Maine Adventure
August 30 - September 14, 2004

by Papa Bear

(Photo of Katahdin)
Mount Katahdin from the Abol Bridge
(Click on this or any picture for a larger image)

Click on an entry to jump to a particular section:

The Hundred Mile Wilderness

Aug. 30: Monson to Wilbur Brook
Aug. 31: ... and back again
Sept. 1: West Branch of Pleasant River to Logan Brook Lean-to
Sept. 2: Logan Brook lean-to to Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to
Sept. 3: Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to to White House Landing
Sept. 4: White House Landing to Rainbow Stream Lean-to
Sept. 5: Rainbow Stream Lean-to to Abol Bridge

Katahdin

Sept. 6: Abol Bridge Campground to The Birches

Sept. 7: Summiting Katahdin

Peakbagging in Baxter State Park:

Sept. 8: Doubletop Mountain
Sept. 9: South Brother and Coe
Sept. 10: Peak of the Ridges and Traveler attempt
Sept. 11: North Brother and Fort
Sept. 12: Hamlin Peak via Chimney Pond
Sept. 13: Two Little Gems near Chimney Pond

Sept. 14: Going Home

Mouseover for the complete set of albums

Return to Papa Bear Home Page


Maine

I

just got back from one of the best hiking and climbing treks in recent memory.

I hiked much of the 100 Mile Wilderness with Rambler (we were cut off from one section due to very high stream levels) culminating with the summiting of Katahdin on September 7th, in some of most beautiful above-tree-line weather possible. And to put frosting on the cake, we descended that day via the Knife Edge and hitched back to where our car was spotted.

Then we spent the next 6 days hiking and climbing in Baxter State Park. Funky Freddie and Josef joined us on September 10th and we then spent 2 days at Nesowadnehunk Campground and 2 days at Chimney Pond. In the process, I added 2 to my NE 4ks (North Brother and Hamlin), 3 more to my NE 100s (South Brother, Coe and Fort) and 2 to my NE Fifty Finest (White Cap and Doubletop) as well as a valiant but unsuccessful attempt with Spencer on The Traveler in rain and high winds (what were we thinking?). I have now finished the Maine 4ks and 100s. Hooray!

The Hundred Mile Wildrness

Having been exposed to stories from hikers for some time about what to expect of the "100 Mile Wilderness", I thought I would see logging trucks roll by at every road crossing, clear cuts close by and tourists galore at Gulf Hagas. I was wrong. This was the most remote and beautiful area I have hiked in in my close to 1000 miles of hiking the AT. The logging roads were infrequent and we saw no traffic on them whatsoever. The day we hiked in Gulf Hagas, we were alone. The mountain tops were unspoiled and the myriad lakes and ponds were pristine. Aside from White House Landing - where we stayed one night - I saw no development of any kind. I'm sure there were camps on some of the lakes, but there were so many of these and they were so large, we simply didn't see any. In short, this is one beautiful remote area, even if the word "Wilderness" is not quite accurate.

The section is dominated by water. The lakes and ponds, the streams and brooks, and yes the rain. This is a water hike as much or more than a mountain hike. When we were turned back by a stream crossing we couldn't manage, after only a few hours of rain, we knew we were in a place that humankind, civilization, couldn't claim for itself. It's nice to know that somewhere in these lower 48, there are places where nature is still boss, if only briefly. And we were privileged to be there at one of these times.

Click here for the complete photo album for the Hundred Mile Wilderness

Getting there

Originally, Funky Freddie was planning to hike this section with Rambler and myself, and I would get a ride up with him. It turned out he had to work an extra week and he decided to join Josef for some kayaking for a few days and then meet us in Baxter State Park after we finished hiking the "100". So I was tasked with driving his 1978 Oldsmobile up to Maine so it would be there when he met us. He planned to stay a few extra days after we left Maine to make up for some of the time he missed by having to work, so he needed his car up there. This was a bit
(Photo of Shaws)
Shaw's Boarding House in Monson
scary, as the car, although it ran reasonably well, looked like a candidate for the junk heap. In fact I was stopped on Route 128 in Massachusetts by an nice man in a uniform who, after deciding, reluctantly, that I was not a smuggler or a terrorist, said "Tell Fred to get his wind shield and the side of his car fixed". After this close encounter, I met Rambler and we drove together to Abol Bridge (over 300 miles), parked Fred's car, and then drove back together to Monson in Rambler's car. I just hoped the tires on Fred's car would hold their air till we got back 7 or 8 days later. They did, thank goodness.

The Shaw's in Monson

We stayed Sunday night at Shaw's where a collection of section hikers had arrived, mostly to hike the "100" like ourselves. Surprisingly there were no thru-hikers although we heard a fairly large group would likely arrive in a day or two. As usual, Old Keith and young Keith were in fine form and the dinner and AYCA breakfast were superlative. Rambler arranged to leave his car there, and around 6:15 AM Monday morning, young Keith drove us to the trailhead with Jeff ("Jiffypot") and Chris.


Monday, August 30
Route 15, Monson to Wilbur Brook (13.6 miles)

W

e started hiking together in cloudy weather with a chance of afternoon showers predicted. We soon left Chris behind, and Rambler and I hike with Jeff, a strong guy of about 40, who claimed to be carrying a 57 lb.pack, which he loved to talk about at length. We originally planned to hike around 10 miles to the Wilson Valley Lean-to, and then around 15 miles the next day over the Barren Chairback range. But we made good time and it made more sense to try to do 15 miles to the Long Pond Stream Lean-to today, which would mean the following day, over the Barren-Chairbacks, would need to be only 10 miles. This made sense, so we went for it.

(Photo of Big Wilson)
Fording Big Wilson Stream
We forded Big Wilson Stream around 11:00 AM. This was worse than the Piscataquis crossings I had done last year, being thigh deep with lots of rocks to maneuver over and a good swift current. But it was not bad and we got across without incident. We crossed the railroad tracks and had a lunch break at the Lean-to and then started over Big Wilson Cliffs, a series of ledges that afforded good views of the mountains we would hit tomorrow. Somewhere around the time I got to the top of this hill, the rain started. It was no more than moderate but it was steady. At the bottom of the fairly steep hill there are two brooks to cross and finally Long Pond Stream to ford before we got to the Long Pond Stream Lean-to where we planned to spend the night. Well, when I got to the first brook - Wilbur Brook - it was a raging torrent. It had only been raining 2 or 3 hours, but the water was well over the fairly ominous looking rocks and you could not see the bottom. Furthermore, the stream dropped over a series of cascades just below the crossing. Rambler had managed to inch across a downed log 50 yards or so upstream but I
(Photo of Wilbur Brook
Wilbur Brook
couldn't manage that. I shouted across that I would meet him here at 7:00 AM the next morning, hoping that the water level will have dropped by morning. Jeff had somehow crossed and had gone on ahead. We wouldn't see him again, but we found out his fate days later from a thru-hiker we met on Katahdin. No he didn't drown, but had a rather bad time.

I set up my tent in the rain on a grassy spot a few hundred yards back along the trail and settled down for a night in the rain. I fell asleep early and awoke around 7:00 PM and saw a light a short distance away. I walked over and there was Rambler cooking supper from his tarp tent. Seeing him was so unexpected that I didn't recognize him at first. He said that the second brook - Vaughn Brook - was even worse than the first and it's crossing was just above a 20' waterfall and no way could he cross it. To avoid being trapped between the two brooks, be crawled back over the downed log and decided to camp here for the night. So we were together in our distress. It rained heavily all night with lightening strikes over our head. In my wakeful moments I knew the crossing would not be better in the morning. Thus ended our first day on the trail, at the mercy of the rain.


