Baxter State Park, Maine Hiking Trip
I was going to skip this year’s annual trip to Baxter State Park due to too many scheduling issues but somehow or another I found a way to fit it in. Sadly, Eric who organized the trip this year had to bale out at the last minute so only three of us headed up this year. Maine is a very large state – one could fly from Boston to San Francisco in less time than it takes to drive to Baxter – the effort getting there and hiking to the remote corners of the park are well worth it.
This year found me with good friends Marty and Larry heading out into the backcountry. We were there for four days to help each other thru the difficult spots and to merciless torture each other with bad jokes and awful humor – I cannot wait to do it again. I find these trips to be physically and mentally exhausting – but I also find them to be very cathartic – while you are in the middle of a death march you argue with yourself about “why do I do this?” but when it is all over it is a great memory and experience that I would not trade for anything.
This year’s route would take me to the last remote outpost of the park that I had not yet visited – Davis Pond. To give you an idea of remote to get to Davis Pond you have to drive about ten miles into the park until the dirt road ends (and this is about twenty miles from the closest town, Millinocket. After parking your car you need to hike about 11 miles over two days to get to the pond that is nestled against steep mountain walls. This location is not visible from any road in the state.
Day One took us from our cars to the Wassatoiquik Stream Lean To – a little under six miles of fairly flat hiking. There are nice views of the Great Basin of Baxter Peak from Whidden Pond and some interesting boulders along the route. As would be a common theme this week there was also rain. Not too bad – we got to the lean to around 3 PM I filtered water, Marty gathered fire wood and Larry fished – this was the first time I ever saw Larry get shut out in back country fly fishing! Dinner and the campfire took us up to around 7 PM – when night falls in the back country sleep is not far behind. You may not sleep well, but you certainly get rest – we got about 11 hours of rest per night! During the night a mouse or squirrel got a little bit into my food bag – no great loss – but the bear bag up in the tree did not stop them! It rained for many hours thru the night which caused a bit of concern as our morning started with a stream crossing and there would be a total of four of them on Day Two – the first one near the Lean To was uneventful and only about knee deep.
We would soon pass New City – the remnants of an old logging camp and swing by Russell Pond Campground where we talked to a couple of other hikers. There was a bit of thunder off in the distance but it soon ended and we were clear of that worry. Just outside of the Russell Pond Campground we would pick up the Northwest Basin Trail which would be our route for the next day and a half. Early on you cross the Turner Deadwater which was a more challenging water crossing than the first one and head out for an easy mile or so of hiking – then it gets interesting.
We all made it, got the boots on and then it soon started to rain heavily for the next two hours as we plodded on towards Lake Cowles and then finally Davis Pond.
The pond is as beautify and as remote as advertised – this is further away than the middle of nowhere. An incredible spot that is not visited by many people – you have to be willing to make the effort to get there – it is not easy. We had another lackluster meal in camp and a long night of rest before arising to tackle the steep 1.2 miles to the Tableland. For anyone who hikes often enough a steep 1.2 miles is not that big of a deal – but when you are backpacking with gear for four nights the weight on your back, and what it does to your balance and energy is incredible. Very slow going. It took us over two hours of hiking up steep trail that was often a running stream to make it to the top. When we cleared the ridge we were rewarded with improving views and flat and downhill walking for two miles minus a quick side trip to Hamlin Peak – the second highest peak in Baxter State Park.
After a couple of sweet hours above tree line with great views we began the hairy descent down the Saddle Trail – keep in mind this is the easiest route down! There is a small rock slide that is descended as well as a lot of big boulders – once again complicated by carrying a large overnight pack. I got a little edgy a couple of times when the pack was kind of pushing me off of the mountain. This is where companions are a huge help – a little coaching and another set of eyes and I was soon thru the worst of it as we made our way down to Chimney Pond for the night. We quickly realized the bear line that is provided here was no longer thwarting the critters so we opted to keep our food close by – very tame and unafraid red squirrels would raid anything they could – I saw one eating an apple it ripped out of a sealed Ziploc bag that was in a food bag hung at lest twelve feet off the ground! We were beat and were trying to figure out what we would do the next day – energy levels and weather would be the deciding factors in the morning.
Morning came soon enough – and as I would have guessed, Marty, being in better shape had more energy and ambition than Larry or I did. We started out with the ideas of visiting the Pamola Caves but Larry and I soon had it with the compact car sized boulder scrambles and instead hung out by idyllic Chimney Pond and hiked around the campground. Marty went about 800 vertical feet up the Dudley Trail and was back in about an hour and a half and we decided that we would head home early. We hiked down a slightly different way and visited Blueberry Knoll on the way out – wild spot with views into the North Basin – very cool with fog and mist and some visibility. Soon we were on our way past the Basin Ponds and back to the car – a shower at a campground in Millinocket and the 5-6 hour drive home. Another great trip, with great friends has left me with aching muscles, over 400 incredible photographs and map books galore that I will read over and over planning out our next adventure.
More images and a video:
Baxter State Park Day One
Baxter State Park Day Two
Baxter State Park Day Three
Baxter State Park Day Four.
Davis Pond video