Monday, November 3, 2008

Baxter State Park - Day 1

I got the clearance to start running this week and I thought “what better way to get back out there than to go for a tough hike”. Al is working on the 3,000’ peaks in New England (all 451 of them!), most of which are bushwhacks. That means that there is no trail to the summit. Sometimes that means great open woods for hiking through, other times it means bashing through tightly grown pine trees while balancing on top of slick deadfall. I wasn’t entirely sure of my fitness but really wanted to hit the woods.

Al picked me up after he got out of work and we headed 300 miles north for Baxter State park near Millinocket Maine. We got up there and quickly set up camp in a quiet spot off of a small dirt road. The park is closed to camping at this time and the gate is locked from 7PM to 6AM. It was chilly in the tent but not bone-chilling cold. The night sky was spectacular.

We were up at 5AM to break camp and get to the gate when it opened at 6. We were the first ones in line. The crowds are not present at this time of year especially with the high point of Maine (Katahdin) officially closed for the season (until Dec.). On the 16 mile drive to the trailhead we came up behind a mother moose and a baby moose that ran down the road in front of the car. I grabbed my video camera, but wasn’t quick enough and only caught a couple of seconds of the mother darting off the road.

At 7:15AM we were off for our first hike of the weekend. Our goal was Mullen Mountain (3,463’) which would involve a 6 mile trail hike, followed by about 3 miles of bushwhacking to get to the summit. Then we’d reverse direction and make our way back to the trailhead, hopefully before dark (sunset 5:25pm).

It didn’t take long to get into a rhythm, which for Al is long somewhat deliberate strides and for me is a mix of walking and very slow running. We lost almost 20 minutes, early in the hike, trying to cross Nesowadnehunk stream without getting wet. There was no obvious place to cross and we didn’t want to spend the entire day soaked. We eventually got over and cruised to Center Pond, nearly five miles of hiking and we only gained about 300’ from the trailhead. The later part of the trail near Center Pond included a lot of logs to walk on. They were icy and tended to be somewhat narrow, Al likened some of them to a balance beam. After Center pond we only had another mile or so of trail before heading into the woods.

We headed up a small valley keeping Bald Mountain to our south and Wassataquoik mountain to our north. The going ranged from great open woods to very difficult slog. Al is the navigator with input from me on very few occasions. Mostly I just tried to keep him in sight as he really can move. I have trouble bending and climbing and Al’s longer legs serve him well in navigating the many fallen trees. In some of the thick stuff we might be less than 10’ apart but can’t see each other.

We ended up drifting a bit too far to the East and hit the summit of an unnamed bump at 2,860’. We had a great view of Mullen from this location and dropped the 300’ to Mullen Pond. Just before crossing Mullen brook I found a small moose antler, but it was too big to carry back as a trophy. We climbed the 900’ up to the summit in just over 45 minutes, pushing through some tough growth at the top. I shot a quick video and both of us took some pictures and it was time to move on. We were already 6:21 into the hike and sunset was less than 4 hours away.

We headed north off the summit and once below treeline we stopped for a quick break. I was having some issues with my feet and was cooling very quickly when we stopped. While descending I came across another moose antler. This one was an impressive 10-pointer. The thickness of the woods in the area made me wonder what the heck a moose was doing here, besides losing an antler.Al never took off his big jacket but I spent most of the day with two fairly light layers and a very light jacket, mostly unzipped. Temperatures were in the 30’s but working through the underbrush kept the engine hot.

We made it back to the trail in 3:06 and ended up almost right at the spot we had entered the woods. Now we had to hoof it, it was 4:45 and we only had 45 minutes until sunset and at least 2 hours of hiking left. There was no messing around. Al strode off and I jogged behind him. We made good time and the woods were pleasant with a great orange sky at sunset. About 30 minutes after sunset we put on our headlamps. At one point we heard a coyote howl not too far off the trail. There was also a sliver of moon rising in front of us. We got to the water crossing in full dark but we had left some sticks to help us cross and neither of us were too concerned with getting a little wet as we were almost done for the day. We made the crossing with little trouble and 20 minutes later we exited the trail.

In all it took us 11:31 to cover about 12 miles of trail and another 6 miles off trail. We were out of the park by 7:15 and drove down to Millinocket to get some hot food. Al had a plan for Sunday, but I was a bit concerned about the distances involved as I wasn’t sure of how I’d hold up. My ankle was pretty sore and I didn’t want to be a hindrance. We discussed a couple of alternative plans and worked out a way for Al to hit the final 2 summits in Baxter that he still needed to climb. We headed to the Econo-lodge and got a room then as a bonus we got to soak in the hot tub. Definitely a good end to a long day. Sunday’s story tomorrow….


GZ said...

Ah, Baxter. One of my favorite places in the east.

Why is Khatadin closed this time of the year?

davio dune-ham said...

I believe they close from Oct. 15- Early December due to the "variable" conditions on the mountain. They also close all campgrounds on Oct. 15 so with the short days it is almost impossible to do Katahdin as a day hike.