Tuesday, August 31
And back to Monson (3.6 miles)

W

e rose early and packed our wet gear up as best we could and went back to check the brook crossing. It was just as bad or worse than the night before. The only consolation was that you could now see the bottom, but that bottom was well below a raging current with many difficult looking rocks. After some discussion,we decided to hike back and go out via an old logging road about a half mile above the Wilson Valley Lean-to which was shown on the map and which headed to a major logging road that eventually would get us to Monson. Furthermore, we knew cell phones worked around that Lean-to and we hoped we could call Shaw's for a shuttle. We met 3 hikers moving north as we retraced about 4 miles of yesterday's hiking and told them of the difficulties ahead. They pushed on, and in retrospect perhaps we should have too, but we had a plan so we stuck to it. I finally got cell phone connectivity near the top of the hill, but couldn't get through to Shaw's. Then I had a brilliant idea: I called
(Photo of Shaws
Drying out at Shaw's
my wife and asked her to call Shaw's with our request for a shuttle. After several lost connections I finally got through to her again and she said with great relief in her voice: "It's OK, I got through to the Sheriff". Suddenly this adventure had taken on melodramatic, not to mention embarrassing overtones. In any case we hiked out the old road (which would not have been passable by a normal car) and got to Ledge Hill Road about 10:30. Whom do we meet, but Old Keith in his huge Buick complete with his oxygen bottle between the front seats. He insisted we were in the wrong place. He was sure we would come out along the railroad tracks. But it was nice to save the 8 or so miles we would have walked to get back to Monson on this road so we settled in. We spent the afternoon drying out - the weather had turned sunny and breezy. Perfect hiking weather. Old Keith, and Baltimore Jack, who had shown up at Shaw's, undoubtedly had a good chuckle about these city slickers who called the sheriff over a little rain, and I'm sure the sheriff had a good chuckle too. When my wife finally talked to the sheriff one last time after we were "saved", he said "I hope you're voting for Bush". She said "No way". So he said "Should have left them in the woods!". Maine!

That night when we settled our bill with Old Keith, he looked at his book and said "What's this shuttle here". We said we got picked up on Ledge Hill Road. He said "Who picked you up?". "You did." "Oh well, it's been a long day for me".


Wednesday, September 1
West Branch of Pleasant River to Logan Brook Lean-to (12.7 miles)

Gulf Hagas Mountain, West Peak, Hay Mountain and White Cap Mountain

I

n order to be sure we'd get to Baxter in time to meet our friends, we needed to bypass the Barren-Chairback section due to our missing day of hiking. So Rambler drove us up Route 11 to the Katahdin Ironworks Road (another major logging road) where we would get back on the trail at the west Branch of the Pleasant River. We were a bit
(Photo of Shaws
Fording the West Branch of the Pleasant River
worried about this crossing since this was the largest river to cross of the whole trek, but we were reassured that although the rivers rise fast, they tend to drop back to normal levels in 24 hours. The weather was sunny and cool. Perfect hiking weather. Our trek of the "100 Mile Wilderness", actually for us the "83 Mile Wilderness" was about to get a fresh start.

The crossing was not bad. The river bottom was easier than Big Wilson, but the current was a bit higher and stronger, so all in all it was no worse than what we had done on Monday. Under normal levels of flow, this would have been easier than Big Wilson. We walked through the old growth White Pine of the Hermitage and decided to make an abbreviated side trip to see Gulf Hagas. Gulf Hagas Brook was a tricky rock hop and then we visited Screw Auger Falls and the first viewing point of the gorge, the Hammond Street Pitch. These were both impressive and I highly
(Photo of Screw Auger Falls
Screw Auger Falls
recommend doing at least this much of the gorge when you pass this way. Apparently the trail is much more rugged further on and the gorge even more dramatic, but for us, those views will have to await another visit.

The main job for today were the 4 peaks of the White Cap range. These rise above 3000 feet and in several places are rather steep. We climbed the first peak, Gulf Hagas Mountain, with great views to the north, and then found the lovely campground in the col amidst (surprisingly) hardwoods just starting to turn to Fall colors. Then we climbed successively West Peak, Hay Mountain and finally the highest, White Cap. It had turned out to be a beautiful clear blue sky day. White Cap is the highest peak on the AT between the Bigelows and Katahdin and there were great views from this mountain both north and south. There was Baker and Number Four rising before the distant Moosehead Lake. Big Spencer far to the north. Big and Little Boardman and Jo-Mary to the East, and in the far distance, Katahdin, the Greatest Mountain, stood beckoning.

We descended steeply over much new trail work and arrived at Logan Brook lean-to at 6:30 PM. We met Suzie, a ridge runner working for the MATC who was there for the night, as well as another section hiker moving south. It was a cold night but we felt good to be moving again with the major water crossings behind us and a forecast of good weather for most of the week to come.


Thursday, September 2
Logan Brook lean-to to Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to (11.7 miles)

T

he day started with a beautiful view of the sun on the ridge above the lean-to with the just-past-full moon in the
(Photo of Mountain View Pond
Mountain View Pond
sky above. It had been in the 40s overnight and it would be another great hiking day. We crossed the East Branch of the Pleasant River. Rambler simply waded across but I thought I saw a good rock hope route a bit upstream. I got across fine but getting back to the trail through brambles and bogs almost did me in. We climbed the Boardman Mountains which were moderate in steepness with a very broad flat col between Big Boardman (which the trail skirted) and Little Boardman. The lovely Mountain View Pond sits in this col and is as lovely as the name implies. We crossed the Kokadjo logging road and then hiked along the shore of Crawford Pond. We had moved from the mountain terrain of the first 40 or so miles of the "100" to the lakes region. In the next few days we would pass ponds and lakes of increasing size and number.

We followed Cooper Brook down most of the afternoon and finally arrived at Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to which was situated on a beautiful spot right on the brook a short distance below a cascade.


Friday, September 3
Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to to White House Landing (15 miles)

T

oday we would pass two of the largest Lakes in the section: Lower Jo-Mary and Pemadumcook. In the late morning we arrived at the Antlers campground, site of the former Antlers Sporting Camp, one of the original camps that stretched across Maine and provided the early AT with nightly stops. This is a truly beautiful spot and if it were
(Photo of Antlers Campsite
Antlers Campsite
not for the fact that it was still morning, we would have considered staying there for the night. We met 3 thru-hikers there packing up to move on, and in a win-win situation, I unloaded some food I wouldn't need. I saved 5 or 6 lbs from my pack and they saved having to buy more supplies.

But we had a special destination in mind for tonight: White House Landing Camps on Pemadumcook Lake. It seemed every one we met that day was either going there (like us) or had been there (those moving south). Everyone was obsessed over the 1 lb. hamburgers. "Awesome" was the operative adjective. We crossed over the Potawadjo Ridge, passed the Potawadjo Spring Lean-to and skirted the north end of Pemadumcook Lake. We noted the way to White House, which is unmarked from the AT, was the third road after the Lean-to. It's a grassy, muddy road leading to the right, just after a more recently used dirt road. There were signs and blazes leading about a mile to a boat
(Photo of White House Landing
Papa Bear enjoys a cold one
at White House Landing
dock where we blew the air horn. A few minutes later, Bill, the owner, came across, unloaded 3 or 4 thru-hikers sated from their ice cream and 1 lb hamburgers, and picked us up. Rambler and I were joined by Mike, a section Hiker we had met a few days earlier. He was one who managed to cross the brooks that stymied us on the day after the storm.

We got to meet Cimarron, the 82 year old who would be finishing the trail the same day as we did. He was amazing. White House was everything one could hope for. Formerly a logging camp, then a hunting camp, it now is largely devoted to AT hikers. I highly recommend stopping by, either for lunch, or overnight as we did.


Saturday, September 4
White House Landing to Rainbow Stream Lean-to (15.8 miles)

I

t seemed like most of today was spent in passing along the shores of Nahmakanta Lake, one of the largest along the trail. After a great breakfast, we got a later than usual start from White House Landing, since the owner was
(Photo of Nahmakanta Lake
Nahmakanta Lake
not only chief cook and bottle washer, but also mechanic, crew and captain of the boat that would return us to the trail A busy man.

