Baldpate – Two Nights in January

Baldpate – Two Nights in January

42 pics and some babbling from a three day adventure in the deep freeze.

The forecast said it would be cold and clear. It was definitely both when I arrived at the Grafton Notch State Park lot. Despite a few other cars I wouldn’t see anyone until I got back to the lot three days later. These folks were likely either on Old Speck, Table Rock or ice climbing.

The view up towards Old Speck looked frosty with the higher elevation trees coverd in rime.

The Eyebrow looked icy and not the sort of place I want to visit in the Winter. Some folks enjoy that sort of thing heh, but I am too old for that much excitement.

The snow depth, while enough to cover most of the rocks, was a bit shallow for the sled. Deeper snow levels out the trail and buries obstructions. Pulling is easier and the sled tracks better.

By the time I got to the shelter site my quads were burning from the effort and I was losing daylight fast. Just enough time to melt some snow and make dinner before dark.

The mountain above me was still in full sun though. Seeing all that blue sky had me excited about getting up there the next day.

It was 1°F in the morning. With the sled I was able to bring my heavy insulated boots for standing around in camp. Bundled up and a hot cup coffee in hand, I was in pretty good spirits.

Given how cold it was I wasn’t in a big hurry to start the climb. Hanging out in camp covered with heavy insulation was the best way to appreciate the beautiful morning.

A bit after 9am I started the short, but very steep climb up towards the West Baldpate summit. It was challenging to balance the heat of my internal steam engine with the need for clothing in the single digit temperature.

For most of the climb I stuck to a very pronounced “rest step” which is totally the opposite of how I naturally climb. I like to keep moving, but that leads to sweating and in these conditions, sweating is a lot of trouble.

The cautious approach to the climb took time, but soon enough the sky started to open up above me. I didn’t track the exact time, but looking at my gps tracks it seems it was about 90 minutes from camp to summit at the no sweat pace.

This is what I wore on the climb, single 250wt wool base layer top and bottom, thin shell pants and a wool based jacket with light weight wool beanie. Enough to keep the frost off the outside while not holding too much heat.

Within a few minutes of reaching the summit I was reaching for insulation! Thankfully there was only a small breeze, but it was danger type cold up there. Time for the -30°F rated jacket and a face mask. Even well protected I was acutely aware of the importance of not pushing my luck up there. Solo hiking is always about being safe, but especially in these conditions.

My usual lunch of cheese, sausage and tortillas was frozen solid when I pulled it out. The nuts and berries of my trail mix seemed hard enough to break a tooth. It was very pretty, but time to start heading down.

Descending was of course a lot easier and since I didn’t have to focus on pacing myself I had a lot more time to appreciate just how beautiful it was in the woods.

It was a bit of a surprise how fast I arrived back at the shelter intersection. Happy to be close to my stove and a hot lunch, but a bit sorry the hike was over, I headed up towards camp.

I prefer not to sleep in this shelter, but I love the way it catches the winter sun in the afternoon. A great place to hang out and melt snow. Digging in my food bag I found the extra meal I’d tossed in was lasagna, which made an excellent late lunch.

You can see I’ve had to move my sit pad as I followed the sun across the bench. It was around 20°F, but that little bit of sunshine made it feel much warmer. Well, the -30°F coat probably helped too heh.

All too soon the sun was headed down again. Another 14+ hour night approached. For me, one of the hardest parts of winter camping is the long nights. I awoke at 11pm and read for an hour or so because it felt like I’d had a full night’s sleep by then.

In the morning I had the last of my frozen donuts with hot, strong coffee. The nights may be long, but winter camping also has its joys. I’d never carry donuts into the woods on a three season trip, but the bears are sleeping this time of year…I hope.

It wasn’t as cold on the second morning, but cold enough. Think it was around 15°F when I got up and felt like it was going to warm up a bit that day.

Then it was time to load the sled and head down the mountain. Somewhere near the road my tent popped off the sled. The shallow snow at the bottom was making it track poorly and it kept flipping over. I didn’t notice the tent was gone until I got home, hours later. I put out word and while I’ve had reports of it being spotted both in the woods and being picked up by a hiker, unfortunately the folks who picked it up haven’t found me yet.

While that tragic note takes some of the joy out of this adventure, there was so much dang joy that it hardly matters. Any trip to the woods is going to make me happy, but three days of blue sky sunshine above a sparkling winter wonderland left me feeling like a totally different person. I’m trying to keep that happy feeling rolling despite the stupid rain in the forecast later this week. I say bring on more Winter!!

Hope you’re getting out when you can. I’ve been too lazy to post here, but we’ve been snowshoeing all over the last couple months. Need to catch up on my Trailspace reviews, but I’ll try to share some of the local snowshoe pics when I can.

Backyard Visitor

Found this beauty getting the morning sun behind the house today. Seemed a bit wet from the weather overnight and in need of some drying out.

I know this already went live, but I’m adding a couple more I just took. It seems to have dried out now. Definitely keeping the yard squirrel free today!

