Day 2- Walking Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness

Cooper Brook Falls Shelter to Potaywadjo Spring Shelter      11.3 miles

I’m spoiling G-Man and The Slocomotive for any future backpacking trips. Today was that good.

Here’s the deal: cool September temperatures all day long, and clear blue skies. Humidity takes a holiday. The first half of the day was flat, with the strong morning sun breaking through the green canopy and gracing the footpath ahead of us in a golden light.

Slocomo enjoying the view

Slocomo enjoying the view

The trail itself was cushioned in a thick layer of pine needles, making for very comfortable miles.

We had lunch at Antler Campsite, a red oak sanctuary sited on the former sporting camp, on a sandy finger of land jutting out from the shore of Lower Jo-Mary Lake.  It was windy and I soon became chilled.  The Slocomotive dove into the pristine waters and swam a bit before we downed lunch. I was disappointed to see that the former well kept rustic outhouse had fallen into disrepair.

Soon Gone

Soon Gone

A new mouldering privy took it’s place, but change is inevitable and I’m not going to fight it.

Three miles later we all swam at a sunny, warm sand beach that faced south after we wound our way to the opposite shore of the lake.

IMG_3528  This is world class living.  We have seen no one, nor any man-made structures or sounds within miles of our direct sight line up the Lake.

Arriving at camp, The Slowcomotive was upset at discovering a couple of chew holes in the Arc’teryx pack that I loaned him. IMG_3521 He had forgotten that he put a ziplock bag of trail mix in the top compartment. Shelter mice are extremely persistent at sniffing out food, and will eat right through a tent wall and pack compartments to get it.  That is why hikers hang their food at night.

Potaywadjo Spring is a huge 12-15 feet diameter free-flowing spring.

Potaywadjo Spring

Potaywadjo Spring

It’s the only place on the hike where I drank untreated water.

Flying in to Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness

Coming through Millinocket around noon today we stopped at the Hannaford’s grocery store where down by the dairy isle I ran into Billy Goat, a former Mainer, who is best known for his perpetual thru-hiking of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Uncle Tom and Billy Goat

Uncle Tom and Billy Goat

I was astounded that he appeared in my life again. I had three conversations with Billy Goat on my 2010 5-month thru hike of that trail, that 2,700 mile baptism of ice, snow, and other forms of cold water.

Billy Goat and me on the PCT in Southern California in 2010

Billy Goat and me on the PCT in Southern California in 2010

Billy Goat gave me specific advice each time that we connected.  Slow down was his main message, “You may never pass through all this again.”

Billy Goat has been out providing ground/ auto support for a friend who is about to finish a long segment from Gaspe, Quebec to Katahdin.  I told Billy Goat he looked good for 75. His eyes are not worn and washed out, and still radiate hope.

The highlight of the day was sitting in the rear seat of a small 4 seat float plane with my buddies Chris and Joe when we departed from Katahdin Air Service and landed on Crawford Pond 15 minutes later to begin our 50 mile northbound section hike.  The cost of the flight included a shuttle of my car to Abol Bridge, a one hour round trip.  When we finish the hike, the car will be right there for us on the Appalachian Trail.  IMG_3507 Jim, the pilot,  pointed out where the AT meanders between the lakes and ponds below as it carries itself along the undulating green carpet.

It was the perfect introductory backpacking day.  Blue skies, except for the clouds over Katahdin.

Katahdin looms in the distance

Katahdin looms in the distance

IMG_3515 A short 3.5 mile afternoon, and a bed space in my favorite AT shelter, Cooper Brook Falls. Tomorrow we start our first full day of adventure.

Hiking Doubletop Mountain in Baxter State Park

Day 7
Walked out of the Pines campsite and later topped out on Doubletop
9.5 miles

It was hard to leave the only true campsite we’ve stayed in for the past week. Five nights were spent in lean-tos and one in a bunkhouse. No condensation on the inside of my tent, despite it being pitched 20 feet from the edge of this decent-sized Long Pond. It sprinkled for 5 minutes, and then the sky looked like it was going to rain, but by mid-morning, it was blue overhead once again. Guthook’s sporting his  very tidy tarp set-up.

