Baxter’s Traveler Loop hike

In two weeks, I depart for a week long backpacking transect of Maine’s Baxter State Park, where one of the days will be spent on this tough loop hike. I have done it once before, we’ll see how it goes this time. I remember it was a dry route, so I’ll  pack extra water, and a flashlight!

photo by Bridget Besaw

Maine: Hike and Canoe Baxter State Park. –from Beyond the Edge: National Geographic Adventure Blog, originally posted by Chris Kassar on July 30, 2014,

Walk one of the park’s newest, toughest trails, then enjoy an easy lake paddle.

What Is It? Looking to get off the beaten path and avoid the crowds in one of Maine’s most heavily visited state parks? Try the Traveler Mountain Loop. It’s a lung-busting, 10.6-mile circuit that includes three separate mountain summits and climbs over 3,700 feet in total. You’ll spend two-thirds of your time above tree line, which means striking views but also rapidly changing weather, so be prepared.

Why Do It? Baxter State Park is an exquisite treasure in a state known for its beauty. The Traveler Mountain loop hike—which tops out on Peak of the Ridges, Traveler Mountain, and North Traveler Mountain—rivals the popular Katahdin climb in vistas and difficulty. But it’s on the north side of the park, so you’ll likely experience solitude. Reward your intense effort with an easy paddle on a serene lake the next day, and keep an eye out for moose.

Make It Happen: Visit Baxter State Park’s site for maps, conditions, and information.



The Others

For the past 36 years I’ve been walking up the driveway to get the Bangor Daily News that gets delivered to me sometime around 5:30 each morning.  Today, like no other day, a majestic bald eagle greeted me-  circling not 50 feet above my head as I reached into the newspaper box up on the road.
I don’t work on my birthday anymore, and try to let the day unfold a bit before I go hiking.  It’s a tradition that I have started in 2008, on the one year anniversary of starting out walking from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Maine.  I know that the new year is something that is thought to start on January 1, but for me it starts on my birthday, just a few days after the Spring equinox.  The light is brightening now, the days most years are warmer already. It’s time to walk again.
I wanted to backpack at least half the day today, but sometimes we have to improvise.  Improvisation is one of my major lessons this year. The Improv Wisdom book is a big help these days.
Yes, it’s just as good as it ever was- the hiking today. Maybe not as long a walk than I first wanted, but it’s what worked out. I loved the feeling of stretching out my legs, kicking forward, and leaning toward the horizon a bit- saw no one.
The trail ahead is slippery

The trail ahead is slippery

What a privilege it is to have the miles of trails and warm shelter to myself right now. The sun is setting, skies are clear and it’s definitely back into the 20’s tonight.
Just as I was walking, someone sings  “Sorrows are flowing downstream down the mountain”on the iPhone that I’m listening to . I was in the process of taking this photograph at that exact moment- I’m not kidding.

Flowing but mostly frozen

I just set up final details to do a 100 mile hike down on the Appalachian Trail in May to hike into Trail Days. I’ll be in Tennessee,  North Carolina and into Virginia ! I hope hike a few of those miles with Duff, who is setting out on a thru-hike of the AT this season. Plus Guthook will be breezing through at autobahn level mileages as he storms through Virginia as a total act of devotion to updating his ever popular AT Hiker app. Bob Peoples is helping me with logistics, and I’ll be sure to stay at his place- Kincora- the best hostel of the whole AT.

I am hoping see Crazy Horse down there. When he had the Captain America Corvette he was easy to track down. Now his car is nothing flashy.

It’s not that big a bunch that hikes a lot. These people tend to get to events like Trail Days  and AYZPCTKO ( PCT kickoff).   I will likely spot a few folks that I have not thought about in years but, when I do run into them, I’ll be filled with excitement instantly due to some deep connection we made between each other while out there with The Others. That’s who I belong to- the ragtag bunch of backpackers who do not have upward mobility anywhere even close to their home screens.  These noble folks are the masters of forward mobility.