Mansfield 2 the Revenge of the Mama

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The reservations have been made so there is no turning back now. We’ve booked a two night stay at the Underhill State Park campground from which to mount our second attempted family assault on Mt Mansfield.

Last year’s amazing adventure came up just short of the summit as we stopped within sight of the crest of the Chin. Mother and daughter astounded me with their determination to reach the top, but the climb had taken a toll. Thankfully some clouds rolled in and I was able to convince them it might rain or they may have insisted on continuing. Good thing because everyone, daddy included, was wiped out by the time we got back to camp.

When Frau Stranger told me she wanted a rematch I was surprised, but happy to oblige. This time we know what we’re getting into. The plan is to bring more food, more water and more legs this time. We’ll get an earlier start so we can have an extra long lunch on top, food and rest tend to be good motivators we find. Hmmm, maybe two lunches heh.

I’m already assuming victory this time because I know how hard my wife has been working to get ready. I have a feeling she will be a great inspiration should we feel a bit weak and might just carry us on her back if we’re slowing her down too much 🙂

Hope you are getting out to enjoy whatever random weather this very random Winter has been throwing at you. Mostly ice here which is no fun, but there is talk of snow tomorrow.  Just because I’m making plans for Summer doesn’t mean I’m ready for Winter to end!

Two Nights on the Grafton Loop – October 2016

Two Nights on the Grafton Loop – October 2016

33 Pics and tales of adventure on the GLT / AT

After over four weeks without putting on a pack and very few days with even a good walk it seemed the perfect opportunity to head out on one of the toughest hikes I know. The Grafton Loop Trail is officially listed at about 38 miles and includes roughly 12 miles of well groomed and heavily traveled Appalachian Trail along with lesser maintained sections that are far less traveled.dsc00161aMy previous two training trips to this area in August were launched from the state park lot where the AT crosses the highway that bisects Grafton Notch. When I make what has been my annual pilgrimage to head up and try to do the entire loop I prefer to park at the quieter loop trail head lot found on the southern end of the notch. From there I like to do the short road walk and cross the private lands that lead to where the trail heads up towards Bald Mtn for those heading clockwise around the loop.

This area of farm land leads to a snowmobile trail with a bridge across Bear Brook and then eventually the start of the real trail itself. It is a gentle, rolling hike which is a great way to get warmed up before the climbing begins.dsc00162aNormally it is also a wet walk with lots of little creek crossings, but this year it was quite dry. I was hoping the water sources were running again as there had been some rain. The empty channels down below made me wonder what I’d find on the other side of the day’s mountains.dsc00164aThe AMC handles the trails on the west side of the notch and they have built some nice, terrain saving, steps in a few spots. These things really keep hikers from tearing up the ground which lets the rain and snow melt quickly dig down to the rock below. They also make a great spot to sit down and have a snack on a wet day. Climbing up into the clouds I reached the point where everything was wet including me and wished I’d brought my OR Crocs along.dsc00163aThis quick picture of a hiker disappearing up the steps is my only way to know that I didn’t imagine the encounter. I have almost never met anyone on this loop other than on the AT section. We chatted for a bit before he headed on and he mentioned he was planning on camping at either the Slide or Bull Run sites. I never saw him again, but finding this pic on my camera at least reassured me that he wasn’t just a figment of my imagination heh.dsc00165aBald Mtn is not as bald as it once was, but it does provide the first hints of the views to come. It also has some wonderful alpine lichen patches. This means we’re getting up into the sensitive area and its time to start being really careful where we put our feet.dsc00166aLeft untrampled this stuff can have the time it needs to grow which it does very, very slowly. It is great to see a small patch, but when you find yourself in an area with large patches of it all around it starts to feel really magical. To me it signals the entry to the summit areas above the trees and it always brings a smile to my face.dsc00168aSo did the views starting to open out in the space between the clouds just above and the trees below. There were hints of sun sneaking in from somewhere. I was just happy the clouds had lifted enough to be over my head as I was a bit wet from climbing up through them earlier.dsc00170aThe colors were a bit muted by the hazy air, but those glints of sun were giving me hope things might still clear up before I finished crossing Sunday River Whitecap. Coming up out of these trees on to the summit is one of my favorite bit of trail ever. The views suddenly begin to open up to the horizon which on a clear day can be quite far indeed.dsc00171aThis was a different experience. Interesting in a different way with the muted light and shorter horizon the clouds were creating. So long as the clouds stayed up I was fine with it all. Don’t fall on me…dsc00174aStopping for a break near the end of the summit area I discovered that my legs had something they wanted to say about taking over a month off and then climbing up this mountain with a full pack. What they had to say was, “You will pay for this!!” as I felt the first twinges of cramps tightening up the lower front of my quads. Having expected trouble and well supplied from the aborted LT trip I had some Gatorade pouches along and mixed up a double batch while I was here.dsc00176aThen it was time to head down the steep pitches that would lead  me around Slide Mountain first far off to the right of this view and then across towards the sunlit area to the left of Slide Mtn. This area is relatively casual trail once you get down from the summit, but by this point my legs are always a bit tired. On this trip they weren’t feeling tired, they still were strong from the long summer of training. What they were was angry!! Not only did they start to cramp up in the front of the quads, but I found out that there is a spot in the back of the quad that can cramp up too. Astoundingly painful and a total surprise after a lifetime of football, surfing, cycling and backpacking. I had no idea that was even an option let alone how much it could hurt heh.