Hiking poles and 7 ounces of fabric make a shelter.

Hiking poles and 7 ounces of fabric make a shelter.

I’ve tried the tarp option several times. It doesn’t work for me. I do like to write in the dark, and the moths that come at me due to my screen light or headlamp drive me crazy, not to mention the need for carrying an extra waterproof bag to stash my gear in during a rain.

There was mucho mud on the way out from the Fowler area. I always avoid stepping in mud, which I consider it a dangerous lubricant. Where mud is found, elevated split log paths are generally not far head, and those moss-covered, worn-to-a-smooth-sheen, and treacherous “walkways” had better be negotiated in as dry conditions as possible. I sometimes pull my ever-present bandanna out of my rear pocket to dry off a wet Vibram sole before bouldering up steep rocks. Bashed knees hurt and when cut badly tend to get infected. Just one misplaced step and you are done is my mantra, ever humming in the background of my consciousness.

We all hiked out quickly and then drove 25 miles (speed limit 20 MPH) to Nesowadnehunk Field Campground where we spent our last night in a lean-to that looks out to Doubletop Mountain. The rushing sound of water nearby is easily the best background music there is. The site we have is thick with cool green grass, which feels like magic to my tender feet.

Doubletop is a superb hike. Since I have been home I have been re-reading Katahdin, By John Neff.  The book details the history of the the mountain. Baxter is actually more wild today than when it was at it’s logging peak period, over 100 years ago.  Check out this  photo on page 112 of the book of some “sports” crossing Nesowadnehunk Stream with DoubleTop framed in the distance.

Dexter Historical Society (Bert L. Call Collection)

Dexter Historical Society (Bert L. Call Collection)

Here is my photo of the same point today, wilder, and definitely no buckboard horse rides into the Park:

Same frame today

Same frame today

The hike up Doubeltop from Nesowadnehunk Field is comprised of three parts. The first segment parallels the stream and is fairly level for a mile or so.  My 1979 edition of Cloe Chunn’s 50 Hikes in the Maine Mountains provides some further details about this hike. Things in this park definitely get wilder by the decade.  For example, a footbridge across Doubletop Brook that was mentioned in 1997 is gone.  I concur with Chun’s reporting the middle mile as “excruciatingly steep”.

Almost there !

Almost there !

The upper third section gets much more moderate, and enters what I felt was some of the most interesting and beautiful high trail in the park, a veritable wonderland of moss covered boulders,  shady nooks, and outright world class trail.  After the return of steepness to the end of the ascent, you walk up a short metal ladder, and there you are- on the 3,488′ north peak.

From this point, the views of  O-J-I, South and North Brother, and outline of Katahdin behind The Owl are all superlative.

The view from the top

The view from the top

I passed on heading over the 0.2 miles to the south peak, as I have done that hike from the other side.  However,  Guthook went over there and took the route down toward the Kidney Pond area, where Chris drove and picked him up.  I doubled back to return to our lean-to and spend our our final night in Baxter State Park.

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Traveler Loop / Baxter State Park

Day 5 Upper South Branch Pond lean-to to South Branch Pond lean-to #2 via Traveler loop
9.7 miles

Big day on a tough loop hike in the northern part of Baxter State Park. The miles today were either pushing up in elevation or depending on my hiking poles to brake on the steep descents. The total elevation gain for the day was a foot-pounding 3,500′.
Guthook and I broke out of camp at 7:30 am, after getting fresh drinking water from the flowage coming into Upper South Branch Pond. Then time to be careful on the wet and slippery elevated split log walkway that brought us back out north on the Pogy Notch Trail, the main north-south path through the central part of the park.
Chris ended up choosing to go up to the summit of Black Cat Mountain, then come down again, when he headed up the Pogy Notch Trail to our lean-to at South Branch Pond campground
We saw no one today out on the Loop itself. It was one of the top 5 best days of the summer, a Friday yet, with no one but us on The Traveler Loop. What a unique name for a giant mountain! This mass of elevation has three peaks to ascend: Center Ridge ( 3,152′), The Traveler ( 3,550″), and North Traveler Mountain (3,152′).

