Kicking off a September Week of Hiking at Baxter State Park

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate make my 20th summit hike to  Maine’s highest point via the newly rerouted Abol Trail.

I returned last week to hike in my favorite backpacking destination, Baxter State Park, joining my Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails hiking pal Guthook as we explored some of the lesser trails in the park – ones that are usually bypassed in favor of ascending Katahdin,the crown jewel of the wildest state park east of the Mississippi.

It’s the third week in September and the humidity that has dogged coastal  Maine for the past two months has followed me up here to Baxter State Park.

Leaves  are turning colorful
Leaves are turning colorful
The technicolor fall foliage show is just getting to the beginning Kodachrome stage, delayed this season, likely due to a drought.

Tonight, we’re settling into Lean-To #3 at Neswadnehunk Camp Ground for a fresh roasted veggie/kielbasa dinner cooked to perfection on a cheap portable gas grill.

The view from Lean-to #3
The view from Lean-to #3
We’re here after a 10 mile afternoon walking the Park’s Kettle Pond, Cranberry Pond, and Rum Pond Trails.

Hiking Near the Southern Gate
Hiking Near the Southern Gate
These low lying trails are the among the first the hiker encounters after entering Baxter through the Togue Pond Gatehouse.  Even these relatively benign,  unfrequented forays were satisfying sojourns from my multi-tasking life.

img_8381 The softness of the ground, and the textures of the kaleidoscope of greens and greys of the leaves and the trees are  immensely satisfying.

Our  reservations for the first three days are at Lean-do #3 at the Neswadnehunk Field Campground.   It’s a drive in site with a view toward the incomparable Doubletop, at 3,489′ a distinctive mountain, with a short ridge connecting the two prominent exposed granite points on top.  Approach trails reach it from either the north or south. I went up for the second time two years ago, so I’ll appreciate it from afar this time.

The ranger here told us we are the only campers tonight. It’s just Betsey and us, enjoying the Milky Way star show.  $12 purchased us enough dry split wood to see us through for an evening fire each night.

The weather looks to be mostly dry and warm, and we are very pleased to be here.

Lift Off !
Lift Off !
September is a superb time to find yourself enjoying the wilderness, especially anything away from the perennially packed approach trails to Katahdin where 90 per cent of people who come this Park congregate.

It’s a Wrap: Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness

On Friday, I finished up my third complete hike of Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness section of the Appalachian Trail.

The first time I hiked through The Hundred was with my whole family:  my wife Marcia, my two boys Lincoln and Arlo, and my sister-in-law V8 and Ruth, a family friend.  It might have been 1989.  I hiked it again in 2007, on my AT thru hike. You can read about that effort from my Traijournal here.
Hiking The Hundred is difficult, with many people underestimating the challenges. Going south, the elevation gain is 18,500 feet, with elevation losses (downhills) of 18,000 feet.  img_8334  The perennially slippery trail is punctuated with beaucoup roots ,rocks, and many split-log elevated walkways.

AT thru-hikers walking through this prelude to Katahdin are propelled by an overwhelming sense of wanting to be done with it all, with few taking the time to do side trips, like the superb Gulf Hagas loop.
I had originally planned for a ten day journey, with plenty of time for swimming, and possibly a side trip to Gulf Hagas. We came out in 7 days instead, pushing the daily average to about 15 miles.
Here is a particularly good article detailing The Hundred that appeared in Backpacking LIght magazine.
The Hundred is made up of two distinctly different trips of approximately 50 miles each.  The southern section is an advanced hike, with the other half, (Crawford Pond headed north) a beginner’s effort when walked at  8-10 miles a day, with the exception of a relatively short but steep ascent of the prehistoric Nesuntabunt Mountain.

Heading out

If you want to taste the Hundred, then plant your car at Abol Bridge and get a shuttle from Ole Man at the AT Lodge to the drop off at Crawford Pond where you would head north for 4 nights. Alternatively, catch a float plane shuttle from Katahdin Air,  which drops you off on the shore of Crawford Pond where  side trail puts you on the AT in 100 feet.

Ready for lift-off

Three and a half miles after you depart Crawford Pond you reach the pool in front of Cooper Brook Falls shelter- a must swim.  Enjoy more swimming at Antler Camps, and Sand Beach at Lower Jo-Mary Lake.

If you have the bucks , consider a side trip of 1.1 miles and splurging for a night at the Nahmakanta Lake Sporting Camps.    I haven done that yet , but plan to do so the next time I go through.

