Actually, there is a “right way” to backpack

When the Adventurer of the Year from both Outside and National Geographic Adventure magazines speaks, I listen!

“Actually, there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” to backpack.In this sense, backpacking is like driving a car, learning to play the violin, baking a cake, or installing a toilet. I suppose you could do it your own way, but you may get hurt, you will not improve as quickly as you should, you may be unsatisfied with the end product, and you may have to mop up sewage that leaked through the wax gasket. What is the right way to backpack?”

Source: Actually, there is a “right way” to backpack

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Stalled Out on Fitness Progress

I’m injured. It’s early November and I’m now at my lowest point in working toward my fitness goals for this year.
October 16 is a bad day for me. Last year, I was off my bike for a month after I had a crash going over a rocky stream bed in the Rockland Bog, an event that occurred on Oct. 16, where I opened up a large gash on my knee as well as bruised the top of my shin bone. A bruised bone is a painful experience. I take so much longer to heal now than when I was a younger man.  It seems to take a month for me to heal.

Would you believe that this past Oct. 16, the exact same day, but one year later, I had another unexpected bike dismount, and in the Rockand Bog- again? This time I rolled onto my decrepid right shoulder when the soft ground crumbled underneath my mountian bike tires as I was skirting the edge of a deep mud pit. Thankfully I landed on a grassy patch of soft earth, but the damage was done.

According to the best shoulder surgeon in Maine, I own a right shoulder that is as worn out as one on an 85 year old man. It is riddled with arthritis, tendonitis, and bursitis, with bone to bone contact coming and going.  Among my seven surgeries, I have had two shoulder surgeries, one on each with the last in 2007, where the same Dr. Endrezzi told me that my right shouder would need to be replaced in 5-8 years, so I am overdue.  I see him yearly now, where he takes a fresh x-ray of the joint and compares it to past xrays, where we note the progression of disease. It’s only a matter of time. I just hope it is not that time right now. I am not ready for surgery, particularly the long rehab required for a complete shoulder replacement.
I have tried riding my road bike just once since Oct. 16 and even the act of trying to relax my arm by resting my palm on the soft right grip and occasionally shifting and lightly braking resulted in a spike in the pain, so no more bike right now.
Thankfully, I can walk, so hiking has been my sole fitness choice for almost a month now.

On Jan.1, 2016 I set a yearly goal of hiking 1,000 miles and biking another 1,000 miles. I was making excellent progress at reaching both, until now. I have my 1,000 mile of hiking in the bag already, but I still need 250 miles of biking to happen in the next month and a half.

Here’s my Strava data, reflecting my totals to date:

Strava hourl/day/month 2016

Strava hour/day/month 2016

I feel cushioned by logging 93 hours of combined hiking and biking in Septmber this year, a strong number that reflect  three weeks of extended backpacking.
Another new goal for 2016 is me averaging 75 minutes of moderate to more walking or biking a day.  My research points to that number is the optimum level for me to gain positive mental and physical benefits.  Less than that produces lesser results, and any more appears to not only reduce benefits, but brings about a cascade of fatigue that increases inflammation and requies me to do nothing for a day or two in order to recover.

I learned about heart rate variability from a fellow psychologist this year, and since April, I  have developed the habit of taking a three minute reading while wearing a heart rate chest strap and firing up the Daily Beat HRV app after I wake up each morning.  Based on the reading, I adjust my activity level for the day.  Personal subjective assessment of my mental and bodily fatigue is often out of line with what my heart rate variability numbers indicate.  95% of the time,I feel good and the numbers tell me to push it for the day, but I recently came down with a cold, and before the stuffed head and sneezes started, my HRV readings dropped significantly.  The time variations between my heartbeats leveled out, a signal that suggests compromised metabolic activity that needs to be respected by backing off and resting a day or more.

The outdoor temps are predicted to be up to almost 60 degrees today.  My HRV reading to day was back to favorable.

hrv

SweetbeatHRV

I plan to log some slow miles on easy terrain today, as I hope to be finally back on track to wrapping up a very good year of hiking and biking.

And yes, I have already voted today – that was done a couple of weeks ago by absentee ballot.

