Baxter State Park: July 2-6


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  1. #1

    Baxter State Park: July 2-6

    Date(s) Hiked
    July 2-6, 2005

    Trails(s) Hiked
    Appalachian Trail,
    Mt. Coe Trail, Marston Trail, Fort Mtn herd path,
    Hunt Trail (AT), Baxter Cut-Off, Saddle Trail, Northwest Basin Trail, Hamlin Ridge Trail

    Mt. Coe
    South Brother
    North Brother
    Fort Mtn
    Hamlin Peak, Mt. Katahdin
    Baxter Peak, Mt. Katahdin

    Total Distance
    Approx 26 miles and 10,000' of elevation gain

    Very strenous, some scrambles with exposure and fall danger.
    Trail-finding skills necessary for Fort "bushwhack".

    Sunny, dry, warm.

    Special Required Equipment
    Lots of water, and a filter for getting even more water.

    Trip Report
    Baxter State Park
    Five Days, Six Summits, and Three Grand Finishes
    July 2-6, 2005

    The alarm went off at 5am on Saturday, July 2nd. It took me a moment to realize that I wasn't at home; rather, I was at Bob & Geri's up in New Hampshire. It was time to load the last items into their massive Suburban, wait for Julie to arrive with her gear, and start on the 300-odd mile trek to Baxter State Park up in northern Maine.

    The drive to Millinocket was long, a little over 5 hours, but in that time we managed to avoid all the major holiday traffic. It was also nice to be able to stretch out in the spacious Suburban and follow the Live8 concert on Bob's XM radio. We came into town at lunchtime, apparently just after an Independence Day parade and celebration. We walked the area for a bit, then went into the Appalachian Trail Cafe to eat. We got the "new" waitress and it was quite the experience. The burgers were tasty, though, and soon we were back on the road for 11 more miles up to the park gate, where we would check in, leaving behind running water and electricity for the next 5 days.

    It didn't take long to see our first moose. As we drove the 8 or so miles of the narrow, winding, dirt Park Tote Road to our campsite, we saw one enjoying a late lunch in Stump Pond. All cameras came on deck, and I cursed having left the zoom lens packed up in the back. Fortunately, Bob & Geri's trip report has that great photo. We continued driving after our moose encounter, past fantastic views of Mt. Doubletop.

    We finally came to our destination, the Daicey Pond campsite. Immediately the work began, as we had to haul our hiking gear, bags, coolers, and several 5-gallon water bags a considerable distance to our cabin. The good news is that there were a pair of wooden wheelbarrow-like carts available for use, which even on the rough, rocky trail were far easier than carrying everything. Our cabin, #2 Lady Slipper, was situated maybe 20-30' back from the water's edge. It had a comfortable porch, two bedrooms plus a common room, a propane light, a privy just up the hill, and an aura of complete comfort and relaxation. Even the beds even comfortable, a good thing for Julie who discovered that she'd left her sleeping bag back in New Hampshire and had only a space blanket to use.

    After stowing all our gear, it was time to explore the area. Since I had the privilege of staying at Daicey Pond the previous winter, I had a few sights in mind, and we started on a half-mile walk down the A.T. to see the remains of the old Toll Dam and Big Niagara Falls on Nesowadnehunk Stream. Both of these are beautiful locations, and we spent considerable time at each taking photographs and breathing in the cool beauty.

    From there, we made our way back to our cabin to have dinner and enjoy the spectacular view. The Daicey Pond campsite looks directly across the pond to the massif of Mt. Katahdin, glowing in the sunlight. We could see the ridgeline straight up left side of the mountain, and knew that it was where the Hunt Trail would lead us another day hence; first, however, we had other peaks to climb, and so it was off to bed early to try to get a good night's rest. I didn't sleep well at all, as the whine of mosquitoes kept waking me up. The next evening I attacked several of the windows with duct tape to close off some openings and I wouldn't hear another mosquito for the next three nights.

