We broke camp on our last full day in the park unhurriedly and not sure what our plans would be. I hiked out to the road, taking my time and seeing a few ponds along the way. Even by the time we got in the car and started driving through the park, though, we hadn’t settled on a plan for the day. We drove down to Nesowadnehunk Field Campground (still my favorite road-side campground in the park) to get set up in our camp for the evening and have lunch, but even then it wasn’t even noon. We had beautiful, clear skies and a view up to Doubletop Mountain from our campsite. Soon enough, we decided to scrap our plan for an easy, low-elevation hike for the day, and move tomorrow’s plans up to this afternoon.
So after a quick lunch, Tom and I started hiking south from the Nesowadnehunk Field Campground toward the north peak of Doubletop Mountain. It was already hotter than any other day on this trip, although we still had fine weather and what promised to be fine views. The walk through the low-elevation woods was even quite pleasant, with a dense canopy overhead to keep us in the shade. Eventually the trail began to climb straight up the side of the mountain, eventually gaining over a thousand feet of elevation in half a mile of continuous scrambling. As always, the insane climbs of New England’s mountains are a joy to hike.
The best part of climbing Doubletop from the north was that the final short walk to the peak ended as we came out of the trees at the very top of the summit, with a sudden explosive view across the Nesowadnehunk Stream valley to the Brothers Range and Katahdin. The photographs don’t do the view justice, but it’s a stunning change in scenery– from alpine forest to suddenly a giant view with several incredibly large mountains right in your face. The view down to the valley was equally astounding, since the eastern side of Doubletop is a nearly vertical cliff, almost 2500 feet tall. We were able to see the tote road directly below us, at the bottom of a pretty dizzying drop.
We enjoyed the view for a while, and a completely empty summit, before Tom headed back down the way we’d come, and I continued south over the south peak and toward the ponds of southwest Baxter Park. The south peak of Doubletop is slightly shorter than the north, but with even more dramatic cliffs and views all around. Here I ran into three people, the only folks I’d seen on the top of the mountain, and chatted for a bit before I had to peel myself away from the incredible views. This would be my last great view on this trip, as we would leave the park early the next morning, so it was a bittersweet parting. Doubletop is one of the park’s hidden gems– just under 3500 feet tall, it seems like a much higher mountain with such a difficult climb and such tremendous views. Maybe the nearby Katahdin stops most visitors from even considering the climb, and that’s just fine. Oftentimes, the shorter peaks are even more rewarding than the higher, if they’re as beautiful as this one.
The trip down the south side started with an 800 foot descent in less than a third of a mile, but then mellowed out into a long walk through idyllic forest. As with the northeast corner of the park, the southwest corner is mostly flatland with dozens of small ponds and trails running between them. I found my way to Kidney Pond to meet Chris for a ride back to camp for the evening, but not before stopping at four remote ponds between the base of Doubletop and Kidney. As always, the deep forests around the ponds were silent, peaceful, and incredibly relaxing. I even had a fine view up to Doubletop from a few of them.
The last hurrah for the trip came at Deer Pond near the end of the day. After falling into a creek while crossing (oops), and then sinking into a muddy bog up to my knee while trying to get a good picture of Doubletop and Mt OJI, I was startled when a large creature crashed into the pond directly next to me. I jumped away, but then realized I might be able to get a good picture if I could sneak up on it. I slowly made my way through the trees next to the trail to find a bull moose no more than twenty feet away, wading in the grassy edge of the pond. He looked a little wary of me at first, but after a few minutes he resumed his grazing and ignored me. I stood and watched for more than fifteen minutes, until I realized I was going to be late for my ride. That was the first time I’ve been able to watch a moose for more than a few seconds without it running away, so I was in bliss for the rest of the night.
We had a nice, cool night at Nesowadnehunk Field, with a star-filled sky and a deep contentment from having spent a most excellent week in one of the greatest places on the planet. In the morning, as most people were rushing into the park for a chance to climb Katahdin, we drove out to Millinocket for a big breakfast, and then headed home.
Here is Uncle Tom’s account of the day.