doubletop mountain, baxter state park

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My last work day is just over a week away. Things are wrapping up quickly, packing is crazy, and last minute Amazon purchases for our trip are trickling in. And meanwhile I’m tackling final projects at my job, trying to tie up loose ends and present a tidy summary of everything I’ve worked on and created over the past three and a half years.

So this week, my manager let me choose a destination location for my last staff meeting with the company. My options were paddling or hiking, so naturally I chose a hike in Baxter State Park, a few hours’ drive from the office.

I chose a trail I hadn’t done before, which was a nice short up and back (3.1 miles from the Nesowadnehunk Campground to the North Peak of Doubletop Mountain) that I hoped would make the trip more inclusive for all my coworkers, while still providing rewards – a nice view at the summit.

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What we didn’t count on? A record spring snowstorm the day before that dumped 3 – 7″ in the region. Add that to the snow and ice that remained from winter on the higher elevation portion of the trail, and you get a bunch of ill prepared foresters in jeans, plus one well prepared athletic junkie outfitted with all the right gear. Though I felt chilled watching him climb through the snow in shorts, he definitely had the right idea.

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Big thanks to my crew for suffering through the wet and cold so I could enjoy a last Baxter hike.

What started as a promising, if slightly overcast day turned into pea soup fog thirty minutes before we reached the summit. While I would have happily awaited clearing conditions, three of the six were so cold and miserable that it would have been rude to keep them waiting longer than a quick lunch and group photo. We were treated to a brief break in the cloud cover as we prepared to descend, as seen in the top photo.

The last time I summited Doubletop Mountain was in the summer of 2011. We approached from the south that trip, while this visit brought us in from the north. On my last hike, I fell asleep in the direct sunshine on the exposed rock face slab, and woke up with a peculiar sunburn. No dice on achieving a sunburn yesterday.

In an amusing twist, ten minutes into our descent, the skies began to clear, and within a few minutes, we again had 100% visibility. A gorgeous afternoon emerged, and while we were traveling the same trail we had climbed up, it was also completely different, as much of the snow was either melting or had melted.

Near the base of the trail, trillium was in bloom, and I saw my first fiddleheads of the season. Freak snowstorm or not, Maine was showing all of her colors yesterday, and it was a gorgeous day to be in the woods. My Altra trail runners, while clearly inadequate for deep snow, were super grippy on the chunky granite slabs, and it was actually a blast wearing them for this hike. Inappropriate, but a blast nonetheless.

One more week, and then I know I will be missing this place fiercely.

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i finally climbed mount katahdin

I was regretting not bringing two cans of Baxter Brewing Co’s Pamola Xtra Pale Ale for us to shotgun once we reached Pamola Peak, one of the summits that is part of Mount Katahdin. I had been waiting to hike Katahdin, located in Baxter State Park a few hours south of where we live, ever since moving to Maine in 2009. For some reason, it had just never worked out in the past. This wasn’t terribly problematic, given that I instead hiked many of the other trails in the park and have experienced the kind of solitude that seems rare atop Katahdin. But it was time.

We took a roundabout approach to the mountain, starting off from the Roaring Brook Campground and hiking in to the back country Russell Pond Campground. Despite my woodsy lifestyle, this was actually my first backpacking trip. Other than a one-night stand in Baxter’s managed corner of the park, the SFMA, back in 2011; which doesn’t really count, I don’t think.

This trip was serious. Seriously challenging, because we had to cross a raging stream, full following the seemingly endless rain we’ve received so far this year. And in that stream crossing, I did slip. And my shoe, I did lose. Luckily it was just a sandal, and one that I was considering chucking to boot (a ha. hah). So I chucked it downstream. Eff you lame-o no-traction sandal. I’ve since replaced you with a new pair of Chaco’s – take that for letting me down.

So I was out some camp shoes before making it to camp, and I managed to soak myself and my hiking boots, and sort of my pack too, in the process. I’ve learned my lesson for trying to be cheap when it comes to shoes…. oh wait, no I haven’t. My hiking boots were purchased used in New Hampshire the other week, and you know what? They’re awesome.

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My soggy clothes got that perfect fire-dried aroma by late evening. My boots… stayed wet, because there are limitations to the magic of 20 buck boots.

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Russell Pond was a gem of a spot, with five lean-tos and additional campsites. The place was relatively packed because of the holiday weekend, but by packed I mean there were a few people around and they were friendly and quiet.

We noticed pretty quickly that some of the wood used to build our lean-to had the marks seen in the above picture, which means that the wood was felled with a processor. Processors are harvesting machines that cut trees down, take the limbs off, and then buck them up into smaller lengths. We guessed that this wood came from the aforementioned SFMA part of the park, the Scientific Forest Management Area, which conducts relatively small-scale well-managed logging operations.

