My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Appalachian Trail Memories: Old and New

Many years ago, maybe thirty, I spent several spring breaks hiking on the Appalachian Trail, mostly in Tennessee, but one year, we also hiked the beginning of the trail in Georgia. 

I have many wonderful memories of hikes with different friends and meetups with new people.

My first time, I learned how groups form and us vs. them happens. Three friends and I hiked for several days just after the park had started computer reservations. Through some glitch, they overbooked,  and we had more people in the shelters than there was room for - they had two rows of 6 bunks made of hardware cloth and logs and we all just slept next to each other. We had about three groups that ended up hiking together and were joined each evening by extra groups - either hiking in the opposite direction or hiking up from a side trail.  By the last evening, when we stopped in light snow, everyone took on a job -  all without any conversation - putting up tarps on the fenced side of the shelter, hauling in wood, sawing wood into fireplace-sized logs. We were joined by a thru-hiker and a pair of very high-tech, obnoxious guys from a side trail.  The thru-hiker was a quiet,  polite guy and we allowed him to share our fire.  The others?  Not so much.  They had to stay in their corner of the floor away from the fireplace and off the bunks which we had already taken. They were very much THEM and we didn't want them around.  And previously I would have thought we were all more civilized than that.

Another wonderful memory was of passing by a medium sized tree that had an oval hole in it, maybe eighteen inches wide by 28 inches long on a few minutes before we reached the shelter.  Scratches marked the tree up to the hole and from it came both the sounds of snoring and mewing.  I figured I was hearing a mother bear and her cubs.  I was glad she didn't wake up until after we left as her tree was only about one hundred yards from our shelter. I went back early the next morning to enjoy the sounds again.

And we had a wild, unexpected party in Georgia over one Thanksgiving weekend. We met up with a group of guys that had been camping together along the trail every year since college.  (They were probably in their late 30's at the time.) They had a support vehicle carried lots of food and booze plus marijuana. They came and invited us to share their fire. They made grape koolaid/vodka wine which they let age at least a minute before declaring, "no wine shall be served before its time.... IT'S TIME.

Many of them shared memories. One guy had gotten divorced because he never spent Thanksgiving with his family.  He remarried but made his new wife sign an agreement that he would always be able to go hiking with his buddies for Thanksgiving.

Another guy told of finding a female ranger swimming nude and joining her.

So when I got to Maine, I had dreams of hiking the last bit of the Appalachian Trail which ends on Baxter Peak of Kathalin Mountain right there in Baxter Park.

I got up at 3:30 AM, got dressed and packed the inside of my tent, then the tent. I was leaving camp just after 4:00 AM, in order to drive 1.5 hours to get to the day use area for the Appalachian Trail. It was still dark when I arrived - I can't believe how many minutes of light we are losing each day - and I was the first person in the lot. I thought about cooking breakfast and making coffee, but decided I'd wait until after hiking. As it started to get light, other cars started arriving.

Morning sky from the day use area 

I decided to go hiking around 6:00 AM and then saw I was supposed to walk to the ranger's station to register.  No one was there, so I just started hiking towards the trailhead and registered there. It was 6:30 when I got there.

Metal Plaque on a boulder in the parking lot

Sign at the Trailhead

The trail was very well maintained and was mostly flat and easy for the first little bit, although it is listed as strenuous. It traveled up along Katahdin Creek which tumbled over every larger rocks as I started the uphill climb. At a few places, I could walk down to the creek and take pictures of the large rocks and small waterfalls before getting back on the trail. 

View of the creek from the trail 

The trail is beautifully maintained

Even though a lot of it looks like this 

I was able to walk down to the creek to get this picture

I took this still pool with the lovely pattern of rocks from very near the bridge

Then I crossed the creek on a flat bridge with no sides, about fifteen feet above the creek before the path took such a sharp right over a huge boulder, that I lost it for a while and could only find the path to the restroom. Finally another pair of hikers came by and I followed them.

