Self-Propelled Journal: August 21-22 Baxter Peak

When my mountain bike left the pavement of the Elliotsville Road on August 14, I started a unique part of this journey.  From that point, and until I step out of the canoe in Fort Kent, I will travel over 200 miles without touching or crossing a paved public roadway.

This kind of thing is not possible in any other state east of the Mississippi River.  The Maine Woods comprise the biggest dark spot on any night-time aerial view of the eastern U.S.  The darkest  spot may well be Baxter State Park, where I have been hiking for the last two days.

After leaving Abol Bridge and logging trucks behind on Tuesday morning, I entered the park along the AT at the southern boundary.  It had begun spattering rain at about 6:00 am and it showered off and on all morning.  A cow moose seemed unbothered by the weather.

The AT follows the West Branch of the Penobscot for several miles before turning north along the banks of Nesowadnehunk Stream.  At the junction of the two waterways is a small ledge drop and deep pool on the steam that made me stop to assemble my pack rod.

After no luck in the big pool I turned upstream to fish a small run.  The sound of the falls masked any other noises and when I turned around I discovered I was no longer alone. 

A group of rafters on the West Branch had pulled into the mouth of the stream and were using the ledge drop that I had just fished as a waterslide. After everyone had a turn they piled back into the rafts and headed down river.

Upstream on the Nesowadnehunk the fishing was better with lots of eager tiny brook trout and the scenery was incredible.  The steam repeatedly falls and pools here over large boulders and ledges. The sun-dappled pools kept beckoning me to fish and I could not or would not resist.  Tall spruce, fir, pine, hemlock and cedar trees shaded the stream and the trail. 

After leaving the stream near Daicey Pond I took my time hiking the last few miles to Katahdin Stream Campground.  I have camped here in the past on weekend dashes to Katahdin’s summit sandwiched between long car rides to the Park and back home again.  Approaching on foot gives a completely different perspective.  Andy Robinson arrived with supper and an upbeat attitude about our summit attempt on Wednesday.

We awoke to perfect weather and started climbing the Hunt Trail early.  The best part of a Katahdin climb is the rise above tree-line early in the morning.  Those first ultra-clear views of surrounding peaks make even the view from the summit pale in comparison. 

We were at the peak by 11:30 and met a few of the northbound thru-hikers I had talked with over their last few days on the trail.  The peak was crowded with as many as 30 hikers gathered around, taking turns for photos in front of the famous trail sign.

It was the second time in two days that I observed vacationers in remote places, patiently standing in line to experience an iconic Maine Woods experience.  The rafters seemed as pleased as the hikers with their accomplishment.

It’s impossible to travel in these places and come away with any other conclusion - there is a real hunger and desire to experience remoteness from modern civilization.

This appetite comes in all different sizes and duration for different people.  Most would find a three week 200 mile self-propelled trip that traverses a huge semi-wilderness to be too remote.  Others would find a half-day raft trip on the West Branch with a stop at a plunge pool and ledge slide to be not remote enough.

After lunch, Andy and I began to hike the most dangerous and difficult mile of the trail in the State of Maine.  The Knife’s Edge isn’t really even a “hiking” trail.  It’s more like an hour long rock scramble, with maximum exposure and serious physical danger if a fall occurs.

Andy negotiating the “trail” on Knife’s Edge

Even in perfect weather – and I only do the trail in perfect weather – I am amazed by the number of people who attempt to do this hike.  Sometimes small children can be seen on the trail.  Or some poor agoraphobic will be spotted crouched on the trail, refusing to move, with tears streaming down their face.  We saw both of these sights on Wednesday.

After reaching Pamola Peak and taking a short rest we descended the Helon Taylor trail to Roaring Brook Campground.  There we met Kevin Regan and Dave Fisher who had set up camp at our lean-to, started a camp-fire and started supper cooking.

Andy had to drive back home, but Dave will join me tomorrow to start a three day hike north through the Park and then a paddle to Chamberlain Bridge.  I will see Kevin again when he joins me on the Allagash next week.

 

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About jimandrews

Jim Andrews is an attorney, Registered Maine Guide, writer, husband, dad and sixth-generation Mainer who grew up in the hills of Oxford County and now lives in Farmington. He is a monthly columnist for the The Maine Sportsman magazine where he focuses on muscle-powered travel in the outdoors and specific applications to fishing and hunting in Maine. Late in the fall of 2010 Jim suffered a mid-life crisis and decided that the cure would be a self-propelled trip from Kittery to Fort Kent in the summer of 2012. The preparation, planning and execution of that trip will be covered here -- as well as his own ongoing attempts to reintroduce physical effort back into the increasingly-motorized world of fishing and hunting in Maine.