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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finding old logging camps: simard, 1924-1925

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It’s early May, and I still had snow slipping into my rubber boots as I hiked up a small unnamed creek leading in to an old logging camp. The camp, designated on one of my old work maps as ‘Simard’ (a common surname in the region), was likely small and only in existence for one winter, 1924-1925. Had it existed longer, it probably would have made it on to other maps with more information, such as date of occupancy.

I love how quickly traces of humanity can disappear up here. I think about it sometimes, and wonder in 90 years how much of the present will have vanished. In some ways, it could be even greater than the past 90 years have been, given that most of our trash is now trucked off-site, and any abandoned buildings are buried, rather than burned or left to rot.

Something about these old camps calls to me. Using a generalized dot or hand-drawn smudge on a map, and topo features such as streams and lakes, I challenge myself to locate these old camps as precisely as I can, without having to trudge around for an hour or two before I find something. All the old camps were located along streams for easy water access, though given that the operations only took place in winter, I’ve found some of the streams to be surprisingly undersized. In-woods engineering in the days of yore was impressive.

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Unexpectedly small.

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There wasn’t much to find at this camp. There was an old moose antler, chewed to shit and looking like it was giving me the finger. And there was an unidentifiable bone from an unknown animal. There were a few old metal tubs, a bunch of disintegrating aluminum cans, a small amount of scrap metal. No glass bottles to be found here.

One of my favorite things to see at these camps are the decadent old spruce trees that grew up adjacent to any clearings. Lateral branches remain from whichever side of the tree was exposed to the extra sunlight of the clearing. This makes it relatively easy to see where buildings and roads were located way back when. It’s not a glass bottle, but it’s still pretty neat. I’ll take it.

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Old lamps are a staple of these camps. If the camp was large, the discard pile of lamps would be in a separate location from other refuse. The bigger the camp, the more outbuildings. This camp had no sign of a blacksmith, for example, and there was only one small trash midden.

In an interesting twist, some harvesting equipment was sent into this area two years ago, so the majority of trees that had grown up in the clearing were recently cut. The trails that the machine traveled on are filled with his brush. So it’s difficult to tell if any more old shit was hidden underneath his tracks or not.

Not much to find here, but it was rewarding nonetheless. Digging up history that very few people will ever see, especially considering that it will continue to decay, is a unique experience.

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april

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The loggers have gone home. There is mud, but there is also knee deep snow in the woods. There is the occasional burst of sunshine. Life in the North Maine Woods in the middle of April is for the most part a desolate affair.

I’m overeager. I see the photos that friends in other parts of the country post, and I see spring creeping north. Buds on the trees in Georgia are first on the list. Next it’s cherry blossoms in DC, and new growth in NYC. I do myself the disservice of traveling down to Connecticut, across to Illinois and back, and see forsythia and daffodils in bloom, green grass, a tick, a mosquito? And then it’s back to this place. I pay too much attention to the weather. But mine is a profession that is dependent on the weather, and we talk about it and over-analyze it every day of our lives, as if it is our chief interest. This is mud season, we have plenty of time to talk.
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Mostly though, I’m overeager because I want to get out into the woods and explore. I’ve made it my mission to discover as many old logging camps as I can. On the land that I manage, there are dozens and dozens to be found. So far, I’ve found three camps, dating back to the 1920s and 1930s; I have at least five more that I’d like to visit and try to find this spring. A few old maps I’ve found are helpful in navigating to these camps, but are also just inaccurate enough to make the search eventful and uncertain.

But it’s going to be weeks still before there is a diminished enough snow pack to make this endeavor a profitable one. And so I wait, and grow grouchier by the day.
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Last week was the perfect weather for ice skating. It was dreamy out on the ice, and things only got more magical when at dusk, I spotted an otter loping along and periodically sliding on its belly. There is no way that otters aren’t one of my spirit animals.

This week, there’s been a lot of rain and warmer temperatures. The ice is turning mealy. Channels are running across the lake, small rivulets and large swaths are bisecting each other, with gusts of wind whipping these periodic stretches of water into a frenzy. I’m guessing that ice out on the lake will happen in two weeks’ time. I’d like it to be sooner, but last year it was around the first of May. This is our sixth month of Ice Season. It’s all too much winter for me.

And so we’re leaving. It’s been over four years since we moved up to this beautiful strange place in the middle of nowhere, and we’re long overdue for a change. This June, we are packing up our bicycles, taking to the skies, and bikepacking across Europe for as long as our funds allow. And I will be here every step of the way, telling you about it in excruciating thoughtful detail.

Up first will be what we plan to take with us, our bikes, and our gear. If you play your cards right, you may even get to hear from the man himself, bike aficionado and my stud of a husband, Eli Shank. That way I can focus on the important stuff (like baguettes and pierogi and weißbier, oh my!), and Eli can teach you everything I wish I could remember about gearing ratios and wheel bearing adjustments.
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