Make no mistake, spending  a week backpacking The Hundred is tough.  If you stuff your pack with lots of food, you can eat your way as you move along. My rationing of  a 3,000 calorie a day plan resulted in a 6 pound weight loss for the 7 days it took me to make this 100 mile trip.



Walking Baxter’s Rerouted Abol Trail

I’m guiding two clients on their first experience in Baxter State Park.  Their request was to take them someplace where they would not see many people. In Baxter State park, if  you walk away from Katahdin rather than toward it, you will definitely leave the crowds behind.  In our first four days in the Park, we encountered more moose than people (5) , hiking north out of Roaring Brook to South Branch Pond.

Our last night found us camping in lean-to #12 at Abol Campground where I enjoyed my first time sleeping in my newly purchased “used’ Honda Element.  I pivoted the two folded rear seats against the sidewalls, opened the sunroof and windows and  viewed the stars through the glassed panel above my head.  The car easily allows me to stretch out my full length Neo Air XLite mattress.  Gaspedal was in his new REI solo tent, so Rokrabbit had the lean-to all to himself.

Drying shirt at Abol lean-to
Drying shirt at Abol lean-to
“Multipurpose piece of birchbark, Uncle Tom”

Abol was the first campground that I encountered way back in 1970 when I was a newcomer to Baxter. Packing a week’s worth of food and gear in early June,  the snow was so deep up high that the Saddle Trail was still closed.  Back then, it was considered macho to carry big pounds. Now, you are considered a dweeb if your pack is big and heavy.  The scene from the movie Wild where Reese Witherspoon is so over loaded that she is unable to lift her pack was not that unusual back then. My pack that day weighed 65 pounds, when my sidekick Kevin Weir and I labored up the Abol Slide on that June morning. As tough as the ascent was, our decision to cross the Knife Edge and then wind our way down the Dudley Trial to spend our second night at Chimney Pond left us in even tougher shape. I  had blisters; we all did all the time. I continue to be blessed by making the moving from MA to ME in 1973.  Since then I have returned to Baxter many dozens of times, where wild forest and bogs trump gift shops and smartphone charging stations.  “Forever Wild” is the real deal here.

But today, I’m ascending an improved version of that Abol Trail. In the 1850s, Abol was the route Henry David Thoreau used in his failed attempt to reach the peak.   A rock slide sent car-sized boulders down Abol Trail in 2013.  The rockslide forced Abol Trail to be closed to hikers since the 2014 season until it reopened this July.  Abol is your choice for the shortest route to Baxter Peak from a roadside trailhead. The trail formerly utilized the prominent Abol Slide. From Abol Campground to Baxter Peak (one way) is now 4.3 miles,  with 3,900 feet of elevation gain.  Abol joins the Hunt trail ( A.T.), intersecting it at Thoreau Spring, before becoming more moderate for the final mile to Baxter Peak.

The relocated section of the trail uses the ridge to the west of the slide and provides a steady, but steep ascent with excellent views.

First leg of the reroute
First leg of the reroute ( note red survey tape still in place)

Water is limited after the first mile, with the trail fully exposed after 2.5 miles.  I reached into my pack for sustenance, in the form of a shot of B12 and jerky.

B12, caffeine,and jerky works

The new trail veers off to the left of the base of the landslide.  The path is so fresh that there is soft cushiony tread underfoot for at least half this switch backed portion.

New stone stairs on reroute
New stone stairs on reroute

Initially, you walk in a long, relatively straight line to the left, one that is moderately ascending. Eventually you reach the first turn and then bear up toward the right, still on a mild to moderate incline.   The switchbacks become increasingly shorter while the degree of ascent begins to steepen.

Note spongy tread
Note spongy tread

Eventually the trail works through close boulders and ledges, and it was clear that the trekking poles had to go in my pack.

It is precisely these surprising and spontaneous challenges that keep me coming back to the most wild State Park east of the Mississippi. The fresh blue blazes were shiny, and at times, necessary in order to discern unblocked upward movement.

There is a wicked uphill ending after the new detour returns to the main Abol Trail at the top of the old rock slide.

All hands needed
All hands needed

Here you need to get into serious upper body action. I was sorry to leave a light pair of gloves at home. Granite is tough on the palms and fingers.