Being the sturdy adventurer I am, I of course didn’t stop at the Slide campsite and opted to head another mile or so on to Bull Run as intended. Keeping the legs from cramping up was an interesting exercise in mind over body. No idea if the guy I’d met earlier camped there at the Slide site, but he was no where to be found when I arrived at Bull Run. I have camped at both spots before and prefer both camping and waking up at Bull Run. The water supply is more reliable and you wake up in a great spot to climb Old Speck first thing in the morning, though in that regard the walk from Slide can be a nice warm up before the climb and the side trail there leads down from camp rather than up.dsc00178aAs usual when I camp on this side of the mountain it was a windy night. There were a few branches I heard crashing down in the dark, but the platform was a safe enough spot. It was a bit wet by dawn though with the trees scraping the clouds over night. I was up early that day so only have this quick flash picture before I left camp.dsc00179aThe climb up to Old Speck from this side is much easier than either of the other two approaches via the Appalachian Trail. There is dirt under foot in many places on this side while the huge number of hikers have worn the other routes down to the rock in many places. There are also found here a thing rarely seen in Maine; Switchbacks! The trail really could have gone straight up as it doesn’t seem that steep. I’m guessing they wanted to protect the ground and avoid the deep erosion found on the other side of the mountain.dsc00181aIt was a great morning for climbing with cool, damp air. I did stop and take some pictures along the way, but didn’t linger long. The fog in the valleys below certainly was tempting though.dsc00185aNeat to be in the sun up above looking down on this stuff on such a scale. I was soaked and dripping just like the trees so I really appreciated the open summit.dsc00186aSo tempting to just sit here and watch the day go by from this magical viewpoint, but I knew I had the worst of the notch ahead of me so didn’t dare get too comfortable.dsc00187aMy goal for the day was to get a few miles beyond East Baldpate, the exposed ridge on the left. Not so far as the crow flies, but as seen on the previous trips to this area, the steep notch makes it interesting to say the least.dsc00189aI had my second breakfast with most of my trail clothes laid out in the sun in hopes of drying a bit. That was about as futile as me climbing this dang tower’s ladder or finishing this loop for that matter heh. Still, you have to keep trying. I focused on eating and taking pics rather than wasting any time on the tower this trip.dsc00190adsc00192aIt looked like it was a perfect day to be up there on that ridge. Actually it was a pretty good day to be anywhere with a view. Just enough clouds in the distance to make things look picturesque and plenty of blue up above.dsc00195adsc00196aA few last looks before heading down into the notch.dsc00198adsc00199adsc00200aWell, OK, a few more. Just an amazing day to be out there!dsc00201aMaking my way down towards the bottom but still a long ways to go. This section seems short on the map, less than four miles. The steep, rocky areas combined with some rolling PUD combine to make it both time consuming and tiring.dsc00204aThankfully there are a few viewpoints that open up on the way down. Color was a bit low as far as the leaves were concerned. Still it gives a person an excuse to stand still for a moment and remember why you put in all the effort.dsc00205aThere were a few fiery red maples sprinkled throughout the canopy. I appreciated what I found as I’d come with low expectations due to the dry year.

I guess you could say I came with low expectations about this loop too after all of these years of not finishing it. This time I managed to cross the highway and start up the other side. Watching the clock as I climbed over Hedgehog Hill and towards the Baldpates I could see I wasn’t moving fast enough to make it to the camp on the far side of the mountains before dark. Having eaten my dinner by headlamp the night before I wasn’t excited about doing it again. Knowing the rough trail on the descent the idea of night hiking didn’t appeal much either so I decided to spend the night at the Baldpate Shelter.

The nice brook I’d found there the month before was barely a trickle, but I had the place to myself for a few hours which I used to dry out as much as possible. Well and to eat and eat and then have a snack heh. A couple of section hikers came in just before dark and set up tents nearby leaving me and the mice to the shelter for the night.

I had an extra dinner with me and was thinking I’d change my three night trip into a four night trip. It seemed this might finally be my year to go all the way around this loop. Then I got the bright idea to check the weather report heh. I’ve been carrying a Delorme inReach this year and one of the features is the ability to request localized weather reports. Both that night and in the morning it said I’d be hiking down in the rain and riding home wet on the scoot if I stayed out for two more nights. I don’t mind hiking in the rain that much, but hiking wet and then doing a few hours in the rain on the bike sounded like more than I was willing to deal with. So, I did the “smart” thing and headed back down the mountain the way I’d come up.