    Sunday morning came too early, but the glistening blue sky made it worth it. By 6:30am we were at the Marston Trailhead. Since all the trailheads in Baxter have limited parking areas, it's important to get to your desired location early, and we had no problem there. We were the first car. Okay, so we didn't need to be there that early for parking, but in fact given how long this hike would turn out to be, it was a good thing we started when we did. I also discovered at the trailhead that I was missing a crucial part for my Platypus water bag, and couldn't screw the drinking hose into it. For the rest of the day, I would have to stop and drop pack to be able to drink. Fortunately, I was able to improvise a solution for the next hike.

    The Marston Trail starts off a nice woods trail, and we made excellent time, covering the 1.3 miles to the Mt. Coe Trail in well under an hour. From here, the Mt. Coe Trail follows a brook into the sharp ravine between Mt. O-J-I and Mt. Coe, spending much of its time traversing a long slide area. Just before the height-of-land would drop off into the Klondike, we turned left and proceeded straight up the Mt. Coe slide. I'm not a big fan of heights (ironic, isn't it?) but the slabs of the slide had enough cracks and vegetation to follow that although my comfort level was pushed, it wasn't exceeded.

    The views off the slide were wide and beautiful, but after meandering through the scrub at the top the trail opened up to the summit of Mt. Coe, and we were rewarded with open views in all directions. To the northeast was the ridge we would follow today: the Brothers. To the west was Mt. Doubletop. The real majesty, though, was to the east, as across the giant basin of the Klondike rose the magnificent plateau of the Katahdin Table Land. All day that view would hang off our right shoulder, teasing us, because we knew that the next day we would look back from there to here.

    We had many miles left to do, so after quick celebrations on the summit (it was my 71st on the New England Hundred Highest peakbagging list) we continued on another 1.1 miles to the side trail to the summit of South Brother. This was a rough little spur trail, but that was nothing compared to the bugs up top, which quickly routed us from this Hundred Highest summit back down to the main trail. From here it was a side-of-the-ridge walk through beautiful but dangerous vegetation. The footing was treacherous, with many high roots hiding deep holes. One misstep here could have meant a twisted or broken ankle. It struck me as a very young-feeling area, and in fact the new White Mountain Guide indicates the Mt. Coe Trail from Mt. Coe back to the Marston Trail was cut in 1983 and extended in 1987.

    From there it was an easy descent to the col and the upper junction with the Marston Trail. After talking with some fellow hikers we passed through what is best described as crossing a streambed, but was more like crossing a beach, as it was all sand. The difference in geology of this area, as compared to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, was remarkably demonstrated here, as the rougher, sedimentary-looking base rock has eroded to loose, granular sand.

    The trail continued steeply and slowly up to the summit of North Brother, my 63rd of the 67 New England 4000-footers, where we wasted no time and started down the other side, following the cairns marking the herd path to Fort Mtn. The path was easily followable simply by carefully observing the winding pattern on the ground, but that was where easy stopped. Being unofficial, thus illegal to maintain, and so technically considered a bushwhack, we got cut, nicked, scraped, scratched, and chomped by blackflies for the entire mile. On the way up Fort, caution was required as the trail wove over huge boulders with deep gaps between them. Then, as if it was just a simple walk in the woods, we were on the summit and Julie completed the New England Hundred Highest list. Congrats!

    We still had to 'whack back and re-ascend North Brother before heading back down to the col to pick up the trail back to the car, and so after a suitable celebration we made the mile-long trek back to the summit, had a quick snack on North Brother, went down to the col, filtered water from the outlet of a small pond, and descended back to the car. Approximately 12.3 miles, around 4500' of ascent. A long day. We went back to the cabin to nurse our cuts, bites, sunburn, and hunger. Geri again cooked an excellent meal up on the grill, and after devouring it like a bunch of hungry hikers, we collapsed asleep.

    Monday morning. July 4th. Independence Day. We again made an early start to ensure a parking space at Katahdin Stream campground. Again we needn't have worried about the parking, but we sure would end up having needed the early start.

    The Hunt Trail is one of the few sections of the Appalachian Trail in Maine that I've hiked that actually has a proper name other than just being labelled as the AT. We joined it as it passed through the campground, following a fine, flat path for a considerable distance before rising sharply at Katahdin Stream Falls. From that point onward, it was a steady, moderate ascent.

    Just as we were starting to get a feel of elevation and openness, the trail broke out at the foot of some large ledges. After navigating around them, we found another set of ledges. And another. And an iron rung to climb up one ledge. And another pair of rungs for another ledge. And another rung you practically had to swing on. It was a very good thing that the rock was dry; this would be a scary section in the wet.

