Tumbling Down from Debskoneag

If you ever find your self riding on the gravel Jo-Mary Road in northern Maine Hundred Mile Wilderness you can follow some tiny hand-lettered DLWC signs marking the varied intersections over the 24 mile drive from Route 11 just north of Brownville to the tiny dock where you unload your baggage and get shuttled by Leslie in a cedar and canvas motorboat over to one of the cabins in this 100+ year old settlement of log cabins on the shore of Fourth Debskoneag Lake.

Point Camp is Far Right

Marcia and I are here for the second year in a row, sharing Point Camp with our friends Ivan and Lynn for four nights. I’m a big fan of Maine’s historic sporting camps.
When Marcia and I were starting a young family, we started taking annual trips around Columbus Day weekend, we came to prefer enclosed heated cabins on this particular weekend after we were caught in a snowstorm where our only shelter was an open sided lean-to or a summer tents. We moved up the ladder of comfort in Baxter State Park when we began to use the heated bunkhouses that are so popular in the late fall and winter seasons.
Baxter’s bunkhouses are unusually insulated, and heated by wood stoves surrounded by wooden bunks on top of glossy grey wooden floors, and minimally appointed with a table, a few treasured chairs, and a coupe windows to provide some meager day time light.
Years later, I got back into annual winter backpacking excursions, usually on the first weekend in December, where summer destinations like the Bigelows and Tumbledown Mountain were made much more challenging due to the cold, ice and snow that had usually settled in by then.

Eventually Marcia and I began to send weekends Maine Sporting Camps, including The Birches in Rockwood, Chet’s in Jackman, Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps, Nahmakanta Lake Wilderness Camps. You get to these places from our house in midcoast Maine by winding north through fading little settlements that lead to even the more sparsely settled backwoods until you leave the pavement to pay your fee to borrow time on logging roads.

Leslie was our host again this year, likely a true Amazon, who radiates capability in the outdoors. She hefted a cooler full of food onto her shoulder and then bound over the uneven, rock and root strewn path to deposit it at our front door.

Our Home Away from Home

The main room of this camp has a big Defiant wood stove with plenty of dry hardwood inside and out.

On our first day at camp, Ivan and I went for a 10.6 mile round trip hike over to Tumbledown Dick Falls (TDF, a stunning 70 foot waterfall that is located 0.6 miles off the Appalachian Trail.

We walked from the Camp all the way out to the where the AT crosses the gravel entrance road at the southern end of Nahmakanta Lake, where we met a couple of happy thru hikers who were aiming to be of top of Katahdin in just four more days. We hiked south on the AT for a mile where we hung a right to Tumbledown Dick Falls.

 

Turn Right

I’ve hiked the Hundred Mile Wilderness several times and before now, but until now have never had the energy or inclination to take in side trips when my going is usually focused on reaching and spending time near to or on Katahdin.
I used the Atlas Guide to navigate this section of the AT and was pleased to see that Guthook included the TDF side trail.

The Tumbledown Dick Falls trail was in great shape.

Someone had been though with a chain saw recently and cleared all existing blowdowns. The trail gradually ascends until the last twenty of a mile where it splits and you can choose the upper or lower falls.

We did both, enjoying our lunch as the board of the falls and the strong flow of the discharge from the initial pool was our soundtrack. Truthfully, the upper flatter stretches were more inviting to me  than the Falls.

Upper Falls Area

Several prime campsites were noticeable near to large pools of clear water, where visibility allowed us to see numerous small fish swimming about. This place would make a great overnight micro-adventure on some hot summer day.

On the return hike to camp, we detoured to take a long look up the length of Nahmakanta Lake.  It never fails to thrill and becon me back to The Hundred.