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Me coming up Center Ridge, North Traveler in the distance

One additional feature of this massif is it’s status as the highest volcanic mountain in New England, and possibly the highest of the East Coast. The unique sound underneath our feet on the North Traveler- the clatter of what might have been interpreted as shards of porcelain dinner plates- attest to the nature of the volcanic rock in this particular spot. I have heard the sound only once before, while hiking on the rugged Goat Rocks volcanic peaks in the Cascades, roughly between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams in southern Washington state.
On the way down to the campground, in the last mile’s steep descent from North Traveler Mountain we eventually encountered two small parties, well at that point they were sitting parties.

The Traveler Loop gets short listed due to popularity of Katahdin. The vast majority of visitors are here for one thing-the Big K, but this loop is world class hiking as well. The Traveler has a mini Knife Edge of it’s own, between the Center Ridge and Traveler Mountains and affords a 360 degree view of the Great North Woods into Canada.

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Guthook leaping on Knife Edge portion

At one point Guthook and I were not able to discern any evidence of man made structures in any direction, all the way out to the horion. We also heard no man made sounds, a near impossibility in 99.99% of the USA. It’s a healing green world that can absorb any of he pain, sadness, or regrets in one’s life.
[Note: There is no water on the loop. Plan accordingly, as it would be dry and parching on a hot, clear-sky day.]

I walked into camp tonight with no food or water left in my pack, the goal of any backpacker. I was working with calorie counts for my daily food plan this week. What I didn’t know was how many calories I would be burning each day, so I threw in an emergency bag of Doritos- 1600 calories right there. I ate a portion each of the 4 days were were out so far. Without it, I would have been hungry.

Guthook and I spotted my Voyager here 4 days ago. Inside is a sheet rock bucket with our final three days of backpacking food.

Lots of car campers, everything was full. The campsite next to us has two people in it with their 8 big beach towels hanging on a clothes line. I prefer one 6″ by 12″ microfiber towel that dries me up just fine.

Here’s our lean-to at South Branch:

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Chris was impressed with me using my Moro knife to split wood and chop it for cooking.

Chris getting schooled on wood mode for the Bushcooker Lt1

Chris getting schooled on wood mode for the Bushcooker Lt1

We both regretted not shifting to car camping mode for the rest of our trip when we’ll be with this car. It would have been nice to have folding chairs, or even some fresh Whoopie Pies, the official state treat of Maine (not to be confused with the official state dessert, which is blueberry pie).
Guthook and I think too much like backpackers, not just when we are hiking.Next time we’ll do better.
I’m thinking a cast iron Dutch oven or two, so that we could bake ourselves up a big fresh greasy pizza, and even a blueberry pie for dessert.

I did remember to pack a six of the appropriate beer, though.

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Upper South Branch Pond in Baxter State Park

Day 4- Thru-hiking Baxter State Park

Russell Pond to Upper South Branch Pond
7.5 miles

My hiking today was completed by noon. It was a straight shot north up the Pogy Notch trail, a path that was cut in 1951.  I can’t remember when I had this much time off on a recent backpacking trip. I have the whole afternoon to lounge around this tiny lean-to that’s facing a smooth-stoned beach on this remote wilderness pond.
I’ve already Steripen’d a couple of quarts of water that I scooped from the pond, brewed up a fresh cup of the last of today’s coffee, and went for a chilling swim/ rinse in the clear, tranquilizing water not 50 feet from my bedroll.  I even read my book, a thin volume entitled The Backbone of the World: A Portrait of the Vanishing West Along the Continental Divide
Chris is here already. I was moving pretty good and expected he would be a bit behind me, but he rolled in just ten minutes after I did.
Guthook is still out, putting on additional miles.
It was overcast and cloudy all day long.
I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon at this private, well-maintained camp site.

The single lean-to at Upper South Branch Pond

The single lean-to at Upper South Branch Pond

I swam in the pond and rinsed off yet again.

