Baxter State Park – Two Short Hikes

Before and between my longer Baxter hikes (Traveler loop, Pogy backpack, and The Owl), I took a couple of shorter walks, both about five miles.

SOUTH BRANCH MOUNTAIN TRAIL to Black Cat Mountain (2,611′) and back was mainly notable for a high ledge with fine views over Upper South Branch Pond to The Traveler and the other summits I planned to climb the next day. Black Cat summit, like most of the rest of the hike, was wooded in.

Between my Traveler hike and Pogy backpack, I took it easy on FOWLER BROOK TRAIL and its extensions to Middle Fowler Pond. These were gentle trails leading to two scenic ponds, popular with brook trout fishermen and inhabited by outsized tadpoles.

Before I wrap up my Baxter posts, my latest “Taking a Hike” column was of course about the trip. Click for “Endurance and Delight in Baxter State Park” in The Norwalk Hour and Hersam Acorn Newspapers. Farewell to Baxter until the next time!

Day Hike Notes – Baxter State Park, The Owl


Katahdin seen later in the day from across Daicey Pond, The Owl looking small to its left

I had walked over 45 miles in Baxter State Park since arriving late on Sunday morning. Leg-weariness from those miles was one reason I wasn’t sure about climbing Mount Katahdin on my final day in the Park. The other was crowds. Friday’s forecast was great, and sun and warmth would draw multitudes to Maine’s highest peak.

If I didn’t climb Katahdin, I told myself, I’d do The Owl; 1,600 feet lower than Katahdin and utterly unfabled, it would surely draw next to no-one. I didn’t need to bag Katahdin either; I’d reached its socked in summit on a climb 12 years ago. I went back and forth about Katahdin v The Owl until the very last minute, at the trail register for both summits. Countless groups had already struck out for Katahdin; for the Owl, there was just one register entry.

DATE: Friday, June 15th.
START & FINISH: Katahdin Stream Campground, Baxter SP, Maine.
ROUTE: Appalachian/Hunt and Owl trails to The Owl summit; return by same route.
DISTANCE: 7 miles.
TIME: 5-6 hours (roughly 8:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Elevation gain from Start to summit = 2,571 feet; a steady climb growing in rockiness and rootiness, then a little bare-rock clambering, and finally a stroll to the summit.
MAP: AMC Maine Mountains from the AMC Maine Mountain Guide

WEATHER: Sunny and increasingly warm, high in the 70s.
WILDLIFE: Nothing of note.

BREAKFAST: Oatmeal and coffee at my campsite.
LUNCH: Tortillas, cheese, peanut butter atop The Owl.
UPS: Close-up views of Katahdin, huge views across Maine.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: I packed layers for the summit but didn’t need them.
COMPANY: A friendly threesome of Bostonians—dad, middle-aged son, a friend. We met on the way up and again on the summit. Funny men. Otherwise, a few scattered parties, including a couple from London.

Baxter State Park – Pogy Backpack


THU – The end for me, but an apt warning

Pogy Notch Trail connects Baxter State Park’s less visited north with its Mount Katahdin-dominated south. Pogy is a relatively flat, low-level trail; its highlights are ponds—Lower and Upper South Branch, Pogy, and finally Russell. I had visited Russell 12 years before, hiking north to it from beneath Katahdin. Hiking south to it now gave me the satisfaction of connecting on foot the distinct worlds of Baxter’s north and south. I don’t think it’s a popular activity, particularly in bug season. I chose this trek to see Baxter’s deep woods and hopefully some of their “charismatic megafauna”. I met a lot of utterly charmless microfauna. I would repeat this hike, but in the fall.

DATE: Wednesday and Thursday, June 13-14
START & FINISH: South Branch Pond Campground, Baxter SP, Maine.
ROUTE: Pogy Notch, Grand Falls, and Wassataquoik Stream trails to Wassataquoik Stream lean-tos; return via Wassataquoik Stream and Pogy Notch trails.
DISTANCE: About 24 miles (13 out, 11 back).
TIME: 8:45 a.m. Wednesday to midday Thursday.
TERRAIN: Mostly level or gently up and down; mostly dry underfoot; two thigh-deep streams to wade at Wassataquoik Stream lean-tos.
MAP: AMC Maine Mountains from the AMC Maine Mountain Guide.