dsc00208aOn the way down I was treated to this sight at the upper intersection with the Table Rock viewpoint trail. These folks seem to have just dropped their packs in the middle of the trail and ran off to see the view. Well, either that or it was some sort of mini Rapture, but either way it seemed a bit odd.dsc00209aPlenty of other nice things to be seen though. It was a beautiful morning in the forest and I was headed down hill on some steep, but well maintained trail.dsc00210aYup, plenty of time to enjoy the colors and the smells of Fall.dsc00212aAfter my relaxing walk down the mountain I had a wonderful second breakfast at the parking area. While there I exchanged my mud splattered hiking pants for a clean pair of hitchhiking pants heh. Having traveled this highway before I knew I’d stand a better chance of getting a ride if I made the effort.dsc00217aI made it a ways down the road, maybe a mile or two, before a state park ranger stopped his truck and gave me a lift back to my scoot. Time enough to get a few more shots of the leaves. Failing to do this loop had never felt so good! My legs got over their anger for the most part after the first day. I’d been eating like a king since I had LT supplies to use up. Plus the sun was shining and I didn’t have to pay for a tow truck ride home 🙂

Think I’ll actually be a bit sad if I ever actually finish this loop. It has jokingly become my white whale and I think I’d miss it in that context if I go all the way around. Definitely will be back next year to try though!

Speck Pond Overnight – August 2016

Speck Pond Overnight – August 2016

18 pictures and tales of happiness on trail from the last of my Long Trail warm up trips. Well, at least for this year 🙂dsc00081aI was glad to see there was still at least some water running down this rocky bed. Most years this is a nicely babbling brook, but with the dry Summer I wasn’t sure what I’d find. Seeing water here reassured me that I’d probably find water on the other side of the mountain where I needed it to be.dsc00083aThis waterfall looks totally different when the flow is higher. I think this version is actually prettier to look at, but seeing the lack of water always sets off alarms in my head. Water sources are very important to steam engines like me so as much as I hate walking in mud a dry year leaves me nervous.dsc00084aThis first view towards the West always marks the beginning of the actual climb in my mind. It is the first chance to see the terrain starting to open up. I can’t find a name for this mountain on my maps but the farther section is listed as Red Ridge.dsc00088aGaining a bit more altitude and crossing to the other side of the ridge affords a peek at the Baldpates. From here it is easy to trace the route of previous trips, including the most recent, up over Hedgehog Hill, West Baldpate and then finally the exposed slabs of East Baldpate. The climb may go higher on this side of the notch, but looking at that terrain it is understandable that this side seems easier.dsc00090aMy nemesis, the tower on top of Old Speck. I can climb mountains with little thought of fear, but ladders and even some old rusty staircases on the mountaintop towers I come across can really freak me out. I’ve been trying to get to the top of this tower for years and almost made it this time 🙂 Transitioning from the top of the ladder to the tiny wooden platform proved to be too much, but I was trying to get in shape for the towers of the LT so figured I at least got some practice being afraid.dsc00091aEven from the foot of the tower the view was pretty nice. Looking North the eyes were torn between the mountains fading into the distance and the nature of the gathering clouds. There was some chance of rain in the forecast, but knowing these mountains this sky said it was a pretty sure thing.dsc00095aFor now though there was sun and I was off to explore a new stretch of trail I’d never seen other than on the maps. Heading to the South on the AT I broke out of the scrub onto a rocky, open area that showed me a whole new view of the world. Then I heard the tell tale shuffling and puffing of a hiker coming up the ridge a few moments before he popped into view.dsc00096aLooking out into the Mahoosucs from up here was amazing. I’d seen this area from farther away and a different angle on my trips up Sunday River Whitecap, but now they seemed so close.dsc00098aSome haze in the air limited the views, but considering that Success Pond in the middle of this shot is in New Hampshire and the distant profile of Mansfield and Camels Hump on the LT in Vermont were easy enough to make out I didn’t exactly feel like I’d been cheated out of much.dsc00099aThe clouds continued to gather, but I was content to take my time and soak up the amazing views. I knew I didn’t have far to go to reach Speck Pond so stayed up above the trees while I had the chance. The late Summer light on the forests below was making me very happy I’d gone to the trouble of climbing up there.dsc00101aNow was time for climbing down though. Looking back up one last time before sinking into the trees I could see the rocky spots I’d stopped at earlier up near the top. This section was filled with very steep, rock wall bits of trail. The sort you need hands to climb up and tend to slide down on your butt either on purpose or by surprise.

