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.

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.

IMG_3750.JPG
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.

IMG_3813.JPG
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.

Thru-hiking Baxter State Park – Day 1 of 7

3.3 miles

IMG_3417.JPGI welcomed myself back to Baxter State Park today. It’s been two years since I’ve been to this most unique setting. Katahdin’s fantastic granite glacial cirque is set within in a 200,000 acre public state park that is run with a management style that has been strictly preservationist. Decades old man-made structures are generally razed rather than replaced. Here is one place on earth that graces wilderness, showcasing it quietly.

Despite my friend Chris and I rendezvoused at Guthook’s house at 6 AM, we weren’t able to reach the Roaring Brook Campground until 2 PM. This trip involved a lot of driving. Guthook and I drove both our cars all the way up to Exit 264 on Maine’s I-95 and then wound our way through the backwoods hardscrabble of Patten, a tiny berg that is slowly being populated by Mennonites.

We eventually passed through the northern Matagannon gate of Baxter and spotted my Caravan in the parking lot at South Branch Pond Campground, where we each have stashed three breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, as well as any snacks that we’d need for our last several days in the infrequently visited northeast corner of the Park. Then Guthhook and I got into his Jetta and he proceeded to drive us some 47 miles, and mostly obeying the 20 MPH speed limit on the Park Tote Road to the southern gate and then twelve more miles northeast to Roaring Brook Campground.
The trail from the parking lot to Chimney Pond Campground is not flat. I remembered it as very gradually going up for the whole 3.3 miles. It’s REALLY not flat, ascending 1,500 feet in that distance, most of the rise coming in the middle mile. It’s a pretty tough right out of the parking lot, especially with a sack full of gear and food in your back.
I am still stunned at the granite studded footpath, one interspersed with roots of all textures, depths, and angles that are criss-crossing the trail.
Our reservations tonight are in the Bunkhouse, which holds twelve. It’s functional, with an enclosed outer hallway with one common room that has a picnic table off to one side, a stainless steel clad cooking surface along one wall, and a big honking airtight wood stove in the center of the room. When I arrived at 2 PM, the place was loaded up with about 10 people, some playing cards at the table in 2 groups, and others laying around on the bunks chatting and sleeping. In a little while another group of 3 newcomers came in, along with even more people. It got really noisy. I wanted to claim a bottom bunk and just lay out for a while. That’s when I learned that most of this crowd had slept there the night before and had remained through the next afternoon. They were in no mood for giving us the spaces we had reserved four months ago. I had to ask a vacant teenage girl to please move her self and her gear so that I could set up my slotted space. It took a couple of hours for them to clear out, and then things became much more enjoyable.
A young bilingual couple from Quebec, a three generation set of males from Benton, Maine, and a father and his son rounded out the evening’s other occupants. The place was quite dark, but had a couple of propane lights that illuminated and also heated the room a bit.
It was an early night.
Tomorrow we hike Katahdin. I am always nervous about how I will do. Could also be a Knife Edge day.

Guthook’s own blog entry for this day is here

Thru-Hiking Baxter State Park (2014 version)

Me on the Summit of Baxter (2009)

Me on the Summit of Baxter (2009)

My long-awaited week at Maine’s Baxter State is almost here.  Here is the itinerary that I just sent the three folks on this adventure. At the time I reserved my route, three months ago, Chimney Pond Campground was already sold out for Monday with space for just 2.  Chimney is the pick of the litter as far as BSP campgrounds go, even though it is a 3.3 mile hike from your vehicle.

Day 1 Roaring Brook parking lot to Chimney Pond Campground (CPC)     3.3 miles
( Guthook and Uncle Tom have the last Bunkhouse slots )

Day 2 Summit Day for Katahdin   (staying in Lean-to #02)       route undetermined
( Chris could hike in 3.3 miles to Chimney Pond Lean-to for his 1st day)

Day 3  CPC—>Roaring Brook—>Russell Pond CG  (lean-to #05)         10 miles
(Chris could also meet up at RB parking lot for his first day and have 6.5 miles for this day)

Day 4  RPCG—> Upper South Branch Lean To- via Pogy Notch Trail                9.5 miles

Day 5 USBP Lean-to to South Branch Campground Lean to # 02         12 miles (via Traveler Mountain Loop) – (lower mileage and much less demanding options are 2.1 on east side of SB Pond or 4.7 miles on the west side of the Pond)

Day 6 SBCG to Long Pond Pines tent site                    7.5 Miles

Day 7 Hike out from tent site back to a car ( back the 7.5 miles ) at South Branch Campground and then drive to Nesowadnehunk Field Campground (NFCG) for Lean-to #7  – We planned to summit Doubletop ( 6.8 miles round trip) either this day, or sleep at NFCG this day OR

Day 8   Double Top Mtn. in the morning with no gear in a day pack (6.8 miles round trip) and drive home this day  .

Chris,

all the maps for this itinerary are downloadable on the Baxter State Park Web site- if you have the ability to print them out, you should do it and have your own map(s)- alternatively you can purchase a nice Delorme waterproof map of BSP for about $9,  or a MUCH better deal is to purchase a copy of the revised (2012)  AMC  Maine Mountain Guide for $24, which will give you great reading about all these trails . You’ll also have the 100 Mile Wilderness map for our upcoming September fly-in trip on The Hundred.

Here is an excellent description of the rigorous, but rewarding Traveler Loop Trail that I hope to do on Day 5.

All nights except for one will be in a 4 person lean-to.

As of yesterday, there are still mosquitoes in BSP. I am undecided as to how I will deal with them.  If I had a bivvy sack, it would be my first choice.  I may go minimal just bring some Deet and a head net.  Only 1 night will be at a tent site, so I may cowboy that night, or if the weather is iffy, I will have my tent stashed in the car at South Branch Pond campground.  I’ll get that and pack it in to Long Pond Pines tent site.