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Tonight in Rockland! Hikertrash on the Camino…

Thursday, November 3rd at 6:00 PM
Illustrated Travel Talk:
Hiking the Camino Portugese

Rockland Public Library, 80 Union Street,  Rockland, ME 04841 | Phone: (207) 594-0310 

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Tom Jamrog, Triple Crown Hiker ( Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail), will give an illustrated talk about his June 2016 hike of the coastal Portugal Camino, a lesser known pilgrimage route. Tom’s 250 mile hike started in Porto, Portugal and ended on the Atlantic Ocean in Finisterre, Spain.

He will discuss trip preparation, the contents of his 15 pound pack, and the differences between wilderness backpacking and the challenges encountered in walking this particular route, which included the Spiritual Variant or the Maritime Way.

This program is free and open to the public.  Directions on Library’s web site.

Note 6 PM start time.  1 hour presentation with 1/2 hour discussion/QA. (Plenty of time for folks to find a tasty dinner in Rockland later).

Support Walking!

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First Time Inside Maine’s National Monument

This past Columbus Day weekend, I finally set foot on the spanking new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.   It was easy.

To the Monument!

To the Monument!

I followed a marked, signed 1.8 mile trail from Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps on the (Map Adventures) Katahdin/Baxter State Park map.   I was spending the four day weekend at Windy Pitch cabin at the most excellent Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps (KLWC), which is presently into year 7 of their 20 year lease from Baxter State Park.

Windy Pitch cabin

Windy Pitch cabin

The collection of log cabins goes way back to 1885.

The Monument encompasses 87,500-acres of mountains, rivers, and forests abutting the eastern edge of Baxter State Park, land donated by Roxanne Quimby, whose company, Bert’s Bees, sold to Clorox for $925,000,000 in 2007. Through President Obama’s executive action, the unit was added to the National Park Service in September as a national monument, bypassing the need for Congress to authorize it a national park.

Despite media portrayal of this Monument as an unfair land grab by the Feds, it’s 87,000 acres represents less than 1 percent of the total forested lands of Maine.  According to the North Maine Woods website, there are 3.5 million acres that are considered North Maine Woods. That’s a whopping 0.236% of those privately held lands.
The move to make the land public was a long, protracted battle that is still being waged by a local faction that strongly resists any government encroachment on their traditional uses of the land, be it hunting, snowmobiling, or riding ATVs . There are still prominent National Park-NO! signs greeting the approaching tourist who exits I-95 in Medway to reach the Monument. Unless the citizens of Millinocket decide to upgrade unimproved gravel roads leading out of town into the area, this won’t be much of an issue for them, because both the South and Northern entrances to KLWWMN completely avoid traffic into Millinocket or even East Millinocket.

I stopped into the new storefront office of KWWNM on Maine Street, Millinocket, just a few doors down from one of my favorite eating establishments, The Appalachian Trail Cafe.  The ranger there informed me that entrance, lean-tos, campsites, and even some cabins are free right now on a first-come, first-serve basis but campfire permits are still required from the Maine Forest Service (207-435-7963).

Downeast Magazine has an excellent review on the Monument that is full of  tips, pictures, and places to go.

In my case, I was pleased to finally walk it, although it was a brief visit.  Make no mistake about it, these is not 87,000 acres of pristine forest. This lower portion of the Monument is made up of recently cut-over land and it still shows.  Critics point this out, but my review of Governor Baxter’ initial purchases of what is now Baxter State Park was largely made up of land that had been burned or denuded. Here’s an example of Baxter land pre Baxter State Park.

Logging in present Baxter lands previous to State Park

Logging in present Baxter lands previous to State Park

Pretty bleak, I’d say.  Regrowth will also happen here, but it may take 50 years or more. I have walked thousands of miles of trails in the past 10 years, and cut over and/ or burned forests show up, but then they tend to grow back to be enjoyed by future generations.  Same here.

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Ivan  heading out of Katahdin Lake

Today, my hiking partner Ivan and I decided to walk up as far as the first new lean-to and then meander our way back to KLWC. There were exactly 9 cars sitting in the parking lot leading from the gravel Loop Road.  Others were in there, on overnights, or day trips. The lean-to was a mile from where the Baxter side trail came into the Monument. The path was still a logging road, and damn straight as well.