I ran into an older couple of thru hikers who were slack packing NOBO at the base of this rocky section. He was smiling patiently as she cussed up a storm about how much she hated Maine. When she asked me to tell her that she was almost to the top I felt terrible having to let her know the worst was yet to come. Seems she had run out of joy for the trail, but they weren’t about to stop so she was left banging her head against mountains. I wished them luck and moved on reminding myself to walk in joy or not at all, as she certainly didn’t seem to be having a good time.dsc00103aAs much as I looked forward to getting to camp I hated to go back into the trees. Even with the hazy sky, being above the trees and being able to see the world out there is always such an amazing experience. It sort of seems that way even if you drive to the top of a mountain, but the slow process of climbing up there enhances the experience in my mind. You get to see the world from angles that folks stuck on the roads never will too, making the views and the memories of them more personal.dsc00104aBy the time I reached Speck Pond the overcast had pretty much filled in. Looking at the water made me wonder if there was a spring at the camp. Filtering pond water is usually a pain, often requiring a backflush on the filter to clear out the scum that builds up from the particles in the water. Turns out there was a spring and it was even running. The downside was that a recent hard rain had washed a heavy load of tannin into the source and it was coming out on the brown side. Tasted fine enough once filtered, but pouring brown water down your throat tends to set off instinctive warnings in the brain, at least for the first day or two.dsc00105aI found this lovely tent pad available and set up to one side in case things filled up and I was asked to share. Easier to plan ahead than move everything later is what I’ve found when staying at the AMC sites. On this night I had the spot to myself, though nearby neighboring pads were all filled up. Oddly enough the two guys camping next to me were also carrying MSR Hubbas. We all had the older, green, preNX model and had arrived from our various directions in this one tiny spot in the Maine woods at the same time.dsc00106aDespite the forecast and looming skies there was only a single woman who chose to stay in the shelter that night with the rest of us choosing to tent. She was the only one who packed up a dry camp in the morning as the rain finally started about 3am and came in waves throughout the early morning. I’ve heard this shelter has been entirely dismantled and a new one built on this spot just recently. After all these years of wondering what it was like down there at Speck Pond and finally getting a chance to see I now find I have to go back because it has changed. I’m OK with that 🙂dsc00108aLooking out across the pond I was surprised that I kept hearing people talking. It seemed like such a peaceful spot, yet these voices kept intruding. My natural instinct when I’m in the woods is to whisper or speak in very quiet tones. Hearing these people, wherever they were, reinforced that philosophy as wise. I’d hate to be the person responsible for disrupting someone’s peace and quiet.dsc00109aThanks to the new camera I was able to figure out where all the noise was coming from 🙂 These hikers had opted to camp next to the pond on the far shore rather than pay the fee to stay at the AMC site. Scroll back and look at the previous picture, they were camped where the treeline comes down to a V, way across the pond. Voices carry.dsc00112aThe next day started out wet and stayed that way all the way back down to the scoot. The only pictures I took were of this Spruce Grouse which seemed to have staked out a natural hiker resting rock as a begging spot. Beautiful bird, but a shame that people feed the wildlife and change its behavior.

Sadly, this last trip prior to leaving for the Long Trail was my undoing. Well, the undoing of the rear tire on the scoot to be more specific. On getting back to the bike and loading up I noticed that the tire was totally worn down to the belts in a strip that ran all the way around. Apparently the rubber had been unwinding on the trip up and now I was faced with a long ride home on a sketchy looking tire. I didn’t need to worry about that for long though as the tire failed completely after just a few miles heh. Thanks to the help of some very nice ladies who live on a farm along the highway and a large sum of money paid to a towing company I made it home that night. A huge, unexpected expense right before heading off on a month long trip was too much. It was hard to cancel the trip with it being so close at hand, but I think I made the right call.

My only regret is that I had my legs in primo condition at the time of this trip. There followed almost an entire month of not getting out on trail that saw them fade quickly. Missing those legs now and especially on a few trips I’ve taken since. Have to remember not to take such a long break once I get them back in shape!