I started hiking north on the AT on my birthday in 2007.  One thing I really enjoy right now is reading my original Trailjournal from that long hike.  I start reading about today on today, just 7 years later.  And over the next few weeks, I wake up and re-read that day’s journal, reliving the past, refreshing my outlook for the coming season.  No thru hikes for me this year, but I am excited about my progress in completing Cary Kish’s “1000 miles of hiking in Maine in one year” challenge.   I put in six more miles today.



Donn Fendler film getting closer to becoming a reality — Bangor Daily News

CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine, By Alex Barber — Just like the lost boy atop Mount Katahdin in 1939, two filmmakers are in the midst of a long journey with an uncertain outcome. Waterville, ME native Ryan Cook hopes his project turns out with a happy ending, just like the person whose story he’s telling — Donn Fendler.

On July 17, 1939, 12-year-old Fendler was separated from his family and became lost on Mount Katahdin. He emerged from the woods nine days later after the search for him had made headlines across the country.

via Donn Fendler film getting closer to becoming a reality — Mid-Maine — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine.

<–check out the full story, with video trailer.

It’s 2013: The Continental Divide Trail beckons!

Artwork by Michelle Ray

Artwork by Michelle Ray

Today, it’s officially 2013 and time to take action toward my latest big-deal adventure: backpacking the Continental Divide Trail ( CDT). I’ve got 3 months and 15 days to pull things together. I already have my plane tickets. I had air miles accumulating from my credit card for the past 5 years so the flight from Portland, ME to El Paso, TX cost me just $10 as did the trip back to Portland from Bozeman, MT on October 1.

In the past 6 years I have completed three thru-hikes: the Appalachian Trail in 2007, the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010, and Vermont’s Long Trail in 2011. Readers can access my daily Trailjournals from these journeys on, or click the hot links on the right side of my blog to get there.

On March 27, 2007 on my first day on the AT I met General Lee and then encountered Richard Wizard a couple of weeks later. We and several others held up as a “AT family” that eventually reached Katahdin together. We’ve forged life-long bonds and we reunited to complete the PCT in 2010, and in Lee’s case, the Long Trail as well. Lee is from Georgia, and Wizard from Texas. On the trail, we’re known as MeGaTex, and all three of us are on “ the bus” for this one, plus other people that I’ll introduce you to in the weeks ahead.

I started a blog in 2008, after I enjoyed writing about the daily adventures on the AT. Between my trail journals and my WordPress blog site I have racked up over a half million “hits” from readers. I’ve been rewarded many fold for my time spent whacking away at these keyboards, sending out my thoughts from the house or in the tent. The kickbacks just keep on coming. So, just to be perfectly clear- I’ll take any and all the help I can get.

So far, I’ve spent close to $500 on maps about this “King of Trails”, which is of undetermined length, ranging somewhere between 2,700 and 3,100 miles. It’s undetermined because it is not like the AT or the PCT, or the LT. It’s undetermined because the trail is only 70% complete, and 58% complete in the most northern state of Montana. You get choices to go high, go low, go over mountains, or walk riverbeds, or walk roads. The one defining characteristic about the CDT that makes it especially challenging is the tendency for hikers to lose the trail. It’s unmarked and unsigned, for sections as long as a couple of hundreds of miles. Depending on the depth of winter snows, the trail generally gets buried in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Right from the start, you get to choose three starting points along the Mexico/ New Mexico border. I’ve been spending the last month familiarizing myself with the New Mexico maps, and still am not sure I understand where the trail goes. For example, I have the latest 2009 edition of the New Mexico Delorme Atlas and Gazatteer where I believe there have been major changes from the Acoma Indian Reservation below the town of Grants all the way up to the Colorado border, and that’s 1/3 of the CDT in Mexico. I’m concerned about the fact that New Mexico is mostly a barren desert and that natural water sources are as much as 150 miles apart.
I plan to update my official Trailjournal at least once weekly as April approaches.