You can only talk about logging operations for so long though, before it’s time for s’mores. Lazy spur of the moment s’mores made with some craft chocolate and über thin Wasa crackers. And bolstered by plastic cups full of boxed wine.

smores wine cups

Our next day followed up on the lazy trend. We slept in, loafed about, talked about what hurt (me: shoulders and injury from a mountain biking crash, eli: bad ankle), took a little canoe ride, fished with an impromptu tree sapling and fly line, and got schooled by the ranger who told us it was time to kick our rears in gear. So we picked up in a hurry, and set off through what seemed at the time to be a terrible minefield of bugs. Mosquitoes everywhere. Neither of us usually wear bug spray in the woods, and I definitely longed for the lonely can of Deet wasting away in my work truck back home.

I started having a bit of a freakout, breaking off a switch of balsam fir and constantly slapping myself in a soon-familiar pattern: left leg, right leg, right arm, left arm, back of neck; repeat. On the plus side I was distracted from my heavy pack weighing me down. Lunch came quickly, along a gorgeous rushing river where the mosquitoes were replaced by black flies that were just as fierce and more numerous in number. We refilled our water bottles in a clear stream and I was appreciative of the anti-iodine pills we had bought that would allow our water to remain most delicious tasting.

We forded another stream, where I had a temporary relapse to the day before and initially balked at crossing shoeless. That mountain water is just so fricking cold, it numbs your brain instantly. So cold! I felt like a big ole wuss. We met some guys on the other side of the stream who upon finding out our destination, said “Enjoy the bugs!” in a disconcertingly cheerful manner, before taking off quickly in the opposite direction.

The bugs. I had managed to forget them for a few minutes, but those little bastards were not to be forgotten. We hiked for another hour or so, maybe longer, with a bit of a slippery and steep ascent near the end of the short day of hiking.

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The Davis Pond lean-to was nestled into a gorgeous high-elevation bowl of land, but hot damn the bugs were bad. I think I brought it upon myself, because only the day before I had fondly reminisced on the World’s Worst Mosquitoes, which we experienced in Florida’s Everglades back in 2011. They drove us into our tent by 2pm. I was all “that is my absolute favorite tenting memory everrr!” What a fool.

This was a similar situation, but with black flies. I’m really not sure which is worse. I assembled the tent in record speed and dove inside, killing flies for the next ten minutes that had entered with me or on me. Eli joined me in the tent and I got to have another brief killing spree. Sadly, we had to emerge to make dinner. Maybe they’ll be better? Nope. We found a cool large rock that rose high above the pond and hoping for a decent breeze, climbed to the top of it to cook our dinner. No dice, but it was a sweet view.

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The hordes of flies followed us everywhere, including into our bowls of delicious pasta mush. Protein and stuff. We were driven back into the tent after the world’s fastest-ever rock-top pond-side dinner service. Another twenty minutes of killing the bugs that had entered the tent with us, and then we could settle down and focus on the important stuff: another box of wine and even lazier s’mores than the night before – untoasted mallows sandwiching squares of chocolate.

We ogled the flies on the outside of our tent for amusement, and wondered how much the next day was going to hurt.

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Box of wine for scale, plennnty of light left in the day.

We rose early the next morning, as the threat of afternoon thunderstorms had us wanting to summit Katahdin as quick as possible. We had plans to descend back to our starting point on an exposed and rocky trail, and had been warned against taking it if poor weather conditions were lurking.

The hike started out strenuous, with just over a mile of some pretty vertical ascent. It was over before long, however, and we had made it above the treeline. That means we had mostly lost the dratted bugs. After that, the rest of the ascent was relatively easy and straightforward. Nothing tricky, nothing challenging other than marching upwards and onwards.

katahdin in sight

Off in the distance you can see the trail we took to ascend Mount Katahdin. Pretty enjoyable and dare I even say somewhat anticlimactic after the way Katahdin had been drummed up as supes difficult. There are more difficult ascents than this trail, which I’ll have to try if I ever find myself back in the saddle (which conveniently, is also the named feature seen along the trail between the foreground and the mountain).

A few black clouds materialized and threatened rain, but they dissolved before anything became of them.

We approached the summit, and saw a few other people just ahead of us. Topping a rise, there were suddenly people everywhere. And we had reached the top.

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It was all much, uh, rockier than I had imagined. So jagged and rough. I had heard of the Knife Edge before getting there, but I guess I hadn’t really put two and two together. Must have been a combination of cold water brain freeze + bug bite overload + missing sandalitis. The rocks were rocky! Knowwhatimsaying? Yes. Yes you do.

We navigated the Knife Edge Trail, which follows the ridge line from Baxter Peak around to Pamola Peak – it’s basically everything you can see in the background of the above photo. It was tricky in a couple of spots because of our large packs, but mostly it was just narrow and sort of precarious, and I was glad I wasn’t nervous about heights. Baxter State Park’s website gives you some insight into the Knife Edge Trail, and also into what seems to be their overall unfriendly Maine attitude (they’re just trying to cover their asses, I get it)(love you Maine):

This route is completely exposed and several people have died or have been seriously injured while attempting a traverse in inclement weather and/or high winds. Do not attempt to leave the ridge once you have started. Hiking Knife Edge across and back is not recommended due to its difficulty and the amount of time it adds to the hike – it takes approximately 1 to 1½ hrs. one way.

