Jeff Ryan, Author & Speaker

A Section Hiker’s Guide to the Hundred Mile Wilderness

The northernmost stretch of the Appalachian Trail winds 114 miles from the last trail town Monson, Maine to the summit of Katahdin. Over the years this remote section has acquired the name “Hundred Mile Wilderness.”

The trail is at its wildest here, which draws many to experience the relative solitude that Benton MacKaye envisioned when he came up with the idea for the AT in 1921.

The Hundred Mile Wilderness has much to offer. There are challenging climbs, stretches that follow century old woods roads, sweeping views over the mountains and lakes of rural Maine and muddy, rocky sections next to woodland streams.

I’ve had the pleasure of hiking through the Hundred Mile Wilderness five times — four northbound and one southbound. Clearly it’s one of my favorite places to escape to. Living in Maine certainly helps. But the things that make the section so enjoyable also create challenges if things go awry. Access is difficult. So is cell phone coverage. In fact, there are only a few places where you can get a reliable signal. For these reasons, I offer the following suggestions for planning your trip.

1. Don’t make the Hundred Mile Wilderness one of your first hiking trips.

Many hiking skills are acquired: navigation, packing and planning among them. Simply put: the middle of nowhere isn’t the place to find out you are carrying too much gear, not enough or have left a critical piece of equipment at home. I suggest taking a handful of shakedown hikes on other sections of trail before you attempt the HMW.

2. Bring a paper map and compass.

There aren’t many access points to the trail, but there are some. Knowing where they are and having a backup in case your phone dies is a really good idea. The GPS apps are getting better at identifying “escape routes”, but they can’t help you if you drop your phone in a brook, it shatters on a summit boulder or your solar charger decides to give up the ghost.

3. Pack light and smart.

100+ miles is a long stretch without a resupply. Make sure you have enough food and fuel to make it through. I carry an extra day’s worth of meals and two extra granola bars just in case I get stuck. (On one trip it rained so hard that we couldn’t safely cross a stream and had to take a 17-mile detour to cross a logging road bridge upstream. That cost us an extra day’s worth of food, which we were happy we had onboard.)

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4. Permits are required.

If climbing Katahdin (the northern terminus of the AT) is part of your plan, you will need a permit. The Baxter State Park Authority issues upwards of 3,000 free permits annually and the number is capped. Whether you’re a thru-hiker, section hiker or day visitor to the park doesn’t matter. You will need a permit. More info here.

5. Leave no trace.

The Hundred Mile Wilderness isn’t like any other section of the AT. One of the reasons for this, of course, is that it’s relatively unspoiled. With the number of through hikers growing exponentially (9% year-over-year) comes more pressure on everyone to keep this resource healthy. Volunteers spend countless hours installing and moving outhouses, hauling out trash, building and repairing bridges and repairing shelters to help sustain the trail.

Two of the greatest problems are trash and human waste. Please help by carrying everything out and “doing your business” in privies whenever possible and practicing leave no trace principles when you can’t. It makes a huge difference to people following in your foot steps.

6. Consider getting help with logistics.

The last time I hiked the HMW, my buddy and I spotted a car in Monson, then had a shuttle driver take us into Baxter State Park, where we started our hike south. (We had already climbed  the stretch north from that point to the summit of Katahdin years before.)

100 Mile Wilderness Adventures and Outfitters. ©Phil Pepin.

If you are planning a trip through the Hundred Mile Wilderness, I can’t recommend 100 Mile Wilderness Adventures and Outfitters highly enough. Owner and Registered Maine Guide Phil Pepin has been a Maine AT devotee for decades. He can provide hikers with a full range of services including shuttles, comfy accommodations (by reservation only) before and/or after your hike, help with permits, planning expertise (including where some really sweet camping spots are) and more. His cabins are located in Monson and are open from mid-May to mid-October. If you drive there, you’ll have a safe place to stash your car. If you fly into Bangor, he’ll come get you. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

The view from Katahdin. ©www.JeffRyanAuthor.com

Jeffrey H Ryan is an author, adventurer, photographer and historian. He has written several books about his outdoor exploits, his fascination with hiking trails and the people and places found just off the beaten path. His debut book, Appalachian Odyssey: A 28-year hike on America's trail was hailed by the former Executive Editor of National Geographic as "a classic of nature and travel writing" and set off a national tour (in a 1985 VW camper, no less). His books are known for weaving a deep appreciation for history into walks across contemporary landscapes that give readers the feeling they are hiking right alongside. When Jeff isn't trekking, chasing down a great story or spinning yarns from his keyboard, he enjoys sharing his adventures with audiences who love the outdoors. He spends much of his time in his beloved native state of Maine.

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