Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Baxter State Park


For the past month and a half now it seems there has been nothing but rain in the Northeast (except for the beautiful weather over Memorial Day Weekend) and I've had a hard time finding good weather to hike in.  Wheatfields was scheduled to close this week for a few days for renovations to the kitchen so I decided to look up the weather for Baxter State Park in Maine and saw that there was a good window for weather on Monday afternoon and Tuesday to head up there and get the last of my Maine peaks including the high point of the state - Mt. Katahdin.  I checked the weather all weekend before and decided to stay over at my parents on Sunday night before heading north.
    I got an early start on Monday morning around 5am because, according to Mapquest, it was going to take 9 hours to get to the gatehouse of the park.  I ended up driving the same route I used to take to get to Bowdoin while in college there, through northern Vermont and New Hampshire to the Maine coast.  It rained the entire drive and when I got to the Maine coast heading towards Bangor I entered a sea of fog and low lying clouds that I thought were going to screw me over.  After filling my dads Ford Taurus up for the 2nd time I finally arrived at the southern gatehouse of the park at around 1:45.  I showed up with $11.50 and it was a $12 per car fee to enter the park but the nice old man at the gate said it was cool and not to worry.  He did looked concerned at the fact that I was arriving at 2pm and was planning to climb over two high summits in the park on a 10 mile hike before dark.  I assured him that I knew what I was doing, showed him my maps, my 46er patch, and told him I have climbed all over the world.  He replied, "well, looks like you definitely know what you're doing then" with a smile. 
    Not only was it still very foggy and drizzly but when I pulled into the gatehouse I noticed something I had hoped that I could have avoided.... swarms of black flies.  The people in front of me were out of their cars wearing nets over their heads and desperately swatting the buggers off their arms and legs... I had stopped at L.L. Bean on the way through Freeport, Me and picked up some DEET repellent but then noticed in my mountaineering book that it said it would have very little effect on biting flies like Maine black flies... whoops.  Regardless I decided to continue on to the trailhead without a protective net and see what would happen which became another 40 minute drive. 
    When I got to the Marston/Slide Dam trailhead I parked and decided to get fully dressed inside the car before exiting into the black flies.  I put on my boots, my gaitors, packed my bag, filled my camelbak with gatorade I picked up at the store, and plugged my headphones into my ipod in my pocket.  I then grabbed my hiking poles popped out of the car into flies and ran about 15 feet into the woods where I had to quickly sign into the register.  From then on I only stopped for about 3 minutes the entire rest of the day.  I found that the flies were smart enough to know where hikers go but to lazy to try to keep up with them, or atleast keep up with my fast pace.  After about 45 minutes of hiking the sun suddenly appeared and almost instantaneously evaporated all of the fog and clouds.  By the time I had climbed up the steep flanks of North Brother to the ridge the sky was Cimg3652
completely clear of clouds - I was happily amazed.  On the other hand the trails were literally streams of running water off the mountain that I had to slosh through and they appeared very eroded as well (see pic).  I ended up at the bare summit of North Brother at 4:30, just two hours after I had left the car, 5 miles later and 3,200 feet higher.  I then climbed back down North Brother to the notch and quickly ran up South Brother by 5:15.  By this point I was thoroughly exhuasted after the
Cimg3644 9.5 hour drive to the trailhead and the hike so I decided not to do the loop over
Mt. Coe and simply returned back down the steep trail I had climbed up to the car which proved to be very wearing on my knees.  After a very fast drive out down the dirt tote road of the park I made it into the town of Millinocket by 8pm and got a room at the local Econo Lodge.   I had a  large dinner of  chowder,  pork ribs, and chicken parmesian over pasta at a local diner before returning back to my room.  I was dead asleep by 10:45pm.
    My alarm woke me up on Tuesday at 6am to "baby got back" playing.. haha.  I ate a quick continental "shitty" breakfast at the hotel then booked it to the gatehouse so I would be able to get a parking spot at the very popular Roaring Brook campground to climb Katahdin.  Once again I found myself getting ready inside of the car before the hike and quickly outrunning the damn flies when I exited.  I headed up the Helen Taylor trail towards the knife edge and Mt. Baxter (the higher of the two summits of Mt. Katahdin).  It was a beautiful day and very warm so I found myself soaked in sweat after only 30 minutes of climbing.  After only 45 minutes of climbing I also found myself already above treeline on the ridge - Because Mt. Katahdin is so far north the treeline ends at about 3,300 feet whereas on Mt. Washington (much bigger mountain) in New Hampshire the treeline is at about 4,500 feet.  This means that visually Mt. Katahdin is a more massive mountain with more difficult terrain.  Once I went above treeline I didn't return to treeline again until about 5 miles later.  There was very little breeze above treeline on the ridge and I found that the black flies were Cimg3691
able to catch up with me easier in the open air so I sprayed down with Deet and kept moving as fast as I could.  The trail quickly became a jumbled of bouldersCimg3690
without even a square foot of flat steeping ground (see picture of trail marked by blue slashes on left).  Everytime I put my boot down it was on an angled edge of a rock... not a good idea to be hiking alone in terrain like this.  I soon caught up to a nice fellow from Deleware who seemed the to be the only other person besides me climbing up this particular route (the harder route).  He had started an hour before me and was taking his time over the precarious terrain.  We snapped a few pics of each other climbing over the knife edge ridge towards Mt. Baxter before I continued on leaving him behind. 
