roaring brook

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For my second annual Baxter State Park backpacking trip, I had planned to bring friends from all over the country to Maine late in the season to show off the parts of the park that few out-of-staters ever see. Most of my friends had to bail, but a small core group stuck with the plan, and we spent a large chunk of Columbus Day weekend hiking across the park. I take great pleasure in bringing visitors to my home state and acting as a sort of outdoor tour guide. Partially, it’s an excuse for me to take trips that are on my bucket list, but it’s also nice to be reminded how much of a treasure the state’s wilderness is.

Map of the backpacking trip through Baxter State Park (created with CalTopo.com)

Map of the backpacking trip through Baxter State Park (created with CalTopo.com)

Grant, the president of Gossamer Gear, his stepson, Ian, and my fellow Portlander, Hans made up the small group. Grant had last been in Maine at the end of his AT hike in 2002. Hans had been to Baxter State Park several times, but never as deep into the park as we went on this trip. Most of the hike was new terrain for everyone.

Day one consisted of driving four hours from Portland into the Park, then shuttling cars from Roaring Brook Campground to Nesowadnehunk Field Campground (by far the most beautiful and remote roadside campground in the park). Despite long hours of driving, there was plenty of good sightseeing along the road. And since it was a car-camping night, we had an epic feast of lobster-mac and maple-apple-cobbler to get the trip started right.

Day two started with a hard frost and sunrise views over Doubletop Mountain, then a long hike through deep forest to the newest BSP campsite on the west end of Wassataquoik Lake (Grant shortened the name to a more pronounceable “WTF Lake”). Foliage colors were a little duller than peak, but still gorgeous, especially as seen from a high ledge overlooking the lake in the evening. Once at the campsite, we spent a bit of time canoeing across the lake as sunset put the final light of the day on Turner Mountain.

Frosty morning at Nesowadnehunk Field Campground.

Frosty morning at Nesowadnehunk Field Campground.

A trailside bog on the Wassataquoik Lake Trail.

A trailside bog on the Wassataquoik Lake Trail.

Wassataquoik Lake from an overlook at the west end of the lake.

Wassataquoik Lake from an overlook at the west end of the lake.

Day three was a short hike to Russell Pond, with a perfectly timed day of cold rain. Despite the damp and cold, it was a beautiful hike along Wassataquoik Lake, with waterfalls and deep, mossy fir forests. We spent the afternoon and evening drinking hot cocoa and reading in our sleeping bags while the rain fell outside our lean-to.

Sunrise from the shores of Wassataquoik Lake.

Sunrise from the shores of Wassataquoik Lake.

Green Falls on the south shore of Wassataquoik Lake.

Green Falls on the south shore of Wassataquoik Lake.

Damp, mossy forest in the depths of Baxter State Park.

Damp, mossy forest in the depths of Baxter State Park.

Day four was the long day, climbing Katahdin via the North Peaks Trail (which started with an icy ford of Wassataquoik Stream) and traversing about six miles of frosty alpine terrain. The rain of the previous day had brought the foliage colors out with a vengeance, but also coated the summit in a thick layer of rime ice. I nervously watched the time all day, since we were taking one of the longest routes to Baxter Peak, and one of the hardest descents, but the tour-guide in me decided getting down from the mountain after dark wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. We took our time to enjoy the scenery and the biting wind, and got to the car at Roaring Brook an hour after dark, then took another hour to drive back to Nesowadnehunk Field for the night.

Early morning on Russell Pond after a day of rain.

Early morning on Russell Pond after a day of rain.

An icy ford of Wassataquoik Stream.

An icy ford of Wassataquoik Stream.

Climbing Baxter Peak on Katahdin despite the rime ice.

Climbing Baxter Peak on Katahdin despite the rime ice.

Starting Katahdin's Knife Edge in the afternoon.

Starting Katahdin’s Knife Edge in the afternoon.

Because of how BSP’s reservations system works, backpacking trips like this have to be planned in advance with an eye toward worst-case-scenarios. I got incredibly lucky for the second year in a row with this trip, having the rainy days fall only on short hiking days or on days when hiking only in low elevation forests. Even if it had rained for all three days of the trip, though, it would have been an enjoyable trip in some of the finest wilderness the east coast has to offer. I’m already thinking of plans for next year’s trip.

I returned yesterday from seven nights of backpacking in Baxter State Park with my friend, Tom. The trip had been more than six months in the planning, with campsite reservations made carefully in April and travel arrangements scheduled as tightly as possible. When the day arrived, last Monday, I was jittery with excitement. I’d been to the park three times before, but never hiked anywhere but on the Appalachian Trail. This week-long trip would be all new terrain for me.

Tom arrived at my place at 6 AM, and we set out from there. Breakfast at Dysart’s was our only stop, but even so, we didn’t arrive at the northern gate of the park until around 11:30. After leaving Tom’s car at the northern end of the park, we drove my car 45 miles along the park’s dirt road to Roaring Brook, finally arriving at 1:30 PM. I was prone to outbursts during the drive, like “TOM! WE’RE F***ING DOING IT!” I was pretty excited about this trip.

It had rained in the morning, but all that remained of that were clouds covering Baxter Peak in the afternoon. It felt so good to be on a classic New England trail again, with its granite boulders and inconveniently placed roots. Between the excitement and the feeling of being on my home terrain for the first time all summer, I sped up the Chimney Pond Trail ahead of Tom, and didn’t even bother stopping to check in.

Instead, I made a quick left turn on the Dudley Trail to climb Pamola Peak. The Dudley climbs 2000 feet in just under a mile, straight up the giant boulders to the eastern peak of Katahdin. I may have overestimated the shape of my muscles as I began the climb at 3:30 PM, marching right up to the top by 4:30. By the time I arrived, the clouds were just finishing the process of enveloping the summit, and then letting loose a weak drizzle. I had thought of maybe crossing the Knife Edge at this point, but instead I listened to my better judgment and descended as I’d come up. The down-climb was even more difficult than the climb up, more like rock climbing and bouldering than walking. There were plenty of places where I used only my hands, and no feet to get down.

At the bottom, my legs were shaking and weary, but my mood was still ecstatic. The forecast was better than it had been all summer. I joined Tom in the bunkhouse and settled in for the night.

Here is Tom’s account of the day, with slightly more sensible hiking plans.

A view into the Great Basin on my way up the Chimney Pond Trail.

A view into the Great Basin on my way up the Chimney Pond Trail.

Starting up the boulder field of the Dudley Trail, looking down into the Great Basin and Chimney Pond.

Starting up the boulder field of the Dudley Trail, looking down into the Great Basin and Chimney Pond.

Pamola Peak and the Knife Edge just before being swallowed by a cloud.

Pamola Peak and the Knife Edge just before being swallowed by a cloud.