Eventually you clear the lip and arrive at the edge of The Tableland, a surprisingly flat and expansive treeless domain that just happens to have the summit of Katahdin lifting up a bit over a mile to the right.

There was a good crowd on top of the mountain when we reached the top.

Morning visitors
Morning visitors

Here’s my AT tattoo that links me to this place.

As above, so below
As above, so below

It’s been a heck of a hiking season for me this year. For the whole month of June I was able to walk 250 miles along the Portugese Camino with my wife and hiking partner, Auntie Mame.   I finished this week long Baxter trip in mid-August.  Last week,  I was able to successfully complete a guided trip through all of Maine’s Hunded Mile Wilderness.

There’s still more Baxter to come in the next month!  The Fall season is the best time to be walking through the technicolor leaf extravaganza, and I’m heading back for another week of hiking some lesser known Baxter trail with one of my my perennial backpacking pals.  And there is a long October holiday weekend return to Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps.

[ I’m a Licensed Maine Guide who offer a limited schedule of guided backpacking trips in Maine as well as custom trips for individuals and small groups.   Check out Uncle Tom’s Guided Adventures to learn more about my angle to guiding backpacking adventures and review the 2016 season’s offerings. ] 

Finishing up Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness

fullsizerender-5    On Friday, I finished up my third complete backpacking adventure on Maine”s Hundred Mile Widerness section of the Appalachian Trail.
The first time I hiked through The Hundred was with my whole family:  my wife Marcia, my two boys Lincoln and Arlo, and my sister-in-law V8 and Ruth, a family friend.  It might have been 1989.  It was tougher then, without smart phones and paid food drops.  I hiked The Hundred  again in 2007, on my AT thru hike. You can read about that effort from my Traijournal here.
Hiking The Hundred is difficult, with many people underestimating the challenges. Going south, the elevation gain is 18,500 feet, with elevation losses (downhills) of 18,000 feet.  The slippery trail is laced with roots and rocks, and many split-log elevated walkways.  Even when there is no rain, the rocks perspire, leaving the Monson slate very slippery under humid conditions.

Little Wilson Falls
Little Wilson Falls

AT thru-hikers are propelled by an overwhelming sense of wanting to be done with it all, with few taking the time to do the side trips, like the superb Gulf Hagas loop.
I had originally planned for a ten day journey, with plenty of time for swimming, and possibly a side trip to Gulf Hagas.
Here is particularly good article detailing The Hundred that appeared in Backpacking Light magazine.
I now understand that The Hundred is actually made up of two distinctly different trips of 50 miles each.  The southern section is what I would term an advanced hike, with the other half (Crawford Pond headed north) a beginner’s effort, with the exception of a steep ascent of Nesuntabunt Mountain in that 50 mile section.
If you want to taste the Hundred, then plant your car at Abol Bridge and get a shuttle from Ole Man at the AT Lodge to the drop off at Crawford Pond where you would head north for 4 nights.  The pool in front of Cooper Brook Falls shelter is a must swim, and may even be time for skinny dipping.  Enjoy more swimming at Antler Camps, and take in the sand beach at Lower Jo-Mary Lake.
If you have the bucks, consider splurging for a night at the classic Nahmakanta Lake Sporting Camps.  I haven’t done that yet, but plan to.

Flooded trail- Beavers at work!
Flooded trail- Beavers at work!

Make no mistake, spending most of a week backpacking The Hundred is tough.  If you are wise with food choices you can carry lots, and eat your way along. My more careful plan of rationing myself out some 3,000 calories a day resulted in a 6 pound weight loss for the 7 days it took to make this trip.

Mission accomplished
Mission accomplished

Uncle Tom’s Guided Adventures is planning more hikes of The Hundred next season, halves and maybe even the Whole Hundred.  If you are interested, get in touch with me and I’ll put you on the 2017 notification list.  Spaces are  limited.

Norbert Schemansky, Who Won Weight-Lifting Gold but Little Applause Back Home, Dies at 92 – The New York Times


Credit John Orris/The New York Times

Norbert Shemansky was a Polish American hero.  I remember watching him compete in the Olympics when I was a child.  He inspired me to take up weight lifting when I started high school. Do read this article as well as the Sports Illustrated archive that is hotlinked in NYTimes. This was no dumb jock- his IQ was 132. I trust that his children and their offspring hold him in the highest regard.

“In competition largely outside the sports world spotlight, he awed crowds and was the first to win medals in four Olympics but felt unappreciated in his hometown.”