We started passing through some terrain that would become commonplace in the last miles of the "100": upland Spruce bogs. These were areas of very poor drainage consisting of moss covered boulders and bog in all directions for miles, with an open canopy of Black Spruce above, with some Red Cedar mixed in. This would be hellish to pass through without the trail There were literally miles of bog logs to help us through this area. When we got to Nahmakanta lake we skirted it's west side and then arrived at the summit of Nesuntabunt Mountain. This was a gem! The views of the Lakes with Katahdin in the distance were unbeatable.
(Photo of Katahdin
Katahdin from Nesuntabunt Mountain
Just hope and pray you pass this spot on a clear day as we did. After an easy descent we passed the lovely Crescent Pond and then after crossing a rocky ledge followed Pollywog Brook down to a logging road. The road led to another camp (Rainbow Lake Camp) which caters to hunters and fishermen.

The trail crossed the road and started up along Rainbow Stream, which runs from Rainbow Lake down into Nahmakanta Lake. This had a series of cascades and finally some still sections (called "deadwaters"). Just before the largest of these we arrived at Rainbow Stream Lean-to, tonight's destination. We had arrived shortly after 5:00 PM. Rainbow Stream is one of the few remaining "baseball bat" lean-tos. If you don't know what that means, you must go there and check it out. Just bring a good sleeping pad! Later on, Cimarron and his friend Possum, and later still, Tortoise, a woman we had met at the East Branch crossing and again at White House Landing, showed up. It was another lovely spot, a bit like the Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to. It had been a satisfying day.


Sunday, September 5
Rainbow Stream Lean-to to Abol Bridge (15 miles)

W

e got an early start on this, the last day of the "100".
(Photo of Rainbow Deadwater
Morning fog on the Rainbow Deadwater
We were planning to spend the night at the Abol Bridge Campground, 15 miles distant. Most of the morning would be spent hiking along Rainbow Lake. The trail was rather wet and muddy along the lake. It could use some of the bog-log walkways we had seen in the Spruce-bogs. One amusing sight was a young Sobo with a large guitar strapped to his pack along with what looked like everything but the kitchen sink. He said he had just started and was headed for Georgia. Good luck!

Once past the Lake, the trail got dryer and better maintained.We crossed the Rainbow Ledges with some nice views and finally arrived at Hurd Brook Lean-to. This is the last lean-to in the "100", and we planned to take a lunch break there, but mosquitoes, which had been rare so far, drove us quickly away. As we hiked the last 3 or 4 miles,
(Photo of Abol Campground
Abol Campground across the
West Branch of the Penobscot
we knew we were getting back to "civilization". We saw a number of day hikers, actually you might call them "Sunday strollers" with their tennis shoes and off the shoulder tank tops (love them!) with no packs or water, making their way over the rocks and mud. I'm not sure what they thought of this small AT experience they were "enjoying"

Shortly before 2:00 PM we got to the Golden Road, (and the famous "Caution: 100 Mile Wilderness" sign), the major logging road that runs from Millinocket to Greenville, and soon found ourselves crossing the West Branch of the Penobscot over the Abol Bridge. We were done with the 100 Mile Wilderness. It had been wild. It had been beautiful. And not least it had been great fun.

Later that afternoon we saw Mike and lastly there was the 82 year old Cimarron crossing the Abol Bridge. We were all tired but happy to have arrrived here about to enter Baxter State park. Looking across the Penobscot from the bridge we saw the goal we were soon to attain that had beckoned us these last days: The Greatest Mountain!


Katahdin

K

atahdin or "Kette-Adene" means "Greatest Mountain" in the language of the native people of the region. To these people it was a sacred and forbidding place. The home of the gods, so to speak. In fact "Pamola", the deity of the mountain, would unleash his (her?) wrath on any that dared to approach the mountain too closely. To the northbound AT hiker it is more like the promised land, the epitome of their many miles of sweat and grime, a magnet beckoning them. And let us be forever grateful to Myron Avery that the trail ends here and not "On some mountain in New Hampshire with a hot dog stand" (my paraphrase).

From as far away as Saddleback Junior or Sugarloaf the lucky AT hiker can get a first glimpse of the Greatest Mountain on the distant horizon on the clearest of days. When climbing the Bigelows the view is more distinct and finally when the hiker reaches Barren or White Cap in the 100 Mile Wilderness the view is clear and awe inspiring. The sheer drama of this massif rising from the low lying forests and lakes of northern Maine is almost chilling. It reminded me of the first time I saw a giant Sequoia tree. It almost brings tears to one's eyes. And at each viewing it appears bigger and bigger. When seen from White Cap it is big. Then from Nesuntabunt it has grown. From the Rainbow Ledges it is huge. And finally at the Abol Bridge, there it stands above the Penobscot River like Adamant. It is impossible, wonderful, awful, beautiful, indomitable, seemingly unclimbable. And so it must have seemed to the native people over their long history, and to Charles Turner in 1804, and to Henry David Thoreau in 1846, and to Earl Shaffer in 1948. And so it seemed to me on that sunny afternoon in September of 2004.

(Photo of Katahdin)
Katahdin — the Greatest Mountain
Click here for the complete photo album for Katahdin


Monday September 6
Abol Bridge Campground to The Birches (10.2 miles)

T

he weather for the next two days was forecast to be partly sunny. Typically as the days go on, afternoon clouds build up until sunset and then you can expect a cold crystal clear night. All advice was that Tuesday would be the last good day to summit Katahdin before the remnants of Hurricane Francis arrived. We were on track. The night had been cold and the day dawned with a shroud of mist over the river.
(Photo of Penobscot
Along the West Branch of the Penobscot
We packed up our stuff and stole out of the campground through the clutter of the huge sleeping RVs, still left over from the Labor Day weekend. Since Fred's car was parked next to the store, we got our day packs which had been stowed there and left our tents which would not be needed again. It was just after 8:00 AM and we were back on the trail.

Today's route would be an easy short hike. Just the right preparation for tomorrow's more rigorous and dramatic assault on the summit. The trail leaves the Golden Road and follows an old woods road and after crossing the Abol Stream on a bridge we got a few views of the Greatest Mountain. We entered the Park and there was David, the ranger to greet us and sign us in. This is perhaps the only entrance to the park that is for foot traffic only. We soon found ourselves walking along the West bank of the Penobscot through beautiful forests over an easy flat trail. For some reason it reminded me of the river walk along the Hoosatonic in Connecticut.

We soon arrived at Nesowadnehunk Stream (which I'm told by a ranger is pronounced "Sourdnehunk", although the woman at the BSP office pronounced it "Waddahunk") and followed it up into the park over a steeper but still
(Photo of Big Niagara
Big Niagara Falls
moderate grade. The interesting features here were Big and Little Niagara Falls. We saw any number of day hikers who had hiked down from Daicey Pond Campground to these.

Close to the two sets of falls is Daicey Pond Campground. The trail used to go through this campground but was it was rerouted a few years ago. Apparently the thru-hikers were scaring the paying customers. Or maybe it was the other way around. We hiked in to check it out anyway and it is a lovely spot on a pond with a great view of the Mountain. Folks were out canoeing. There seemed to be enclosed cabins instead of lean-tos or tent sites. This might be the spot your non-hiking spouse would enjoy when you do some hiking in or around BSP.

Another mile or two of hiking trough some lovely lakes brought us to the Tote Road, and soon thereafter we arrived at Katahdin Stream Campground. This is a more traditional with a ranger cabin, lean-tos and tent sites. It was well
(Photo of Tracy Pond
OJI Mountain seen across Tracy Pond
laid out with the rocky Katahdin Stream flowing right down the middle. We checked ourselves in at the ranger station and were told The Birches was a quarter mile or so along the Tote Road. We trudged over and dumped our stuff in the lean-to (there were two, each holding 6 campers - I would say 4 is more like it). We were the first AT hikers to arrive here, although 2 more would eventually show up. This place is rather isolated and has no water nearby (you must go back to Katahdin Stream). The main campsite is clearly more attractive unless you seek isolation. If you know at least a day ahead you'll be staying here, you should definitely check if you can get a last minute reservation at Katahdin Stream. The Birches is a "walk in" for AT hikers (you must have come from Monson, at the least) and no reservations are required. It was just 1:30 PM so we had plenty of time to lounge around, take a nap, walk around and check our the main campground, etc.