Right off our front porch

Right off our front porch

Dry dead fire wood had been stripped away for quite a distance from the fire ring but who minds a bit of of walk when the payoff is a cheerful, evening campfire?
Guthook eventually came in with a smile on his face after a bit more than 18 miles of laying GPS track.
The hiking today was definitely mild, with the ancient trail meandering trough a variety of ecological slices: marshes, through beaver flowage, spruce forests, beech groves, and even a stand of hornbeam.
I really enjoyed my dinner tonight: 2 cups of instant Idaho Red Potatoes, a packet of tuna, mayo, pickle relish, and lots of Siracha.

Chris worked hard to produce a  fine evening camp fire.

Day's end

Day’s end

Guthook’s blog of today here.

Russell Pond Campground in Baxter state park

Chimney Pond –>Roaring Brook Campgrounds–>Lean-to at Russell Pond CG.
10.8 miles

Despite adding another hiker to our duo, we were able to started hiking today at 7:15 AM. We encountered dozens of hikers that were coming up the 3.3 miles ( and 1500′) from Roaring Brook campground to Chimney Pond.

Chris had come in on his own, and had the consciousness of a heap of throb after he lumped his 40 pound pack up here yesterday afternoon.  However this morning, he carried himself surprisingly well on the descent.  We stopped just once on the way down. Here is a video clip of Chris checking in with “The Daily Inventory of Pain”, a phrase and practice coined by my Canadian hiking buddy The Burglar.


When we reached our cars at the parking lot, Chris decided to take me up on my offer to look through his stuff and suggest what might be left behind to get his pack weight down.  I implemented the bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, and clothes closet pile technique and watched him orient his gear in the proper categories.  Chris’ empty backpack/ day pack military ops combo weighted 6 pounds one ounce empty. He reluctantly replaced that with the 3 pound ULA Catalyst that I had given him.  Even his camp chair was dumped, shedding 2+ more pounds. In the end, Chris reduced his load to 28 pounds, a much more reasonable weight that included even more meals than he carried up last night.

Guthook was on his own today. He went back up high over Hamlin Peak then took the North Peaks Trail and ended up with us in lean-to #5 at Russell Pond.

Number 5 , Baxter style

Number 5 , Baxter style

I was hoping to meet up with the Russell Pond ranger, Brendan, who lives not far from my house, but Guthook met up with Brendan, who opted for the challenge of the high route as he was headed home for a couple of days.

The walking was especially great, and followed a big day of going up and down. I was transported back in time as we passed the huge glacial boulder known as Halfway Rock. My wife Auntie Mame and sons Lincoln and Arlo were in my thoughts today, as they were physically back in the 1980’s when our family traversed this and many other of Baxter’s trails on our annual Columbus Day weekends.  Today the trail was wooded, dappled in greens, and frankly, easy.  We were in the green tunnel all day long. Today, Chris and I took the right fork over the Wassataquoik Trail.

We made two fords: one little and another wider over Wassataquoik Stream, about 2 miles before we ended the day’s walk. It made sense to keep my feet bare and walk the 100 feet or so across a fairly soft footpath to the second ford, rather than putting the boots on and taking them off and then putting them on and off again a minute later.  I was shocked to find a leech already stuck to the heel of my foot, even though I had been in the water for less than a minute.

We were way off on our own in Lean-To #5 at Russell. 

Lean-To #5

Lean-To #5

Dead wood was scarce, and what few solid sticks we could find were some distance from our spot. I bear-bagged my food way up in a tree after I spotted a huge pile of bear crap beside a nearby blueberry patch.
The crowds are gone now that we left Katahdin.
We had our session of “cowboy TV ” on a small wooden bench in front of the  cracking spruce wood fire.
I was asleep before dark.