WEATHER: Wed—sunny, warm, humid (70s); Thu morning—rainy and cool (upper 40s).
WILDLIFE: Of the bug variety.
MEALS: On Wednesday, oatmeal for breakfast and freeze-dried beef & veg stew for supper; otherwise, the usual trail rations.

UPS: (1) Making good time through the rain on the return leg. (2) The mountain views from pondsides and riverbanks.
DOWNS: After the first hours, I didn’t really enjoy Wednesday. The bugs were a plague and, when they were not, you knew it wouldn’t last.
KIT: I occasionally made use of a head-net that I packed at home at the last minute. Drawback—too hot to wear when actually hiking.
COMPANY: None at all in 27¼ hours.

Day Hike Notes – Baxter State Park, The Traveler Loop

Descending from North Traveler Mountain

Descending from North Traveler Mountain

The first of what I hope will be 3-4 posts covering four hikes plus a short backpack in Baxter State Park, Maine, earlier this month.

DATE: Monday, June 11th.
START & FINISH: South Branch Pond Campground, Baxter SP, Maine.
ROUTE: Pogy Notch, Center Ridge, Traveler Mountain, and North Traveler trails (counterclockwise loop).
DISTANCE: 11.1 miles.
TIME: 8¾ hours (7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Elevation gain from Start to The Traveler = 2,569 feet; total gain on the loop = 3,700’. Ascent from/descent to Lower South Branch Pond are steep and, in places, scrambles. Careful attention required to foot-placement on several stretches.
MAP: AMC Maine Mountains.

WEATHER: Warm and sunny, high in the 60s.
WILDLIFE: Bear scat on Center Ridge.

BREAKFAST: Chickpeas & chorizo (yep, for breakfast!) at my campsite.
LUNCH: Tortillas, cheese, nuts, etc. on Traveler Mountain.
UPS: Feeling strong on the morning climbs of Center Ridge and The Traveler.
DOWNS: The final descent off North Traveler was tough, the bugs and warmth increasing with lower elevation.
KIT: 2.5 liters of water, sunscreen.
COMPANY: All alone all day.

Traveler Loop Montage

Top: The South Branch ponds from Center Ridge; trailside rock formation. Middle: The Traveler summit; North Traveler summit; Trillium. Bottom: Trail up The Traveler; Mount Katahdin from Center Ridge

Taking a Hike – Bigelow Range Backpack

My June “Taking a Hike” column has been published. The Hour, suffering a few systems issues after acquisition by Hearst, is for now publishing it in print and e-editions only. I am old-fashioned enough to really like the way the column looks in a newspaper. Even so, it will be nice to see it up on again soon. Hersam Acorn had their own IT issues recently (an exploding website is what I heard), but “Taking a Hike” is now posted there as Backpacking Bigelow — A Test, Completed.

Day 0 - My camp on Flagstaff Lake

Pre-hike camp beside Flagstaff Lake, Bigelow Preserve, Maine

Your feelings about a hike change over time. During is always different from before. Right after is usually different from several weeks after. As the column recounts, halfway through the first day my confidence was a little shaky. You start to forget that kind of thing, and remember mostly the upbeat. Three weeks on, one of my best memories is not about breaking out onto a peak or drinking in a fine view. I remember my happiness at reaching Safford Notch just an hour or so into the hike. The air was dry and clean among the pines and boulders, the bugs gone. And there was a cell signal to send a message home after 18 hours incommunicado at my pre-hike camp.

March’s “Taking a Hike” is now available in full on this site. I stayed close to home that month; Redding CT’s Little River.

Bigelow Range Backpack

West Peak from South Horn, Bigelow Preserve

West Peak from South Horn

This was my first backpacking trip in 20 months. Maybe the hiatus is not such a big deal. Apart from a six-week trek the length of Scotland five years ago, I have been just an occasional backpacker. Recently, I’ve heaved on the big pack just once or twice a year, mostly for 2-3 night outings in New Hampshire’s White Mountains (see In and Out of the Wild River Wilderness and – four posts starting 9/30/13 – The Pemi).

