My childhood friend, Jeremy, was back in Maine for a long weekend, so we decided to bring back an old tradition– “Let’s do something stupid.” Jeremy and I have a long history of coming up with hiking plans that are way too ambitious, and failing spectacularly. The plan I came up with this time was to walk from the village green of Bar Harbor to the marina in Northeast Harbor, summiting each of the six 1000-foot peaks in between (about 18 miles of rugged, rocky, steep trail).

Starting out at the village green in Bar Harbor, though it's not so green right now.

Starting out at the village green in Bar Harbor, though it’s not so green right now.

We probably could have succeeded handily if not for the snow that fell on Friday, but November is a rough time for hiking in New England; you never know exactly what you’ll get for conditions. On Saturday morning, as I got in my car in Belfast (only 40 miles from Bar Harbor) there was a dusting of snow left on the ground. But those few miles made a big difference in snow levels, with up to six inches in some places by the time I arrived on the island. Neither Jeremy nor I was prepared for serious snow, but we figured we’d give it a shot anyway.

The Park Loop Road is definitely shut for the season.

The Park Loop Road is definitely shut for the season.

After about three miles on roads from downtown Bar Harbor to the Orange & Black Path, we started wading through the snow in earnest. By stepping carefully, we were able to climb at a decent pace onto Champlain Mountain, with only a few detours off trail since blazes and cairns were buried. We also had to make a few slight adjustments to the trail since Kacey, my parents’ dog, was along (this was a last minute decision, since she had insisted on joining us. She’s a mighty resilient animal, but slick ice on steep rock can be tricky for her). By the time we arrived at the summit of Champlain, it was already 11 AM, which didn’t bode so well for our 18-mile challenge.

Kacey seemed a little confused about why we weren't just staying indoors by the fire today.

Kacey seemed a little confused about why we weren’t just staying indoors by the fire today.

As we walked across the summit in the snow, I heard Jeremy say “I think we lost a dog”. I turned around and saw that there was a hole in the snow where Kacey had been. Uh oh! The snow had been deep enough to cover a six-foot deep crevice like an old-school booby trap, and Kacey had vanished without a sound. When I looked down in to see her staring bug-eyed up at me, she seemed more confused than hurt (“what the hell happened?”), which was a good sign. I threw off my pack and squeezed down into the hole to wrestle her out while Jeremy lifted from the top. The whole process took about five minutes, after which Kacey did a little sprint around the summit, almost falling into the pit again, but ultimately calming down after a big handful of treats.

The crevice on Champlain Mountain.

The crevice on Champlain Mountain.

We continued down Champlain Mountain by the Beachcroft Trail, which took longer to descend than our ascent from the east side of the mountain, owing to slick, wet snow. By the time we arrived at The Tarn between Champlain and Dorr, it was clear we probably wouldn’t hit all six summits, but we still might walk to Northeast Harbor and at least get to two more summits. The temperature was on the rise, though there was still plenty of snow. The ascent along the Schiff Path turned out to be much easier than either the ascent or descent of Champlain Mountain, so our optimism came back once again.

Champlain Mountain in the morning. A classic, clear winter day in Maine.

Champlain Mountain in the morning. A classic, clear winter day in Maine.

The gorge between Dorr Mountain and Cadillac Mountain is pretty shallow, so it was a quick descent from Dorr, though still pretty tricky. With many steep, rocky sections still covered in deep snow, we had to lead Kacey around in several places where in summer she could have easily leaped from rock to rock. It was still fairly early in the day when we reached the bottom, then made our way to the ascent. Not more than a hundred feet into the climb, however, we were thwarted by a heavily snow-covered boulder field. There was no good way around for Kacey to get up, and we decided that this would be our last good opportunity to bail out and walk back to Bar Harbor.

It might as well be winter on Dorr Mountain.

It might as well be winter on Dorr Mountain.

So out we walked via the Gorge Trail, not the least bit disappointed in only completing two of the intended six summits. We still ended up with ten miles of hiking through deeper snow than anticipated, and fully succeeded in our goal of trying to do something stupid. And we could be happy in the knowledge that we would have made the goal easily if not for the snow conditions. No loss of pride, no damage to reputation, no serious injury. I’d say that’s a good outcome all around.

Calling it a day early, Kacey decided a nap was in order.

Calling it a day early, Kacey decided a nap was in order.