Seriously though, I did wonder at several points along the Knife Edge how this could be a sanctioned trail in one of the most visited spots in Maine. If the wind picked up, you could be swept off the ridge line no problem. I’m convinced. So that was neat!

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We rounded the ridge to Baxter Peak, and headed down the unending Helon Taylor Trail. After what seemed a bit too long for 3.2 downhill miles, we reached the end of the trail and were soon reunited with our trusty car. I felt like I could do another lap, but I’m glad we finished when we did.

Three nights after getting home, my legs are still recovering! I clearly didn’t feel it much at the time, and I didn’t feel too awful on Monday. Sore legs hit me like a semi truck on Tuesday, and are just now recuperating.

What a seriously incredible hike. I’m so glad we made the time to do this loop, visiting the backcountry and seeing a few spots we otherwise wouldn’t have. We’ve been talking about this trip for three or four summers now, so it’s all sorts of catharsis to finally make it happen. And now it’s finally legit, and I can read Backpacker magazine without feeling like a fraud.

Plus as a little bonus, look at those snow patches! Winter lurks around every corner up here.

cranberry and cadbury mini egg energy bites

If you’re like me, you still have some Easter candy floating around aimlessly in your kitchen, your living room, maybe also in your pockets and in your car. This Easter candy is begging to be finished, but there is just so much of it that it is difficult to finish. Especially when there are other delicious things like Gushers getting in the way during afternoon snack time.

So last weekend, on a whim when prepping foodstuffs for an epic end-of-winter hike, I decided to turn some already delicious raw energy balls into not-raw, much deliciouser energy balls, or bites, as I’ll classily refer to them here. I make many versions of these, often with cocoa powder, often with various dried fruits, and always with a base of dates and nuts.

cranberry and cadbury mini egg energy bites

The addition of Cadbury Mini Eggs is a genius move, because it gives the energy bites a crunchy crackly texture that is terribly fun to eat – I imagine that to be the energy flowing straight into me, and down towards my legs to give them strength for the last few miles of the day.  What’s more, Cadbury recently unveiled ‘Royal Dark’ Mini Eggs, which are leaps and bounds more delicious than the original milk chocolate variety. That is what I used here, and I highly recommend it.

If you happen to have various other Easter candies looking for a home, I think many things would work well in these. Jordan almonds would work. Malted milk balls would work. Fun-sized Easter candy bars would work. Perhaps even jelly beans would work! …although that’s a bit too wacky for me.

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I referred to our hike as epic. It was only 9.7 miles, but the going was rrrrrrrough. First off, let me say that I don’t yet own waterproof boots. As a forester, that is probably something that I shouldn’t admit – ask me next week, and I’ll probably be able to saw “Pshaw I have waterproof boots!” and then I’ll quietly mumble something about “purchasingthemlastweekend.”

Luckily, someone had been on a good portion of the trail at some point over the winter, so the snow that is often still above-my-knees deep was reduced to the perfect depth for trodding upon. The trail we hiked was at Gulf Hagas, known as the Grand Canyon of Maine. Take that as you will – – it was definitely no Grand canyon, but it was a Lovely canyon and a Stunning canyon nonetheless. Given the canyon nature of the hike, there was a quite a bit of micro-rocky terrain, which turned out to be covered in sheer ice during our visit. It’s safe to say I did my share of slipping and sliding.

The loop hike that we did took us on a section of the Appalachian Trail as well, which we realized we hadn’t set foot on since 2011, at Grayson Highlands in Virginia. The AT hadn’t seen any footprints all winter other than moose and deer, so while being just a short section, it was sort of tiring. Remember that part about the not-waterproof boots? Remember that other part about the snow above-my-knees deep? Connect those two dots right thurr.

But jeebus, what a beautiful hike. I can’t wait for the snow to fully recede, and for weekend after weekend of glorious hiking adventures this summer. Bring it on, I say (nay, I plead)!

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Perfect for bringing along on hikes, this recipe will give you a boost with healthy walnuts, hazelnuts, and dates, as well as a peppy sugar rush from the chocolate. Use up that Easter candy!

Cranberry and Cadbury Mini Egg Energy Bites

{recipe by myself – very approximate, but very adaptable}

Makes 12-15

++Ingredients:++

3 handfuls walnuts (or your nut of choice)
1 handful hazelnuts
2 handfuls dates
pinch of salt
1 handful dried cranberries
2 handfuls Cadbury Royal Dark Mini Eggs
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp maple syrup

++Directions:++

In the bowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients, and pulse until mixed. If the mixture is overly wet, add another handful of nuts. If the mixture is dry, add some more maple syrup, or a teaspoon of water. Shape mixture into balls, and place on a tray. Freeze for at least an hour. Enjoy chilled if possible.

cranberry and cadbury mini egg energy bites