Saddle Trail: Katahdin, Maine

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki. The group of 10 teenagers participating in the 2012 Maine Youth Wilderness Leadership Program hikes up Saddle Trail to the summit of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park on Aug. 10, 2012.

Today’s Bangor Daily News has a good reference to what is probably the easiest trail up from Chimney Pond to Baxter Peak- relatively easy. I like the inclusion of the video. This youth group was hiking at a good clip, and the fact that it was hailing, and socked in with clouds on top, indicates that hiking is often undertaken in less than picture-post-card conditions.

I have two reservations for Baxter State park coming up. In a month, I’ll be camping at Chimney Pond for two nights, where our Gang of Four hopes to make it to the top. It’s likely that we’ll take the Saddle Trail up or down.

1-minute hike: Saddle Trail, Mount Katahdin, Maine – Act Out with Aislinn – BDN Maine Blogs.

Richard Wizard on “What Have I Learned from Hiking?”

Hiking has taught me many different things; none were formulated by lesson plans or by cramming for tests. Hiking did not teach me empirical knowledge more than it taught me a state of mind.

As a young boy, my backyard was an undeveloped endless tract of rolling Texas Hill Country in West Austin. The Austin Chalk comes to the surface there and is milky white as it outcroppings are exposed by the thin soil. Water quickly cuts the chalk limestone into fantastic shapes, creek beds with deep pools bounded by cliffs, natural amphitheaters and the ever present chalk. Miles of deer trails under the cedar breaks were the hiking trails. In the shade of the cottonwoods and sprawling live oak limbs I hiked the creek beds as far as I could go, grabbing crawdads and having them grab me when I was too slow or unsure in my movements. I was a troubled youth: I wouldn’t wear shoes, I was in constant trouble for coming home late after dinner, clothes I wore were often returned in tatters, and falls from crumbing rocks or slipping out of the trees that we climbed left behind broken bones and scars.

Still Breaking the Rules

I enthusiastically pushed the boundaries of my world as far as I could, remembering every tree, each rock, where all the forts were and which creeks always held water in their tinajas in the Texas summers. I was proud that nobody knew those woods as well as I did. Hiking taught me all this.

In middle and high school my dad would take me and my buddies to State Parks like Enchanted Rock and Pedernales. We would walk in, set up tents, eat freeze-dried backpacking food, sleep on huge camping air mattresses, in the wildest wilderness imaginable to us. During the day my dad would relax in the tent while we boys took off to destinations unknown. Unlike our mutual friends, none of us were in Boys Scouts and it was great. No merit badges for knives, we just brought our own, to flick open and shove into the dirt around creek beds. No knots to learn, we just jury-rigged our own sorry slings to haul stuff into the crowns of Live Oaks. We were our own masters to learn about smoking grapevine, with nobody to tell us that rocks were too high or too dangerous to climb. If we fell off, we fell off. That was it. Hiking taught me this too.

Later on in college the same group of friends and I started planning our own adventures. We set our sights high, on lofty ambitions toward the North West. We started learning how to mountaineer by reading books and practicing with our new ice axes. We figured out what to do if members of a party fall into a crevasse, how to set up a Z-pulley, how to put on crampons for glacier travel and what the proper following distance and slack should be for glacier travel when roped up. Then we bought plane tickets and climbed pinnacles of rock and ice. Hiking taught me this.

I had first learned of the Appalachian Trail in my living room from a TV, of all things. Dad and I were watching PBS and they ran a special about the Appalachian Trail. That was it, I was hooked. Age 9. After graduating college and years of longing, waiting, and planning I quit my job, determined to hike the Appalachian Trail. I had felt drawn to the power of Mount Katahdin for all those years, with a burning in my gut that I could not then, and nor can now rationally explain. Now this would be hiking! In Georgia, two close friends and I entered the green tunnel. When we emerged from that green tunnel in Maine I had lost one friend, derailed by money issues, but I had gained many more friendships than I bargained for. It was one of the best times in my life despite losing a serious girlfriend, while on the hike. I saw everything that you would expect to see on the trail and our group eagerly sought out each new experience. I took in as much as I possibly could.