Oh, hello. I haven’t seen you in a while. Well, I’m still here. I’ve just been hiding in my little hidey-hole for the past month. Blogging has been getting lower on my priority-list since my peak in 2012, as I’m realizing I don’t have too much I need to say these days. I’m also finding that I really enjoy hiking a hike just for myself, rather than to write about it. And, finally, I’m also writing less because I’m spending so much of my computer time working on programming for my apps. That said, I still enjoy writing a blog post now and again when I have a really great experience like the week in Baxter State Park at the end of August. For now, here’s a little overview of what I’ve been up to this autumn.

Mapping Acadia National Park
I’ve been living at my parents’ place in Downeast Maine for the past few months before I move to the far south (Portland) this winter, so I’ve spent a lot of time in Acadia National Park, running the GPS along trails and taking notes as I normally would for the Appalachian Trail apps. I’ll add Acadia to my New England Hiker app, and probably make a standalone Acadia app, as well, but that won’t be done until early next year. In order to map out the trails on the island, I’ve hiked almost 200 miles, and biked over 50, often in exceptionally convoluted loops of 17-22 miles, with bone-crushing ascents on those small, coastal mountains. In some cases, I’ve climbed the same mountain three times in one day from three different directions, in order to get trail info for the spaghetti-pile network of trails out there.

This has been a major highlight of the fall– a memorial plaque on the A. Murray Young Trail near Dorr Mountain says it all: “…this island where God has given of his beauty with a lavish hand.” If you haven’t been to Acadia and witnessed that beauty, do yourself a favor and get your ass up there!

A late fall day in Acadia

A late fall day in Acadia

 

Long Pond on the west side of Mt Desert Island.

Long Pond on the west side of Mt Desert Island.

A typical (sort of) day-hike mapping route in Acadia.

A typical (sort of) day-hike mapping route in Acadia.

Some Other Hikes
My friend, Nancy, and I took a weekend trip into the Dry River Wilderness late in October. Much of the Wilderness area, and almost all of the Dry River Trail, was closed in late 2011 when Tropical Storm Irene laid waste to the mountains of New England. The trail was reopened only a few weeks earlier, so we got some late-season foliage and a few freezing nights in one of the nicest lean-tos in the White Mountains. It’s always a pleasure to spend three days in such a popular National Forest and see not a single person. We didn’t get high enough in the trip to break above tree line, but this was an example of a truly beautiful area. I’ll be back here a lot in the spring and summer.

Late fall in the Dry River Wilderness

Late fall in the Dry River Wilderness

Hopping across (or into) the Dry River

Hopping across (or into) the Dry River

All Play and No Work? Not Really.
Of course, if all I’d been doing for the past few months was hiking and hiding away in the woods, that would be awfully irresponsible. So the majority of my time has actually been spent working at the computer. I’ll write more about this later, but I’ve been upgrading the hiking apps to improve efficiency in the code, add new topo maps, fix bugs, and add some new features. I’ve also been working with FloridaHikes.com to create an app for the Florida National Scenic Trail, which is getting close to completion. To fill in all my spare time (mostly nonexistent) I’m doing some contract work and also coming up with some ideas for new apps. No rest for the wicked!

Since returning home to Maine, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some of my free time in Acadia National Park and Baxter State Park, arguably two of the most beautiful natural areas in the country. Besides the bald mountains and glaciated landscapes, though, the two parks couldn’t be more different. I’ve had a lot of time to think about the differences as I walk on the rough granite bedrock, and the mossy, root-choked forest trails, finding solitude where I can.

That solitude is the defining difference. Acadia, a premier national park, follows the philosophy of providing the most accessibility to the largest number of people. Millions of visitors flock to Mount Desert Island every year to witness the beauty of the island’s granite domes, the jagged coastline, the idyllic carriage roads along the mountain sides. To get them along to their destinations, the carriage roads and the Park Loop Road are well maintained and scattered with viewpoints, rest stops, picnic areas, and the occasional unique attraction like the stone gatehouses or the Jordan Pond restaurant. Two primitive campgrounds within the park, and several private campgrounds nearby, allow for the semblance of ‘roughing it’ without having to give up running water or flushing toilets.

The crowds on Cadillac Mountain are best viewed from afar.

The crowds on Cadillac Mountain are best viewed from afar.

There is no solitude or wildness in Acadia. The island is overflowing with natural beauty, but it’s nearly impossible to find a spot on a mountainside that you can call your own for a full hour, let alone a full day.

