Reblogging this 1/4/17 article from The Hiking Project!
Welcome to the low pay lives of some of the best hikers in the world!
I have hiked and sometimes camped with 5 of these 6 folks, on my 2010 PCT and 2013 CDT thru-hikes. They are all truly genuine individuals. Freebird told me that his goal every year that he thru hikes is to be the first person on and the last person off the trail.
Here is a pic of me and Billy Goat on Sept. 8, 2014 at the Millinocket Hannaford’s in when Billygoat was resupplying while he was providing car support for a buddy who was hiking the International AT from Katahdin to Quebec.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There 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.
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.
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.
Patches of ice were fund on top of rocks that dominated this landscape.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
The view here from the shore of Lake Cowles, approaching Davis Pond takes in at this glacial cirque that extends up a thousand feet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’re here after a 10 mile afternoon walking the Park’s Kettle Pond, Cranberry Pond, and Rum Pond Trails.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
We did as a short day hike of 5 miles today, as we explored Grand Falls, on the Wassataquoik Stream.
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:
Next comes Inscription Rock.
Here’s what it looked like back in the logging period:
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.
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.
On 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”:
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.
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 !
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
We’ve walked 16.5 miles in the past two days over relatively flat terrain to reach Lean Two #12 a half- mile down the west side of Lower South Branch Pond by late afternoon.
Right off the bat today, we hit a bonus – ripe wild Maine blueberries.
There were some surprisingly thick bunches left on the low lying bushes along the trail.
Who could pass these by? We stopped to graze for a while and took mental pictures in order to identify the stretch on our way back.
Wild blueberries are concentrated packets of power: in taste, vibratory purple colors, and nutritional fortitude. Back home, I have 120 pounds stored in half my freezer. I’m able to breakfast on this hike just like I do at home here
We had to deal with a major flooding of the trail this morning by beaver flowage a mile past Pogy Pond on the Pogy Notch Trail.
I bypassed taking my boots and socks off in favor of walking along the top of a smaller beaver dam upstream.
While my boots got soaked, the water never went over the tops.
I also find damp feet refreshing when it is warm out, where I appreciate the ventilation of this pair of footwear. Once back walking on higher ground, my feet dried in a couple of hours.
Our lean-to tonight is an isolated walk-in site. It is far enough down shore of the main cluster of buildings at South Branch that we considered renting one of the canoes here to load firewood along with with our backpacks to get here.
In the end, that seemed cumbersome. I left my money back in the car, the ranger was way from her cabin some were else here, and what’s a little more walking at the end of double digit miles?
Once again, we took off our shoes and socks in order to ford a shallow stream that we needed to cross in order to reach our campsite for the night.
I really enjoyed watching the evening sunlight illuminate the side of North Traveler ridge on the other side of the pond. The colors on the bare ledges intensified as the day dropped away.
Meanwhile Gaspedal kindled a good evening campfire while Rockrabbit used one of his five knives to baton kindling and smaller diameter billets from big dry wood chunks that previous campers had left for us.
The boys then rigged up a line to dry out socks and wet clothing so that they could start tomorrow off with comfort.
Backpackers learn to cut down on pairs of socks, shirts, and any other clothing in order to save weight carried on our backs. One of the tricks that I use to dry damp clothing is to put it underneath my sleeping bag, on top of my sleeping mat, while I sleep. In the morning, the clothes are dry.
On this trip I wear one and carry a pairs of socks, I have two shirts- the shirt I am wearing and a dry top to sleep in, and a pair of long zip-off-the-legs pants as a back up for cold. I pretty much live in shorts in the short Maine summer.
There is something mammalian about avoiding going outdoor when it is raining sheets. I voiced this point to Gaspedal and Rokrabbit, while I was driving them through the rainstorm above Bangor on I-95 this morning.
We’re on schedule for day one of a week in Baxter State Park. I would hike in this hard rain all day, if necessary, but my innermost core recoils from the image of my self at the end of a day of rain, especially when I am also run down from long miles of hiking through the woods.
So I conjure up a whacky Plan B for today that would not require any hiking in this rain. We would get a motel room in Millinocket and wait it out. Tomorrow morning we would drive to the north Matagammon Gate and begin to dance around our reserved space camping itinerary.
However, life would be much simpler if we just stuck with our original plan, which we did when we walked out of the Appalachian Trail Cafe and saw that the rain had stopped and the skies were starting to clear.
We only encountered four other hikers today walking into Russell Pond from Roaring brook.
The young woman of couple #1 said that the ford of Wassataquoik Stream was waist high. I could have told her that. Her long pants we’re still drenched as she spoke to us. We also met a couple of Maine women who we also headed to Russell Pond for the night.
I’ve hiked the Russell Pond Trail at least a half dozen times over the years. A few things stood out today.
#1- Wassataquoik Stream rises quickly after a strong rain of an inch and a half. The water was up to my waist during the ford. I have always experienced lower water levels coming through here. On the positive side, it was painless to do the fords with bare feet, even including the short walk along the trail that was on land that connected the two.
#2- This is moose country. Walking through the alder patches in an area known as New City, Gaspedal, who was walking point, turned silently gave us a hand signal. One second later, a bull moose with full rack of antlers crashed off into the brush. This was the first moose that either of my two traveling partners had ever seen in the wild.
I’m a Licensed Maine Guide who is guiding these two folks from Boston through their first visit to Baxter.
Last year I guided these two repeat customer plus one more though the north 50 miles of Maine’s Hundred Mile Wilderness. Our walking itinerary here is less demanding than out on the Appalachian Trail, but our trek up to 5,267 foot high Katahdin on our last day should test the tendons.
If I make it, it will be my twentieth summit of Maine’s best shot at reaching the heavens.
Awoke this morning at 5 am to the sweet sound of rain falling outside my bedroom window. Heading up today for the first of two backpacking trips that I am guiding to northern Maine. The rain should be done sometime this afternoon and bright weather should follow.
We’ll prepare this morning by lining our packs with large waterproof plastic bags that will hold our supplies for the week. Then pack covers will be slid over the whole units, with raincoats or ponchos covering the packs themselves.
Here’s the itinerary:
I’m particularly excited about our last day, where we plan to take the newly re-routed Abol Trail to the top of Katahdin. Abol was just reopened on July 1. It has been closed for the past two years, in order to reroute upper reaches of the trail, which was unsafe, due to large unstable boulders and rocks in the slide scar that was part of the old trail.
The Abol Trail was the first trail I ever walked up and down Katahdin, 46 years ago, on a week long adventure with Kevin Weir. If all goes well, it will be my 20th summit of Katahdin.
Stay tuned for blog posts and photos from a very special natural sanctuary that has truly captured my interest and unabiding focus for most of my life.