Baxter State Park / International Appalachian Trail Loop – July 2015

About time I started working on getting the adventure reports up to date. It has been a great year so far and this trip was definitely one of the highlights. Some of you might recall I tried to do this loop last Fall and was hit by a freakishly hot day that just about did me in. Not to spoil the suspense, but while there were some serious challenges along the way, I didn’t die this year either!

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As is so often the case, things started out looking calm enough. I again made arrangements to park my scoot with the folks at Matagamon Wilderness Camp. They let folks park for free in their lot along the road, but I feel safer leaving the bike with them and it gives me an excuse to have an ice cream cone while I’m there.

From there it is just a short road walk to Baxter’s north gate. Amusingly, the ranger at the gate was the same lady I registered with on this trip last year. She recalled meeting me then but was surprised to hear about the trouble I’d had. I figured that was a good sign that the park rangers weren’t all sitting around laughing about my previous debacle and set off towards the trailhead.

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The weather was on my side this time it seemed. Much cooler and while things were on the dry side the forest was inviting after a long motorcycle ride and a few miles of road walk.

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After spending so much time in New Hampshire, the forest here seemed very different again as it had on the trip with the boys from Texas. Pines and birches dominate both areas, but they don’t feel the same. Something about the density of the woods and how sunlight comes through it I think.

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Horse Mountain was just a little bump as my legs warmed up and I hit a good stride. I found myself down the other side and enjoying the cool breeze coming across Billfish Pond in no time at all. There are in fact no billfish in this pond or on Billfish Mt beyond. Seems the area was named Bill Fish long ago and somewhere lost the space in the official records. There is a campsite here that is rarely used and pretty easy to get to, though it isn’t right on the water.

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This route took me through lots of intersections. I’ve walked through this area enough on solo and family trips that there was no confusion, but I can only imagine a novice hiker coming across that signpost in the middle and being overwhelmed. Definitely a good time to break out the map if you aren’t totally positive as to which way you’re headed.

IMG_4769aThis is where I was headed. North campsite on Middle Fowler Pond looking towards the outlet. The site was very overgrown and looked as though it had seen very little use this year. The entire Fowler Ponds area is lightly used and often available to reserve on short notice. Great spot for family trips or anyone looking for more relaxing and casual terrain compared with the nearby mountains.

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My daughter sent this little guy along at the last minute. She was worried I might be lonely and need someone to snuggle with. I told her I’d bring back pictures so she could see the adventure it went on.

IMG_4776aA few years ago I reported to the rangers that the tree they had tacked the campsite sign to was in danger of falling. It still makes me chuckle to see it there right where they pushed it over after moving the sign to a new tree. Very peaceful little site with the rental canoes just down the trail and I’ve seen locals hiking in to fish here so might make a nice place to hang out for a few days.

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Morning came with some expected cloud cover and a light mist during breakfast. I lingered a bit and let it blow through before heading to the other side of the pond and beginning my climb up to Barrel Ridge.

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If you look between the pine needles you can just make out this beautiful white tailed doe on the other side. I was glad I was able to get this glimpse on camera because as soon as I tried to move to get a better shot she was gone.

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Last year this was a very wet sub-alpine bog, but on this trip it was bone dry. Well at least when I was passing through…

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Last year I skipped Barrell Ridge because of the heat. This year I figured I had plenty of time because I’d made camp three miles farther along and the weather seemed nice enough.

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A few ridges of mossy rocks brought me to a nice ledge where I took a break and looked around. About that time the mist started up again and I noticed how slippery the lightly traveled rocks were becoming. Rather than push on to the top of the ridge I started back down just to be safe.

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Looking back up at the ridge from a distance I could see where I’d stopped and the steep section I’d skipped. I’m thinking that this place will make a great day hike in a few years when my daughter can hike up there from the pond below.

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I stopped for a nice long break at the South Branch campground.  There was plenty of time for snacking and photographing wildlife.

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Things looked a little gloomy in the direction I was headed, but there wasn’t any sense of impending doom. Of course there rarely is heh. This is one of the last pictures I’d take for the next two days, but oh the stories I have to tell!

The mist turned to a light shower about half way through the six mile hike to Pogy Pond. Another mile on and it was a hard rain headed towards downpour. Then things got serious. The last mile and a half were done at almost a running pace through a white wall of near solid water with lightning flashing through the trees at times for added incentive.

By the time I reached the LT at Pogy my boots were literally filled with water that had run down my body. Thanks to good packing and organization I was able to quickly get the wet clothes hanging from the rafters with warm, dry clothes covering my bones. The rain continued for another hour or so with great intensity. I captured a little video I’ll be sharing later, but you really have to be inside a good mountain storm to truly understand how impressive they can be. Thankfully the wasps that had been in the LT on my visit here the previous month were gone so I had the place to myself.