Sometimes survival = motel

My old and new friends inspired me, taught me things and surprised me; I learned from new experiences, but ultimately it was the hiking that taught me.

Recently I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with some of the same friends from the AT. My brother came along to see what long distance hiking was about. The Pacific Crest with its mighty shining mountains, the cold snow melt rivers, and heat wave over trackless desert. True wilderness it was, from the black twisted lava flows of Northern California and Oregon to the dense rainforest and glacier-clad peaks of Washington state. The Pacific Crest Trail had nowhere near the power that the Appalachian Trail holds in me, but I did it anyway. It was one of the best times I have ever experienced. Risk coupled with reward. The end lesson from the PCT was that hiking’s end result is not quantifiable. I don’t have to walk 2,800 miles to feel accomplished. When I walk downtown to revel in drinks and debauchery, I am hiking to get there. When I walk up the street I am hiking. Every day I hike to and from my car. It is the act of walking – hiking, the same processes are still at work. Hiking continues to teach.

Now what did hiking actually teach me? It showed me about life and it showed me life as it exists on Earth. It taught me, most importantly, to be happy. Happy with yourself, the knowledge of who you are, what makes you tick. Being happy with where you are at any given minute, even if you might be standing short of where you want to be. Hiking taught me the art of reflecting, introspecting, where life scenarios are played out before your bored imagination while walking, the wild improbable daydreaming dreams. You are trapped with yourself with no way out. To be comfortable in your own skin is paramount to the level of happiness one can achieve. Know thy self, and not the shallow surface because that will quickly be stripped bare, but the deeper knowledge of that self.

I have learned patience – not with people I dislike, or work scenarios that I wish would go away – but with life, with the pace of walking, the pace of a snail. Patience is a virtue that was taught to me by life spent in the outdoors. Calmness comes hand in hand with patience, and peace, an inner peace.

I observe the landscape before me and see its past and future; its current state of health. I have not studied forestry or geology in a classroom, but I have studied and kept my eyes open in the outdoor classroom. I have not heard, but I have listened, to people that know about a wide variety of subjects and kept my mind open to learning at all times. I experienced an intimate relationship, forged by geography and the time spent in its clutches.
When I am not using my MP3 player I listen to the forest and hear the sounds of the trees flexing their boughs, the birds in the air calling shrill tunes to each other. I feel and taste the movement of air. I smell the damp forest floor leaf litter, the ozone before the impending storm.

Hiking has taught me about diet and how my body works when pushed and how my body pushes back.

Learning about nutrition

Hiking has taught me about pace, cadence, and the sounds of my own body enveloped in the outside world, to tune myself down so I am able to listen.

Hiking has taught me about suffering through the art and science of deprivation. It is the learned ability to swallow hardships coupled with grueling schedules and learning to enjoy it. While experiencing physical and mental exhaustion, and uncertainty for the future I figure out how to overcome and subdue any given situation. I find myself making the best out of a bad situations without complaining about it.

Hiking teaches me about exploration of the unknown. I know where the final destination is, yet the experiences along the way are what I look forward to. It is as close, in this day and age, as one can get to pure exploration; as if we crossed the plains in 1849, as if we were with Lewis and Clark, as if we moved with Cook and Sir Frances Drake, adapting to the ever shifting dilemmas of foot travel. Things don’t always go as planned and I practice the ability to change fluidly within the situation at hand without losing my mind. To embrace the unknown, while knowing that it will all end up taking care of itself is my lifelong lesson.

The Wizard traversing Goat Rocks in Washington

Hiking has taught two most important things, while living on and off the trail: how to enjoy the now and how to be happy.
(by Louis LeSassier)

“What I learned from hiking ?” from Joe Niemczura

A truly enjoyable and very informative read from my friend Joe. I truly appreciate the time he spent on this entry. Please take advantage of the numerous hotlinked references.

