doubletop mountain, baxter state park


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.


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.


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.


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.

lean-to russell pond campground drying out

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.

russell pond russell pond russell pond processed wood

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.

davis pond

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.

davis pond davis pond BUGS

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.

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.

obligatory mount katahdin picture

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!

katahdin knife edge baxter peak

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.

oaty lemon + lavender madeleines

The last time I wrote of madeleines, my favorite wee cakelets in all the land, it was March. There was snow on the ground. I had just received my bound master’s thesis, and I made a promise to post a picture of my soon-to-be-planted purple carrots once they were harvested. I haven’t forgotten my promise (promise). I just haven’t harvested any carrots yet.

If you’ve spent any time here, you’ll know that I enjoy playing with flavor profiles, mixing up everyday recipes with unexpected, oftentimes foraged ingredients.

This is not one of those recipes. Lemon is to madeleine as vanilla is to bland analogies; I understand this. But lemon’s presence in these cakelets is amped up by lavender-infused butter. In addition, the flour component in the recipe is mostly replaced by nutty oats, that have been ground with the almonds into a coarse meal texture.

These are not just lemon madeleines. Well, I guess they are, technically. But they are so yummy, and they are an embodiment of fleeting summer days. They are bursting with deliciousness, and with thick, hearty oats. And, most enticingly, they have a hint of lavender without being in-your-face about it – important for those who think of lavender primarily as soap. This may just become my go-to recipe for these cakes; after all, lemon is appealing year-round, whereas something like Pumpkin Spice has a strictly seasonal allure.

And the absolute best way to serve these? With a hefty slathering of Spiced Salted Caramel Sauce, of course. That’s right, it’s back out of the freezer…

Speaking of seasonal allure, fall is here. I love autumn more than almost anything. A few weekends ago, friends of mine came up from New York City to visit and hike at Baxter State Park. Since it was Labor Day weekend and the park was filled to capacity with folks looking to conquer Katahdin, we opted to do the Traveler loop, which is a wonderful day hike (of just over 10 miles) with near-continuous scenic views.

The following photos show just how gorgeous it was in the park over that weekend.


Oaty Lemon + Lavender Madeleines {original recipe}

Makes 24


1/2 c. unsalted butter + 1 tbsp for madeleine tins
2 tsp lavender flowers
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 c. + 3 tbsp almonds
3/4 c. oats
1/3 c. flour
1/2 c. + 3 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla


Melt 1 tbsp of butter and brush into two regular-sized madeleine tins. Cool one minute, then sprinkle flour into each mold. Tap in each direction to evenly coat, then tap out extra. Set aside.

Melt butter in small bowl or saucepan with lemon zest and lavender. Cook on low heat for several minutes, to allow the flavors to infuse. Set aside, let cool.

In a food processor, grind almonds (note: I don’t blanche my almonds – I like them as is. If, however, you’d prefer blanched almonds, do that ahead of time). Add oats, and process until mixture resembles coarse meal. In a large bowl, whisk ground almonds and oats, flour, sugar and baking powder.

In another large bowl, whisk eggs and salt for two to three minutes until well-frothed. Whisk in half of flour mixture. Strain the butter mixture through a sieve so the lavender flowers and lemon zest do not get mixed into the batter. Add vanilla and lemon juice. Switch to a spatula, and fold in the remaining flour mixture.

Transfer batter into a pastry bag, making sure that the tip is large enough to allow almond chunks to pass through. Pipe batter into tins, making sure not to overfill: 2/3 to 3/4 full should be plenty. Alternatively, spoon batter into molds (this will guarantee you get to lick some, as you will probably make a mess).

Chill tins in the fridge for two hours.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake tins for 8 – 14 minutes, rotating once. My nonstick tin takes less time to bake than my tin tin: watch your madeleines bake carefully! It’s only a few minutes of your time, but these are important minutes. When the edges turn golden brown, and the center bumps appear cooked (the change is noticeable if you watch them bake), remove pan from the oven. Invert onto a cooling rack, or pry out with a spoon or knife.

Serve dusted with powdered sugar, or with the incomparable Spiced Salted Caramel Sauce.