Later, "Link", a thru hiker, showed up. From him we learned that our friend Jeff (who crossed the raging streams ahead of us on our first day) had lost some stuff off his pack (including his tent) when he made that crossing and said he was almost swept away. He also suffered from blisters, due probably to his trudging across the rivers with
(Photo of Katahdin Stream Campground
Katahdin Stream Campground
boots on, and from his excessively heavy pack. His blisters forced him to leave the trail a few days later. A shame. Link also said he heard about 2 section hikers who called the sheriff and had to be rescued by old Keith Shaw at the railroad crossing on Ledge Hill Road. We told him that was us, and no, it wasn't at the railroad crossing. I guess we became (in)famous for that little adventure. He was a nice guy who liked nothing better than a cold beer and a cigarette after a long day of hiking. Go figure!

Later that afternoon we wandered over to the lean-tos at Katahdin Stream and had a chat with Cimmaron (the 82 year old), Possum and Bear Bag - who is from Cimarron's home town and was giving him some support. They were all set to start up the mountain early the next morning. Then we saw the 3 thru-hikers we had met very briefly at Antlers: NRChi, OverUnder
(Photo of Katahdin
Katahdin from Katahdin Stream
in the late afternoon sun
and Lightfoot. They had started up to the summit at 2:00 AM that morning and had watched the sunrise from the top. Then they took a nap there and hung out for 6 hours as numerous others came and went. They were very high from their experience (pun intended) and could hardly stop talking. It had been a perfect day on the top. Lastly, we met Mike coming down from the summit. He had been with us at White House Landing, and we had bumped into him on the trail off and on for the last several days. He said it took him 3 hours go up and 4 hours to come down. He said it was a bit more scary than any hike he had done before - he has a some fear of heights. But he too could not have been happier. And to top it off, he had met some one coming down who offered him a ride to Millinocket, so off he went, happier than a fish in water.

Today had been a perfect summiting day. Tomorrow was forecast to be the same. We went to bed excited and could hardly sleep. We had caught the fever from the thru-hikers and could not wait to start on the last but best piece of the AT at first light.


Tuesday September 7
"K" Day - We summit Katahdin, cross the Knife Edge,
and descend to Roaring Brook Campground (9.9 miles)

W

e were up at 5:30 AM and quickly packed our stuff up and ate breakfast. We put what we needed for the day in our day packs and left our overnight packs hanging from the bear cables at the campsite. We then walked over to
(Photo of Katahdin Stream Falls
Katahdin Stream Falls
Katahdin Stream and checked with our friends there. The other 2 hikers at The Birches were still sleeping. We met Cimarron, Possum and Bear Bag at their Lean-to and they were nearly ready to start up as well. We signed the register at 6:40. There were 3 couples who had started before us but we soon passed them. We were the vanguard for today's summit attempts.

The Hunt Trail

The trail is easy for the first mile or so and then it starts up along Katahdin Stream and gets steep and rocky.

As we got higher and higher up, we could see the fog in the valleys below us, and slowly we glimpsed and soon rose above the surrounding mountains: Doubletop, OJI, Barren, Coe, South and North Brother, Fort and in the distance past Daicey Pond, Sentinel. The scene below was a panoply of ponds with the fog beyond along the Penobscot valley. On the far horizon we could see the shape of Big Spencer and lakes large and small whose names we could only guess. And on our left, becoming more and more striking as we climbed was the striking pinnacle of The Owl.

(Photo of Fog and ponds below
Fog and ponds below
(Photo of The Owl
The Owl

Then the fun began.As we rose above The Owl and reached tree line, the trail became a pile of huge boulders. He had to climb over, around and under these monoliths, occasionally aided by some iron rungs. This was a bit scary
(Photo of the Hunt Spur
Looking down the Hunt Spur
and we wondered how old Cimmaron would manage (we heard later he managed fine). We were now on the Hunt Spur, a sharp steep ridge that rose and then leveled off and then rose again more steeply to the plateau above. From a distance it look daunting. Up close it was daunting. This was probably the most rugged and difficult of any sustained section of the AT that I have done. But it was not so much difficult as it was dramatic and inspiring, especially as the lowlands seen below became more and more Lilliputian.

When we finally reached the top of the spur, the flat plateau called the "Table Land" opened out before us. This huge Alpine area resembles nothing earthly, it's more like the surface of the moon.
(Photo of Thoreau Spring on the Table Land
Thoreau Spring on the Table Land
But unlike the moon, it is covered by alpine wildflowers and sedges and has a unique beauty. We passed Thoreau Spring and then climbed along the last ridge towards the top. This was a section of felsenmeer that was very rough, although not particular steep. Around this point we were passed by a lone hiker who was moving rather quickly towards the summit. Alas, we would not be first to the summit today.

The Summit

Finally, as we neared the summit, the lone hiker who had beaten there us was hiking back. He said "It's all yours". So although not the first today, we would at least have the summit for ourselves for a short while on this most perfect of perfect days. We reached the summit at 10:45 and in all directions we could see the green of forest, the gray of bare mountain tops, and the blue of the myriad lakes and of the sky. And a smattering of clouds below us. We were on the top of the world and it was ours alone! But we could also see approaching from behind us were several hikers and coming at us over South Peak were several more. Our solitude would not last for long.

(Photo of Rambler and Papa Bear at the summit
Rambler and Papa Bear at the summit
(Photo of A view from the summit
A view from the summit

We were very shortly joined by a hiker who had come over the Knife Edge, by Link, the thru-hiker we had first met yesterday at The Birches, and by one of the couples we had passed early on today. As we chatted briefly, we could see a number of little dots along the Knife Edge moving along, and a few more coming up the Hunt Trail behind us. It would soon get crowded here. I mentioned an idea to Rambler: it's such a perfect day, lets go down via the Knife Edge and we'll somehow hitch a ride from Roaring Brook to get back to our stuff and pick up Fred's car. He readily agreed and we had a plan.

(Photo of The Knife Edge from the summit
The Knife Edge from the summit

The Knife Edge

The Knife Edge is a jagged narrow ridge line that connects Baxter Peak with Pamola Peak, a little more than a mile away. On either side of the ridge are sheer cliffs falling off 1500 feet carved by glaciers eons ago as the ice retreated from North America. It is arguably the most exposed and dramatic route in the East and is more than a little scary in places. If you are afraid of heights or if there is high wind or rain, I do not suggest this route. But today was perfect and we were up for it. What better way to cap off finishing the AT on Katahdin's summit than to descend via this most dramatic of all routes.

The terrain is mostly a rugged rock scramble over felsenmeer and ledges. In numerous cases we climbed and scrambled with hands as well as feet. In one or two places there were what you might call "O my God!" spots, where you had to scramble along the side of or over the top of a ledge with daylight below you on one side or the other. But it is as much a mental effort as a physical one, and at one of these places I would stop, breathe deeply, relax and say, this is just a ridge a few feet off the ground. Just put one foot (and one hand) in front of the other and it will be easy.

(Photo of Rough and rocky
Rough and rocky
(Photo of An
An "O my God!" spot

At last we got to the Chimney, a deep chasm separating Chimney peak from Pamola. From a distance it looked like
(Photo of Looking down the Chimney
Looking down the Chimney
there was no way to cross that gap without climbing equipment, but in this case it was not as bad as it looked. A simple scramble down some ledges on one side and up on the other side did the trick. Hint: it helps to have long legs for this bit, and follow the blue blazes carefully.

