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July 10, 2020 / Comments (0)

Grafton Loop in Maine

COVID-19 has invariably trounced our best-laid outdoor plans for this summer, so I headed to Grafton Loop.

For me, it drove a stake through the heart of plans to lead a Jewish themed thru-hike of the Northville-Placid Trail in the Adirondacks. It further dampened the goal of a traverse—because of transportation complications—of the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine.

I needed a loop hike, so that I could park my car and end where I began. The Pemi Loop in New Hampshire was out, in part because we have to abide by Maine quarantine regulations.

The answer turned out to be a wonderful weekend choice: The Grafton Loop Trail in Maine is a 38.6± mile doozy of a trail in terms of elevation gain.

Gear and Eating Details

On this trip, I opted to use the REI Flash Air hammock I had received. Unfortunately, REI is no longer selling this system. It has a spreader bar and takes a sleeping pad. As an old infantry veteran, there are times I like to take to ground or use a shelter. Maybe it’s not an intended feature, but I’ve found I can use the hammock as a bug bivvy in a pinch.

Photo from REI

As far as food, I had some kosher instant Spanish rice for dinners, tuna packets for lunch, and oatmeal for breakfast. I used my GSI drip filter for my morning coffee.

I took an old, lightweight 40-degree synthetic sleeping bag. This purchase took place in Alaska 24 years ago and it has “just worked”. I can’t remember what brand it is. I’m a warm sleeper, so I get a lot of range out of it when my Klymit bag is too heavy.

Unfortunately, the black flies at *every* campsite were insane. The zipper broke on my hammock on the first night. I had to retreat under my sleeping bag to avoid the nasties. Davening and cooking/eating were insanely difficult without being eaten alive.

Perhaps my mistake was trying to use a natural insect repellant. Flick the Tick, made in Maine, comes in either a bottled or stick form. I used the stick, and I never have regretted an outdoor decision more. While it works really well around our property, it did nothing to keep the hordes of black flies from ruining my beautiful flesh. I finally had to fashion a makeshift head-net out of my mesh arba kanfot.

My tallis katan saved me.

Grafton Loop Trip Experience

In spite of the comedy of errors on my first night of hiking, it still ended up being a marvelous trip.

The trail can be difficult to follow at times. If you go clockwise, you’ll find sometimes that the blue blazes along the trail are not easy to spot, especially at dawn or dusk.

The elevation gains felt a little brutal. I left the military after 26 years just a few months ago. I did not expect to feel so out-of-shape. Maybe it was the temperature in the upper 80s, lower 90s. Even with copious amounts of water and timely snacks, I felt more fatigued than I usually do hiking.

But the views at the top made it worth it, even with savage thunderstorms.

Will I go back? I don’t know. It was a beautiful hike. Still, center of the state hiking is closer and yields many of the same sorts of views. It is a wonderful weekend loop hike. Right now, with COVID risks, you can’t argue with a decent loop hike.

My next trip will probably be a Debsconeag paddle with my 5-year-old. She’s itching to get out there this summer.

Getting to the Grafton Loop

Courtesy Appalachian Mountain Club

From where I live in Maine, it’s a little over two hours to the southern trailhead (recommended for the loop). From Bangor, the most expedient route will take you from I-95 to US-2 via some Maine state roads, and you follow US 2 to the intersection with ME-26. Driving north around 4.7 miles, you’ll find the southern trailhead on the right side of the road.

From points south, you can easily just drive ME-26 off of I-95 in the lower portion of Maine to hit the trailheads.

Mind Private Land Ownership

Much of the Grafton Loop crosses privately-owned land. When I hiked, I saw notices about timber harvesting.

It’s very important to camp only at designated campsites and shelters because of this cooperation between public and private lands. Abusing the goodwill of landowners is a great way to lose access to things.

Even on the super hot weekend in June I hiked the trail (90+ degree days), I found plentiful water sources, but stock up before the slogs up Sunday River, Old Speck, or Baldpate.

Last modified: July 10, 2020

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