The next day was cloudy and while there was no rain in the morning the woods was wet from the previous day. My trail clothes were wet when I put them on and only got wetter as I walked. An hour in I hit Russell Pond and swung by the ranger station there just to say hi. They made a note of my name which was the point of my visit and I was back on trail. I took the more direct Russell Pond trail towards Roaring Brook which I don’t recall taking before. Very nice trail, easier than the Wassataquoik Stream trail I always take I think, though perhaps not as pretty.

With little elevation to deal with I made good time to Roaring Brook, signed the register at the rangers cabin there and headed out through the parking lot. It seemed strange to sign in and then leave rather than enter the park but the Katahdin Lake trailhead is a few miles of road walk along the narrow park access road. If you’re doing this walk keep your ears open for traffic and be ready to jump off the road as many folks ignore the speed limit on their way in to the park it seems.

The trail follows old logging roads and is quite easily navigated. I was nearing the end of a roughly 16 mile day but making good time until the light mist rapidly turned to another downpour. Again I arrived at camp totally soaked with boots full of water.  The LT at South Katahdin Lake was huge so I soon had wet things spread out all over and dry fleece all over myself. Mother Nature was throwing everything she had at me this trip but other than some very wrinkly feet I was holding up pretty well.

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The rain let up enough for me to finally unwrap my camera. Here is my luxurious abode at Katahdin Lake. This site is super easy to access, about three miles of easy trail and is right on the lake. Lots of day hikers and proximity to the camp next door seem to keep this place underused it seems.

IMG_4810aThe lake was shrouded in mist so it was hard to get a sense of how big it really is. I know from the map it is a lot larger than what I could see.

IMG_4811aThe sky seemed to melt right into the water and after two days of rain it seemed that everything, including me, was all wrapped up in one big cloud of moisture. Some parts were less wet than others, but nothing could truly claim to be dry at this point.

IMG_4812aWith a canoe right there in camp this looks like a place to come do some exploring on the water. Might make a nice family trip next year if I can convince my daughter to stay in the canoe for more than twenty minutes at a time.

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This is your standard trail sign documentation picture until you notice that tree in the background. Guessing there might have been a bit of wind gusting off the lake to snap that trunk like that. Neat to see after the fact but probably a bit scary to listen to in the dark.

IMG_4815aDay four again started without rain, but also without sun. The clouds seemed to reach all the way to the ground and everything was still dripping. Reaching the border between Baxter State Park and the start of the International Appalachian Trail I found an old logging road disappearing into the fog.

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The mileage sign laid out my itinerary pretty well, listing the shelters I’d sleep at, the highest mountain and finally, thirty miles on, the road where I’d finish my week long hike. I remember now thinking with a grin that it would be easier to go forward than to go back so there was no need to worry about failure any longer.

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This section of road was pretty open, but there were other areas where the berry bushes have reclaimed most of it. Between the thick fog and the heavy brush I found myself instinctively breaking into song to warn the bears I was coming. The number and size of the bear scat piles was a clear reminder that this was their turf.

IMG_4823aThe first LT on the IAT seemed functional, but without much character. There was a small stream nearby for a water source and it was peaceful enough, but with another shelter a few miles farther on it doesn’t seem to get much use. About this time the showers started up again.

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Much like my previous deer picture this one will require some sharp eyes. If you peer through the fog you may see a doe peering back at you. We studied one another like this for a while before I edged too close and she darted off into the mist.

IMG_4827aThankfully I only got wet rather than soaked. When I got to the Wassataquoik Stream IAT shelter it was filled with gear much to my surprise. A crew of trail workers soon arrived and informed me they’d been camped there for a week, but were just about to move off. Me and the zebra were just getting settled in for the night when a couple of IAT hikers arrived. Gen and Emmanuel were from Quebec and planning on heading all the way to the Canadian border. Considering they were on their first night out and I’d been hiking in the rain for three days at this point I thought they were pretty brave to share the shelter with me.

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The next day we set out together and did the big stream crossing to start our day. If you look closely you can spot him putting his shoes back on while she looks back over the ford we’d just completed.

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Just in case you were thinking you didn’t have to cross this stream they made it pretty clear. There is a high water route that adds about eight miles of hiking if you really want to skip this crossing, but it was only a bit above knee deep on this trip so not a big deal.

IMG_4835aJust before the Deasey Mountain climb begins in earnest the trail passes the remains of the old lookout cabin. They are slowly dismantling this and seem to be crowdsourcing the removal labor. There is a box of construction debris bags and a sign explaining that volunteers can hike out a bag of debris to help out. The goal is to completely restore the site eventually.

From this spot to the top of Deasey is listed as .8 mile, but it is a rough, up hill section that was slippery in spots. My reward on reaching the top was to be totally socked in. That is why there are no summit pics from Deasey.

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After descending into way too deep of a col and slabbing my way up to the top of Lunksoos I was at least allowed a few minutes with the clouds above me before they settled back down stealing the views.

IMG_4842aI just barely had time to snap this zebra shot before a gust of wind nearly tossed him off the top of the mountain. I headed on down to the Lunksoos shelter to see if my Canadian friends were there, but they had apparently headed farther on.

