There are no naturally occurring wilderness areas in Maine. No part of the state has gone completely untouched and remained pristine. Baxter State Park, like most modern wilderness areas, was created by legal regulation that attempts to restore, re-create and maintain a wilderness setting on land that was previously pillaged for natural resources – if not actually tamed.
The park is a monument to the foresight of Gov. Percival Baxter. It’s not difficult to imagine that he anticipated many of the changes that continue to degrade the quality of Maine’s North Woods. His mandate that the park be kept “forever wild” makes this 200,000 acre sanctuary the closest thing to a wilderness Maine will likely ever have.
Dave and I started early for the 8 mile hike to Russell Pond Campground. Unlike the area immediately around Katahdin, most of the park is quieter and receives a lot fewer visitors.
We met only a few people along the trail that follows a tributary of Wassataquoik Stream. A sun-drenched group of boulders in the steam made the perfect spot for a swim and lunch.
We reached the campground just as an afternoon rain shower set in. But it was very clear that it would be a small blip in the ongoing perfect late-summer weather.
A neighboring camper caught five brook trout while we gawked at the mountain view.
The daily miles with the pack have begun to exact a toll on my arthritic right knee - but with Katahdin behind me the miles ahead are fairly flat and will hopefully be doable.
Russell Pond Campground acts as kind of a hiker’s traffic circle for the center of the park. Trails extend out in all different directions. The Pogy Notch trail leading north to South Branch Pond Campground is less used than other trails.
These quieter trails in the park see more moose traffic than hiker traffic. We noticed during our hike on Friday that the trail was more overgrown than others.
A stop at Pogy Pond lean-to for lunch and a swim was mandatory. To the south were views of Katahdin and from the pond Traveler Mountain loomed above the trees.
I had visited here before, many years ago with my wife and another couple. On that visit we saw exactly no one on a weekend long visit. Today Dave and I met no one on the trail until we reached Upper South Branch Pond. We celebrated with another swim there.
The final miles of the 10-mile hike here to South Branch Pond Campground were tiring. We’re a little worried about the long miles (14) to Webster Lake tomorrow.
Upper South Branch is a popular place – the views down the lake and the many hiking opportunities make it busy this time of year. But tomorrow we go into the furthest, least-visited corner of the park.