I will update my packing list and get it to you, Chris.

WHOOOOOO!

Seeking Midcoast Maine’s Tastiest Fried Clam – Week 3

I sampled fried clams this week at two more local Midcoast Maine seafood establishments, both recommended to me by readers: Rockland’s Hills Seafood Company and The Captain’s Fresh Idea in Waldoboro.

Hills Seafood Company: Rigger recommended the seafood, so I went. Hills is a new restaurant taking over at Brick’s former location. It is right across street from the Time-Out Pub and Rockland’s Harbor Park-prime seafood country with the broad blue Penobscot Bay backdrop right across the street. The North Atlantic Blues Festival is here next weekend, where a seat on the outside deck here will put a chorus of “Down to Chicago” front and center with your ocean feast. Mame and I decided to eat on the deck, a prime spot to watch the unique parade of passers-by that tend to frequent this part of town. The fried clam plate at Hills sets you back “ market price,” which was $24 right today. I passed on the fries, opting for the veggie side plus cole slaw.  Twelve clams were tastefully presented on top of a piece of blue and white checkered paper that decorated the plate, looked good, but not so useful this time.

HILLS
The whole belly clams were lightly batter fried, and characteristically chewy-they were good, but the whole experience was not great. Things would have been much better if the steamed broccoli was served in its own little plate, instead of being placed next to my sacred fried clams. I’m not one to slowly savor the glory of the clam-they are best hot, crisp and fresh. The hot water from the broccoli side soaked through to the point where little pieces of colored paper deteriorated and started sticking to my treasured clams. Nope. However, the quick and friendly service helped, as did the Allagash White draft beer. This plate could have been a contender if the side had not leaked into the good stuff.

The Captain’s Fresh Idea:
The Captain’s Fresh Idea, on Route 1 in Waldoboro, has been across from the Wooden Screened Door place since 1987. It looks like a take-out. However, the dining room is super clean and loaded with summer-in-Maine stuff. There is also a screened in deck and a take-out window if you would like to sit outside on one of the picnic tables. Lobster rolls are at the top of the menu. The fried seafood is reported to be hand breaded.
The only fried clams appearing on the menu were a full basket with all the sides. I inquired about other options and learned that they’d make up any amount I wanted-I chose a half-pint with a side of home made cole slaw. It was $14.95 for a single serving of 15 delicious fried clams, with the giant cup of slaw $2.99 more.

20140715-155229-57149074.jpg The service was speedy. The clams were very good, lightly battered, slightly crispy, and hot. The clams here tied for first place with the Red Barn, reviewed in week two. Any coincidence that both establishments sport red metal roofs?

Week 2- Seeking Midcoast’s Maine’s Tastiest Fried Clam

I recently sampled the fried clams at two establishments that were recommended to me by readers: Lincolnville’s Chez Michel and The Red Barn in Augusta.

Chez Michel’s:  I was Father’s Day, with Auntie Mame picking up the bill, so we went to the home-town choice down on Lincolnville Beach.  The clam plate at Chez Michel’s sets you back $25, a bit high for a plate of clams, but with the above average setting, with the view from the upstairs room overlooking the harbor, the price sort of fits.  The offering included a dinner salad with home made parmesan peppercorn dressing, fresh baked french bread, and garlic mashed potatoes.  Fifteen clams showed up too, making a mighty large and attractive plate of seafood-  The clams were batter fried, with a good clam taste-a slightly chewy experience. The tartar sauce cup needed a second replacement.   A decent plate of clams here, and frankly a mound of clams that was indistinguishable from the fried clams that I had at Andy’s Brew Pub at the Lobster Pound last week, where the price was $16 for 11 clams.

A thing of beauty- Chez Michel's clam plate

A thing of beauty- Chez Michel’s clam plate.

The Red Barn:  Since 1977, the Red Barn has been a popular spot on Route 202, above the intersection with Route 3 on Riverside Drive heading out of Augusta.

A very good find

A very good find

I’ve never eaten at the Red Barn but was visiting my friend Lock, so we went there for lunch. We were dismayed by the almost completely filled parking lot at lunchtime on a weekday.  I felt a wait coming on.  However, there was no line when we bellied up to the order counter, where our selections were quickly dispatched, and we were told our names would be called when the food would be ready. I decided to cut to the quick and order just a single serving of clams, accompanied by a side of cole slaw. The clams came out in 5 minutes!  My iPhone’s camera put an unappetizing green cast on the Red Barn’s clam plate, so I don’t have an inviting pic.  I am compelled to taste my fried clams while they are still hot, and from now on, will avoid filling up on and getting derailed by french fries, or any other potato options and focus on just the clam ( and the slaw/salad and the tartar sauce).  I got my recommendation for the Red Barn from Jason, who was adamant that it’s the home-made tartar sauce puts these clams over the top. The tartar sauce may have even had a bit of cumin added, and was bottomless, coming from a large pump dispenser on the condiment counter, which also had a few large pump containers of genuine Heinz ketchup. It’s a plus to have the ability to take enough of one’s own tartar sauce, and a welcome cut above requesting another of those tiny paper cups of tartar sauce that often punctuate one’s fried clam experience. It’s $14.95 for a single serving of clams here, and only $1 more for two servings (a whole pint) of the tasty little devils. The cole slaw set me back another $.75.   OK, now the taste -wow!  It took about two seconds to move these clams right to the top of my admittedly brief list of fried clam favorites-due to the fresh out-of-the-fryolator status, thin batter, light fry, and very smooth clam consistency.  Not much chewing needed here.  Clearly, a superior fried clam.  Highly recommended!  A half-price cone of vanilla soft serve for just $1 also sweetened my ride back home. Yeah!