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A pity as they missed some wonderful views the next morning. The folks who built the Lunksoos LT seem to have tossed LNT ethics beside and chopped down some trees to open up the view of Katahdin in the distance. Since the damage was already done I figured I may as well enjoy it.

IMG_4852aAfter three days of hiking in the rain I was thinking today might finally be the day to break out my dry socks. With luck I might keep my feet from falling off over the 17 or so miles I had left.

IMG_4856aThe mountain looked like an exciting place to be that day with clouds coming and going rapidly. I was headed the other direction so enjoyed it while I could and then hiked into the forest again.

IMG_4858aOf course the sun soon changed to clouds and I was getting rained on a bit, but these flowers kept my spirits up. Later I had my first ever bear sighting right on the trail. What looked to be a yearling was foraging until he noticed me approaching. Before I could even think of pulling out my camera he was bounding off away from me. Thankfully flowers can’t run!

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This is the bridge across the East Branch of the Penobscot that leads to Bowlin Camps. I had a nice chat with the caretakers there and will be devoting a post to my visit with them in the future.

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After setting up camp at the Grand Pitch shelter I took advantage of the opportunity to break out my fishing pole. I didn’t feel like fighting my way down to the pool right under the falls and settled for this one a bit farther below.

IMG_4871aMy efforts were amply rewarded with this good sized trout. One of his smaller cousins swallowed a hook and had to join him for dinner, but this one would have been a meal in itself.

IMG_4873aOf course after four days of rain making a fire was a bit of a challenge. Being in a well used campsite didn’t help as the easily foraged kindling had already been gleaned. Thankfully my fire skills were up to par and despite wet wood and gusting winds I managed to get a cooking fire started. I’ll admit there was a moment when it was getting darker and I was starting to wonder if I could make trout soup in my kettle.

The fish were fantastic! I’m sure six days on the trail whetted my appetite, but fresh trout with a little garlic and dill roasted over a fire is darn fine eating any day of the week.

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This bit of wildlife was for viewing only. Not sure any amount of herbs and spices would make that taste good. Pretty to look at though!

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They seem to have some bird nesting problems at this shelter. Guess it is better than wasps, but I was glad they didn’t seem to be around while I was there.

IMG_4878aThis shelter was on the small side, but with plenty of room to set up tents around it. With the river right near by it seems like a great place to set up to do some fishing or paddling.

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I took the portage trail down to see the falls near sunset. Even in a dry year there was plenty of water headed down river.

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I had the place to myself and with the sunset slowly coming on it was a great place to spend my last night on the trail. The weather hadn’t made things easy and I still wasn’t convinced my feet wouldn’t fall off, but it had been one heck of a great trip as far as I was concerned.

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This rock in the middle of the river is iconic enough to have a name; Haskell Rock. Looks like it has been there a while and try though it might the river isn’t moving it any time soon.

IMG_4907aI believe this is the section known as the hulling machine. An eater of canoes and kayaks that has led to more than a few rescues over the years.

IMG_4909aAnd of course on the final day we had to have at least one shower. The clouds came down and did their best but I knew I was getting close so didn’t let it bother me.

IMG_4912aHorse Mountain coming up on my left confirmed I was just about back to Grand Lake Road. This area showed signs of having a lot more traffic, but I only met one person the whole day.

IMG_4915aBack on the road I was treated to great views of the river. Well and if you look closely you can see the ice cream cone shaped sign up ahead telling me I’d finished my loop. Time for one of their giant cones full of vanilla! Roughly 70 miles,  much of it in the rain and I’d totally do it again. Maybe next year?

As a bonus, on my ride out I spotted Gen and Emanuel hiking down the road. The next section of the IAT is a long road walk so they’d be dodging logging trucks for a while. I stopped to chat with them and found they had put in a 20 mile day after we parted, then did a very short day and camped at a Matagamon Wilderness site to recover. These two were always smiling it seemed and I hope the rest of their adventure went well.

A little technical info: Rough mileage worked out to about 70 actual trail miles. The Baxter trails are pretty well maintained and easy to follow. The IAT is sparsely blazed in places and the lack of foot traffic can make following the trail a bit tricky at times. Good path finding and navigation skills will come in handy when the trail just seems to disappear. A lot of the IAT section follows old logging roads and is very easy to follow. Most of the difficult sections were between the Wassataquoik Stream ford and Deasey Mountain.

Reservations are required for Baxter State Park camping so some planning is required. Keep the miles manageable so you can be certain of reaching your intended sites. Once on the IAT  it seemed wilderness camping was allowed between shelters so you can be more flexible, but the shelters are nicely spaced.

This route traverses some lightly traveled areas and has some challenging terrain. Definitely not a good first trip, but if you are looking for adventure this is a great route to find some.

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3 thoughts on “Baxter State Park / International Appalachian Trail Loop – July 2015

  1. Pingback: Pogy Pond Rain | Less traveled by

  2. Pingback: Two Year Blogiversary | Less traveled by

  3. Pingback: Martin Ponds and South Katahdin Lake – Family Baxter Trip May 2016 – Less traveled by

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