The sign at the north access point to the 100-Mile Wilderness cautions you “not [to] attempt this section unless you have a minimum of 10 days supplies and are fully equipped. This is the longest wilderness section of the entire AT, and its difficulty should not be underestimated.” True enough, but it should also warn you that this section of trail might be the finest you’ll ever hike.
I cranked through on a southbound thru-hike of the AT in 2008. Then I saw in The Thru-Hikers Handbook, a guide that many hikers carry, that “as a northbounder, this is the climax of your odyssey.” So, had I just, um, climaxed with 2,000 miles to go? As a Reader Leader runner-up, I planned on going back to hike it again and find out.
It’s August, and on the first day, I share blueberries with a black bear; we’re on opposite sides of the Rainbow Ledges, a wide and gentle granite ridge from which you can see Katahdin. I watch a moose chewing an overflowing mouthful of greens in Mud Pond. I drift to sleep to the calls of loons. The views are every bit as epic as I remember, too. The best: Katahdin from the 3,650-foot peak of White Cap Mountain at mile 38.5. Rainbow Stream and Cooper lean-tos (miles 11 and 67) both beg layover days.
And you know how time tends to erase painful memories? Well, I’d forgotten about the lack of switchbacks. And that the white blazes often lead straight into bogs. River fords are frequent. And the log bridges can be terribly slippery, with mud on either side that will eat an entire trekking pole. But I’ll forget that stuff again and probably come back next year, to make sure it’s as good as I remember.