Pamola and the Helon Taylor Trail

We were at last on Pamola (the avenging deity of the mountain, remember?) and ready to make our way down. The most straightforward way was along the Keep Ridge on the Helon Taylor Trail. This goes from the top of Pamola to Roaring Brook Campground practically in a straight line, and is perhaps the easiest route to the top (except for that little detail called the Knife Edge).
(Photo of The Keep Ridge
The Keep Ridge
The only problem is that it is exposed to the sun or weather for much of it's length, and it consists of boulders, and boulders and more boulders. Not huge boulders like the Hunt Spur, but middle sized boulders that just tire you out from the constant stepping, climbing and scrambler. One ranger called the trail "the Endless trail of Boulders". Well, after the effort of the climb to the summit, and the mental fatigue of the Knife Edge, this just wore us down. To say nothing of the blue sky and sun, which in the morning seemed the epitome of a perfect day, but now was just burning us up.

But at last we made our way into Roaring Brook campground at 3:40 PM, just 9 hours after we had started up. We staked out the parking lot for likely hikers from which to Yogi a ride. And in just a couple of minutes a couple of French Canadians whom we had crossed paths with on the Knife Edge showed up and were more than willing to give us a ride. I said we needed to get to the Abol Ponds Picnic area, a couple of miles past the gate, so we could walk over to get our car, and they readily agreed. We chatted about what they were doing and what we had done and they were the most amiable of people. As I sat in their car I felt a sense of great accomplishment for one of the most exciting days of hiking in memory, and I was proud of my strength, endurance and balance. I was riding high. Then as the driver pulled over to let us out and we climbed out of the car, I tripped over the threshhold and fell sprawling ignominiously on the ground. Duh!

Recovering as quickly as I could, I said "no, I'm fine, I'm fine" and soon we were off along the Abol Stream Trail which led in about 2 miles to our car. We returned to the Park for our packs (the nice lady at the gate said she wouldn't charge you since we were not really staying in the park) and then drove out again and went about 10 miles down the road to the Big Moose Inn where we would be staying for 3 nights. Our Appalachian Trail section was done, but our adventure was far from over.


Peakbagging in Baxter State Park

After summiting Katahdin on September 7th, the Appalachian Trail part of our journey was over, but we were scheduled to stay in the area until September 14. For the last 4 days of this plan (starting September 10th) Rambler and I we would meet 2 other friends and stay in the park. Until then, the two of us opted to stay at the Big Moose Inn, about 10 miles south of the park entrance. This is a well run place with options for staying in Inn rooms, staying in housekeeping cabins, or camping out. We stayed the 3 nights at Big Moose in one of the cabins. This was convenient and allowed us to cook some of our meals. The small cabin would actually hold 4, and if you were willing to pack that many into the small space, it would be quite economical. Although Rambler and I had originally scheduled 1 spare day, we found that we had 2 days on our own (having moved through the 100 Mile Wilderness a bit faster than planned), and since we were rearing to go, we decided to get a "head start" on our peakbagging. This would alleviate the pressure to try for long multiple-peak days when our friends met us.

Click here for the complete photo album for Baxter peakbagging


Wednesday, September 8
Doubletop Mountain

D

oubletop is on the New England Fifty Finest (highest prominence) List (#39, with a prominence of 2079'). It has a very distinct shape and is hard to miss from the south and west side of Katahdin. When looked at straight from the
(Photo of Doubletop end-on
Doubletop, seen end-on
south, it has a distinct pyramidal shape. From just about every other angle, it has an unmistakable double-topped profile.

It's prominence is obvious. The Nesowadnehuk Stream separates it from the main Katahdin massif. It "stands alone" as it were, the hallmark of a prominent peak.

The day dawned with cloudy weather and chances of showers. You can get a feeling for the day's weather from the first photo above. Undeterred, we got ourselves up and going early and arrived at the park's south gate just after 7:00 AM. Since it was mid-week and after Labor Day, and a potentially rainy day as well, the park would not be crowded today, and we had no trouble getting in and found no one else at the trailhead when we got there around
(Photo of Doubletop from Katahdin
Doubletop from Katahdin
8:00 AM. I had decided I must ration my pictures for the remainder of our trip since I was running out of space on the memory card in my digital camera. So extraneous views of scenery were to be taboo. However this rule was quickly abandoned when we saw a huge bull moose at a road side pond on our ride in:

Having seen our first moose for the entire trip, we continued on towards Kidney Pond where we would start today's hike. We would take the route from the south. Although the trail actually starts at Kidney Pond, we opted to take a "short cut" and parked right after the bridge where we could get onto the woods road which led to the Slaughter Pond Trail, a much more direct route. This route seems to have been recently relocated by some active beavers: where there once was a stream crossing, there was now a substantial beaver pond, and the trail went over the beaver dam before circling around back to the established route. At about .7 miles from the car we picked up the Doubletop
(Photo of Moose at Stump Pond
Moose at Stump Pond
Trail which led 3.5 miles to the summit.

The weather held, even though it was threatening most of the morning. The terrain was easy for about 1.5 miles and then got progressively steeper and finally in the last .5 miles we scrambled over several very steep ledges. We got to the south peak about 10:30, and then did the easy traverse of the open ridge line to the slightly higher north peak where we arrived about 10:45. We saw clouds billowing over the top portion of Katahdin to the east, and we were very happy that we had summited yesterday, with it's picture perfect weather, rather than today. It would not
(Photo of At the south peak, looking north
At the south peak, looking north
be much fun, and perhaps even a bit dangerous to summit Katahdin today.

We were concerned that going down the steep section, especially if it started to rain, would be tough, so we did not linger. But surprisingly, going down proved easier than up, and we kept up a good pace and arrived back at the car at 1:15 PM. The sun was now burning through the clouds and it turned out to be a pretty good day after all. Besides a few mosquitoes near the bottom, we had no complaints. Doubletop is a great little mountain and we highly recommend it. The climbing is good and the views are terrific. On a clear weather day the views, especially of Katahdin from the west, would be fantastic. If you have two cars, consider spotting one at one end and start at the other. We were told coming from the north is the preferred direction, but we thought our route from the south was perfectly nice.

Distance: 8.4 miles, elevation gain: 2450', time: 5:15.



Thursday, September 9
South Brother and Coe

O

ur original plan (which had only one spare day) was to do all four of the "Brothers" (Coe, South Brother, North Brother and Fort) on Saturday when our friends were with us. Although we knew this was doable, we did not relish the long day entailed, so we sought a way to get a head start, so to speak. Of the 4 peaks, North Brother and Fort were the most exposed and had perhaps the better views, so we opted to do the southern two and give up the views on this rainy day. The grand plan was to pick up the 3 Hundred Highest and 2 4ks in the Park that I had never done (the four "Brothers" plus Hamlin) and the two Fifty Finest (Doubletop and Traveler). Having done Doubletop the day before, and getting South Brother and Coe today would put us in a good position to meet our goal.

It started raining in earnest overnight and the morning brought moderate showers off and on. We got to the gate by 7:00 AM and said we were planning to hike the Marston Trail. The ranger said hiking the Brothers was "not recommended". We said we were not hiking to North Brother, just South Brother and Coe and that we would not climb the Coe Slide: we would go in from South Brother and then return the same way. She said OK but made sure we understood that the summits would be "socked in". Our intended route would actually be longer than a normal loop going up the Coe Slide and then back to the Brothers, but we knew the slide would be rather unsafe in the steady rain and wind.

We arrived at the Marston trailhead at 7:42 AM, and naturally, we were the only car. I guess more sensible folks (i.e. everyone else) decided it was not "propitious" to be hiking above tree line today. Due to conditions, I took NO pictures whatsoever today. The rain continued light to moderate, but steady. We were basically soaked but the pace was fairly steady, so with our raingear we were comfortable.

