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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one day in the woods: late april

April 29th  ||  Clayton Lake, Maine

old mapmapping
7:46am. I’ve been spending the better part of my days of late looking at old maps, new aerial imagery, and subsequently putting together harvest plans for the next few years. I feel like I’m playing God, holding the fate of so many acres of forestland in my hands. It’s a weird feeling really, and tough to contemplate. I calm my thoughts by choosing appealing colors for my harvest blocks.

clayton lake
10:41am. The ice started to move off Clayton Lake yesterday, and I’ve been keeping an eye on it ever since.

yard
10:42am. A solitary day at Clayton Lake. The loggers are home for mud season, and given the snow pack still on the landscape, there isn’t much to do in the woods right now, because getting around is tough. We’re all waiting for spring – – but by the time it arrives, it may well be summer.

fridges
10:44am. A seemingly abandoned row of fridges, used by the loggers when they stay out here in the woods.

coltsfoot
11:37am. Coltsfoot flowers, the first to bloom. They come as a surprise, especially when there is still so much snow about. Local lore has it that when these flowers appear, you can expect bears to emerge from hibernation. Makes sense.

culvert
11:47 am. In the spring time, culverts are trouble. The road surface above many culverts sinks (especially when they weren’t installed deep enough), and this makes travel slow and occasionally dangerous. It’s good to keep tabs on where the especially problem culverts are, such as this one, so that they can be the first issue addressed when the logging contractor shows up in a few weeks.

stream
12:09pm. I was all excited to take a picture of my gorgeous salad accentuated by this ravenous stream, but then….

sad salad
11:57am. A sunken culvert snuck up on me, and braking quickly to avoid decimating my suspension, my lunch skidded off the passenger seat and onto the dirty floor. I put out a hand to stop it, but it had already been stopped by something else. The dirtiest snippets were thrown out, but I put the majority back in the bowl. I found myself wondering what was pepper and what was dirty floor pebbles, until it crossed my mind that the pepper was only on the top-most leaves, and those were the leaves I had thrown out.

I ate it anyway. If you eat rocks slowly, they may not hurt you. I remembered later all the times my cat has thrown up on that floor, and, uh, I should really stop incriminating myself now.

snow
12:15pm. There is still enough snow in spots to flood my boots. And this is in the open, on a lonely road. I walked this road looking for antlers, I mean to check on the condition of the road from my harvest last fall, since I’ll be using it again later this year.

ugly pine
12:51pm. This white pine was rubbed by an itchy moose, who scratched it in an attempt to shed his antlers. Pretty sad looking tree. It wasn’t taller than 12 feet, but it already had one cone on it. Stress city.

elderberry leafing out
1:00pm. Noticed that the elderberry started leafing out today! It’s all uphill from here – until the black flies come out.

mud
1:17pm. Sometimes muddy water looks tasty, kind of like incorporating taffy? It’s easy to spend an hour or two opening up puddles with my foot or a stick, to help them drain more quickly, and thus dry out the road surface sooner.

clearcut
1:55pm. A clearcut my co-worker oversaw this winter. The understory had been regenerating sparsely and poorly, and the remaining overstory was falling down left and right. This area is within a parcel managed for deer, so the treatment applied this year will hopefully in time bring good and plentiful regeneration to satisfy both the foresters and the wildlife biologists.

directions
2:11pm. The extent of navigational assistance out here in the woods. If you’re headed for Churchill Lake, you’re out of luck bud.

seedlings in the sun
2:37pm. Brought the sad sack seedlings out to celebrate their first day of sun in at least a week. This is their first day out of doors, though they’ll be brought back in at night. It hasn’t reached 60 degrees here yet (wut wut), but I celebrated today’s 52F by running down the aforementioned lonely snowy road without my coat and hat, then without my sweater, then briefly without my shirt, in the hopes that I could soak up a tan in a minute’s time. Didn’t last long, guys.

ugh
2:45pm. Pretty tough to resist a shelf full of Snyder’s of Hanover Hot Buffalo Wing Pretzel Pieces, especially when there is an open bag – and no one around to stop me or roll their eyes at me. I complemented this salty treat with a pack of Swiss rolls, because I have zero self-control mid-afternoon.

clayton lake again
2:48pm. Better check the lake again. Looks like a bit more ice has receded.

romance novel
5:39pm.  Closing time is a bit earlier lately, as I just can’t stare at the computer screen for twelve hours every day. I’m pumped to be able to get back into the woods soon. Meanwhile, new day, new romance novel. And this one features a female State Forest Ranger! So nearly applicable.