Baldpates Overnight – August 2016

Baldpates Overnight – August 2016

24 pics from a quick training trip over and back one of  my favorite mountains in Maine, East Baldpatedsc00022aUnloading in the Grafton Notch State Park lot I was excited to be getting back out on trail. Early August was devoted to family stuff but now I was ready to spend some time going up and down some mountains to see how strong the legs really were. At this point I was just a few weeks from starting the Long Trail with bags and boxes of food piling up at home. It seemed a good idea to make sure to spend some time keeping the legs warmed up too.dsc00024aThis good sized snake had apparently hitched a ride all the way up there inside my rolled up motorcycle cover. Near as I can tell he must have gotten in there at some point in the garage trying to peel off that old skin and ended up bungee corded to the back of my scoot for a ride across the state of Maine.dsc00025aHe headed off into the woods to the south while I crossed the highway towards the woods on the other side. The well marked and groomed trail head usually makes me giggle a bit. It seems like a baited trap if you know what follows. dsc00027aOn a warm August day the shadows of the forest were welcome, though they do hold back any sort of breeze. The first part of the trail climbs a bit, then rolls for a while before reaching the Baldpate shelter.dsc00029aI had never taken the time to visit the shelter before despite hiking past the sign for it many times. I stopped in to eat lunch and do some exploring since I wasn’t in any hurry on this trip. The metal roof was noisy, but it seemed a nice enough spot. The stream behind the shelter was running nicely thanks to some recent rain.dsc00032aThen it was time to start the actual climb of West Baldpate. Right past the shelter turn off the trail starts a series of stony ascents.dsc00033aThanks to the efforts of some dedicated trail workers these stones have been organized in many places to create a staircase affect.dsc00034aPerfect trail for testing out the legs. This sort of climbing requires high knee lifting and taking on challenging foot placements without losing stride. Thankfully I’ve done this climb enough to know how short it is because on a hot day it is definitely one to get on top of and put behind you.dsc00035aBreaking out of the trees near the summit meant losing the shadows but gaining a nice breeze.dsc00036aAlso some nice views of the mountains ahead for those staying on the AT. Pretty sure I could see at least as far as the section I’d done back in June. A view like that makes a person want to just keep walking to reach that horizon.dsc00039aOne step at a time though, so first it would be time to traverse the shallow col and head up the exposed side of East Baldpate. Again having done this route before I know how much fun that will be rather than being concerned about how big it looks. The first time I stood here I was a bit nervous about it, but the slabs make an easy ramp compared to the rock pile trails I’m used to.dsc00043aThe col is a neat alpine bog and thankfully most folks are pretty good about sticking to the trail. The rock bowl here traps water keeping the ground wet even in a dry year such as this one. I always get a kick out of passing through alpine bogs just because it seems strange to have wetlands on top of a mountain.dsc00047aSoon enough it was time for second lunch on top of the slabs. The actual summit is a bit farther down the trail, but the big open ledge at the top is a great spot to take in the views to the west and south. Here you can see the west peak where I stood earlier with Old Speck rising up behind.dsc00048aLooking to the south where the mountains give way to rolling hills of farms and forests. Just a great day to be on top of a mountain with no place to rush off to.dsc00051aThe northwest view towards NH and VT. With the LT trip on my mind I recall looking at the shape of the mountains on the horizon and trying to match what I saw with the elevation profile in my head.dsc00053aThen it was time to head down the back side of the mountain onto the Grafton Loop. Once you leave the Appalachian Trail on top of East Baldpate things change quickly. With little foot traffic the ground under foot is actually ground in many places, rather than rock. dsc00057aThe view from the top of this rock is hard to capture on a camera, but when you stand there in person you can see just how far down you are heading. I’m glad the trail maintainers saw fit to build the rungs into the rock to encourage folks to take the direct route. This is just the sort of spot folks will do a lot of damage to trying to find easier ways around.dsc00059aThe view from the bottom gives you a better perspective on what a person would face without those rungs there. Not the worst notch I’ve ever had to wedge myself into to climb, but coming down would be dicey, especially when wet.dsc00065aMy usual spot at the East Baldpate campsite which despite the name is well over two miles from the summit. The sites on this side of the loop are under the care of the MATC and only lightly improved. There is a latrine and a network of paths leading to some open spots for making camp. No fires are allowed anywhere on the Grafton Loop so be sure to bring a stove if you come here.dsc00067aAfter a peaceful night it was time to head back up to see what the morning views looked like.dsc00068aIt was a bit hazy so the horizon was a bit closer than the day before, but it was a beautiful morning indeed.dsc00069aUp top at the east summit the wind was blowing strong. I’d worked up a bit of a sweat steaming my way to the top and despite the views didn’t stay long in fear of freezing to death.dsc00074aHeading back up from the col to the West Baldpate summit taking advantage of another nice ladder. This spot had some moisture on the rocks and would be quite treacherous without the aid. I take on whatever I find on trail, but always appreciate the effort when someone builds me an easier way.dsc00073aOne last view before heading down into the trees. Yup, it might be a lot of work to climb up to these places, but worth it to have moments like these.

Freezeout Loop Revenge – Baxter With the Boys July 2016

Freezeout Loop Revenge – Baxter With the Boys July 2016

39 pictures from a second attempt at a trip that ended waist deep in a flood when we first tried a few years back. This time we finally got to see the entire loop and no one was at much risk of being swept away.IMG_6279aBut let’s start at the beginning, loading up in the parking lot. Once a year the boys from Texas fly up to Maine to eat lobstahs and allow me to drag their butts through some mud or over a mountain or two.  Like our previous attempt we were headed counter clockwise around the loop, but this time Frost Pond would be our last night rather than our first so we were starting from a different spot in the Trout Brook area.IMG_6280aThis trip was a month later in the year and we were hopeful the weather would be kinder as the forecast called for little chance of rain during the week. It was warm and a bit humid, but we had only five or six miles of relatively flat trail for the first day.IMG_6281aOn our previous visit to the Little East campsite we’d had wonderful luck pulling dinner out of the brook before the storm hit. We all broke out our rods and got busy soon after reaching camp in hopes of a repeat performance.IMG_6283aSadly we were only getting hits from undersized fish for the most part, though my nephew did manage to find a couple of keepers to have for a snack. I felt bad about torturing the little ones that kept taking my lures and decided I’d settle for eating out of my food bag and sleeping better instead.IMG_6286aThe brook was running quite a bit lower than normal as the Summer had been pretty dry. Certainly a far cry from the muddy and foaming flood that was pouring through here on our way out last time.IMG_6287aThe confluence of the Little East Branch of the Penobscot and Webster Brook was peaceful as evening came on. After a first day of easy trails everyone was feeling pretty good, but I could tell the horrors of the previous trip had left a mark on everyone, leaving us all a bit nervous despite the lack of reason for concern. I knew once we made it to camp the next day that would all be gone.IMG_6289aThe peaceful sunset continued as sunsets do and we passed a relatively peaceful night. There was a brief shower and the patter of rain on the shelter roof was enough to make us all sleep a bit less easy. Thankfully the morning dawned clear and we were on our way up the brook.IMG_6290aHaving been here just a few years ago the trail seemed familiar, yet very different since it was so dry. Last time the rain had been coming down for more than twelve hours by the time we were in this spot and trail was puddling heavily already. IMG_6293aThe brook was flowing well enough as it is fed from Webster Lake via an outlet near our next campsite. Last time it had seemed like it wanted to eat us, but now it looked like a relaxing spot to camp.IMG_6295aWe stopped for lunch where the old Webster Stream LT used to be. I’m pretty certain it stood somewhere right about here. Not sure if they helicoptered out the debris, but the site restoration was so well done that we weren’t really sure if this was the exact spot. I did find a tiny piece of roof shingle to verify it had been here close by.