The trail up was fairly easy. The terrain consists of a lower easy section followed by a steep pitch up to a pond. This would have been a lovely sight were it not for the rain, and actually it was rather nice even in the rain. After skirting the pond, there was another steep section over ledges after which we arrived at the nearly flat upland area that extended all the way from North Brother to Coe. We turned to the south (where the Marston Trail continued on to North Brother) and followed the Mount Coe Trail towards South Brother. We soon arrived at the South Brother cut off trail. Although just .3 miles, this was rather steep over numerous boulders and very near the top rises above tree line. At this point we suddenly realized this was not just a rainy day, but a very WINDY day. I estimated the wind at above 40 MPH at the summit of South Brother (my rule of thumb is when it's hard to stand up, it's over 40 MPH). We should have realized that since this storm was the remnant of Hurricane Francis, that of course there would be wind: what were we thinking? We bagged the peak and immediately turned around and fled back below tree line where once again it was just moderate but steady rain.

So that was one down and one to go. We returned quickly to the Mount Coe Trail and continued about another mile towards that peak. When you see these peaks from a distance (such as when we climbed the Hunt Trail on Tuesday) you notice South Brother has a broad rounded top, but Coe has a very narrow pointy top.

When we got to the last few tenths of a mile from the Coe summit we found ourselves climbing a ridge line from the col, and then suddenly hitting the upper ridge which swings to the west (and eventually heads over towards OJI via the Coe Slide). The upper part was less steep then South Brother and was rather easy until we suddenly made the right hand turn near the top and the full force of the wind hit us. Oh, how I wish we could return here on a clear day (we can of course). The slope towards the southeast fell away steeply from the ridge top and although we saw just mist and cloud, you knew this was a dramatic exposed spot with potentially fantastic views across towards Katahdin. But not today. We quickly made our way along the ridge to the summit, and as before, quickly turned and retreated the way we had come. What drama we had missed out on in views, had been partly made up for in the wind! Dramatic would be an understatement. We had reached the Coe summit at 11:12 and were now on the way back towards the car.

On the way back we noticed the fir waves in the broad upland area below the peaks. They were so distinct you could see the progression from recent standing dead trees, with small new growth below, to progressively older dead trees with larger new growth and eventually to the mature forest and then to the next wave. It was a textbook example of this phenomenon. On the way down the steeper section, the mud was slipperier and I almost wiped out in a few places. We finally made it back to the car by a little after 2:00 PM. It had not been a fun day, but I felt a strong sense of accomplishment. Doing something hard, even if not fun, is always better than just staying home, don't you think?

Our gear was so wet we decided to make an unscheduled trip to the Laundromat in Millinocket. But that meant we could stop for dinner at the Pizza place and buy a six-pack of cold ones, so that was not a bad thing at all!

Distance: 11.6 miles, elevation gain: 3760', time: 6:20.


Friday, September 10
Peak of the Ridges and Traveler attempt

W

e had been planning on meeting Funky Freddie and Josef early on Friday, and also Spencer who was planning on hiking with us for the day, and climb The Traveler. The forecast was getting worse and worse. First we sent word that the meeting should be put back from 8 AM till 10 to give the rain time to clear, but eventually we realized it would rain all day Friday, so we sent out word to cancel the Traveler climb. "Sending out word" meant I called my wife, who then
(Photo of South Branch Pond
Upper South Branch Pond
left, messages and hopefully our friends, who were spending some time in VERY northern Maine (Madawaska) and hoped that the message would get through via Josef's wife in New York. Well it did and those two slept in late and finally drove through heavy rain down to Baxter late on Friday afternoon. Spencer was another story. When I called Thursday evening, his girl friend said it was too late, he had already headed up and was spending the night at the Upper South Branch Pond bunkhouse. What to do? Not wanting to leave Spencer in the lurch, we decided to drive up and meet him at 10, and then decide what we would do, depending on the immediate weather conditions.

So, we passed the gate about 8:00 AM and made good time, arriving at the trailhead around 9:30. Spencer had been out in a canoe (he said the sky was clear at 6:00 AM) and came by about 9:45. It had clouded over and we had passed through some showers on the way, but it was not raining at that moment, so we decided to take a stab at it and off we went.

We moved easily along the Pogy Notch Trail and then headed up the Center Ridges Trail. One lucky break was that the park rangers had just opened a trail over The Traveler, so we should have no problem with what used to be a bushwhack
(Photo of the start of the Center Ridges trail
At the start of the Center Ridges trail
from Peak of the Ridges to The Traveler - that is if the weather cooperated. We climbed steeply over boulders and ledges and vast quantities of felsenmeer and got into the clouds at about 2000'. At this point we started getting wet. At first we figured it was just the cloud, but eventually we realized, hey! it's raining. The going was rather slow since we were moving over very rough sections of rock, and things were starting to get seriously wet. I was thinking maybe this may not be such a hot idea. As we climbed higher, the visibility dropped and the wind picked up and we were very wet. Near the top of the Peak of the Ridges we had to move along a jagged pinnacle which was entirely exposed. We reached the summit of this peak at 12:10 and huddled for a few minutes and tried to get out of the wind and eat some food for energy. I had gloves on but was still feeling rather chilled.

The next part was about .8 miles to The Traveler Peak. Much of this was along a narrow exposed ridge. We knew we would drop about 300' and then climb about 600' so things did not look good. At about 12:30, I said maybe we should stop, and there was instant agreement. Everyone had the same till-then-unspoken thoughts. Spencer was a stalwart and took the sweep position. Getting back down would be dangerous since down is always the tougher direction, we were cold, and things were getting wetter by the minute. But we slogged along the seemingly endless ridge and eventually got down on the more sheltered part of the mountain and eventually it was just a hike in the rain. I managed to slip and stumble several times but never quite hit the dirt, so I took some small consolation in that.

When we got lower down we met a few hikers who were back-packing in to Russell Pond. They seemed happy enough. The prospects for a clear day tomorrow must have given them some hope. When we passed by Lower South Branch Pond before getting back to the car, not one of us remembered passing it on the way up! Was this mass hysteria? More likely mass inattention. We finally got back to the car at 3:40 PM, cold, wet and tired, but thankfully safe.

We said goodbye to Spencer, who would be hiking again in the park tomorrow, and headed for the Nosowadnehuk Campground where we were staying for the night. Fred and Josef showed up around 7:00 PM. They had had an uneventful day driving in the rain. We were now together, looking forward to some overdue good weather and good hiking for the next 4 days.

Distance: 7.5 miles, elevation gain: 2730', time: 5:46.


Saturday, September 11th
North Brother and Fort

S

aturday was the day we had planned to climb the 4 peaks of the Brothers Range: Coe, South Brother, North Brother and Fort, since they are all on the New England 100 Highest list. However, Rambler and I had gotten a head start by climbing Coe and South Brother in rainy and windy weather on Thursday. Fred and Josef were still game to do all 4 so we would split up for the day. To complicate things, Rambler's plans had changed and he had to get home on Sunday, and he wanted to climb Hamlin Peak rather than North Brother and Fort with me. So we wound up doing 3 separate hikes: Fred and Josef would start early and do all 4 peaks as originally planned. Rambler would go around the other side of the park and climb Hamlin and I would start a bit later and just do North Brother and Fort.

Rambler dropped me off at the Marston Trail parking lot and I was off at 8:00 AM. We saw Josef's car with the kayaks on top in the lot and I saw their entry in the register. They had got going a little after 7:00 AM. I had told them I would
(Photo of the start of View of North Brother
View of North Brother from the Marston Trail
leave a note at the North Brother turn where their route joined mine, so they would know how far ahead I was. The lower section of trail, up to the North Brother junction was the same trail we had hiked on Wednesday, but today there was sunlight and a much dryer trail. The pond was much nicer and the steep stretches were much easier without so much wetness. The signs of 3 days of intermittent rain were however still evident in many puddles and wet stretches that made parts of the trail seem more like a stream than a trail.

In the flat section above the pond, I was passed by 2 young hikers who said they were in a high school "class" in wilderness leadership, and that their teacher and her husband were right behind. We all managed to get to the North Brother junction together and as they debated whether to do North Brother or South Brother first, I went on ahead, The trail from here to the peak was rather steep and had lots of ledges interspersed with wet areas. I was thinking that if the trip from North Brother to Fort, which was a bushwhack on the other side of the mountain, were like this, it would be very rough going.