What Have I learned from hiking 
 by Joe Niemczura, RN, MS

The guy who played accordion for my old polka band, Tom Jamrog, is also a long distance hiker and backpacker. He blogs about his trips, and has a vigorous writing style. He recently posed a question on his blog; “what have you learned from Hiking?” and I decided to answer.

Troop 4 Marlboro, Algonquin Council B.S.A., Camp Resolute

I have been a hiker and backpacker all my life, ever since Boy Scouts. Growing up, my mom generally refused to let us ever play inside the house, even in winter. “So what if it’s cold, put on some mittens and your winter boots and go outside and play!” and I vividly recall games the neighborhood boys would play in the woods around our house or on the nearby golf course. Usually some variation of Capture The Flag.

As a youthful prank, my friend Kenny Paul and I once threw some firecrackers at the house of a neighbor boy. (Yes, it was us – the Statute of Limitations has run out, and besides, I think I was eleven years old.) The boy’s mom called the police. Ken was the star of the crosscountry team, and when the cruiser pulled up with blue lights blinking, I was surprised that I could keep up with him. Two cruisers spent some time in our neighborhood while Kenny and I spent the next three hours eluding them in an apple orchard. hmmmmm……. Later this inspired me to join the cross country team. I ran the the half mile in spring track. (2:14 was my personal best, if you really must know).

Kenny recently retired from his position as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, and he still is a runner. My older brother finally rediscovered his whereabouts after thirty years. Ken was also an excellent baseball pitcher. Once while on a training run though the neighborhood, a dog came out to chase. Kenny picked up a rock and beaned the dog from fifty feet away, knocking it unconscious. What coordination. I laughed when he told me his USMC specialty was artillery. He spent his adult life throwing stuff at people…..

Misery in the Great Outdoors

Camping with the Boy Scouts included a lot of miserable experiences amidst the fun. I never cooked for myself at home before going camping and trying it there. Baking my first potato in a campfire was half-burnt/half-raw, for example, and one memorable hike during a winter weekend, our patrol ploughed our way through thighdeep snow for three miles on a hike to nowhere. Ultimately I got Eagle Scout. why? mainly because my older brother had done it, and I looked up to him ( still do!).

Other experiences

To answer the specific question, It’s hard for me to separate hiking from Boy Scouts, in terms of what I learned. Don’t disrespect the Boy Scouts – I have some philosophical differences with their current leadership, over the ir policy toward gay persons and atheists (each of which are just fine with me) but overall the Boy Scouts fill an important need. Paul Theroux summed it up for me when he described his experience with the Boy Scouts.

Taking a side trail

During the time I was in Maine I did all the outdoorsy stuff – cross country ski, canoe ( the Allagash and Upper West Branch of the Penobscot) , hike, telemark, etc. I climbed Mt Washington and Katahdin in wintertime more than once…. but by comparison, the last few years in Hawaii I went through a period of not doing nearly much adventure-type stuff in the outdoors. Oh well, yeah, I was spending every summer time in rural Nepal teaching with Christian Medical Missionaries and taking day hikes, doing the Asian Travel thing (no, I did not climb Everest at any time…….that’s the usual Nepal question I get from fellow backpackers…) and here in Hawaii I was going to the beach (Sandy’s) and day hiking… but .. it wasn’t the Real Thing. And the weather here is so nice that it’s missing an element …….

Passing it on

I always took my kids on outdoorsy adventures. Glad to have two daughters because then the pressure was off and I knew I would never have to be an adult scout leader. I was saved from having to spend any more weekends with bunches of eleven-year-old boys. (thank you God!) but taught both my girls all the skills anyway. Yes, both my kids learned to make a fire, paddle a canoe, predict the weather by looking at the clouds, and read a topo map. When they were six and eight, we took them on a week long canoe camping trip, retracing Thoreau’s path on the Upper West Branch of the Penobscot River in Maine. When the younger one announced her intention to do a through-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2010, I was reminded of long-ago solemn promise made at a campfire, that I would join her on that quest, should the day ever come.

