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AT Section Hike: Rt 2 to Zeta Pass

Christine Benton
Christine Benton

In July, 2007 I went on a 4 day backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail starting on Rt 2 outside of Gorham, NH and ending at the Wild River Campground. During our hike, we walked from the Rattle River Trailhead at the Androscoggin River to Zeta Pass (this is all AT), breaking off at Carter Dome and walking out the Black Angel Trail, back to our cars at Wild River CG.

The total mileage for this hike was 23.7 miles over challenging terrain and included climbing several 4,000 footers such as Mt Moriah, and North, Middle, and South Carter. We stayed at the Rattle River Shelter and Imp Shelter on the AT, and pitched camp at a wild site along the remote Black Angel Trail in the Wild River Wilderness.

The trip was led by an New York AMC trip leader who I’d become close with, named Christine, and included several hikers who I’d been on previous trips with including my friends Paul, Rob, and Russ. That chapter has a lot of excellent trip leads and they run a lot of backpacking trips.

Rob Santore-1
Rob Santore
Russ Faller
Russ Faller

During the first day of hiking we had to climb up from the Rattle River shelter to the Kenduskeag Trail below Mt Moriah, over 700 meters in under 3 miles. I was hiking lightweight already in those days, but it was a hard slog. The rest of my group, beside Christine, hadn’t gotten the religion yet, and they suffered.

When we reached the top of the climb, they all rested, while Christine and I took a 90 minute detour and climbed Shelburne Moriah Mtn (3,755 ft). There were boardwalks near the summit to protect the trail and sensitive plant life.

The weather was hot except for the night we camped at Imp shelter and we had a cold front howl through. I was sleeping in a Six Moons Lunar solo tarp tent on a platform, and had a miserable night because the wind blew under the front half-vestibule. I eventually broke out a space blanket and wrapped it around my sleeping bag to keep warm. I was using a 40 degree Marmot Pounder, which I’ve since sold. I’ve since learned all kinds of ways to stay warm at night – trail craft takes time to develop, but it is invaluable.

I think hiking over the Carters is the thing the really got me hooked on hiking the AT. Besides the beauty, I find it very satisfying to bang out one peak after another on ridge walks like this and some of my most memorable hikes through the Northern and Southern Presidentials and Franconia Ridge have all provided the same sort of joyous, triumphant thrill.

After we got to the base of Carter Dome, just past Zeta Pass, we turned back toward the Wild River, hiking along the Black Angel Trail. The weather had turned and we started to get a cool chilling rain. I was wearing a silnylon anorak at the time which kept me warm, but I perspired heavily underneath it. I remember that my friend Rob became slightly hypothermic and we had to tuck him away in his sleeping bag and feed him sugary liquids when we stopped to camp. He recovered by the next morning, but it goes to show how easy it is to get cold when you’re wet, even in July.

I remember that campsite vividly to this day. We had found a nice stream and distributed ourselves along it up into the woods. It was still raining, but I got my Lunar Solo up quickly on a comfy bed of leaves. Russ was tarp camping and set up his shelter nearby.

Once I was all set up, I made dinner and then walked into the woods to hang up my Ursack. I hadn’t had a lot of experience using it at this stage, and my fellow hikers eyed it suspiciously, being unfamiliar with its magical properties.  It’s a bearproof Kevlar sack that you simply tie to a tree, that eliminates the need for hanging a bear bag (in areas where a bear canister is not required.) I still use it today, especially in autumn when I don’t want to spend 30 minutes trying to hang a bear bag at dusk.

Unfortunately, the group dynamic started to unravel after that night. We had a group of hikers along who insisted on rushing off ahead of the group pace, and ignored the “stop at all trail junctions and stream crossings” mantra which makes group-hikes manageable for trip leaders.

This came to a head when a member of our group (the leader) experienced foot problems and had to slow down. I stayed behind to hike out with her, but we missed a stream crossing point and got separated from our group which had continued to hike out. It got worse from there.

Christine and I decided to take an alternate route back to our destination because we couldn’t find the planned route out. The party that had rushed ahead started to freak out after they arrived back at the cars because we were delayed by a few hours. Some of them hiked back to find us, but we had gone down a different path, and arrived at the campground before them. Then we had to wait for them to return before we drove home.

Everyone was very grumpy after all this, except for Christine and I.  We’d had a little extra adventure and got to see some fresh bear poop on our 3 mile detour down the Highwater Trail.  If there’s a moral to the story, it’s stay together if someone is injured but can still walk out.

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  1. Philip, I was signed up for that trip before having to withdraw. It would have been my first AMC group walk, and if the dynamics went wonky, I guess I'm glad I didn't make it. But it would have been nice to meet you, and Christine sounds cool.

  2. Christine is an exceptional person and most of the trip leads in the NY chapter are her disciples. You can't go wrong with any of the them, and by and large their hikes usually go of well.

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