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.

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.

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

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

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.

Kaahdin
Kaahdin
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.

img_8356
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

5hourenergy
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.

Baxter State Park: Day 4 of 6

We’re back in Lean-to #4  at Russell Pond Campground for another day.  Russell is a grand place to take a rest day, explore the surrounding area, or just “watch the bark peel”.

Coolin' it
Coolin’ it

We did as a short day hike of 5 miles today, as we explored Grand Falls, on the Wassataquoik Stream.

Turn here
Turn here

A trip to Grand Falls is most rewarding, particularly on a hot day.  It’s 2.75 miles out to the east, and there are a couple of interesting features to pass by before you get there.

The first is a unique boggy area at around the two mile mark where you can observe one of Maine’s  carnivorous plants, the pitcher plant.  Pitcher plants are several different carnivorous plants which have modified leaves known as pitfall traps—a prey-trapping mechanism featuring a deep cavity filled with digestive fluid liquid.   Here one cluster:

PitcherP

Next comes Inscription Rock.

Inscriptin

Here’s what it looked like back in the logging period:

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– Photograph by George H. Hallowell, 1900. Courtesy of Maine State Library, © Myron H. Avery Collection

This time of year, the waterway is much reduced.  One can only imagine the force of the flow here when the winter snow and ice thaws.

Grand Falls approach overlook
Grand Falls approach overlook

We found a spot to cool off in the water just above the Falls, where small groups like this one have been doing what we are doing for thousands of years.  Gaspedal told me this place was the highlight of his Baxter experience.

IMG_8163On the last mile back before reaching camp, Rokrabbit hiked exceptionally strong.  He charged the uphills, and appeared determined and focused in his foot placement in areas where the rocks were frequent and prominent. I had guided these same two men last year through the last 50 miles of Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness and the growth of this young man’s comfort and skills along the trail are very satisfying for me to experience.

Here’s Rokrabbit displaying his knife collection, which gives a twist to the term ” heavy metal”:

Got blades?
Got blades?

Another feature of the day was meeting the newest addition to the ranger staff, another Greg, who comes with a trail name of Rainer.   It didn’t take long for him to decipher my leg tattoos and realize that here there were two Triple Crown hikers settling into Russell for the day. Rainer was 27- I am just about 40 years older.  We found some time to talk trail a bit.  Even better is that Rainer will be working on Sept. 22, when I’ll be spending the night in Lean-to #4  during  another week of hiking in Baxter with my pal Guthook.  We planned to meet that evening and share more time together. I enjoy having outdoor events set up to look forward to.

Rainer and Uncle Tom
Rainer and Uncle Tom

A second commonality was discovered in that he and I are both graduates of the same Catholic high school in Taunton, MA. I graduated from Monsignor Coyle High in 1967.

Russell Pond is approximately in the center of Baxter State Park.  You have to walk at least 7.6 miles to get there.   It is an area about as wild as the park has to offer.  Maybe that’s why Uncle Tom, Gaspedal, and Rokrabbit had the whole campground to ourselves the starry, open night of August 25, 2016.  How is it possible that the all the tent sites, the bunkhouse, and the rest of the lean-tos were vacant on this special summer evening?

Baxter is currently listed  as occupying 210,000 acres, with a maximum occupancy rate of 1,100 people.  I understand it is never completely filled.  Stepping away from the crowds around Katahdin brings rewards to those who take the chance to walk further from it’s main draw, the highest mountain in Maine.

We’re finishing up this trip by climbing up to the summit of Katahdin tomorrow.  We want that,  too !

 

 

Baxter State Park: Day 3 of 6

Today we duplicated yesterday’s trek, but in reverse. We are heading back south today to Russell Pond CG Lean-to #1, adjacent to the canoe launch area.

Greg, the senior ranger at Russell Pond yesterday, encouraged us to modify our plan of hiking over to the northeast corner of the park where we had booked a night at the Middle Fowler South tent site.
Greg requested that we be at his cabin at 8 am, when he would be in radio communication with the Baxter Reservation Office. Greg was very helpful to us.

We felt strong walking back today.