 

Three More New Hampshire 4,000 Footers Checked Off the List

I’m riding a wave of opportunities to get out and hike again. In the past couple of weeks I’ve made two overnight trips to the White Mountains to target the remaining four of New Hampshire’s forty-eight 4,000 footers. I’m combining forces with my very good friend and hiking enthusiast Tenzing, who lives in NH. Tenzing needs a few more summits than I do (7) but neither of us mind a few extra mountain hikes, so he’s doing a few repeats and so am I.
We haven’t hiked together for five years. A couple of weeks ago we had a very successful trial hike of 3,268’ Kearsarge North.
This week, I drove up to Silver Lake, NH to stay with my brother-in-law Cam, who put me up for a night so that I couldn’t have to drive up and back from a long day of hiking three more 4,000 footers: Mounts Tom( 4051’), Field (4350’) and Willey (4285’) in Crawford Notch.

map
We picked the best day of the summer so far to hike. I awoke to 47 degrees, and rendezvoused with Tenzing at Intervale. The cold temps quelled any lingering mosquitoes or black flies. The views from on high were much better than average, although there was some cloud cover up high. We spotted cars at two ends of our route and were hiking by 8 am.

Tenzing headed up

By 9:30 AM we had completed out first 2.5 miles, trudging upward at a very good rate of 2.1 mph. The summit of Mt. Tom was reached by 10:15 AM.

Tenzing Atop Mt. Tom

Tensing informed me that he had previously submitted Mounts Tom and Field on Sept. 18, 1994.

Number two 4,000 footer- Mt. Field

UT on Field

After short breaks for water and snacks, we meandered up and down the ridge to reach the summit of Mt. Willey at 12:30 PM.

And Willey is #3 today

From there is was a long, and often treacherous descent to a segment of the Appalachian Trail, down to the parking lot off the highway.

The views from an outcropping were rewarding today:

Tenzing viewing Mt. Washington and Webster cliffs

Tenzing posted this additional information on his Facebook page: “A piece of advice anyone wishing to climb Mt Willey:  try to avoid climbing and descending from/to the South. The trail is extremely steep, highly eroded, and the footing is frequently scree or loose gravel and very slippery!”

Heading Down

 

Me descending long sketchy ladder section -Photo by John Clark

Tenzing and I have another hiking trip planed to check off two more 4,000 voters on 9/10-9/11. Then a 3 day, 2 night hike overnight in October to complete Tenzing’s last 5 and my last 1.

September and October are my favorite months to hiked spend time in the New England woods. I’m fortunate to be able to hike tough stuff and to have friends like Tenzing that I can share my experiences with.

Firetowers East and West

About once a month I have experiences that can be described as surprising coherent.
This summer I have been devoting 2 hours each early weekday morning writing my second book. I learned a lot from publishing In the Path of Young Bulls already, which is closing in on a third printing. One of my lessons was that it takes frequent, regular, and focused work to crank a book about. I learned that at this stage of writing I am targeting amassing words on the page, ideas, angles, within an evolutionary process that is surprisingly interesting. Editing will come later, probably by a wood stove this winter if I can put in the time .
A couple of days ago,I picked up Poets on the Peaks: Gary Snyder, Philip Whelan, and Jack Kerouac in the North Cascades.

I’ve read it twice already and decided that I needed to re-read it for this new book. Luckily, I was able to head over to my local library and find the book in the stacks. The book is excellent, and harkens back to a time in my life when I was a teen and was just beginning to start backpacking in the New Hampshire’s Whites, which were a few hours drive from my house.
Today, I thought I was headed up to Mt. Waumbeck in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, one of New Hampshire’s 4,000 foot peaks. Instead I joined my old hiking pal Tenzing for a strong day of hiking up and down North Kearsarge, near North Conway, NH. Although it was not a 4,000 footer, Tenzing chose it as a practice run for some longer and more demanding hikes he and I will take through the end of September that will allow us both to finish up our individual 4,000’ lists.
Tenzing even printed out calendars for us to lock in our next three hiking adventures,

Much to my surprise, I discovered a very well preserved fire tower on the top of the 3,268 foot granite cone.

Originally built in 1909, the existing fire tower lookout was re-built by the the US Forest Service in 1951 and continued in operation until 1968, when the increased use of airplanes for fire detection replaced the need for lookouts.
What’s uncanny is that I’m sitting in bed here tonight at the White Mountain Hostel, and writing a blog post about today’s hike with a book by my side with a cover shot of a fire tower that is the same vintage as the one I entered at noontime today and enjoyed a brief respite from the rain squall and cold wind on top of Kearsarge North.