I reached the North Brother summit at 11:00. It was a beautiful sight: South Brother, Coe and OJI stretched to the South. Doubletop lay to the west, and to the east was the awesome Northwest Basin with the mighty Katahdin beyond. And there just to the north was Fort Mountain, my next goal. It had a narrow open ridge with a couple of knobs on the west end. The col between it and where I was standing was much shallower than what I had just hiked, so I knew it would be much easier going than what I had dreaded. I had gotten two sets of contradictory reports of the bushwhack
(Photo of Papa Bear on North Brother
Papa Bear on North Brother
to Fort: one was that it was hard to find the herd path going over but easier coming back. The other, from a hiker we met in the parking lot (who was also hiking all 4 peaks today) was the opposite - it was easier finding the route going over, than coming back.

Meanwhile the two high school kids with their teacher and her husband showed up and we got to talking what I was doing. When I said I was doing a bushwhack over to Fort, they got interested in going with me. The teacher was a peakbagger and she decided this was a peak she would like to do also. They asked if they could "follow" me. I was amused, but said of course, but that the kids would have to help in the route finding. It turned out they were actually a great help. Whenever the herd path seemed to peter out or disappear they were there with sharp eyes helping to find the route. We started over to Fort at 11:25.

The route itself is quite easy. A few cairns mark the spot where you head down from North Brother, and the path through the krumholz is generally easy to follow. There are a few blue paint spots on some rocks which help, but the flagging that others had reported is pretty much gone. As we got down into the col, the krumholz became thick
(Photo of Fort from North Brother
View of Fort from North Brother
Fir and Spruce. As is usual, the hardest spots were whenever we came to a blow down. Then the path would disappear and you could see in your mind's eye how past bushwhackers had each gone off in a different direction to skirt the blowdown, and usually (hopefully) they would all converge somewhere on the other side. Having the kids was very helpful in these spots. We would each scout in a different direction until someone would shout "here it is", and once again we would follow the well trodden herd path. As we climbed the other side up the slope of Fort, the trees once again became krumholz and rocks and boulders appeared between patches of vegetation until near the top it became very open. A few cairns and a few blue paint marks helped with the last few yards.

The "summit" consisted of two rocky knobs about 100 yards apart, which appeared about equal in elevation to us, so of course we climbed both. My Suunto altimeter with it's 10 foot resolution, showed them to be the same height, but a man who showed up just after us insisted the western peak was 3 1/2 feet higher, based on his GPS. I thought this was dubious but didn't argue. The eastern peak did have an old piece of electronic equipment at the cairn - reportedly the radio transmitter from the plane that went down nearby some 40 years ago. We reached this peak at 12:21, so it had taken just under an hour for the bushwhack. My camera was acting up, so the teacher offered to take my picture. I gave her my email address so she could send it to me and when she saw "papabear ..." she said
(Photo of Papa Bear on Fort
Papa Bear on Fort
"Papa Bear, I think I met you, did you hike some of the Appalachian Trail last year?" Then I remembered when I had seen her: she was Loki and her husband was Pokey. I had met them last May in Pennsylvania on the AT and we had hiked together for several days. (Here's the link.) It's a small world.

We had been the first on Fort that day, but by no means the last. Besides the man with the GPS, we met 5 hikers coming towards Fort as we went back, including the guy we had met in the parking lot, and finally when we got back to North Brother, there was Fred and Josef. They had showed up a while before and were taking a break before tackling the bushwhack. They had had a great day of hiking. The climb up the Coe Slide, although still a little dicey from yesterday's rain, was great, as were the views. I knew that Coe is a peak I must return to when it's not raining. We gave them some advice on doing the Fort bushwhack and I started down. The high school group was a little behind but soon got ahead of me. At the turn off to North Brother, they were debating whether or not to do South Brother. Pokey said he would go down with me while the 2 kids and Loki went over to South Brother. He generously offered to drive me back to the campground where they were also staying and then return for the others in his party. I readily agreed. The hike down was rather tiring. My legs were having a bit of trouble with the down hills. I was very glad there was a ride waiting me and that I would have a few extra hours to rest before the rest of my party returned from their hikes.

That night first Rambler and later Fred and Josef showed up. Rambler had been forced to hike to Hamlin from Katahdin Stream Campground instead of Roaring Brook due to an overcrowded parking lot, so his 4 hour round trip to Hamlin became an 8 hour round trip. Fred and Josef also had a problem. They had lost the herd path on the way back from Fort and this added at least a half hour to their trip, so they ended up with nearly a 12 hour day of hiking. But without exception everyone had had a great day.

After supper, Loki, Pokey and the high school kids showed up at our campfire and they took turns with Fred telling raunchy jokes, while Loki pretended not to notice. It was a fun night. I'm not sure the kids were acting more like us, or Fred was acting more like them, but a good time was had by all.

Total distance: 9.4 miles, elevation gain: 3870', time: 8:20.


Sunday, September 12th
Hamlin Peak via Chimney Pond and the Hamlin Ridge Trail

T

oday was the day when we would leave Nosewadnehunk Campground and head up to Chimney Pond where we had reservations for two more nights. Unfortunately, Rambler had a change of plans and had to head home. He took Fred with him so Fred could pick up his car which we had left at the parking lot across from the Big Moose Inn. Fred would join us late in the day at Chimney Pond after doing some errands in Millinocket. So Fred moved his stuff into Rambler's car and I moved my stuff into Josef's car and we were off our separate ways. Josef and I planned an early start: we would hike up to Chimney Pond with our overnight equipment, switch to our day packs and continue on up to Hamlin Peak. It looked like another beautiful day and a great day to move above treeline to this peak.

We were off at 7:00 AM but had to go back for my hiking boots, of all things. I had left them on the picnic table at our lean-to. Duh! We were off again and drove around to
(Photo of View of Hamlin Ridge across Basin Pond
View of Hamlin Ridge
across Basin Pond
the other side of the park and arrived at Roaring Brook at 8:20. We parked the car and got ourselves organized. One problem was how to carry both overnight and day packs up to Chimney Pond. I managed to squeeze my day pack inside the overnight pack, whereas Josef lashed his on the back of his pack, which proved rather clumsy. Luckily it was only a modest 3.3 miles, so it was only a small issue.

The Chimney Pond Trail to Chimney Pond Campground

I hadn't been on this trail for years and I was impressed at how much work had been done. Not just rock stairs, but extensive board-walks and bridges. The ranger said it was to protect the watershed and rivers, which feed into Roaring Brook and are used for drinking water at the Roaring Brook Campground from the very heavy traffic that uses this route every summer. It seems there was not much wilderness in this part of the park. But we did get a nice glimpse of the Hamlin Ridge from the lovely Basin Pond on the way up.

We got to Chimney Pond and checked in at 10:55. The setting of this campground is perhaps the loveliest in the northeast and it was great to be back here after many years. The lean-tos have been largely rebuilt and moved from when I was here last (1965). I recall they were all in a line near the pond. Now they are back in the woods and
(Photo of Chimney Pond beneath the headwall
Chimney Pond beneath the headwall
widely separated from one another. This gives more protection to the Pond and enhances the natural setting considerably. The Pond, sitting as it does beneath the amazing headwall of the Knife Edge is simply a glorious site to behold.

Hamlin Peak via the Hamlin Ridge Trail

We dropped our packs at our lean-to, hung our food bags on the bear cable and were off on the hike up to Hamlin by 11:10.
(Photo of Hamlin Ridge
Looking down Hamlin Ridge
The relatively little used Hamlin Ridge Trail was another thing entirely compared with the Chimney Pond Trail. It climbs along an exposed ridge up to Hamlin peak with awesome views of the North Basin and the North Ridge on one side and the Great Basin on the other. It was another fair weather day with blue sky and some fast moving clouds racing across the Table Land above.

