Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October 3

What a day!
Apparently it poured down the rain last night but I slept right through it! I woke up at 5:30 and tried to get Bear Bag up but that didn't work until 6. Snowy got up as well and we packed up and left around 7. It was drizzling slightly and the trail was a mess! Even more concerning was the fact that the brook right in front of the shelter had risen significantly. I knew we had a couple of river fords today and I was worried about how they would be...
We climbed Moxie Bald Mountain in misting rain (day three of rain...) The climb was easy but the trail was full of water and made for slow going. The top was just rock slabs--unbelievably slick rock slabs. Bear Bag took a fall up there but Snowy and I were able to avoid that. We headed downhill and met a guy going southbound. We asked about the ford and he said it was thigh deep yesterday, before the heavy rain we got. My stomach jumped. We took a break at the lean-to below and Pace and Sundance passed us. Then it was flat walking and we came to a wide stream. This wasn't listed in the book as a ford but there was no rock-hopping it, so we waded across without incident. And then, the trail turned into a river. We've been through Irene and Lee but I have never seen so much water on the trail. There was a good 10-12 inches of water literally flowing through the trail. Everywhere. We started rock- and root-hopping (very slick and I fell in once), but all of our feet were wet anyway so we just started walking through it to make better time...we had 22 miles planned for today!
And then, I heard the river. If you've been reading you know that water crossings are not my favorite. Add to that two and a half days of rain on top of an already wet season. The crossing was where two small rivers converged into the west branch of the Piscataquis, a total of about 35 yards across. There was an island in the middle and the water was obviously higher than normal and VERY swift. The guidebook says that the river is normally knee-deep but fording can be dangerous in periods of heavy rain. With as wet as it's been, I think this qualified as dangerous.
Snowy started across upstream a bit...it made sense to cross before the streams converged, right? He got past the first section but had to turn back because the second was too deep. So, we decided to try to cross where the trail came out. Bear Bag used one of my poles, I used the other, and Snowy found a stick in the woods to use. We started across, Snowy upstream a few feet from us. The water was incredibly strong; we got to the strongest part and I could barely hold myself up. Our steps were shuffles on the slick rocks beneath our feet. We got about halfway across the first section before the island, and we couldn't see the bottom anymore. The water was already mid-thigh deep. I looked up at Snowy and he was using all his strength to support himself on the stick and hold himself upright. He was shaking and I saw fear in his eyes. He moves quickly and easily over even the toughest terrain without any problems, and at that moment we all were feeling pretty weak. Bear Bag was beside me holding my arm. He kept reassuring me that his footing was steady but I could see that he was afraid as well. We stood like that, out in the middle, for several minutes, the water gushing around us. Do we try to keep going? Do we turn back? Watching the water swirl past me made me anxious and uneasy, disoriented. Snowy later said he was on the verge of panic. We finally decided to go back to shore and see if we could find a better route.
Snowy scouted downstream for a few hundred yards while Bear Bag and I waited on the shore. And then it started raining. Of course. He came back with nothing; the river turned to rapids and there was no good place to cross. We didn't know what to do. We couldn't wait for the river to go down; we knew it was supposed to rain for the next few days and we'd run out of food. So Bear Bag took his pack off and grabbed my trekking poles and headed out to scout a route across. He angled downstream to follow a more shallow (still thigh-deep) route and once he got in front of the island, he walked upstream to it. I was relieved that he made it across; the second section past the island didn't look as swift. We couldn't see him in the water on the other side and I kept watching at the end of the island, half expecting him to come floating down the river uncontrollably. I was scared. But then, we saw him on the other bank! We knew it was passable. He made his way back across. I couldn't watch and was so relieved when he stepped foot on our shore again.
So, knowing it could be done, we knew we had to do it. Bear Bag went first and I followed, holding onto him. Snowy was behind me. It took all my strength; at the deepest the water was about crotch-deep. With every step/shuffle my leg would get sucked back into the current and I had to pull it forward. We inched our way across, completely focused. One misstep would be total disaster. I was so relieved to climb up onto the island. Snowy was still in the water, again he was shaking. He stayed still for a few minutes collecting himself, and finally made it up on the island with us. The second section was only about 15 yards across and not as swift. It was slightly deeper though, but it felt like nothing compared to what we had just come through...I called it the "kiddie pool"! We made our way across and I cannot express how good it felt to reach the shore on the other side of the river. We all sat down, in some kind of shock almost, but feeling strangely calm. We did it.
By this time it was almost 3 and we still had 12.5 miles to go. I doubted we'd make it to Monson as planned but if we averaged about 3 mph we could make it just after dark. So, we got moving. The terrain was pretty flat but still muddy and sloppy. We had crossed the river in our shoes for better traction so we continued to walk through all the water on the trail. We made our 3 mph and got to the east branch of the Piscataquis and I was so relieved to see that it wasn't nearly as swift as the west branch. We used to same procedure as before as we inched across the cold water. This river was deeper, up to about my waist; the bottom of my shirt got wet, but I had tightened my shoulder straps to elevate my pack and it stayed dry. We made it across and continued on our way. Around 6:30 we only had 3.3 miles left and Snowy called the Lakeshore House hostel to arrange a ride from the road. We got the headlamps out and sloshed our way through more mud and muck. With each step I was afraid my shoe would get sucked off! We were filthy and exhausted when we finally made it to the road after 22.1 miles. It was 8:00 and we waited a few minutes for our ride. We arrived in Monson and got settled into our room up in the attic. We went to the convenience store, the only place open, and got burgers and fries. Next was an amazing shower and I am completely exhausted...time for sleep!
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  1. So thankful you are safe. Prayers still going up!

  2. Now that is what I call an adventure of a lifetime. Something you can tell your grand children.

  3. An adventurous day to add to your memoirs. Today you elevated your backpacking expertise level another notch. Glad you made it.

  4. your day reads like a short story....great plot, lots of exciting scary stuff...kinda stephen kingish if he were a hiker....gee thanks, now I won't be able to sleep tonight! take care.

  5. Glad everything went ok. Talk about scary stuff! Keep plugging away though. You guys are almost there! Yay!