What are the chances?

Uncle Tom’s Adventures in 2019: Part 2

I reached two fitness goals by the last day of 2018: riding my bikes 1,000 cumulative miles and also walking (via hiking or backpacking) 1,000 miles.

I have zero interest in indoor walking/running or biking, either in a gym or at home. After decades of continuous health club memberships, I walked away from my local YMCA in late September of 2013, due to my shifting preferences and awareness of what my heart ( literally) was telling me.  I needed to be outdoors more.  That fall I had returned from third thru-hike, amassing 2,500+ miles on the Continental Divide Trail. I was fully planning a return to my gym rat status, but all it took was for a single return session for me to change my long devotion to the gym.

For 2019, I plan to amass 2019 cumulative miles via foot, either hiking or biking.

Another goal on my list is to read 40 books this year. I “shelve” books to read and books that I’ve read and monitors my reading, with the help of the Goodreads app. It tracks my progress toward reaching my total book goal. I especially like the scan function which allows me to immediately scan ( via the app) a book’s barcode which links to the exact same info that appears in Amazon (also owns the Goodreads app). If I plan to read the book, I save it to my Want To Read list. So far I have read 3 books in Jan. I pretty pleased that one of them was the 557 page The Outsider, by Stephen King. I have it 4 stars, by the way, even though none of it included scene from Maine.

I’m here in Florida this week for 6 nights of camping with my older and closest friend Edward and his wife Jane. He’s here at Fort Wilderness Campground for a few months break from running his fruit and vegetable farm in MA.

I am becoming more familiar with my Seek Outside tipi. Is warm here but it sometimes rains hard, like it did last night, from around 2 in the morning until 9 am.  The 12 foot diameter span gives me a palace of a place here, with 6’10” of headroom in the center.

We are able to find leftover firewood that we have used every night to enjoy a warming fire.

I plan to get a lot of walking in while I am down here for a week. Yesterday , I logged 7 miles.

I finally decided to add yet another goal for 2019. It came to my attention through Alistair Humphreys, whose Microadventures book and website promote cultivating a mind that leads one to enjoy adventures that are likely right outside the back door, rather than thinking of and treating them as distant journeys, every one.

For 2019, I plan to sleep outside at least one night in every calendar month.  January ?  Check!

 

 

 

Uncle Tom’s Adventures in 2019: Part 1

Welcome to 2019!
Here’s an update on my plans and goals for the year.


I’ve reluctantly suspended commercial guided backpacking trips in 2019. I learned my lesson in 2017 when I had to cancel and refund cash money for two fully booked 5 and 10 day backpacking trips. At that time, issues with serious medical conditions involving two of my family members demanded that I stay home and address the care of my loved ones. While those issues continue to be managed in the best manner possible, there now exists a real possibility that I will not be able to be in the wilderness if and when the health of my family takes a nosedive.
Nevertheless, I have made alternate plans to get out and schedule few things that allow me to be outdoors, sleeping on the ground, hanging out around campfires, and enjoying what I can in the forest.

I consider myself blessed.
Everyday life offers me engagement in the outdoors on a daily basis, in all seasons.

A very slow, but steady mile. (photo by Auntie Mame)

I live in a sort of “park” in midcoast Maine, where several of my neighbors hold large 100+ and even 1,000+ acre undeveloped properties. Long stretches along High Street, where I live at 430 feet of elevation on the southern side of Moody Mountain, not only don’t have any buildings, there aren’t even any utility poles or wires. What’s there instead is a canopy of towering oaks and other hardwoods that tower over the narrow roadway. This past couple months I’ve observed several mature bald eagles who have remained for the winter perched on a rooftops and trees, and even watched them glide over the bare open fields are they scan for their meager, but apparently adequate sources of sustenance.