Crossing Howe Brook
Crossing Howe Brook

We only encountered only 1 other person while hiking almost 10 miles today. He was a taciturn chap. We were overjoyed to see someone approaching, but his attire of torn pants, safety glasses, and a faded hunter orange vest was a bit off. He also failed to acknowledge our need to communicate.
When I asked an opening question, ” Hey, glad to see you. What’s up ? ”
He replied without stopping his gait,” I came from back there (points) , and I am heading over there ( points).”
Vamoose! A very quick encounter!

On the way back, I spotted a rare find, and took he opportunity to teach my clients about chaga.

The fruit of a little labor.
The fruit of a little labor.

Chaga is sold online in whole chunks at great expense.  I just looked it up on a popular alternative medical website for $55 per pound.     The chaga mushroom is considered a medicinal mushroom in Russian and Eastern European folk medicine.  In North America, Chaga is a parasite that is almost exclusively found on birches in the northeast.  Chaga will ultimately kill the host tree, but the tree can survive for decades if not mistreated. When collecting the chaga, it is important to leave some behind as this will  allow it to regrow. If the tree has multiple sites of chaga, leave at least one  completely intact, and avoid harvesting small specimens, and stick to pieces roughly larger than a grapefruit in size.

I usually harvest it with a sturdy fixed blade knife,

A diseased specimen tree. Adequate chaga is left on the tree.
A diseased specimen tree. Adequate chaga is left on the tree.

using a baton of deadwood to remove it from the host tree.  For the remaining trip, we enjoyed chaga tea around our campfire each night. Small chunks are boiled and then simmered.  The resulting tea is very dark, and tastes similar to black tea. The chunks can be reused several times before there is an apparent decline in the potency of the drink.

Another unusual event happened on the way back through the overflowed section of trail caused by the beavers.

Gaspedal and Rokrabbit mucking along
Gaspedal and Rokrabbit mucking along

I was first through and now have wet boots from skirting the orange blaze trail by walking over the top off the smaller beaver dam. Next came Gaspedal, who walked the flooded trail. He stopped to reach a couple of feet into the clear water to pull up a cell phone.

Improbable find !
Improbable find !

It was in a case that had a UMO ID card in a pocket on the back.
There had been a large group of Upward Bound students who slept in a tent site right next to us the first night we were here. They had come through the southbound trail from South Branch Pond Campground that same day, so chances are that the dead phone belonged to one of them. I turned it into the ranger, who was going to follow it up.
Hikers need to understand that there are more rules at Baxter than at other state parks.

Gaspedal was crushed when the ranger informed him about the rule that his solo tent was not allowed around our lean-to. If you want to tent, book a tent

Understand that there are ramifications of Governor Baxter’s intentions that Baxter Park is primarily here to promote conservation of natural resources, as opposed to recreation.

A couple of situations come to mind.
I wanted to take a swim after our hike yesterday. There is no beach or swim area at Russell. The place I chose to go in the water was right off the end of the wooden dock at the canoe launch. Clearly, recreating took a back seat, when I slipped on one of the algae coated, football/-sized rocks that were piled under water at the end of the dock and fell onto my side into the dark wet. I came out with a bleeding foot.

I’ll present a second consideration.
I’ve camped at lean to #4  (“The Moose Inn”) numerous times since Will B. Wright was a ranger here at Russell in the late 1960’s. Notice how grown-in the trees and brush have become between the lean-to and the pond.

Viewing Russell Pond from the shelter of The Moose Inn ( Lean-to #4)
Viewing Russell Pond from the shelter of The Moose Inn ( Lean-to #4)

It is obvious that policies are in place in order to maintain the natural progression of shoreline vegetation instead of providing personal panoramas for the camper.  Gaspedal pointed out that they practice what they preach here – even the ranger here has trees obstructing his view of the pond.   While the practice of conservation is generally workable, and actually favored by most of us that enjoy coming here, one must at least question the practicality of rigorous adherence to it’s purpose.

And as Gaspedal also pointed out, a thoughtful ranger is now unable to have a sight line from his cabin to view every point on the lake due to visual blockage by trees and shrubs.

One’s risks are elevated at Baxter. That’s what we accept when we walk into the wilderness, and that is why I am here.