Source: Norbert Schemansky, Who Won Weight-Lifting Gold but Little Applause Back Home, Dies at 92 – The New York Times

Hundred Mile Wilderness- Day 6

 Shari and I hobbled into the Cloud Pond lean-to at 6:15 pm. Despite starting the day at 7:10 AM, it took all our reserves and energy to make it sixteen miles. 

 We had a serious water issue at the end of the day that forced us to stretch what would should have been a more comfortable 12 mile day.  We encountered many hikers today, equally represented by section hikers and thru hikers. We must have seen 30 people come through. 

Of particular note were the walking wounded, who were both experienced and inexperienced at backpacking. One fact stood out. Hiking this section of the AT is the most difficult walking a number of these hikers have experienced.  

Two guys, middle aged, from Tennessee who had both hiked most of the AT in the south and who haven’t had blisters for years reported multiple blisters in boots that they had worn on previous extended AT hikes in the south.  

And then there were The Griswolds, as Shari named them. They were some sort of middle aged family group that we saw stunned, sitting in the middle of the trail, with one of the women doctoring up her already blistered and lacerated feet. They were on day one. They were complete novices at backpacking and were from Indiana. When I asked them how they came to be here hiking in Maine, the guy responded, “It was on the Internet. I Googled what the most beautiful place was on the Appalachian Trail and this Hundred Mile Wilderness came up so here we are.” They didn’t even know that the trail was marked by white blazes. We heard them shouting all sorts of meaning to the colored surveyor’s tape that flanked the trail in parts.  “Red must mean go right!”
    We also saw an older guy, lying stunned on the side of the trail. We tried talking with him and he just kept mumbling about “the lake” but there was no within 5 miles.

     Two other middle aged guys came toward us in the late afternoon and said they were not doing so well. They had ridiculously huge 70 liter packs with fishing lures, nets and rods strapped to the sides. They said that while they had been able to make 10 miles a day out of Monson their first two days, they hit the wall today, only reaching the 5 mile mark by 4 pm. They felt they had to quit.  


 As did two middle aged women from South Carolina who were sitting off the trail in the brush after trying to make it up the notoriously steep and rocky Fourth Mountain.   One told me,”We just texted Phil to come get us at the Katahdin Iron Works road. We’re done. We started in Caratunk. We just don’t have the legs for what we have to do to move along out here. We can’t do this! ”

The other frustrating situation we have here has been the contradictory stories about water sources. On the way to Chairback Gap we talked with Batman, a northbounder who was most enthusiastic about Guthook’s AT hiking app. We asked him about water ahead of us and he gave us his accurate info. 

 A half hour later, we are at the admittedly nasty-looking, brownish purple “spring” that services the Chairback Gap lean-to with a couple of lady day hikers and a northbound thru hiker. 
    We asked them the same question that we asked Batman. Then the ladies left and I started talking to a thru hiker who had been sitting beside the ladies as we were talking to them.  He said, “There is no water from here to the Cloud Pond lean- to ( 7 miles south). ”

      I then mentioned that the two other women who had just left had told us different. He was adamant that he was right. Two miles later we walked over a loud, rapidly flowing, stream that crossed the AT that was at least eight feet wide! Somehow he hadn’t registered in his consciousness that this major water source existed.   

    It goes on and on. After reaching this Cloud Pond shelter we are now hearing this new rumor that “there is a 90% chance of rain tomorrow.” While I was getting water out of the pond I started talking to a hiker who told me that he was in Monson early this morning and heard the weather report, which was good until at least Sunday!  

It’s now 6 pm and it hasn’t rained yet but it has been beyond humid today. My shirt and shorts are thoroughly saturated from a week of perspiration. I’ve hit  the sweat/humidity wall. The characteristic marker  is hanging up a stinking, greasy, sweat saturated microfiber, quick-dry shirt on a clothesline overnight and put it on the next morning with it in exactly the same sorry state is was when you peeled it off.  
It was too much for me to deal with yesterday morning, so I walked the day with no shirt at all. It sucked to have cobwebs sticking to me as I broke trail in the morning.  

There is no getting out of it as a hiker, until less you carry many shirts, taking a dry one out each morning, only to find it saturated with sweat and stinky at the end of the day.   
In truth, we look like mobile rag bags, with wet stinky garments draped off the back of your pack, going slip slop all day long against the pack as we perspire our way to our places of rest.  

