Mention the 100-Mile Wilderness Trail to a hiker and they’re certain to get a bit misty-eyed, dreaming about this last 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maine. Slicing through the legendary North Woods, this is a land of seemingly endless forest filled with mile-high mountains, immense lakes and too many ponds to count. The large swath of wilderness feels like a chunk of Alaska remarkably placed in our congested Northeast. Lured by the opportunity to hunt, fish, and take large gulps of pine-scented air, “sports” have been making the long trek north from Boston and New York for close to 150 years, following in the footsteps of that highly opinionated naturalist Henry David Thoreau.
Over the past two decades, many of these historic sporting camps, with their communal dining lodge and rustic cabins, have fallen into private hands. When the opportunity arose in 2003 to purchase the Little Lyford Pond Camps, nestled in a grove near the 100-Mile Wilderness Trail, the Appalachian Mountain Club decided to buy the lodging. Then they made the bold move to acquire 37,000 acres of surrounding land and two additional sporting camps, Chairback and Medawisla. Last November, the AMC purchased an additional 29,500 acres from the Plum Creek Timber Company for $11.5 million and are now partnering with a fourth sporting camp, West Branch Pond Camps.
The sporting camp-to-sporting camp network in the North Woods is a new variation of the AMC’s hut-to-hut system in the Whites. With each sporting camp spaced some seven to ten miles apart, folks can cross-country ski, snowshoe, and dog sled from lodging to lodging, creating the perfect four-night stay. This is especially true now that Chairback, renamed Gorman Chairback, will reopen on January 27th. First opened as a private camp in 1867, it’s hard to top the setting of Gorman Chairback, located on the shores of Long Pond, in the shadows of the Barren-Chairback Range.