Baxter State Park, at the other end of the spectrum, is quiet. The Park Tote Road leads along the edge, bringing visitors to more than half a dozen primitive campgrounds and several scenic roadside attractions, but the amenities are far more sparse. There is no potable water at the campgrounds, nor flushing toilets. No bus roams around the park, and no RVs (vehicles that size aren’t even allowed in the park, since the road is so narrow and winding they would undoubtedly get stuck). Even getting into the park is a task, with daily limits on the number of cars allowed past each gate, and no camping allowed without prior reservation. And while many ponds are close to roads and can be easily accessed, none of the park’s many mountains has any sort of road to the top, paved or otherwise.

Some deep wilderness on Nesowadnehunk Stream in Baxter State Park. No humans for miles around.

Some deep woods on Nesowadnehunk Stream in Baxter State Park. No humans for miles around.

Spend a full day at the highest point in each park, and your experiences will be vastly different. On Baxter Peak of Katahdin, you might see thirty or forty people on a very busy day, each one having climbed one of the incredibly steep trails to the summit. That’s no small number, but on Cadillac Mountain, you’d see hundreds of people, shuttled to the summit on tour buses, vans, cars, SUVs, and motorcycles. You’d see a few hikers and bicyclists, too, but mostly a torrent of car-bound tourists. A better comparison, though, would be to take the second-highest peak in the park. Hamlin Peak in Baxter might see half a dozen people on a busy day. Sargent Mountain in Acadia, still close to a hundred.

Before I go much further, I’ll say that the increased access at the National Park isn’t always a bad thing. It makes planning a trip to the park much simpler, and it shows off the natural beauty of the area to many more people. The gateway communities on the way to Acadia see a huge inflow of cash every summer and autumn as millions of tourists flock to the park, their money burning holes in their pockets. And, of course, why should my grandparents, who are no longer able to hike very car from a car, not be able to share in the glory of Acadia? There’s certainly something to be said for ease of access to the country’s most beautiful places.

But we have to remember what is lost in the opening of the wild to the masses. I sometimes wonder what John Muir, the champion of Yosemite National Park, would say if he saw the cheek-to-jowl lines on Half Dome, or the traffic jams backed up through Yosemite Valley, few people venturing much further than an arm’s length from their vehicles in order to snap photos before going back to the air conditioning. Muir spoke of the mountains as a cathedral, and as a link to the divine– but how can you have any kind of connection with the landscape when you’re focused on your car or your noisy neighbors?

As much as I love the landscape in Acadia, I have to limit how often I go there and at what times of year. The spiritual recharge that I get in the deep woods or on the top of a remote mountain feels muted and imperfect when there’s a constant flow of people around. The sounds I need to hear in the wild are the birds singing, crickets chirping, and the wind whispering; not roaring motorcycles, boisterous parties, and people trying to keep their dogs in line.

Cars, trucks, and buses, packed onto the top of Cadillac Mountain like sardines.

Cars, trucks, and buses, packed onto the top of Cadillac Mountain like sardines.

My most recent experiences at campgrounds in both parks are indicative of the basic attitudes at each. On a night in Roaring Brook campground in Baxter, when the campground was completely full, I was pleasantly surprised to find the area silent by 8 PM, except for the sounds of the brook and the occasional crackle of a campfire. At Blackwoods, in Acadia, I was awoken at midnight by my neighbors having a bongo jam along with their stereo blasting Grateful Dead all throughout the campground. Both campground have rules about nighttime quiet hours, but neither are enforced by much more than the honor system (and people like me who get up and lecture the offenders).

Greater accessibility has its upsides, but less of it seems to lead more often to a greater respect for what brings us to the outdoors in the first place. Whether that’s the peace and quiet of the wild, or the joy of a fine view, it’s good to remember why we preserve those places.

I summited my final New England 4000-footer earlier this week during a last-minute trip to Baxter State Park. It wasn’t a long trip like the one last month, but even a 24-hour period spent in the park is enough to settle my soul and recharge all the energy I’d spent frantically working on my apps since the last trip.

Awakening to a frosty morning at Nesowadnehunk Field campground, a view of Doubletop directly from the lean-to.

Awakening to a frosty morning at Nesowadnehunk Field campground, a view of Doubletop directly from the lean-to.

The New England 4000-Footer peakbagging list (48 peaks in New Hampshire, 5 in Vermont, and 14 in Maine) has never been a major goal of mine, but I enjoy checking items off a list. After hitting Hamlin Peak last month, I only had one to go, but I was in no hurry. I didn’t even plan on going to The Brothers Range this year. My friends, Angela and Ryan, had a few free days and wanted to get out to Baxter State Park, and the conditions proved to be just right, so we went for it.

