect water samples to ship to another lab for water chemistry analysis. We also check on the buoy line that anchors small data loggers set to record temperature at the lake surface and lake bottom every 30 minutes. This equipment is deployed for the full year, and freezes into the ice every winter. Each summer, we retrieve and replace these loggers to collect the previous year’s data.
In addition to temperature and water chemistry monitoring, we added biological sampling to the protocol this summer as part of Rachel’s research. These small lakes support diverse communities of invertebrates including zooplankton, and some of the lakes have stocked or natural fish populations while others remain fishless. One goal of this work is to describe differences in the species composition and abundance of zooplankton, an important food source for fish, and identify the lake conditions that account for these differences. A second component of this biological research examines connections between these lakes and the surrounding landscape. If you have visited these ponds for many years, you may have also noticed that some of them have become “browner”. This color change is due to organic material from the surrounding watershed and is, in part, a natural effect of these lakes recovering from acid rain. This process can have implications for the food webs in these lakes, and part of our work will reveal the extent to which zooplankton (and, ultimately, fish) in these lakes rely on terrestrial material at the base of food chains.
Most lake research programs can’t freeze their expensive equipment into the ice, so many monitoring projects begin in the spring after ice-out and end in the fall. Our field set-up sacrifices a very small amount of precision in temperature measurements to leave our equipment out year-round. Because we’re monitoring year-round, we can investigate how changes in late winter affect the spring transition to summer lake conditions. So far, we’ve learned that these lakes are more varied and dynamic than we anticipated, especially during the winter-spring transition. The paradigm is that when ice leaves a lake, the lake begins to mix from top to bottom, distributing oxygen and nutrients throughout the water column. Our data show that there isn’t always lots of mixing after ice-out, and at some locations and in some years mixing may not start for days or even weeks. In very warm springs without much wind, sunlight may start to heat surface waters immediately after ice breakup and there may not be sufficient wind energy to mix the layers of different water temperatures. We aren’t yet sure what this means for biological communities, but analysis of data from summer 2018 is underway and our results show very different abundance and species distributions of zooplankton across locations, even in ponds that are very close together such and Cranberry and Horns Ponds in the Bigelows.
It’s too early in our monitoring to see big shifts due to changing climate, but the data we’ve gathered so far have given us a much clearer picture of how these mountaintop lakes function and the kinds of questions we need to be asking in the future. Without this type of information, we would be left waving our hands decades in the future about the magnitude of changes that these lakes already experienced and that might occur in the future. With this project, we are mindful of our visual footprint and try to make sure that the floats holding instrument line are just below water level, but sometimes dry periods leave them exposed. Thanks for not disturbing them, but if you do find one misplaced please get in touch. We are grateful that the A.T. provides us with wonderful access to these study sites, and lets us introduce undergraduate students to these beautiful environments. We hope, in part, that this project will foster a love for these environments that will keep students engaged for a lifetime.
Tracking signals of change in Maine’s high elevation ponds along
the Appalachian Trail
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The Ladies Adventure Club on the Appalachian Trail
By Gillian Schair
We felt far away from Portland as we exited our cars in the parking area in Grafton Notch. Seven of us emerged ready for a winter hike – six Ladies Adventure Club members and Simon Rucker of the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust, our hike-leader for the day. As with any winter hike, as we began the steep ascent, our bodies warmed and we shed our layers. Near the summit there was a steep rock face covered in a sheet of ice that we had to scramble over in order to get to the next part of the trail. The metal crampons of our snowshoes dug into the ice as we helped each other up the path. For some, this was the first time they had ever scaled an icy wall with their snowshoes and we all felt that sense of accomplishment once we overcame that obstacle.
Close to the top, we encountered the blow downs from the October storm and we momentarily lost the trail. Simon and I scouted the area looking for the reassuring blue markings that signal the trail while the other five women patiently passed the time chatting and keeping their bodies warm. Reaching the summit, we found the “Extraordinary View” promised to us earlier by a trail sign. The sky was blue-bright and the mountains were green with white snow frosting. We set up an area and ate a quick lunch, and talked about the hike and the beautiful view. After we snapped some photos, we headed back down the trail feeling full of warm soup, winter exertion and the accomplishment of a successful summiting.
During the hike up, one of our seasoned hikers felt nauseous and sick to her stomach. We offered to have someone turn around with her and head back, but she insisted on pushing on. Her insistence and grit paid off as she was able to shake the feeling about forty-five minutes into the hike. I was reminded again of how much I love hiking with these women as I witnessed how supportive and compassionate they were with her as she willed herself up the mountain.
The Ladies Adventure club honors all definitions of adventure; we have members who are seasoned outdoorswomen and members for whom this is the first time they have every hiked. I started the club three years ago with 25 friends whom I gathered in my living room one October evening to learn what adventure meant to them. Since then we have grown to a multi-generational club of over 200 members. I started the LAC because I was looking for a community of like-minded women who were willing to be supportive in a mutual pursuit of adventure. For some women, tapping into their adventurous side can be a challenge – not from lack of desire, but from lack of opportunities to learn about different ways to engage our bodies and our minds in adventure.
When I was a young girl, my shero was Nancy Drew. I loved her panache and courage and dreamed of one day chasing after bad guys in my bright blue Nash convertible. Independent, fearless and adventurous characters inspired me to start the LAC. Maybe we’re not detecting or solving crimes, but we are acting with independence, grit and courage as we push ourselves to our own limits and beyond.
The outdoors is a theme that runs deeply among many of the LAC members. We have surfed, kayaked, learned archery, played pickleball, yoga’ed, bird watched, SUP’ed, ridden bikes…the list goes on. Some of our best and most beloved adventures are our overnights. Having the time to explore parts of Maine (we are so lucky to live here) and sink into multi-day adventures is a gift. We’ve kayaked to Crow Island in Muscongus Bay; we’ve driven past Greenville to West Branch Pond Camps for a weekend of snow shoeing and cross country skiing; we’ve overnighted in a beautiful home on a private Maine island with no running water or electricity. Watching the Perseid meteor showers that evening away from the light pollution of Portland felt like taking a cleansing breath and a needed break from the digital world of daily living.
Trail Land Trust
P.O. Box 761
Portland, ME 04104