From this spot on, the trail traveled up almost continuously, either up rock steps of varying heights or just through medium to large boulders.  Almost immediately, I arrived at Katahdin Falls, which were amazing. Water fell over three levels and in different numbers of streams, from one to three.

This was the trail at the sharp left turn after it had gone up over slickrock

The falls were outstanding - and worth every bit of the hike

A closer view of the top level of the falls

The bottom of the falls

Then I hiked uphill until I was next to the highest level of the falls

One of the easy spots

I continued on up the trail and then got the reward of a wonderful view looking west.  I went on up a little more, then changed my plans to keep hiking until 9:30AM since I was going to have to climb back down the same, ever steeper and rockier route I was struggling up so I abandoned the hike at about two miles up. 

Some of view from lookout area above the falls

A closer look

The mist was rising into clouds

Going up - but at least it's steps

And up

The higher I climbed, the larger the boulders I had to climb over and through

I took this picture on the way down - the lichens looked like lace

There were several thru-hikers on the trail.  I asked one of them how long he had been hiking.  He had started in Georgia on April 1, 2016. Not bad for 2160 miles by foot. 

On the hike back, while dreaming of lunch in Millinocket, I realized that I had left my hammock at camp so had to drive back for it, then leave by the northern gate.  I ended up eating ice cream for breakfast and lunch, around 2:30 PM along with a cup of coffee from a gas station. 

Here is the advertisement for the trail.  Lots of rewards for the willing and able. Be sure and bring your hiking sticks. I needed them to boost myself up the taller steps and to catch myself on the way down.

Hunt Trail (Appalachian trail)
5.2 miles one-way Elevation gain 4,188 ft
The Hunt trail is one of the more popular trails to the summit of Katahdin. This is because of the outstanding features along the trail such as picturesque Katahdin Stream Falls, the Boulders on Hunt Spur, the traverse of the Tableland, and extensive views in all directions, as 2.4 miles of the trail is above tree line.
Difficulty level: Very Strenuous      Trailhead Parking lot: Katahdin Stream Campground

I'm playing with a friend in Acadia National Park.  We've already hiked, biked, and paddled and had a three rainbow day - without any rain. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

My Favorite Hike in Baxter State Park

September 14, 2016

On Tuesday, I was tired, so  just drove down to look at the southern part of the park,  before going to Millinocket for  breakfast and a little shopping.   I spent most of the afternoon in my hammock, before doing a little local hike to see a pretty section of a creek near my campground.

Sunrise forecast the cloudy day

So I was back to full energy by Wednesday. Since I planned to hike very close to my camp, I even slept in until 6:00 AM and had a leisurely breakfast before setting out to drive to the trailhead for Trout Creek Mountain Trail. Since the day was cloudy, I waited until mid morning to start my hike, hoping for a break in the clouds. The weather stayed pretty dreary, but the light was great for the little things I found.

This trail offers lots of views of Matagamon  Lake and East Branch of the Penobscot  River and must be fantastic in early morning light. It was the consistently prettiest trail of any I hiked during my visit. It has a lot of deciduous trees which are just about to gain their fall colors, so it will just get prettier during the next month or so.

The trail started by  going uphill,  and had lots of pretty easy sections in between more uphill sections. It didn't have many rock falls, and only a few places that required high step-ups. And there were seven places with great vistas, including a place that went along the north edge of the mountain for about a tenth of a mile.

This is definitely a must-hike trail if you are visiting the north part of Baxter State Park. And you could even camp  right next to it in Trout Creek Farm Campground and not have to drive to the trailhead. This is about the first thing you find after arriving at the north entrance to Baxter State Park.

I had hoped for hammock time when I got back to camp, but the rain started almost as soon as I arrived.  So I read a book in my tent and enjoyed the rain. 

