By all accounts, it has been a tough year for hikers on the Appalachian Trail. With all the wet weather, many sections remain a quagmire, and the many streams and rivers to be crossed are still running high as of mid-August—as we experienced for ourselves on our recent shoot in Maine’s Bigelow Preserve.
It was our first of a film project highlighting three separate sections of the AT as it winds through Maine. Leading the way was Valery Gillis, a Ridge Runner with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club. Valery spends up to 10 days at a time at the Horns Pond Shelter from May to October while patrolling the local trail network, greeting hikers and answering their questions. She also monitors the trail conditions, reporting blowdowns, washouts, and other hazards that require the help of trail crews.
An experienced AT hiker herself (two years ago she spent three months on the trail hiking from Georgia to Pennsylvania), Valery explained her various duties and dispensed numerous hiking tips during our trek to Horns Pond. This roughly five-mile hike can be tackled as a daytrip (10 miles round-trip), but cameraman Camden Spear and I wanted to capture the overnight experience, so we packed a tent, sleeping bag, and freeze-dried food.
The trail itself proved muddy in spots, with plenty of slippery boulders to negotiate on the steeper sections. We also had to make several stream crossings, although none required getting our feet wet. I would recommend waterproof boots, however, if you attempt this hike (unless you are a through-hiker who prefers lighter footwear).
It took us roughly five hours to reach Horns Pond, largely because we stopped several times to film items of interest, such as scenic overlooks, wildlife, and plants. Once we reached the pond, we set up a tent in one of the clearings, leaving the two shelters to the through-hikers. The Horns Pond shelter site features two water sources (a spring and the pond) and a moldering toilet. The pond is stocked with brook trout (fry are carried to the pond on the backs of state fisheries staff), and day-hikers are welcome to bring a fishing rod. You can also take a dip in the pond if you wish.
While the Maine AT shelters are usually busy in August—as that’s when many northbound through-hikers are nearing the end of their long and arduous trek—there were only two people at Horns Pond during our visit. Valery surmised that many hikers had opted to spend the night in Stratton after reading the forecast, which called for heavy rain and thunderstorms. Sure enough, that night it poured on us, and we woke to a misty, damp morning. Packing a bunch of soggy camping gear is never fun, but Camden and I had no choice but to hit the trail and return to our vehicles so we could film at Sugarloaf Mountain (more on that in our next blog).
Fortunately, Camden had hiked to Horns Pond before, and remembered an easier trail down the mountain. The Fire Warden’s Trail offers a much more gradual descent without any of the boulder-scrambles we had encountered the previous day, and we made it back to the parking area off Rte. 27 in about three hours.
Many thanks to Valery and the rest of the Maine AT Club for facilitating this hike, and sharing many valuable pieces of information that all hikers should know to stay safe and comfortable on the trails!