The Wild River Wilderness, Where Beauty is Pain – First Backpacking Trip

Do you remember when you were a kid and your parents took you on that first big trip? You were bursting with excitement, you could hardly sleep. That’s how I felt before my first ever backpacking trip. I begged Anton to do a grueling 25 mile trip through the Wild River Wilderness and Carter-Moriah range with me. He hesitantly accepted, and off we went.

We set off to Hastings Campground and stayed the night with Anton’s family at their site. From there it was 20 minutes down a dirt road to the trail head. From Hastings you can clearly see the Milky Way in the night sky.

The trail began along the banks of the Wild River and led us up to what used to be a bridge, now we had to cross on the stones. We were lucky enough that there were enough exposed river rocks to be able to traverse the 50 foot wide river. This time of year waters are low, during spring this crossing would be next to impossible.

As we carried on the trail became increasingly rugged, sometimes we had a hard time discerning between the forest and the trail. Throughout the hike there was water crossing after water crossing on the Moriah Brook. I mean, it is the Moriah Brook Trail after all… to be expected.

Every time we went up hill, even slightly, I felt pain in my back and my breathing became labored. It was hot and humid, we were on a very strict time table as a result of limited space at the camp. This backpacking thing is not easy! I immediately regretted not listening to Anton’s warnings about this trip, it was positively grueling and he was right, I should have chosen an easier trip for my first time. I was almost in tears from the pain I felt, but we had to go on. Eventually Anton relieved me of our bear proof food container, it was too much for me. My backpack was 1/3 of my body weight and my skinny legs couldn’t handle it.

With no cell service we couldn’t even check where we were on my hiking app. I wouldn’t mind this under normal circumstances, but hiking seven miles and not knowing whether or not we would get a spot is extremely frustrating. I started plotting ways to make the AMC let us stay regardless, my best idea was to fake a twisted ankle, if worse came to worse it would have to do. No way anyone was ruining my first trip.

We eventually walked through the grossest swampy area ever. The trail was so poorly maintained that the boards going over the swamp barely existed, we had to jump rock to rock. Occasionally that didn’t work out and we ended up with mud everywhere. Ewwww…

The trail was steep for half a mile, Anton thought we had another mile to go till we hit the trail intersection, but to my pleasant surprise he was completely wrong. There we were on the Carter-Moriah trail…only 3/4 of a mile up hill to go… Great. It was 12:30pm, I was going as fast as I could, but Anton had to keep stopping to wait for me. We now had cell service and the trail was very well trafficked/maintained. I used my best judgement and told Anton to go ahead to get our spot. He then proceeded to trail run, with a 45lb pack, up a mountain, in full hiking boots… FYI, this is extremely impressive.

I poked along at my favorite pace chatting up the stinky AT thru hikers as I went along. Soon I would smell just as bad as them, only a matter of time.

Then I came out to the first scenic overlook of the trip. Scenic doesn’t describe it. I paused to appreciate it and rest for a few minutes before carrying on. Let me just start by saying how much I love the freedom of solo hiking. I feel so happy being able to go at my own pace and bury myself deep in my thoughts. Reflection is so important, and this little time allowed for that opportunity.

Almost there, so close. Then I heard shouting and clapping, that could mean only one thing. I ran ahead to get the best view of the bear. I was excited but also wanted to assist in the noise making process, the shouting man sounded terrified. With the noise I added he was gone in seconds. We both carried on in opposite directions. I’m lucky it wasn’t a Lynx or rare Mountain Lion.

Within 15 minutes I was on the spur trail headed down to Imp Campsite, excited now to lay in our tent and eat something. We split a freeze dried bag of Backpacker’s Pantry Red Beans & Rice, which was actually pretty tasty but definitely not enough food for both of us contrary to package directions. The average lunch is 600-800 calories, this was only 300 calories.

After a long rest we decided to hike up to the summit of Moriah, I still felt hungry but figured I would endure the four miles. By the time we reached the summit we were both starving, I’ve never felt this hungry in all my life. At one point I picked a mushroom which Anton safely identified, and ate it for some calories. Finally I could see the view, it was breathtaking. Last time I hiked Moriah it was foggy.

We even spotted a rare American Marten hunting a squirrel! We stayed hidden to get some awesome pictures of the little cutie. These critters were hunted out of the Northeast for their fur, but are now making a comeback! They’re still highly endangered so this is an incredible privilege.

On the way back it began to get dark in the forest, in the last half mile of the hike I was so lightheaded that I blacked out in the middle of the trail for a few minutes. Anton apparently struggled to get me to wake up by shaking me. Eventually I did, but too late. Mr. Bear was back and not happy about us disturbing him. We couldn’t see him, but we could hear his low, ominous growl just feet away. I know they say to never run from a bear, but adrenaline kicked in. I had a fight or flight response, no way I was going to win a fight with a 250lb bear. We heard him behind us. We came out to a clearing and hesitated, the bear no longer followed. Our trail run saved us about 20 minutes of hiking accomplished in about 5 minutes. My heart rate went back to normal, and finally we arrived back at camp. Anton made freeze dried Borscht soup as an appetizer followed by freeze dried Indian food. We then proceeded to pass out cold.

The next morning we woke early, I slept well in the forest, but wanted more food. My body was starving. We split a bag of Pasta Primavera (Mountain House) and peanut butter/tortillas for breakfast. This was only 400 calories, not enough to take us through. With little food left there wasn’t much of a choice, we couldn’t do the rest of the Carter range and had to hike back the same way we came up.

This is what happens to my hair 24 hours after starting a backpacking trip apparently. I look like I’m going bald.

We departed camp at 9am after chatting up our neighbors, and hiked for several hours. I was still hungry, all we could talk about was food. All I could think about was soft pretzels and fried pickles at a North Conway brewery. At one point a bug flew in my eye and I had a temper tantrum which turned into tears. I was completely miserable, tired, and hungry. We stopped to rest which did a lot for my overall mood.

Eventually we hooked back onto the Highwater trail along the Wild River. Cue horse-going-back-to-barn mode. My mood lightened until I realized that the water in the river was up higher. Anton made it across just fine by skipping rocks, but my legs weren’t long enough. I took off my boots and forded the river barefoot. The last 0.2 of a mile lay before us and when we saw the car I was the happiest person alive.

We both were absolutely exhausted, but grateful for the experience. No, we didn’t do the original plan of bagging all the Carters in a day and going down the Black Angel Trail, but I did a grueling 18 miles on my first backpacking trip. I would call that an accomplishment.

Trail Tips: You’re not consuming 2,000 calories a day on any hike, you need 3,000-4,000 calories a day. Plan for that, we failed. I only ended up consuming 2,200 calories over the course of the trip, bad. Pack only the essentials, I packed clothing I didn’t touch and that was weight I had to carry. Hopefully you won’t make any of my mistakes if you go backpacking! The consequences are severe, this is your survival at stake. One thing we did a good job on was not getting a crumb of food in or around our tent. Everything was carefully cooked and consumed.

Most of these pictures were taken by Anton, follow him on Instagram @antonpugphoto for more beautiful nature photography.