We took shelter here after being turned back by the flood on our previous attempt. Soaked after a long day of hiking in a deluge and then wading back out of the flood at the Hudson Brook crossing we were happy to spend the night here. In talking to the folks at the Baxter office they said almost no one ever reserved this site and after the tornado it was removed as part of the rehab effort.IMG_6297aIt really was a pretty spot and I’d imagine early in the year the fishing might be good as there is a deep channel here. The boys headed down to filter some water rather than fish as we still had some miles to go that afternoon.IMG_6300aWe passed through this area filled with raspberry bushes and I was grateful to find they weren’t quite ripe yet. I have a feeling this spot is bear central once those berries turn red. As much as I like eating those wild berries I don’t want to have to wrassle a bear over them.IMG_6301aAhhhh, camp. We found the newly created bypass trail to be an amazing bit of work. Shortly after the flood we enjoyed there followed a tornado that toppled a huge swath of trees. That one two punch left a mess easier bypassed than recovered so a couple of miles of new trail were created from scratch. When we crossed over Hudson Brook it was so tiny we didn’t even realize what it was at the time, but we were moving along quickly in anticipation of finding our campsite.IMG_6302aOnce we found it we were a bit less enthused heh. Clearly this site being so far from the park road and accessible via means other than walking (boat & snowmobile) meant it saw a lot of use and some of it by folks not too concerned with being good neighbors. Most sites with canoes will have a bunch of life vests and certainly more than just one paddle. On the other hand this site came with an old burnt up pan and a latrine filled to the top with trash so there was a trade off, though not in our favor.IMG_6304aIt did also come with some great views. Right on the lake it was exposed to the wind, but there was full sun and lot of beauty to soak up.IMG_6305aIMG_6306aIMG_6307aThe LT here is pretty small, but this site is also a tent site which is rare, allowing a total of twelve in a party. The boys decided they would set up their tents on the grass to enjoy the breeze leaving me the lean to all to myself. Well except for a shelter mouse heh.IMG_6311aThere were two different looking snakes living in the rocks around the fire ring. They would come out to sun themselves, only withdrawing into the rocks if we walked too close. I was hopeful at this point that they had eaten all of the shelter mice since they looked to be fat and happy snakes.IMG_6315aSpeaking of fat and happy, this flock of geese swam right through our front yard later in the afternoon. There were also some loons and at least one bald eagle working the edge of the lake.IMG_6319aThe boys decided to see if they could hang their food bags which made for good entertainment. They each took a shot at it and in the end settled for what they could make of the situation. Since mice and chipmunks were our biggest threat they did just fine, but I think a smarter than average bear might have gotten their bags.IMG_6321aThe campsite may have had a bit of a dumpy feel to it, but there was a lot of good to be seen here as well. There was a great moon to enjoy once the sun set, but we were sleepy campers and missed it for the most part.IMG_6330aPacking up in the morning I’d survived my night with the shelter mouse. He survived too, but not unscathed. At one point, a particularly bad point for him, he jumped up onto the side of my tent that I’d pitched to keep him at bay. I happened to be sitting in just the right spot that the instant he hit the tent my hand instinctively slapped him off. He flew into the night and didn’t return 🙂IMG_6332aLeaving Webster Lake in the morning headed towards Hudson Pond we found ourselves crossing Hudson Brook again. It was hard not to giggle at the thought that this tiny creek had given birth to the raging flood we found ourselves trapped by on the last trip. Of course that was the nervous giggle that only a man whose found himself thigh deep with a rising flood roaring all around him knows isn’t all that funny, but still, this seemed impossibly small.IMG_6336aHeading up the hill towards Hudson Pond we entered the Forest Science area of Baxter State Park. First we passed through an area that had been logged some years before. The trail there was very hard to follow at times with few blazes and little in terms of an obvious treadway. Some trees had been cut about ten feet up leaving a tall stump with a blaze on it, but there were areas where we had to really pick our path carefully while avoiding both mud pits and fallen branches hidden under deep grass.

