In September of 2019, I went on a solo hike of the Appalachian Trail from Rangely Flagstaff Lake. You can read about my the trip in detail in my multi-part trip report. This post serves as a summary for those who may want to hike this section themselves.
Hiking in Southern Maine
This section of trail is part of what is referred to by AT Hikers as “Southern Maine.” Southern Maine has a reputation for being extremely rugged, especially compared to the much gentler central Maine (Flaggstaff Lake to Monson.) I found portions of Southern Maine do live up to its reputation. The 50 miles from the NH Border to Rangely, which includes the infamous Mahoosuc Range, are extremely challenging. I didn’t do that portion on this trip. The Bigelow Range (17 miles from Stratton to Flaggstaff Lake) is also pretty challenging. All things considered, I would rate the section from Rangeley to Stratton as “moderate.” Yes, portions are steep. Yes, there are long walks between major road crossings. But the trail is very well maintained and there are plenty of designated and non-designated campsites. You can make this section easy on yourself.
Warning: these are big mountains. When I say “moderate,” I don’t meant to say this is for beginners.
OK, here are the details. The Appalachian Trail from Rangeley (ME 17) to Flagstaff Lake covers 61.7 miles and climbs 16,962 feet of elevation. Along this route, you will pass over or near 10 of Maine’s 14 Four-Thousand Footers. If you make all the side trips to these peaks, you will add 7.5 miles and 2,746 feet of gain. That’s what I did.
I did this trip in 7 days because that’s how much vacation I had. If you are a a strong hiker, you can finish it much faster. I purposely walked slowly and still made it to camp most days before 2:00 PM. If you’re not a strong hiker, you may want to take it slowly like I did. Walking slowly is easier. To quote the Hudson Valley Hikers founder Chris Baker, “A determined beginner can do anything if they do it slowly enough.” The trade-off of traveling more slowly is that you have to carry more food. Its up to you.
Above is my trip plan. When I plan a trip, I make a chart like this and include as many campsites, road crossings, and other useful way-points as possible. I then list the cumulative mileage and elevation gain from the beginning to each way-point. I calculate cumulative hiking hours to each of these way-points using a simple formula: Hours = (Mileage + Feet/1000)/2. Once I calculate the total hiking hours for the trip, I try to break up each day as evenly as I can according to the number of days I have on my trip. I had to hike 44 hours in 7 days, so my goal was to hike a little more than 6 hours per day.
I made two deviations from the route above. I hiked a little further on Monday and camped at Sluice Brook Road. That made Monday a little longer, but Tuesday was too short in my opinion. Sluice Brook was a nice place to camp and I got to spend some more time talking with hikers that I had met that day.
My other deviation was a little more complicated. I spent Night 5 at the Hostel of Maine (ME16/27) as planned. The hostel owner took me back to Rangeley to get my car that night. The next morning, I parked at the trail-head and took a shuttle to Flaggstaff Lake. From there I hiked my last two days over the Bigelow Range “Backwards.” The advantage is that I didn’t have to wait at Flaggstaff Lake at the end of my hike for a ride back to my car.
A lot of thruhikers arrange something similar to this with Hostel owners called a “Slack Pack.” The owner will shuttle them out to a spot on the trail, then they hike back to the Hostel. This works better for the owner because they don’t have to guess when to pick you up.
Pack for the Cold
I did this trip in September, and it was cold. Despite packing many warm layers and a 20 degree sleeping bag, I was chilly almost every night. I’m not usually a cold person. My experience hiking in the mountains of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine is that it can be cold at night even in the summer. I highly recommend carrying extra dry layers to sleep in at night and some warm layers for both sleeping and sitting around camp.
Water was plentiful among my route. There was a good source at every campsite I stopped at and many in between. You should be aware that water becomes less available as you gain elevation. If you are going to spend an entire day traversing a mountain range like the Saddlebacks or Bigelows, you should fill up with water in the valley before heading up. Always treat your water, even in the mountains!
There are 12 designated Lean-To or Tent-Sites within this section. All of the campsites I saw were clean and well maintained with plenty of space. There are hostel options (with short shuttles) at Maine 17, Maine 4, and Maine 16/27. There are also numerous stealth sites to found along the trail. Please be respectful of nature when you stealth camp. Good sites are found, not made. You should stealth at least 150 feet from the trail and you should avoid trampling or destroying vegetation.
Many of the designated campsites have wood tent platforms. While it is easier and more comfortable to pitch your tent on the ground, it is best for nature to use the platforms. Pitching your tent on the ground destroys vegetation. Without vegetation, soil quickly erodes away and leaves nothing but rocks. Its a good idea to bring some platform anchors or eye-screws to help set up on the platforms.
Maine Appalachian Trail Club
The Maine Appalachian Trail Club (MATC) does an excellent job maintaining the trail and camp sites despite challenging conditions. They carry heavy tools long distances up steep mountains to keep this trail safe and beautiful. Please be respectful of the work they do. If you see their volunteers along the route, be sure to say thanks. You may even consider volunteering to help out or making a small donation.