I’ve stopped caring that the deer are still feeding on my shrubs, and fruit trees. That’s all that’s left for them and the flocks of 30 plus wild turkey after they ate the remains of my vegetable garden down to the ground after harvest.
I am blessed that many of my neighbors continue to allow me to hike and mountain bike right out my door, through the fields, abandoned roads, and trails that I’ve traveled over the past forty years that I’ve lived in this hand-made house. May all this continue as long as it goes.

Heading home, sinking..

At this point, I refer the reader to this article from Self magazine: The 2 Things That Will Help Motivate You to Be More Active

The article builds on data compiled between October 1, 2017, and September 30, 2018, from all 36 million people who use Strava that was aggregated and de-identified to respect athlete privacy.
Two factors lead to increased activity and help athletes stay active longer: goal setting and working out with someone.
My increasing engagement in walking and biking outdoors has been greatly enhance by both these practices.

I plan to continue writing about my 2019 plans in subsequent posts.

For 2019,  please consider joining the 919 other people who are subscribed to future pots from this blog.

Disclaimer: I paid for my Strava Summit ( formerly Premium) yearly membership

Walking for Mushrooms at Debsconeag Lake Wilderness Camps

We started the day with a promising sunrise, followed by fresh omlettes stuffed with tasty hen-of-the-woods mushrooms that Ivan had gathered the at hometo bring here. Also nown as maitake, it is is a mushroom that grows in clusters at the base of trees, particularly oaks.

 

A couple of events dominated today’s activities. First, we were able given permission to view the interior of Indian Camp between 9 and 10 am when the cabin was vacant between guests where the following photos of the interior  were taken:

Indian Camp detail

The following information is from “The People, The Logging, The Camps : A Local History” by Bill Geller (May 2015): One of the small cabins that is available to rent here is known as Indian Camp, perched right on the shore. Dating from the 1890’s, someone at the time intricately decorated the camp’s interior walls and ceilings with birch bark shapes. The birch bark artist is unknown but it’s something that history has lost even in that relatively short amount of time and no one really knows who did. Two two tales persist. One claims that the person living in there acquired an artistic native American wife. Others believe that an artist brought his wife to stay at the camps for health reasons and that he decorated the inside when he was not painting. Another aspect of the tale is that the owner’s grandson discovered birches on the hillside Southwest of the outlet with old cut out bark-shapes matching those in camp. Some also believe that President Theodore Roosevelt stayed at the old Indian Camp somewhere between 1905 in 1909, visiting his Indian mistress. Take your pick of one or maybe all the stories are true!

Ivan and I were also able to take a long hike today (10.5 miles).

We hiked red, counterclockwise

Carey Kish’s new Maine Mountain Guide lists the major hiking trails the accessed from DLC, with routes depicted on Map 2 – Maine Woods, contained in the back flap of the book.  (Yesterday’s 2 mile loop up and along the cliffs near the camp is not in the book, but should be, as there are fine view of both Katahdin and the Southwest landscape from the ledges on top.)

We completed the Eastern half of the Debsconeag Lake Trail, hiking counter-clockwise and visiting Fifth Debonskeag Lake, Stink Pond, Seventh DL, Sixth DL, and then returned to our camp at Fourth DL. It took us 6 hours to walk the 10.5 miles, including a couple of side trails and an added 0.8 miles due to a wrong turn getting to Fourth Deb. Lake. While the trails here are brightly blazed and those markings are frequent, they are all blue-blazed and there are sometimes unsigned intersections where people like me make mistakes.

Here are some photos taken on that loop hike.  While the colors of the foliage have intensified there are still a number of deciduous tress that have not yet shown their true colors.

When Ivan and I get together in the Maine woods, we soon revert to mushroom hunting mode, especially in the Fall a few days after a hard rain. We had a very good day yesterday, harvesting two small edible and choice toothed hedgehogs, and a mess of freshly popped oyster mushrooms.

They will be cooked in butter and seasoned for sampling for dinner tonight.