Katahdin and the Knife Edge Trail

Day 2
Chimney Pond up Cathedral Trail to Baxter Peak–>Knife Edge to Pamola Peak–>Dudley Trail to Chimney Pond
4.0 miles

It’s still a stirring call on that first morning in Baxter when I’ve signed in at the Chimney Pond register and write 7:10 AM on the going-up-to-the-top of Katahin column. If I make it, it will be the 17th time I have summited the 5,267′ mountain.
After Guthook and I checked into the Hiking Register, we headed up the most direct route to the top, the 1.7 mile Cathedral Trail. It’s initially a walk over increasingly large rocks, then a boulder scramble up the middle section. I highly recommend gloves, and leaving your hiking poles at the bottom.
It’s a tough walk that has parts that are definitely rock climbing. There are several times that foresight, picking a good line, and using your arms in pulling yourself up will be required. It’s a trail unlike many others, one that requires real focus and concentration.
” I’m calling this a primal trail,” I shouted out to Guthook as we took turns trading off leading the ascent. Primal in the sense that conscious thinking is not necessary, nor encouraged. Moving up here is best when instinctual- deciding foot placement, silently moving fingertips along the edges of rocks hanging above until a handhold is good enough.

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By 9:15 we reached the highest point in Maine at 5,267′ Baxter Peak, where we found just one other person, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who was just completing his 2,200 mile journey. Pics were snapped and then several other thru-hikers started coming up. All their heads snapped around to look at Guthook after he told one of them his trail name. One hiker said that he had found Guthook’s AT Hiker App very useful and accurate, and a couple of his pals chimed in with the affirmative.
But Guthook and I had other tasks to compete up above tree line. First off, Guthook wants to complete his first ever walk over the notorious Knife Edge Trail, a one mile traverse over a region of maximum exposure, where the trail may narrow to just a little point with the inside edges of both feet hugging the granite spine, as you experience a two thousand foot drop on either side of you.

IMG_3406.JPG It is a route that is not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights. I assured Guthook that it was a perfect day for the experience, with dry rock, full sun, and no wind.
It took us about an hour and a half to walk, and sometimes crawl along the blue-blazed path. There was a bit of a pile up at the Chimney, the one place on the Knife Edge that I still fret about. I have long legs, and have learned to keep facing the rock, and trust that by lowering myself with both arms on a thin rock handhold and then stretching my lower right leg I can gain the last foothold before the bottom.
We reached the end at Pamola Peak, a superb place to soak up the day’s warming rays, air the socks out, and savor the view of what we’d just experienced.

IMG_3757.JPG It was funny, partly incredible, and astounding to me that not only does Katahdin host that knockout view of the massive cirque from the Chimney side, but it also has this very unique Knife Edge trail radiating east from Baxter Peak.

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Not done yet. I head down the ridiculously steep and bolder strewn Leroy Dudley trail back to Chimney Pond. It is so much easier to get down with gloves on.
It’s also useful to be ready, willing, and able to jump. Jump ? Yes, jump. I ended up jumping off drops six times on the way down. It was something that I have been training for in the last few weeks. Proper jumping with both feet coming down underneath you, and cushioning the impact by using your knees as shock absorbers is a much more efficient, and in some cases safer, alternative to skittering down on your butt, or clutching vegetable handholds ( trees and shrubs) and wrenching an arm or an elbow. Brief, light jumping sessions a couple of times a week have been associated with reduced risk for osteoporosis, especially for women.
Guthook was headed down to Roaring Brook and back to assist with his garnering more GPS tracks in the Park.
Back at the campsite, our neighbor had been telling us about the difficult he’s been having with his boots. He just bought a $180 pair of Asolos at LLBean. He finally discovered the source of the irritation that was troubling his Achilles’ tendon. It was a manufacturing defect involving an extra piece of inner fabric that raised a protrusion of exposed stitching. The stitches were rubbing skin to the point that he was hobbling.
He asked me what I though of him cutting that area away. I told him that it the only practical solution that would result in him being able to do what he came here to do- hike to the top and do the Knife Edge. I gave him my sharp Moro knife and he went at it.
IMG_3766.JPG I looked at his work and suggested he remove even more material so that none of the irritated/ inflamed area would hit the inside of the boot. He handed me the boot and the knife and said , “Do it”, so I did. When he put the boot back on his smile got wider and wider.
“We’re up at daybreak and heading to he top in the morning now!”
Four miles felt like 14 on this route today. It was enough for me.

Guthook’s account of the day is here.