    Soon we came out on the ridge that we'd seen from camp, a location indicated on maps as the Gateway. This gave a short, somewhat-level respite before the final push, nearly straight up for 700' to the Table Land. This was slow-going, a tricky scramble, but a lot of fun. This part of the trail reminded me of the Caps on Mt. Jefferson, only with a much more spectacular view. Spread out behind us were miles and miles of mountains, lakes, and rivers in patterns of green and blue. The occasional road or power line could be seen, but otherwise there was no evidence of civilization to be had.

    Atop the Table Land, a remarkable plateau, we made our way over to Thoreau Spring and failed to find water. Apparently it was because we foolishly looked for water where the sign said "Thoreau Spring" and not 1/4 mile away down the Abol Trail. Oh, well. Bob found a large puddle atop a slab of rock and filtered two liters out of it, so nobody went thirsty. From here, we took the Baxter Cut-Off for a level mile to pick up the Saddle Trail.

    We then crossed the Saddle, a mile and a half long sag between Baxter and Hamlin peaks. Just off our right was the vast space of the Great Basin. To our left was Saddle Spring, but we didn't know that at the time because a reference to it was left out of the new edition of the White Mountain Guide (it's in the index, but the noted page says nothing). No worries, we were approaching Caribou Spring and there would be plenty of cold, clear water available for filtering there.

    In the meantime, we took in the opening view behind us of the South Basin: Chimney Pond snugly tucked in beneath Pamola Peak and the infamous Knife Edge. I couldn't help but keep stopping and looking back, even knowing that in an hour I'd be coming back on this very same trail.

    We arrived at Caribou Spring and turned onto the spur trail to the summit of Hamlin Peak. This had some large boulder-stepping reminiscent of the Washington summit cone, then it levelled, and then there was the summit sign. This was the 64th of my 67 New England 4000-footers, and the 99th of the New England Hundred Highest for Bob & Geri. I went back to the spring to eat, because the bugs were torturing me. Apparently the moment I left the wind blew up and rid the summit of all its insects. Oh, well, I had a nice lunch anyway.

    After food and filtering water, we started back across the Saddle to make the final ascent of the day. We were hot and tired, and in spite of repeated applications of sunscreen I was well on my way to being burnt, but the excitement was mounting. Baxter Peak, Katahdin, was just two miles away, a thousand feet up, waiting for us. Well, waiting for me as I fell considerably behind everyone else. I had plenty of strength, plenty of energy, just not very much speed.

    And there it was. The 65th of my 67 New England 4000-Footers; the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. More importantly, it was Bob & Geri's 100th of the New England Hundred Highest, and the celebration began. Everyone took pictures, shared hugs, and took in the breathtaking view. To one side, the ridge continued on to South Peak, rough and loose-looking like just a big pile of scree. From there, the Knife Edge jaggedly cut its way over to the Chimney, and Pamola. Back behind us, Hamlin Peak. Below us to one side the vast Table Land, behind us the steep drop down to Chimney Pond and the Great Basin.

    There were a few people on the summit, though not nearly as many as I'd expect for a beautiful holiday. They must have climbed on Sunday and were taking today to drive home. Those who were on the summit included two people starting southbound on the A.T. The young woman doing this had started by hiking up to Chimney Pond, and had come up, with her full pack, over the Knife Edge. Impressive. A little crazy, one might say. We talked with her and the other summit denizens for a while longer before accepting that in spite of how nice it was up there, it was over 5 miles and 4000' down to the car, and we needed to get going. We said our good-byes, shouldered our packs, and started down.

    It was an easy mile across the Table Land to Thoreau Spring and the edge of the descent. Then it got extremely slow as we made the steep 700' descent down to the open ridge. Adding to the difficulty was the sun's position: directly in front of us. I was definitely a toasty red at this point; I wanted to be below treeline, and that required negotiating the ledges and ladders again. This was when I discovered that at some point the AT was rerouted in this area. I found this out because I decided to see if the way was easier to the left, and I saw a white blaze. It made an easy descent and turn, then came off the left edge of the ridge. The blazes were fresh and the trail clear, and it felt great. Then it turned left again and started going up. Huh? Well, it turns out that I'd missed a 180-degree turn as I passed from the "old" trail onto the "new" trail. I had no idea - I saw a white blaze in front of me and continued; it was on my return that I realized what had happened. So use caution in this area - while it's blazed well, it's not blazed well, if you know what I mean.