Starting the hike directly below the cliffs of Doubletop Mountain.

Starting the hike directly below the cliffs of Doubletop Mountain.

We camped at my favorite Baxter State Park campground, Nesowadnehunk Field, and woke up to a thick layer of frost coating the car and field. Autumn has definitely arrived, with leaves just starting to change color, and high temperatures during the day varying between low 70s and mid 60s. This day was as perfect as you could wish for, with cool temperatures, crystal clear skies, and just enough wind to dry my sweat.

Reaching the tarn at the base of the Marston Trail's climb to The Brothers.

Reaching the tarn at the base of the Marston Trail’s climb to The Brothers.

The loop over the Brothers Range is, in typical Baxter State Park fashion, incredibly beautiful and unforgiving in its difficulty. We started from the Slide Dam picnic area on Nesowadnehunk Stream, looking straight up to the cliffs of Doubletop, and then a slow, gradual climb through dense forest to a tarn at the base of North Brother. This was the easy part of the day. From there came the stairmaster-climb to a saddle between North and South Brother, complete with dense moss beds and stunted fir trees.

After a long, steep climb to North Brother, the first views at tree line of Katahdin, the Klondike, and the rest of the Brothers range.

After a long, steep climb to North Brother, the first views at tree line of Katahdin, the Klondike, and the rest of the Brothers range.

Throughout the day, we saw not a single human, nor heard any human sounds. A few small camps on lake sides in the far distance were the only discernible evidence of humanity. From the tops of the three mountains on the loop, the only sounds between our conversations were the whispering of a light breeze, and the occasional chickadee singing in the trees. I can think of no better way to spend a day. No mountain top has been more peaceful for me in recent memory, even The Traveler, or Katahdin’s north peaks. When we returned to the cars at the end of the day, the trailhead register showed nobody had set foot on the trail aside from us.

There’s not much more I can say about this hike, other than it was absolute paradise. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

West from North Brother toward the Nesowadnehunk valley, and the lakes west of Baxter.

West from North Brother toward the Nesowadnehunk valley, and the lakes west of Baxter.

Victory photo atop North Brother.

Victory photo atop North Brother.

Now on South Brother, with an impressive view of Katahdin and its Northwest Basin.

Now on South Brother, with an impressive view of Katahdin and its Northwest Basin.

From Mt Coe, looking back to North and South Brother, with fir waves like tiger stripes.

From Mt Coe, looking back to North and South Brother, with fir waves like tiger stripes.

Starting to descend the Mt Coe slide at the end of the day.

Starting to descend the Mt Coe slide at the end of the day.

Almost done, dropping into the forest and looking at the newly changing foliage above.

Almost done, dropping into the forest and looking at the newly changing foliage above.

A pleasant walk alongside a mountain brook to end the day.

A pleasant walk alongside a mountain brook to end the day.

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.

Hiking out of the northern end of the park via Lower Fowler Pond, with a view of Bald Mountain. The quiet of the north was great while it lasted.

Hiking out of the northern end of the park via Lower Fowler Pond, with a view of Bald Mountain. The quiet of the north was great while it lasted.

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.

Starting up the Doubletop Trail from Nesowadnehunk Field Campground, with a fine view of the Brothers Range over the stream.

Starting up the Doubletop Trail from Nesowadnehunk Field Campground, with a fine view of the Brothers Range over the stream.

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.

Without any warning, we emerge from the trees on Doubletop to find this: a panorama of the Brothers, OJI, and Katahdin.

Without any warning, we emerge from the trees on Doubletop to find this: a panorama of the Brothers, OJI, and Katahdin.

Tom surveys the trail ahead to the south peak of Doubletop. He turned back here, since we already had the view. I continued on to see more terrain.

Tom surveys the trail ahead to the south peak of Doubletop. He turned back here, since we already had the view. I continued on to see more terrain.

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.

At the edge of the world on the south peak of Doubletop. Between me and Baxter Peak is a long drop down-- either straight down by the cliff, or almost straight down by trail.

At the edge of the world on the south peak of Doubletop. Between me and Baxter Peak is a long drop down– either straight down by the cliff, or almost straight down by trail.

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.

Down below, at Deer Pond, an evening view of Doubletop and Mount OJI.

Down below, at Deer Pond, an evening view of Doubletop and Mount OJI.

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.

I startled this beast leaving Deer Pond, but after the initial shock wore off he let me watch him for about fifteen minutes before I left.

I startled this beast leaving Deer Pond, but after the initial shock wore off he let me watch him for about fifteen minutes before I left.

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.