The few trees that are turning really popped in the dim light

Such a lovely trail

I love the lichen and moss "paintings" on the boulders

On a clear day you can see forever - but not today

The trail goes up and over this outcropping

Someone had enjoyed building cairns up here

These are some kind of wood asters

The trail is winding up this outcropping

View from another overlook

A very strange mushroom

I love these lichens - they are very soft, although they look hard

I love the closeup view of them as well

Views of this lake set me dreaming of a paddling/camping trip

These mountains are across the East Fork of the Penobscot River

I thought the sky portended a clearing but it didn't happen

The granite in this area was pink

These mushrooms were barely larger than matchsticks

I spent several minutes getting a portrait of this young toad - just larger than my thumbnail

This random piece of birchbark looked like someone had carved it into a rose

This was the most perfectly colored maple leaf

My favorite pair of mushrooms

I found several of these strange fungi in an area about a yard in diameter

When this publishes, I'll be playing with a friend in Acadia National Park. So I'll have a few more blogs from Maine while I start my migration south.  I'm stopped at a Library a few miles from the park. You can see I'm all ready to grab my friend from her plane tomorrow and start playing. 

Heading out

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sentinel Mountain Hike

September 12, 2016

After I explored the Kidney Pond Campground, I checked out the trails leaving from it. After reading the descriptions, Sentinel Mountain Trail seemed to offer the most vistas, so I started up the half-mile access trail. This led partly around Kidney pond and had nice views of the lake and the mountains behind it. There were a few rock falls to climb through and some boardwalks over rocks and wet areas on mostly flat ground. But soon the trail started up, and, after I reached the Sentinel Mountain Trail, the climb got steeper and was more  often over boulder fields making for a difficult hike. The last mile was even steeper and harder to walk. I was glad I had my walking sticks with me to help boost myself up the taller rocks – many were over eighteen inches high.

Route of the trail

The trail look pretty easy at first

I loved these moss-covered boulders around a tiny pool 

The trail came close to Kidney pond, giving great views across it

Another view over the pond

The majority of the time, the trail was dark and rocky

I thought this was a cute caterpillar- until I noticed the black spines

This was where I had to step off a boardwalk without falling into water between rocks

This beautiful mushroom was only about an inch across

I've never seen these strange mushrooms before

And the trail goes on up and over boulders

Only one woman had passed me while I was stopped taking pictures. She was already coming back down when I was thinking I might not make it to the top. She assured me that the views were amazing, so I struggled on. Finally I got to the loop trail around the top of Sentinel Mountain and turned to the right.

And the boulders just get larger

An easier portion of the trail just before I reached the summit trail - just follow those maple leaves

Almost immediately, I was walking on slick rock and looking across ponds and woods to Mt. Katahdin. All this beauty was set off by the lovely clouds in the sky. The hard, dark trail over the huge rocks was forgotten as I walked easily in sunlight to views in three directions. I sat down and enjoyed a Roasted Jalapeno Almond Kind Bar, then walked on around the loop.

Closeup of Katahdin Mt.

View of Doubletop Mountain

View of Katahdin Mt. - Lily Pond is in the foreground 

The pointy mountain is south peak of Doubletop Mt.

Most of it was easy, but I did get to one place where the boulder was too high to step up and I couldn't crawl up the steep rock. But after I took off my backpack and laid it and my sticks up on top of the boulder, I was able to stand with my back against a nearby tree and "walk" to the top of the rock. This was only about a tenth of a mile before the end of the loop, so I was glad I didn't have to go all the way back around. And I got to enjoy the view over the last quarter of the circle. Just after this, I met three guys coming around the loop in the opposite rotation.  I thought they would pass me on the way down, but I saw no one, except for distant paddlers, on the way down.

The vignette felt like Christmas

Some of this slickrock was hard to climb up on

I still had to come back down for 2.8 miles – the total hike was 6.2 miles- but, thanks to my sticks, my knee didn't hurt much and I was energized from the view. All in all, it was a very good hike.