So far I had lived out of my backpack for four five days, and then we camped next to Tom’s car at South Branch Pond campground. We had left his car there on the first day in the park, in order to hike from the south end to the north end, but we still had another day in this less-traveled section. In the morning, I packed one more night’s worth of supplies that had been left in the car, and set off on another little-used trail. Tom and Chris would drive to another trailhead for a shorter hike to tonight’s campsite, while I explored a few more backcountry ponds.
The northeastern corner of Baxter State Park is mostly taken up by Grand Lake Matagamon, but there’s a cluster of small mountains and ponds just to the south of the lake. Most of the ponds have small campsites on the shore that are popular with anglers and folks looking to get away from crowds. We fit the latter category.
But to get to that region, I first had to cross over the northern shoulder of The Traveler Range and into the basin of Middle Fowler Pond. On the way I crossed a few ledges and Barrell Ridge, a rocky mini-summit with plenty of bare bedrock and views into the east. As I walked up the sharp rocks, I reminded myself that I need to find the proper name for this kind of low-elevation rocky outcrop, covered in reindeer lichen, short alpine plants, and occasional krummholz. Internet to the rescue! Low- and mid-elevation balds, and rocky summit heaths are some of my favorite hiking terrains.
After Barrell Ridge, I tromped through increasingly disused trail down to the Fowler Ponds, wondering how long it had been since someone had hiked this route. Lots of people might think of this as a bad thing, but I thoroughly enjoyed the solitude. On a bedrock slab at the north end of the pond, the water was so inviting that I just had to go for a swim. As with a few days before in Howe Brook, a quick swim in mountain waters was like jumping into the fountain of youth. Afterward, I lay out on the rocks in the sun for a while, relaxed as I could be. Two day hikers showed up after a while, but they were equally impressed by the silence of the pond. By the end of the day, I could count on one hand the number of people I’d encountered, so I still felt pretty good about the wilderness feel of the area.
Eventually I left Fowler Pond and continued through the woods, passing along several other pond shores on my way to the next short mountain. Horse Mountain, the northeasternmost mountain in the park, is quite short, and has no view from the summit since a fire tower was removed many years ago, but the cliffs on the eastern side of the mountain had a fine, quite view of the Penobscot River valley. While the view showed some evidence of humanity, in the occasional logging road or a float plane flying by down below, it was a fairly relaxed evidence of humanity. I sat and enjoyed the solitude for nearly an hour before heading back down.
I ended the day by meeting up with Tom and Chris once again at Long Pond Pines campsite, which many park rangers had mentioned as a favorite. A piney grove on the eastern edge of a small (but long) pond was only a few miles from the park tote road, but it felt like a purely wild area. We sat around a blazing campfire in the evening, listening to nothing more than the crackle of dry wood and the plaintive calls of a lone loon making his way up and down the pond. That was something I’d been missing all summer, since I hadn’t spent any time on remote mountain ponds in the northeast– a quiet pondside campsite, the lone loon calling, and the silence of the wilds make for the most relaxing kind of camping on a backpacking trip.
This would be our last night with a full day of hiking ahead of us, so I went to sleep knowing that the end of this glorious trip was near. Despite having had no contact with the outside world in almost a week, I had no desire to get back to it anytime soon. I could stay at this campsite all my life if I had to.