Some background from the Bureau of Parks and Lands Nahmakanta Public Lands Guide and Maps : Debsconeag Lake Camp are within the Namahkhanta Public Lands, encompassing 46,271 acres of forest and low mountains, punctuated by numerous streams and brooks descending from higher elevations that flowing to the numerous lakes and ponds in the area. The area is at the far end of the 100 Mile Wilderness sectino of the Appalachian Trail. 24 of these bodies of water are characterized as “great ponds” which are 10 or more acres in size. Within the Namahkanta Public Lands is the state’s largest ecological reserve, an 11,800 acre expanse that includes the Debonskeag Backcountry.

 

 

Canoeing and Hiking at Donnell Ponds Public Lands

I finally got around to exploring the mountains and waters Donnell Pond Public Lands for three days over this past Labor Day Weekend.   This is the first combo canoeing/hiking adventure that I’ve taken in several years.  My shoulders have just not been able to handle the paddling, but things worked out this time, due to the limited water travel involved.

Big canoe- compact car

This summer has been a bit of a bust in Maine due to the almost unrelenting humidity and heat, but now that September and cooler weather has rolled around, I am again interested in exploring the best of what Maine has to offer.

From the Natural Resources Council of Maine web site: “The Donnell Pond Public Reserved Land unit includes mountains, pristine lakes, and remote ponds all spread out over 14,000 acres in eastern Maine. There are sites for camping along the pond’s beaches, and great options for those who enjoy paddling. The land included in the unit has grown over the years to reach this expansive size with the help of different conservation groups and generous private landowners.”

For those of you who are not familiar with Maine’s Public Lands, they are an option to the State parks, and Acadia National Park.  Permits are not required if you use established fire rings, and there are no fees for camping, where you are allowed up to 14 days at one campsite. Leave No Trace practices are encouraged.

Here’s a overview of the DP area ( top of map), located some 12 miles east of Ellsworth:

A bit of history from the DP website:   “No notable Native American archaeological findings have been discovered here. During the nineteenth century, attempts were made to extract gold, silver, and molybdenum from Catherine Mountain with little success. The logging that has long been part of the history in the area continues to this day. Recreation and leisure play prominently in the history of the area. For nearly two hundred years before the advent of refrigeration, ice from Tunk Lake was harvested during the winter and stored in sawdust-filled icehouses for eventual sale and distribution. A lakeside fish hatchery on Tunk Lake supplied small “fry” fish for sport fishing until the 1970’s. Wealthy vacationers established an estate on the south end of Tunk Lake in the 1920s. This estate would later end up in the hands of famed Antarctic explorer Admiral Richard E. Byrd and was a recognized historic landmark until it was destroyed by fire in the 1980s.   The land conserved at the Donnell Pond Public Lands was assembled in phases with the assistance of numerous conservation partners-The Nature Conservancy, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the Land for Maine’s Future Program (which helped to fund more than half the acreage acquired), the Frenchman Bay Conservancy, and private landowners deeply committed to conservation.”

Our campsite on Redmond Beach allowed us to put in a full 9 mile day that took in Caribou and then Black mountains via the Caribou Loop Trail.

Approaching Caribou Mtn. summit
Granite land

Here’s a shot of our campsite.  I’m in the tipi, and my hiking pal Guthook is in The One.

Redmond Beach campsite
Another angle

The next day, we awoke early in order to beat the wind and explored much of the North shore of Donnell Pond, checking out the shoreline for possible campsites for future trips.

From our campsite on Donnell Pond

In my experience, the magic hour for wind picking up in favorable weather on lakes and ponds in Maine is 10 in the morning. It is uncanny.

My Bert Libby canoe

We eventually crossed over to the western side of the pond at the narrowest point where we followed the shoreline to the popular Schoodic Beach, which is more easily accessed by a 0.5 mile trail from the Tunk Lake Road/Route 183 parking area. As we were exploring the shoreline on our way down Schoodic beach we came upon two hikers with fully loaded packs trudging through the water heading for the Beach. We stopped and asked the two girls what was going on and one told us she was a student at Harvard University who came up here with her best friend. On the spur of the moment they drove up from Boston to Donnell Pond to camp on Schoodic Beach. When they experienced the overloaded level of camping and merriment there they had bushwhacked up the shore in order to have privacy and escape the noise. One of the girls had also been greatly distressed by the sight of a snake, so they took to aqua-blazing. They jumped at the chance to hitch a ride back to Schoodic Beach in our canoe. They asked us if there were any other places where they could camp for free Guthook steered them to Camden Hills State Park, where I agreed that they would find a better experience camping on the summit of Bald Rock Mountain in Lincolnville.