I would backpack more if I had the time. Going out for several days requires greater preparation than a day-hike, and getting to backpackable places takes longer. But it wasn’t time that stopped me last year; it was a bad left knee. This Maine trip was intended to discover if my knee was up to supporting a 35-40 pound pack again. I chose a route that I hoped would be a good test but not knee-suicide. Thus the climb over rough terrain, but only for the one night.

Ten days after returning home, my knee is just fine. Next up, a 2-night backpack!

DATES: June 1st and 2nd.
START & FINISH: East Flagstaff Road at Round Barn Campsite, Bigelow Preserve (just east of Stratton, Maine).
ROUTE & MAP: Safford Brook Trail to Appalachian Trail. AT west to Horns Pond. Back by same route. I used the map that came with the AMC Maine Mountain Guide.
DISTANCE: 16 miles total, plus short side-trails to lookouts.
TIME: A little over one mile per hour including breaks (somewhat faster on the return leg).
TERRAIN: On the “out” leg, a cumulative elevation gain of about 3,750 feet. AT very steep in sections, and awkward underfoot (e.g. angled boulders). Limited scrambles. Safford Trail easy to moderate.
WEATHER: Mostly sunny and warm; but cool, even cold, summit winds.

MEALS: Trail food; Alpineaire Mesquite BBQ Seasoned Chicken with Beans & Rice (dinner); oatmeal and coffee below West Peak (Day 2 breakfast).

HIGHLIGHT: The views along the Bigelow Range from the various peaks.
LOWLIGHT: If I must think of something, campsite mosquito activity.
WILDLIFE: A red squirrel; trout splashing in Horns Pond; something large, but unseen, moving in the lower-elevation forest on the second morning (maybe a moose).
WORRIES: That I’d kill my left knee again.
BEST BIT OF KIT: Well, my stove gave me the most happiness, but I’d probably have missed my boots more.

MEMORABLE PEOPLE: Alain from Quebec, who was excellent company at the end of Day 1; Erin, the friendly and diligent Horns Pond Campsite caretaker; the four AT thru-hikers who had set out from Georgia in January!

Avery Peak, Bigelow Preserve

Mist below Avery Peak

Day Hike Notes – Acadian Mountains

Penobscot Mountain and Jordan Pond

Cliffs of Penobscot Mountain beside Jordan Pond.

I returned on Friday from five days up in Maine, a stay split between two very different hiking experiences. First, familiar Acadia National Park, where I joined my eldest daughter. Acadia is very beautiful, but well crisscrossed by roads, bike trails, and hiking paths. It is visited by millions every year. Even so, we had the first half of this hike almost entirely to ourselves (rain is a great killer of crowds), and the bare rock ridges felt wild and lonely.

Next, I drove 140 miles northwest to Bigelow Preserve. I will post about Bigelow later, but it is crossed only by rough trails, along which I met a half dozen people in 28 hours, and four of those were a group of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers who passed by in a few seconds. They had set out from Georgia in January! I had an IT disaster with my Bigelow photographs, but hope they will be recovered in time for posts later in the week. In the meantime, here is our hike over Acadia NP’s more modest summits:

DATE: Monday, May 30th.
START & FINISH: Jordan Pond parking, Acadia National Park, Maine.
ROUTE: Penobscot Mountain > Sargent Mountain > South Bubble > return via Jordan Pond Path.
DISTANCE: 5-6 miles.
TIME: 5.5 hours (9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Although Acadia has the feel of well-groomed nature, sections of our trails were rough indeed, especially in the morning rain. If, like me, your least favorite trails are those that go very steeply down, bits of the Sargent East Cliffs and Bubbles trails will be a challenge.
MAP: Map Adventures Acadia NP Trail Map.

WEATHER: Cloudy with showers, then brightening up in the afternoon. High in low 60s.
WILDLIFE: None that I remember.

BREAKFAST: Oatmeal and coffee at Blackwoods Campground.
LUNCH: Trail food eaten piecemeal.
UPS: Having Penobscot and Sargent mountains to ourselves.
DOWNS: I slipped and fell on a slick ledge beside the Sargent East Cliffs Trail. No harm done though.
KIT: Poles, as usual, were mostly a blessing, but a pain on scrambles.
COMPANY: Katie, almost no one else until Jordan Pond, then plenty (though short of crowded).

Glacial erratic on Penobscot Mountain

Glacial erratic on Penobscot Mountain.