Southern End of the IAT into Monument

Southern End of the IAT into Monument

The lean-to was built in 2012, of standard log construction with a new outhouse nearby. There was water flowing close for drinking ( purify!).

Katahdin Brook lean-to

Katahdin Brook lean-to

We sat and ate lunch and then headed back.

We decided to try and walk back one of the old logging roads that went in just below Rocky Pond, east of the outlet of Katahdin Lake.  The road looked relatively new, and was probably upgraded ten years ago for timber. A half mile in, it dead ended. I fired up my GPS and saw that if we went directly south through the woods, it would take a quarter of a mile to intersect he mid-point of the same trail we took from KL camps to get to the Monument.

Bushwhacking it is!

Bushwhacking it is!

Ivan was totally up for it and led the way, bushwhacking through fairly thin saplings and dodging several unruly blow downs.

It didn’t take very long for us to reach the KL trail back to the camps.  In fact, we came out within 50 feet of the northernmost section of that trail, a very fortuitous happening. I have done a bit of bushwhacking, where results are generally more elusive.

I plan to get further into the Monument, for canoeing and backpacking. I might even pack my fly rod.  I hope to get away for a couple nights during deer hunting season here in November, as the largest western parcel bordering Baxter is free from hunting. Four additional parcels east of the East Branch are established for traditional hunting ( minus bait and dogs on bear).

I have enjoyed walking most of the trails in Maine’s Acadia National Park, which is just 90 minutes drive along the Maine Coast from my house.  I think it is time for me to explore my share of the Maine woods.

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Columbus Day Weekend at Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps, 2016 version

Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps

It’s October 7th, 2016 and 70° outside, sunny, with blue skies that are clear of clouds, mosquitoes, and even the pesky black flies. Down in the Southeast USA 1.5 million people are presently evacuating Florida and the Carolinas, expecting significant damage from the latest hurricane.  I’m safely settled here with my wife, Marcia, with our friends Ivan and Lynn for what is now our second collective Columbus Day weekend in Baxter’s Katahdin Lake.

view

Katahdin Lake Camps boasts a continuous lineage of supporting the outdoor woods and waters enthusiast dating back to 1885. Check out Aislinn Sarnacki’s comprehensive 2013 trip report of her visit to WLWC.

cabin

Hilyard’s Cabin – typical lodging at KLWC

A couple of updates to Aislinn’s report are that there is no plan to keep the Camps open this particular winter season, and that the charge for a single person to spend the night (without prepared meals) at the Camps is up from $35 to $45, still a great deal.

You can’t drive here.

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Marcia trekking in

You have to hike 3.3 miles from the parking area on Baxter’s Roaring Brook Road or fly in via a float plane, typically serviced by Katahdin Air, where the price is $75 per person, one way.

plane

 

There are 11 miles of new trails that can be hiked in into and around Katahdin Lake, with the longest walk reaching Twin Ponds,-a day hike from the WLWC.

Last year, Ivan and I shortened the hike to reach Twin Ponds by canoeing directly north, straight across Katahdin Lake where we picked up the Twin Ponds Trail right beside a Baxter State Park Lean-to.

canoe

Canoeing across in 2015

 

There are two other lean-tos in this part of the Park that can be reserved through the BSP office:  Martin Ponds and South Katahdin Lake lean-tos.

leanto

North Katahdin Lake Lean-to

If you are unlucky enough to have a windy day that makes a canoe traverse too dangerous, then the option to visit Twin Ponds on foot from KLWC is to walk the Martin Ponds Trail out to join the North Katahdin Lake Trail, which ends at the North side of KL, where you pick up the 3.4 mile Twin Ponds trail. It’s a long day on foot- 14.4 miles out and back. While the grade is relatively easy around the Lake, there are sections of hummocky ups and downs, and places where plenty of rocks and boulders have you slowing down and picking your footpath.