My 2010 hike

When the summons to hike long-distance came, I was old. And fat. But this served as a personal challenge to get into enough shape to be a respectable hiking buddy. And that’s where the learning began again. In order to keep up with Whoopie Pie, I decided I would do my own solo hike for a few hundred miles and get in shape before hand. And besides, she didn’t want to do the whole thing with me, she was going to hike her own hike. So in May I started off in the hundred or so miles that traverse Massachusetts, averaging eight miles a day through the Berkshires. A few days to recuperate and restarted in Vermont, about two hundred miles through the Green Mountains and into New Hampshire, by this time averaging eleven miles a day. Another hundred through Shenandoah National Park, and finally co-hiked with Whoopie Pie. By the end of the summer I was not so fat; and I learned that I was not so old, either. I hiked 475 miles in that summer.


I think most writers focus on the physical challenge of doing this, but most of the highlights for me were a bit of the meditative variety, and a good hike serves as a daydream for a long time afterwards. A variety of mountaintops in seven states. Hearing loons on a pond on Vermont, for the first time in five years. The night at the Tom Leonard Lean-to listening to nesting hoot owls. Cleaning the dead leaves from a mountain spring, and the wonderment of finding a fist-sized jellylike clump of frog’s eggs. The evening Julie and lay in our bunks in a cabin in Vermont listening to the soft conversations of other hikers during six days of cold rain in the Green Mountains. The “problem bear” at Shenandoah when I was the only person in the lean-to that night. Having heatstroke on two occasions. The bedazzlement of thousands of butterflies, a cloud of butterflies, in a dewy meadow of wildflowers in Shenandoah National Park. Being sick with bronchitis and experiencing SVT overnight after taking cough medicine, wondering how I would get evacuated from such a remote place. Walking out on my own the next morning.

And of course – Smarts Mountain

The people who comprise the subculture of the Trail are always a highlight, and I learn a lot from them. One day’s hike sticks out. I got to the Fire Warden’s cabin at Smart’s Mountain New Hampshire at the end of a fourteen mile day, knowing for the last five miles that I needed to beat an oncoming thunderstorm. The approach from the south is very steep, with iron rungs forming a sort of ladder over the steepest sections. The rain pelted down, forming a waterfall on the trail as I ascended. At one point my heart sank when the clouds parted and I realized I was nowhere as close as I thought I was, darkness was approaching and I needed to skedaddle. Lightning was hitting less than a half mile away as I got above timberline, dashing the last half mile like a frenzied animal.

To get there I had elected to hop past the Trapper John leanto, but to my surprise I was passed from behind at the last minute by Roaring Lion and Snow White, two through-hikers who had hopped past two leantos, and come from six miles even further south than me that day. One other guy was already there. The cabin smelled of dead porcupine but the roof was intact. RL, SW, and I each got out of our clothes and did what all long distance hikers do – get into the dry sleeping bag, eat something, and regain some strength. As we lay there we agreed that the lightning was – exciting.

Everything I learned in Boy Scouts told me not to do what I just did.

Then we had dinner, and the usual bull session as we got to know each other. We shared that special comraderie of people who know that what they just did, (hiking uphill into a lightning storm,) was crazy; and yet, who know they are also in the company of others equally crazy.

Best summed in a saying

A friend is somebody who will bail you out of jail. A best friend is somebody who in handcuffed on the bench next to you saying “man, that was awesome”

Later that same summer, I did a 22 mile day in Shenandoah National Park. And a few other feats in which I picked them up and put them down. The highlight was to hold my own when I finally caught up with my old hiking buddy, Whoopie Pie.

From then on, for the rest of that summer, I knew: I can still push myself, further and harder than I thought.

And I have some best friends. On the Trail.