    Let me take a minute and talk about the Knife Edge Ridge (click name for video). this thing was amazing.  As soon as I started climbing over it I felt as if I was back in Colorado climbing.  There were very steep drops on Cimg3712
either side of the ridge and one misplaced step or off balance jump could have resulted in a serious fall.  I've been climbing for years over terrain like this and with the help of my Leki hiking poles I've become an expert at foot placement so it was very easy for me and I felt confident.  There is no way in the world that I would have taken an inexperienced friend with me on this hike because it would not only pose a danger to both of us but I would have had to allow a lot more time.  Mt. BaxterCimg3719
dominated the view and snow was easily seen on the steep flanks of the mountain Cimg3727
draining down into the beautifully blue Chimney Pond below.  I can easily say that the hike over the knife edge to Mt. Baxter was the most beautiful hike I have done East of the Mississippi and it ranks among the top 5 greates climbs I've ever done.  The only negative the entire day was the presence of black flies even above treeline which a strong breeze would have easily taken care of. 
    It felt so good to finally stand on the summit of Mt. Katahdin at 11:30am that day.  This was the starting point/end point (depending on the direction you hike) of the Appalachian Trial while also the high point of Maine at 5,267 feet.  This is nearly a thousand feet smaller than Mt. Washington but itCimg3743
seemed so much more massive and impressive rising out of the land in the middle of maine much like the Ayers rock does in the middle of Australia.  It simply dominates the view.  There were a gathering of people at the summit when I arrived that had climbed up the easier route from their campgrounds at Chimney Pond that morning.  Everyone was very friendly and we all helped each other take pictures.  The aroma in the air was of about 10 different bug spray varieties.. haha.  I waited for a bit until the fellow from Deleware had caught up because I knew he had run out of film.  I took a few pics of him with my camera and gave him my email address so we could connect afterwards.  I quickly ate a turkey sandwich I had picked up that morning at a local store and decided to move on over the flat "table lands" towards Hamlin Peak which was next on my loop hike.  The North side of Cimg3769
Mt. Baxter was an easy slope down the the saddle between the two peaks and then a very gradual ascent to the top of Hamlin Peak.  I seemed to be the only one that day that cared to summit both peaks as everyone else just returned to camp or down the opposite slopes of Mt. Baxter.  Hamlin Peak was well worth the quick climb as it provided spectacular views of Mt. Baxter with Chimney Pond at it's base.  The ridge walk down from Hamlin was very hard on my knees and I was happy when I finallyCimg3788
reached treeline again and the main Chimney Pond Trail that would ultimately lead me out. 
Cimg3790But before heading down the trail I decided to run up the trail a quarter mile
to Chimney Pond Campground to check it out.  I figured that I wouldn't be back here for a very time, if ever, so I wanted to get all the great views that I could and boy was I glad I did it.  From the pond Katahdin looms over head dominating the entire view.  I could easily see the knife edge where I had climbed up earlier that morning.  If it wasn't for the black flies being out I would have definitely wanted to stay at the campground there.
    After the snapping a few pics to fill up my memory card of my camera I headed down the trail for the last easy 3 miles following the river the entire way.  I ran out of water about halfway down which Cimg3804
was fine because I was nearly out of the woods anyway.  I got back to my car at around 2:45pm, 7.5 hours after I had started, and about 13 miles later over extremely rough terrain.  It was a perfect day and I had managed to avoid the black flies fairly well throughout the day.  I am now officially done with all the peaks in Maine that I need to climb.  Hooray!!! No more 6-9 hour drives!!! I headed back into town and jumped into the hot tub of the Econo Lodge for 20 minutes to relax.  My knees were very sore and the skin on the back of my left heel had been completely torn off - about half the size of a dollar bill so I put some moleskin on it.  I then headed out of Millinocket at 4pm headed to Portland to meet up with my old roomate Ethan Bullard for the night.  What a great two days of beautiful weather and beautiful mounta
ins - I really lucked out.


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