Tenzing at Bald Rock Mountain’s summit shelter
Schoodic Beach

We beached the canoe on Schoodic Beach and did a relatively quick hike to the top of Schoodic Mountain, a 1,069′ gem of a walk,  and 3 mile round trip that leads to  excellent views of Frenchman’s Bay and the mountains of Acadia National Park.

Schoodic summit view

Carey Kish’s AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast book was my best resource for hiking the Tunk Mountain and Hidden Ponds Trail that we were able to fit in the last day of our getaway.

Another resource for exploring the area is ‘s excellent review, complete with video footage:  1-minute hike: Caribou Mountain near Franklin

Kish’s 4.9 mile, 3 hour, and 1,060′ elevation info was spot on, as was the description of the extensive open mountain ledges and far reaching views of the Downeast landscape, and full-on views of the Hidden Ponds.   Sometimes we walked over a rooty path, lending a Tolkienesque quality to the experience:

Where’s Guthook? Hint-blue blaze

It was a kick to see the occasional ATV churning up a cloud of dust on the Downeast Sunrise Trail far below, where I’ve biked and even camped on a few years ago.
The Downeast Sunrise Trail is an 85-mile scenic rail trail running along the coast connecting multiple scenic conservation areas, and providing year round recreation opportunities. It is open to snowmobiles, ATVs, horse-back riders, skiers, hikers, bikers, walkers, and joggers. It passes through several sections of the Donnell Pond Public Lands between Franklin and Cherryfield. Here’s the link to my bike-packing experience on the Sunrise Trail.

Exploring Donnell Ponds Public Lands is a must if you haven’t checked it out.  The foliage should be coloring up soon , which will only add to the experience.

I’ve planned several hiking trips for the next few weeks.  Next up- 5 days of  challenging backpacking in Baxter State Park, including a long hiking day which includes The Traveler Loop.

Stay tuned!

 

Death on the CDT

screenshot.pngvia–>>> Snowbound | Outside Online

Outside Online posted this excellent report, which includes three short Youtube videos taken shortly before the hiker, Stephen Olshansky, perished in 2015 at the end of his southbound thru- hike attempt  in the Southern San Juans in New Mexico.  “Otter” was an experienced long-distance hiker who died on the trail  waiting rescue, despite having adequate food, and using a heated tent.   I can relate to the dangers of that section of the CDT.  In 2013, I was forced to bail out on the “official” CDT and take alternate forest roads in the San Juans in early June due to weather and excessive snow depths.

Otter’s death was similar in one aspect of the death of a hiker named Geraldine Largay, AKA  Inchworm, who died on the Appalachian Trail in the summer of  2013, 26 days after she set up camp.  Both hikers died less than 8 miles away from a highway,  both patiently awaiting rescues that never came.  Both hikers were without their own personal locator beacons.

For more stories of backpackers and day hikers who have fallen into the abyss where they experience multiple unfortunate mistakes in the wrong places and at the wrong times check out these two excellent books: Not Without Peril: 150 Years Of Misadventure On The Presidential Range Of New Hampshire Paperback by Nicholas Howe  and  Desperate Steps: Life, Death, and Choices Made in the Mountains of the Northeast, by Peter Kick.

Since Largay’s death, I’ve been using a satellite based communication device, and  subscribe to the $12 a month charge.

images
Garmin InReach Explorer+

It allows me to text messages via sattelite, so now the numerous areas I explore without cell coverage are not a problem.  I’ve started packing  it in my day pack.  Who knows what might happen out there, where age is not our friend ?

As  famous teacher once advised me, “Avert the suffering before it comes” .

Please considering commenting if yu do take the time to read and view the Outside Online material.