Words & Photos by Rich Rudow
Memories and Photos from the Appalachian Trail
Late summer of 2018, Master Grand Canyon Explorer Rich Rudow came to Maine and got his first taste of the “Green Tunnel” – a common term of endearment Thru Hikers use to describe the Appalachian Trail. Along with Hyperlite Mountain Gear Founder Mike St. Pierre and his girlfriend Helene Dicesare, Rudow got a solid sampling of the lush forests, panoramic views above tree line, roots, rocks, and moisture in every form.
“I was immediately struck by the “Green Tunnel” - the term AT thru hikers use to describe the Appalachian Trail (AT). As soon as you walk off the road, you enter a fantastic forest canopy that only allows fine pinpoint sunbeams to penetrate. It was a photographer’s paradise.”
“It takes humidity to make mushrooms happy, and hikers soaked. Maine is way north of Arizona, and even though it was summer, my mind was telling me that Maine must still be cold, right? I was sweating bullets. I sweat a lot anyway, but usually, when I do, my body is comforted by the cooling effect found in the lower humidity desert. Sweat didn’t work here, and my shirt was dripping water down my back, and down my shorts to be eventually collected by my socks. Water trickled out of the end of my long sleeves onto my hiking poles, too. This was eye-opening! My amateur hour moment, but I definitely learned something.”
“We were to gain 1,600’ of elevation before the Saddleback Mountain summit – one of Maine’s famous 4,000’ peaks – and there was nothing subtle about it. When I popped above tree line, I was amazed at the 360°-degree views of Maine. It was quite unbelievable. Driving the Maine back roads through forests doesn’t inform you about the beautiful hidden mountains and lakes.”
“We climbed 600’ to the top of Saddleback Junior before feeling a few raindrops. The sky was full of mood with “God rays” blowing about as the sun tried to poke through in combat with winds and raindrops.”
“I initially didn’t understand this idea of trail names, but if you asked somebody their name, they always replied with theirs. It’s part of the amazing culture surrounding the thru hike community. My entire backpacking experience revolved around incredibly remote hikes where I rarely encountered other people. On the AT, a run in with other hikers happened all the time and was always fun. The camaraderie was contagious.”
“Mike turned 40 on this trip and Helene was fully prepared with a cached piece of cake with a candle. Spirits were high because we also picked up a resupply of Tequila for backcountry margaritas!”
“I wanted to shoot a few time-lapses, another photography hobby of mine, and this sunset was perfect. Have you ever wondered what a Maine sunset is like? It’s hard to beat this - watch it in 4K if you can to melt into the scene.”
“After getting down Little Bigelow Mountain, we crossed a dirt road and encountered a group of six or seven people offering gifts. I’m not lying! Full on ham sandwiches, cold sodas, potato salad, and an entire convenience store candy aisle. How about cold chocolate milk? Yes! We were encouraged to take whatever we wanted. This was called “Trail Magic,” and it was my first experience. Our patron saints had previously hiked the AT and just wanted to give back to this generation of hikers. They had been at this location for the last TWENTY years during the week of Labor Day. It was an incredible act of kindness.”
“After a clear night, the morning got moody fast, and we woke to the real prospect of rain. A few thunder claps confirmed our forecast as a dark hand quickly blotted out the mountains across the lake. As we reentered the Green Tunnel, the rain was coming down hard. We didn’t put on our rain shells because the temps were moderate, but the rain made everything much slicker. Big mushrooms acted like delicate cups catching the water. The forest seemed more alive than ever.”
“One of the most interesting things to me about hiking the AT was the incredibly engaging and generous culture. Meeting hikers like Caveman, Bitcoin, Blackbird, Krafty, and many others whose trail names I didn’t catch was a treat. Everyone had an inspiring story, and all were so friendly. Trail Magic was, well, MAGIC! Who knew that the locals were so supportive of thru hikers? The hiker hostels with great food, a place to sleep, and shuttle rides are an amazing accent too, and they can make your hike much less about roughing it and more about enjoying the beauty along the way.”
“After the sunset, the sky changed color to a sweet orange then quickly faded. I thought the sunset was done, but a few minutes later the sun somehow got under the clouds again and completely blew up. The sky exploded in deep reds and oranges – a fitting grand finale for our last night camping on this fantastic section of the AT.”
“You don’t have to thru hike the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin, Maine to get a sense of what it’s like or to enjoy its extraordinary beauty. The Rangeley to Caratunk section has got to be one of the most beautiful section hikes in all of Maine, and perhaps on the entire AT. If you timed this hike to be a month later, the fall colors would be gobsmackingly explosively beautiful.”
About the author: After years of backpacking and rafting through the Grand Canyon, Rich Rudow started venturing into some of the well-known slots discovering a rare and hidden beauty that both fueled his passion and introduced him to “canyoneering.” Since then, he has descended more than 180 slot canyons in the Grand Canyon including over 100 first descents. Check out Dan Ransom’s documentary film, Last of The Great Unknown, which profiled Rudow’s exploration of the difficult Obsession Canyon descent. Rudow wrote the forward to Todd Martin’s Grand Canyoneering guidebook, the winner of the 2012 National Outdoor Book award, and appears on the cover. Rudow’s exploits have been covered in Backpacker Magazine, Outside Magazine, National Geographic, Elevation Outdoors, and others. He has appeared on ABC Nightline. He currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Coalition of American Canyoneers and the Executive Counsel of the American Packrafting Association. In 2012, Outside Magazine named Rudow an Adventurer of the Year. In 2015, Rudow completed a rare 57 day fully self-supported traverse of the entire length of the Grand Canyon beneath the rim. In 2018, Rudow became a newbie again taking his very first section hike on the Appalachian Trail.