Marcia and I decided to pack in most our own food for our three night stay, with the exception of signing on for a Saturday night dinner and Sunday morning breakfast in the main dining room.  Prices are moderate: $25 for complete dinner, and $15 for a big full camp breakfast.  There is no running water or electricity in the ancient log cabins.  Your refrigerator is a chest cooler with a block of ice inside, and the water is drinkable, in a 5 gallon container, from a spring fed source.  Three propane lanterns lit up our Windy Pitch long cabin at night, and cooking is on a propane 4 burner stove top.  Marcia and I were up and down in a corner bunk bed, with Ivan and Lynn sharing a double bed diagonally across the single room. On the coldest night, we cranked up the wood stove to warm the place up before we settled into sleep.

The weather was perfect for Ivan and I to take a 7.7 mile round trip hike to the northern end of Katahdin Lake on our first full day here.

headout

Ivan walking along Katahdin Lake

Lynn and Marcia chose to explore, and draw landscapes and natural details along the inlet at the SW corner of the Lake.

The only trail left for me to explore around Katahdin Lake was the final 1.8 mile length from KLWC to the eastern edge of BSP, where the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument share that boundary.

1-8

That will be tomorrow’s adventure.  Stay tuned.

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Backpacking Davis Pond to Hamlin Peak in Baxter State Park

Looking up from Davis PondThere was a time earlier today when I just wanted to quit hiking uphill and retreat the 7 miles downhill to Wassataquoik lean-to number two where where we’re scheduled to hole up for the night.  Just a half hour into today’s hike, I was cold, wet and had no desire to ascend the 2000 feet from Davis Pond all the way up to Katahdin’s Hamlin Peak (4756’) in thick clouds with the air temperatures in the high 30s and strong clearing winds blowing out of the West.

Up to Hamlin Peak from  Davis Pond

Up to Hamlin Peak from Davis Pond

There would be nothing to see but the inside of a freezing cloud.

My boots were still cold and totally soaked from walking.  Lingering 40° wet coated the foliage that protruded into the trail. When I brushed against the leaves,  cold water eventually saturated my shorts and ran down my legs into my boots and socks. My feet are wimpy when it comes to dealing with cold. My hands also suffer when the temps drop.
Just before I was going to split off from Guthook and Hans to retreat, cumulus clouds started forming, blue patches opened up in the sky, and was clear that the rain and dark clouds going to be history.

Hamlin is one of the three 4,000 foot Baxter State Park mountains that are on the New England 4,000 foot peaks list.

Guthook front, Hamlin Peak rear

Guthook front, Hamlin Peak rear

The other two are Katahdin, at five thousand two hundred and sixty eight feet and North Brother, at 4151 feet.  While on top, we encountered only one other peak bagger trudging toward Hamlin Peak.

Today turned out to be a very good time to be on top of this mountain. Despite my hands being too cold to function, I was able to get my body heat up by jogging the flat expanse to and from Hamlin Peak.

Me in front, Hans and Hamlin in back

Me in front, Hans and Hamlin in back

Patches of ice were fund on top of rocks that dominated this landscape.

Ice, meet Hans !

Ice, meet Hans !

The views today were expansive, with views stretching to Canada on one side, and nothing but trees and lakes stretching 40 to 50 miles in all directions.

At the end of this twelve mile backpacking day, I was most pleased to have made the choice to keep going when it became painful to do so.  The shelter of this lean-to along the Wassataquoik Stream nearby was a sort of homecoming.  Approaching this lean-to, I  begin to embrace the sense of completing a day well spent in the wilderness.

Wassataquoik LT#2

Wassataquoik LT#2

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The Elusive Davis Pond in Baxter State Park

Sept. 23, 2016- Here’s a first: a snowflake icon appearing on the LCD window of my Steripen Ultra. The rapid onset of a wet cold front that spit out a feeble 0.2 inch of rain hit Russell Pond campground last night and chilled my water purification device. No matter, the UV light bulb was able to fire up for a 90 second burst of bacterial DNA killing action to render another liter of life-supporting drinking water . Plenty more water came at me today.