Hundred Mile Wilderness -Day 5

   We worked another day to suit our pace, finishing up with 16 miles that took us over the tallest mountain in the last 65 miles of backpacking. Whitecap is 3,700 feet or so, and a challenge that took us over 7 miles of uphill walking to clear it. 

  It wasn’t done after we went over the summit. We still had Hay Mountain 3,000+, West Peak 3181′, and Gulf Hagas (2683′) Mountains to also tick off -all serious ascents and descents- over rocks, ledges, boulders, and a rat’s nest of intertwined bare roots that were sprinkled with some form of liquid sheen that imperiled solid placement of one’s clad foot.  

     I can’t believe that neither Sheri or I have fallen. There have been many close calls, and yet another half dozen of saves only reaffirms my strong belief that trekking poles, when used correctly, save bruises, bumps, and probably broken bones.  

     We encountered an AT sadhu this morning- a smiling, uplifting fellow who hails from Fort Kent, Maine and goes by the trail name of Hollister. He is 79. Hollister told us that he is tired of stinking, so he planned to get a ride from someone out on the Jo Mary Road and go into Millinocket for a reset and get then get back. 

     “When I finish this section, I’ll only have two states left!”   

          Numerous times today, I felt that ascents went longer, descents we’re unrelentingly long and steep, and that the ridiculous amounts of exposed sideways roots were testing my will to go on.  

    People throw quotes around these days like salting a French fry. Here’s one that is one of the top 5 I have ever had the fortune to encounter.  

    “You don’t have to like something to have a positive attitude about it,” said David Hanc. 

     Hiking is like that- it’s a subset of skills and experiences that engages my inner impulses on a level that is compelling to me. 

      Mountain biking is also in this category. Both involve moving through nature and negotiating the terrain in a manner that is thrilling and at the same time, needs to be within physical parameters that preserve the integrity of the machine that makes living our lives possible- our bodies.  

    There’s a good dose of suffering that goes with both of these sports. It seems that push through physical challenges is part of my deal.  

    I like solving problems when I am backpacking. Each day starts off as a rough sketch of where I’d like to end up. On this trip, 10 days were allotted for walking the 100 miles, many of which are admittedly difficult to complete, especially with a backpack loaded with food for five days. 
    Shari and I are working together to increase daily mileage in order to cut a couple of days off the total length of the hike. Her mom lives in Bar Harbor Maine right now and is experiencing some health issues. Shari wanted to see her mom before she was back at work on Monday.    

 We experimented with cooking at a shelter in the late afternoon and then moving on for another hour or longer. By carrying a couple quarts of water from the shelter, it is possible for us to put a couple of tents down in some pretty cool places to camp. We are here tonight camped beside Gulf Hagas Stream, listening to the water bubbling by.   
    Carl Newall Shelter just didn’t seem right. Although it was empty when we were boiling up water for our meals, it’s a dark and a bit fetid place tonight, wit lots of trash in the fire pit.  

     Our choice to move on at 5:15 was endorsed. We had been hiking for about 45 minutes when coming toward us were at least a dozen young people from Chewonki Nature Camp.  

      The only possible place that they were going at this time of night would be the shelter we just declined to sleep in.  


Hundred Mile Wilderness : Day 3

Shari and I have cranked out 33.5 miles over the 48 clock hour since we’ve started hiking from Abol Bridge at 1 PM two days ago. It was 3 pm when we pulled into Potywadjo Shelter today , giving us plenty of free time before we head to our tents for bed sometime after 7 pm.     It’s easy to make miles in this section of The Hundred Mile Widerness. The trail is as flat as it gets in Maine, with the exception of this nasty 2,000 uplift called Nesuntabunt Mountain. From the north, the ascent of 1,000 feet takes place over a two mile approach, while the northward bound hiker gets just a half mile to climb it.  

     Last night we ended up camping a bit over a mile off the AT. I didn’t expect to spend a night at Pollywog West tent site within the Namakhanta Public Lands, but there we end up. It was all due to water. I wanted to head up and camp part way up Nesuntabunt. But we were both out of water and the map shows no visible sources. So I spotted the off trail tent site and we decided to call it a day and head over.  

    It was a nice surprise. We accommodated at a couple of flat spots for our tents, right beside the shore of the pond. There were also smooth granite ledges that we sat on to fix our meals. We even visited the Upper Falls above Pollywog Pond. It was a most impressive ending to our second hiking day.