Then we came to a warning sign that we were entering an active area and sure enough we crossed paths with a man hauling logs along a path slashed through the forest.IMG_6337aYou can just make out the tail end of his tracked vehicle rounding the corner with a full load. The experience of watching and listening to this mechanical beast after several days on trail was most odd. Even stranger than the feeling one gets watching cars zip by at the average road crossing. Soon enough we were out of sight, but we would hear this man working for the rest of the afternoon.IMG_6339aWe arrived at Hudson Pond early enough in the day for some exploration, though it was a bit hot for hiking much more.IMG_6342aThankfully this site not only came with a canoe, but two paddles. We took turns paddling with just two going out at a time to avoid overloading the canoe. There was a pretty stiff breeze out on the water though we were able to head up wind first and then coast home.IMG_6346aI took a series of wild, over the shoulder, no look shots of my brother with the rest coming out worse than this. Managing a camera and a paddle while bobbing up and down in a canoe is not an exact science so I was happy to have him actually in one of the shots.IMG_6353aLater he headed out with his son who is studying aquatic bugs and turned our trip into a collecting expedition as well. He brought along numerous containers and a net for hunting down specimens. He also used his collection skills to wipe out a lot of deer flies which never seemed to end up in a collection jar so I’m guessing that was just personal.IMG_6363aThe next day we had a lot of miles to cover to reach our last campsite. We got an early start and soon were passing through a day use area where the forestry people have an open shelter and a privy. Once we passed this road we were back into the Baxter we know and love so well with lots of boggy sections.IMG_6365aThis crossing was one of the best parts of the  trip. The trail just ended in this swampy pool being held back by a naturally formed debris wall. The murky water was about a foot deep with no clue as to how deep the mud below might be. The boys started talking about taking off their boots for a water crossing when I spotted the debris just down stream. Walking quickly as my feet were sinking in with each step, I carefully worked my way across. Seeing me on the other side is all it took to inspire them to follow quickly behind and I just barely managed to get my camera out for this shot. I think that is my nephew behind the tree, but it is hard to tell. I do know they both got their feet a bit wet but at least no one got sucked down into a mud pit.IMG_6368aGathering our courage for the big climb ahead of us. Well not a really big climb, but the only real mountain we’d see the entire trip. Hot and low on water due to nothing but swamps along the trail all day it was a bit of a struggle to the top.IMG_6373aThere was a bit of a view from some open rocky areas near the summit and we stopped for lunch. It was hot in the sun and the low water supplies kept us from staying here too long. The boys were very dry by the time we reach our final campsite at Frost Pond and while I drank the last of my water soon before finding the camp I too was ready to soak up a couple of liters of Gatorade.IMG_6378aI was astounded to see this fancy new privy on the hill above camp. On our previous visit here the latrine was an open metal cage with a toilet seat bolted over a hole on top. This beauty smelled of fresh cedar and the boys kept saying it smelled like the lumber store. So in two days we went from one of the worst latrines I’ve ever seen to this brand new marvel. I feel bad for anyone doing the loop in the other direction. This is the sort of privy that spoils a person.IMG_6382aThis relaxing late afternoon down by the pond cost me a few bug bites, but it was totally worth it. The canoes here were locked up, perhaps because they are closer to the trailhead. We were content to soak up water, then some dinner and then more water with no need for a paddle around the lake. I have heard good things about the fishing here though and would like to come back next Spring just after the season opens and spend some time with my pole here and at Little East.IMG_6394aIMG_6400aIt was a great last night on the trail and with only a few miles back to the car our confidence of surviving this adventure was growing. Of course once you’ve survived everything seems easier and there had been some struggles along the way. Still it was nice to think we’d finally complete the loop that had eluded us.IMG_6406aIt was warm and steamy, but nothing was going to keep us from finishing the next morning. We all had our thoughts on the cheeseburgers we knew we’d find down the road once we reached the car. The boys were moving right along considering they were on day five of what for them is a rare chance to get out on trail. I’m thinking next year we need to find something with a real mountain in it or they are going to get soft on me. This was a great relaxer of a trip though and I always look forward to getting out on trail with the boys from Texas.

The aborted trip with the epic rain storm was before this site existed. If you are interested in reading the details of that adventure in more depth you can find the trip report I posted on Trailspace here http://www.trailspace.com/forums/trip-reports/topics/146513.html Along with the epic tale of flood survival you can also find a picture of the old Frost Pond latrine 🙂

If you are considering heading out on this loop be sure to come prepared. This is definitely a path less traveled by and you will not find any friendly park rangers out there to assist you. Be prepared to navigate and take your time in the logged out section as that is very hard to follow. Once a person lost the trail there it would be very difficult to find again. Also, during dry years, be wary of the lack of usable water between Hudson Pond and Frost Pond other than possibly Boody Brook after coming down Wadleigh Mtn. In between we found everything to be thickly stagnant and didn’t bother to try filtering. It isn’t a terribly difficult trail, but wilderness should always be respected and despite the forestry science logging this is definitely a wilderness adventure!