    We'd seen some thirsty people up high, and even run into a couple of people climbing the trail with no water. I was still unprepared when I heard somebody running behind me and was stopped by a guy whose buddy was apparently so dehydrated his jaw was locking up and he was in big trouble. At this point I had barely any water left myself, but we'd just passed a decent little spring draining onto the trail. Since I didn't know where the next water was, I told him he should go filter (he had one) from the spring. He had thought it was too shallow to actually filter out of, but in fact I knew that it was because he'd only come rushing down the trail that he hadn't seen, only visible when looking back up, a spot where it pours out like a faucet. It would be easy to put a bottle under there, quickly fill it, and then filter from the bottle into a clean one. I strongly encouraged him to go do that; the water was there, his buddy needed it now, don't try to look for something better, get him stable and hydrated and then worry about where to go next. In fact, the next water was a fair distance down the trail, so I think my advice was valid. We never did find out what happened to them, but the ranger the next day said there were no rescues performed, so I have to believe everyone got out safely.

    Finally, to make a long trail short, we got back to the car. 14 miles, around 5000' of ascent, and every moment worth it. We went back to the cabin, starved but too exhausted to eat much, and fell asleep.

    I had been planning from the beginning to take Tuesday as a rest day, and after the Katahdin hike I had my fellow campers in agreement. We slept in, enjoyed a lazy breakfast, and had a quiet day. I took pictures around Daicey Pond and spent a considerable time sitting on the library porch (the campground has a library) in a rocking chair reading Touching the Void. Bob, Geri, and Julie took rental canoes out for an hour, then took a drive to visit some of the other campgrounds in the park. Mt. Katahdin was in and out of the clouds all day; our run of beautiful weather was coming to an end.

    That night, we would have to eat dinner inside as the showers began and quickly turned into a raging torrent. There was the occasional flash of lightning and crack of thunder, but for the most part the storm was all rain; the wind didn't even make an appearance. This led to much amusement as Geri, who'd been looking forward to it all week, crouched in the rain over the valiantly-burning remains of my cook fire to toast marshmallows.

    And that was it. We awoke the next morning and the rain remarkably held off while we loaded the truck back up. After another creatively-served breakfast at the AT Cafe, we were on the road. It was an incredible trip, and I'm very grateful to Bob & Geri for inviting me along. Baxter is a beautiful, and very special, place.

    My full photo album from this adventure is available online here.
    Skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking down trees with your face. - Dave Barry
    Waterville 11/30; Loon 12/7; Cannon 12/13, 1/17, 2/23; Sugarloaf 12/20, 21-22; Bretton Woods 1/3; Jay Peak 1/24-25; Heavenly 2/9; Squaw Valley 2/10-2/11; Wachusett 3/3; Sunday River 3/7-8

  2. #2
    As always I really enjoy your reports! I could live in Baxter, it is so beautiful.
    Sign, sign everywhere a sign... pointing out the trails, can\'t make up my mind.

  3. #3
    Wonderful report, beautiful pictures! Thanks so much for sharing your trips!

  4. #4
    Thank you for the wonderful report and photo's.
    Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you.

  5. #5
    Whoops - I made a few minor edits. For example, I did not actually descend up the Hunt Trail to get to the summit, although it would have been a lot easier!
    Skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking down trees with your face. - Dave Barry
    Waterville 11/30; Loon 12/7; Cannon 12/13, 1/17, 2/23; Sugarloaf 12/20, 21-22; Bretton Woods 1/3; Jay Peak 1/24-25; Heavenly 2/9; Squaw Valley 2/10-2/11; Wachusett 3/3; Sunday River 3/7-8

  6. #6
    bigbog's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Bangor and the state's woodlands

    ...Baxter/Katahdin area.......

    Likewise, great report and shots as usual MichaelJ, particularly nice ones of Nesowadnehunk Stream.....

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