The ridge was rocky and steep lower down and then after a steep section of boulders the trail followed a series of ledges along the ridge line. The ridge alternated between a series of easy walks and scrambles over ledges and pinnacles, with occasional modest exposure. We reached the top of the ridge and crossed the relatively flat Table Land to the gentle dome that was Hamlin, arriving about 1:30. If it were not for the fact that Hamlin is a little brother to Baxter, this peak would stand high among the most beautiful and impressive peaks in New England. As it is, it tends to be visited by peakbaggers chasing 4ks and a few others who want a little extra after doing Baxter. It deserves more status.

(Photo of Papa Bear on Hamlin Peak
Papa Bear on Hamlin Peak
(Photo of North Brother and Fort across the Table Land
North Brother and Fort across the Table Land

Down the Saddle Trail

(Photo of The top of the Saddle
The top of the Saddle
We continued on to Caribou Springs, had a drink, and then headed across the Table Land to the Saddle Trail, which we would descend back to our campground. The Saddle Trail descend on an old slide and is fairly easy going all the way down. The top is open with a fair amount of scree but it soon drops below tree line and is more protected. Interestingly, Birch is the predominant species higher up, and only lower down do we find the more typical Spruce and Fir forest. The Birch trees tend to grow down the slope and then angle up. It's a very interesting and attractive area.

(Photo of Working down the Saddle Trail
Working down the Saddle Trail
Towards the bottom of the slide, the trail levels off and become a pleasant walk. We arrive back at the campground around 4:30 and there was time for a well earned nap before Fred showed up and dinner was prepared. When Fred arrived around 7:00 PM he said he had to spend some extra time checking the brakes on his car, which somehow had become very "soft". He had also managed to meet up again with the high schools kids we had met the day before, and spent close to an hour chatting and telling jokes with them before making the trek up to the campground.

Tomorrow Fred and Josef both planned on summiting Katahdin by different routes while I plan on taking it easy exploring around the area near Chimney Pond. Today was the last of my peak bagging days and it had been a great time in Baxter. I can't wait to return.

Total distance: 8.7 miles, elevation gain: 3630', time: 6:47.



Monday, September 13th
Two Little Gems near Chimney Pond

T

oday our group decided to go three separate ways. Josef wanted to climb Katahdin via the Cathedral Trail and possibly descend via the Knife Edge and the Dudley Trail. Fred wanted to do the Knife edge as a first priority so he planned to climb the Dudley Trail, cross the Knife Edge and descend via the Saddle Trail. I decided to take it easy as it were, and explore some of the areas near Chimney Pond that I had never been to but which were said to be especially interesting or scenic. The weather was mostly clear but rather windy. I thought the summit would be quite exciting under these conditions.

Blueberry Knoll via the North Basin Trail

(Photo of Bluberry Knoll
Bluberry Knoll with views of
South Turner and the country beyond
I got started around 8:40 to check out Blue Berry Knoll. This is a rocky high point in the North Basin which is supposed to afford views of that little explored cirque, and is the end point of the North Basin Trail. I had taken part of this trail the day before, since it cuts across and connects to the Hamlin Ridge Trail. The trail is fairly level but a bit rocky and affords a few views to the east of the Basin Ponds and the Turners beyond. I got to the North Basin in less than an hour. The last quarter mile or so consisted of areas of felsenmeer requiring careful attention to the trail blazes and a few areas of scrambling.

The Knoll itself was a beautiful spot with breathtaking views. However, the wind was equally breathtaking. The shape of the North Basin seemed to funnel the wind directly down the valley and the Knoll received the full force of it. I would estimate the wind to be AT LEAST 45 mph and maybe higher. I could barely stand up. But this made the experience all the more exciting. But I did worry a little about conditions my two partners would experience on the summit today.

(Photo of The North Basin from Blueberry Knoll
The North Basin from Blueberry Knoll
(Photo of The South Basin from Blueberry Knoll
The South Basin from Blueberry Knoll

And I think the most wonderful thing about the North Basin is there is no trail or structure in it, save for this little viewpoint. Marvelous!

I made my way back to the camp ground a little before 11:00, took a break, had some lunch and though about what I would do in the afternoon.

The Pamola Caves

My MMG had mentioned an interesting feature called the Pamola Caves which were on a side trail off of the Dudley Trail so I decided to check this out. I had hiked the Dudley Trail years before but I had forgotten every thing about it. I just recalled doing the Knife Edge and that that was rather exciting.

Well, The Dudley Trail is not really a trail at all. It's a huge pile of boulders pretending to be a trail! The boulders were huge - auto sized and even small house sized, and there was plenty of scrambling. To hike all the way up this trail to Pamola would be slow and tiring to say the least. But I had less than a mile to go before reaching the cut off trail, so to me it was just another exciting experience.

(Photo of A pile of boulders pretending to be a trail
A pile of boulders pretending to be a trail
(Photo of The Pamola Curtains
The Pamola Curtains

The cut off trail led eastward around the lower skirts of Pamola. It passes across and below several huge rock faces
(Photo of Entrance to the
Entrance to the "Caves"
remarkably like Shining Rock in the Franconia area. I think the ranger said these were called the Pamola Curtains when I asked. After about 3/4 mile on the cut off trail I got to a narrow opening which I took to be the caves. It would have been a bit of a squirm to get through and the other side seemed to end, so I stopped here. This was a mistake, as I learned later when I talked to the ranger. This spot was actually the start of the caves, not the end, and once through they open up with several marvelous chambers. I wish I had known or that I had been slightly more adventurous. Well, it's just another reason to go back! It's interesting that these were not limestone caves formed by years of dissolution of soluble minerals by water. Rather this was formed by ledges and boulders that had tumbled down from the mountain over the eons. More like the "caves" formed in parts of Mahoosuc Notch.

(Photo of View of Chiney Pond on the way down
View of Chiney Pond on the way down
I hiked and scrambled back to the campground and the whole trip to the caves took less than 2 hours. I ate some more, took a nap and waited for my companions to return from their adventures.

Josef and Fred each have a great day with a bit of magic

It turns out they each had had a great day with a bit of magic mixed in. Josef returned first and said the hike up the Cathedral Trail was outstanding, all the more so because of the high winds. When he made it to the summit he was alone but was shortly joined by a woman named Alex who conducted a little memorial to her late father who had loved to hike. Josef decided it was too windy to hike over the Knife edge and he decided to return via the Saddle Trail. Alex joined him, and since they had plenty of time and energy, they both decided to go all the way to Hamlin Peak and descend via the Hamlin Ridge Trail. Josef had had a great day in beautiful but exciting weather and felt tired but exhilarated.

Fred's day was no less exciting. He said the Dudley Trail up to Pamola was very slow and tiring and it took him twice as long as the optimistic time that others had told him. The winds were strong and he was fearful that the Knife Edge would be treacherous in these conditions. But once on Pamola he met up with a group of Maine National Guardsmen who had come as a unit to do the Knife Edge to build up for a tour of duty in Iraq for which they would soon leave. So Fred joined the National Guard and off he went across the Knife Edge. He said that somehow the wind was not a problem and that because of the angle he felt the full force only occasionally when he reached certain pinnacles. He followed the lead of the group and had a great time both with the traverse and the companionship of these guys who really "had it together". Once at the summit, he let them go ahead and descended via the Saddle Trail, arriving at camp, happy but exhausted, just at supper time.

Today the three of us had hiked seven different trails (North Basin, Pamola Caves, Cathedral, Hamlin Ridge, Dudley, Knife Edge and Saddle) and all of us had had a great time on this last full day in the park.


Tuesday, September 14
Going home

O

n Tuesday, we left early for the hike down and the long drive out. Fred would be staying a few more days in Maine, and Josef and I would head for points near Boston and New York.

Postscript:

When Fred returned he said he had his brakes fixed in Millinocket. He said for just $22 a local mechanic had added a little brake fluid and the brakes were "good as new". Back in New York no one would have even looked at it, let alone fixed it for such a paltry amount. As Fred said: "You gotta love Maine".


Mouseover for the complete set of albums

Return to Papa Bear Home Page