Hans (AKA the Cajun Cruiser), Guthook, and I experienced a unique morning here at Russell Pond as we waited out the tail end of the rain, which was to end sometime before noon.  We enjoyed the company of Rainer (trail name), one of the seasonally employed rangers here at Baxter.  Rainer invited us over to his cabin right around the time that he was getting a radio update of today’s weather. After the skies clear, the temps are predicted to drop into the 30’s tonight at Russell Pond.

Rainer communicated his knowledge of the local trails, and put out leftover coffee and breakfast before we struck out to head over to the lean-to at Davis Pond.  I especially enjoyed viewing xeroxed copies of antique black and white photographs that depicted Baxter scenes from the period predating Governor Percival Baxter’s purchase of the property.

Long log slide into lake

Long log slide into lake

Rainer and I share a most unique situation. We are both Triple Crown hikers  (completed hikes of the AT, PCT, and the CDT) that graduated from Monsignor Coyle High School, a tiny Catholic school in Taunton, MA,  exactly 40 years apart. What are the chances?

High School Yearbook graduation photo - 1967

High School Yearbook graduation photo – 1967

We eventually packed out at 1:15 PM, reaching the trail head to Davis Pond in only 1.2 miles. Our total mileage to Davis Pond was only 5.5 miles, via the Northwest Basin trail.  Russell Pond sits at 1331’ and Davis is up at 2,946’, so there is a bit of up on this walk.

Although it is no longer raining, the brush, trees, and shrubs that our bodies moved through were covered with cold water. By the end of the afternoon, my feet were uncomfortably cold and wet.  Even with the drought, there were some wet sections of muddy trail in the first couple of miles of hiking.

Slippin' and slidin' along

Normally there is a wet ford of the Wassataquoik Stream on this hike, but with a drought in force, it was possible to walk on top of the big rocks and make it over with dry feet.  Here’s Hans making his leap.  img_8502

Part of  the path from Wassataquoik Stream is a stream bed of a tributary leading down from Lake Cowles into the upper reach of Wassataquoik Stream, which has its headwaters in the morass known as The Klondike.  Note the blue trail marker behind Hans.

Crossing Wassataquoik Stream

Crossing Wassataquoik Stream

The view here from the shore of Lake Cowles, approaching Davis Pond takes in at this glacial cirque that extends up a thousand feet.

Northwest Basin

Northwest Basin

A closer shot from the shore of Davis  reminds me of being at Chimney Pond looking up the wall toward Baxter and Pamola Peaks, but with no crowds.

Davis Pond

Davis Pond

As long as I kept moving I was fine, but when I stopped, the effect of the cold was very apparent.  I am reminded of the last 5 days in September of 2010 as I finished thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the northern Cascades. The temps never got above the mid forties, and my whole world was drizzly, wet, and punishingly cold.

I ate a ton tonight.  Guthook gave me an extra two person package of mashed potatoes to eat after I had already consumed potato chips, dehydrated chili, 1/2 a large Chunky candy, and two cups of hot tea. My feet continued to be uncomfortably cold even sitting on my pad inside my  bag in the lean-to.  My sleeping bag is rated at 20 degrees, but that was some 8,000 miles ago when it was new. I am extending its range tonight by wearing dry wool sleep clothes. I’m also testing out a custom bivy sack that I had made by Peter Marques at Tentsmiths over in Conway, New Hampshire.

I’ve only been to Davis Pond once before, way back in 1970.  I do not have any photos of Davis from that trip, but do remember sitting on the ledge in front and having an unimpeded view of the whole cirque in front.  I definitely was surprised by the size of the trees and the thick foliage I’m encountering this time.   Does anyone have a photo of  the lean-to at Davis Pond from that time?

It’s 7:19 pm now, and pitch black out.  Baxter is Maine’s real wilderness deal, with Davis Pond listed by some bloggers as the most remote lean-to in the Park.  It also has the best outhouse.

The New Thunder God's Throne !

The New Thunder God’s Throne !

Here’s my Strava elevation profile of what we are going to experience on tomorrow’s hike from Davis Pond to to Hamlin Peak and back.

Check the first mile (up and out of Davis Pond) !

Check the first mile (up and out of Davis Pond) !I

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