Baxter State Park, Maine – Day 2

With day one successfully written in the history book of my epic memories, I was softly jarred awake by my alarm.

It was 4am: game time once again.Katahdin

One thing seemed to be missing though: for days leading up to my Baxter State Park road trip the weather waxed and waned, clear skies with low wind to heavy precip with plenty of gusting winds.

Which would it be?

I sat motionless, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the fact I was awake once again, and in the darkness of a backwoods Maine morning – “hmmph, well that’s rad”, I thought as I reached for the french press to start my morning rituals; luckily for myself, it appeared that the weather folks were wrong once again (for now!) – the rain had held of so far and the cry of 10,000 peepers on the lake battled with the ominous sounding loon, both making their early morning presence known.

Still surprised by the rain not beating down on the fly of my tent as I thought it would be, the stove got fired up and coffee would soon be further brightening my day!

The previous evening had me on a mission to find drinking water – turns out I was not alone in this search: 3 other campers passed by, each stopping to ask about water in the park, I had unfortunately found none to tell them of. I would have been content using my MSR filter to strain out some potable lake water, but when could not get beyond the murky sludge along the shore I knew this disorganized summer camp must have something available to its patrons (..at least I hoped they would!).

Empty nalgene bottles filled my left hand and a single glass growler dangled from the other, I walked in circles trying to find a spigot to fill up at and continued to attract questioning glances from other campers (at least one fellow camper assumed I was toting around a 1/2 gallon glass jar of beer through the recreation area). Being left nearly ’empty-handed’ and refusing to not find water in this campground, I happily broke into their kitchen (okay, fair enough.. I merely walked right into the ’employee only’ area..) and stole some tap water that I hoped was not straight up pond water.

Mission accomplished.

With coffee firing up on the stove and to my very pleasant surprise – a moon overhead, the camping gear swiftly began making its return back into my trunk from whence it came! I could sense the minutes ticking by as the morning grew closer and closer to 6am when the park gates were said to open for the day!

I could not believe my luck – there were indications of a purple and orange sherbet colored sunrise cast directly on the slopes of Katahdin, my lovely view as I fought the biting bugs and patiently waited for the gates to open. Other folks in line cooked breakfast on the trunk of their cars, some changed clothes, it was a regular boondocking Woodstock scene as we waited patiently for those green gates to let us go play!

Eagerly parked next to the only other car in the Abol day-lot, gear once again got jammed into my Salomon hydration vest, water flasks were filled, gaiters and Altra’s got laced up, and my watch got set to track those satellites in Trail Run mode.

Gently warming up and stretching the quads through the sleepy Abol campground, it sure seemed like a Sunday as other trekkers were already awake, packing their vacation homes into bundles of tent.

First mistake of the day came when I missed the cut-off for the actual Abol trail, but that’s okay because the 0.8 mile trek down to Abol falls was such an incredible piece of single track trail, still I had to turn back and return to the campground to catch my correct trail – which, in my defense, was basically camouflaged behind a lean-to, with signage down the trail beyond.

First ‘oh shit’ moment of the day occured about 1 1/4 miles into the Abol trail after departing the campground for the second time in the form of one super-sized thunder clap. I stopped briefly to collect a few thoughts.. the rain had not yet begun, so on I continued down the trail – I decided I would simply hike on until the rain came in.

It did not take long before there were several flashes, more booming and then came the rain drops. I pressed on into the storm. First, a father with three daughters passed by likely retreating to safety. In a matter of minutes several other trekkers had passed by, we were all going the opposite direction.

The rain intensified now into sheets blowing through the trees, the thunder remained steady which had me settled – when I became nervous I would return, defeatedly back to the trail head – for now though, I was okay.. simply exploring new trails, for the moment.

Peering up the switchbacks I could see a neon green pack cover, moving slowly despite still ascending, the hiker appeared determined. I set my short-term goal to just catching up and saying “hello!” to this other crazy trekker out in a thunderstorm on the shoulder of Katahdin.

Turns out this fellow with the green pack cover was named “Joe”.

Joe was section hiking the Appalachian Trail and trying to grow his ‘trail legs’ before he retired from a life of 9-5 jobs and adopted the trail-life full time. Today found Joe ascending up to the Thoreau Spring where our trail converges with the AT, if he felt the conditions were safe enough – he would ascend Baxter, and if not – well, he still had to reach the AT where he would descend west and cut down to Daicey Pond where his wife would be waiting for him.

His options proved limited, ascend that trail!

Offering his tarp to cover up, my new friend stopped to add a rain jacket to his layers, this would be the last time that I would see to Joe today – I proceeded out onto the rock slide where I climbed above the low-hanging rain clouds.

The thunder continued but now echoed in the far off southeastern distance! The torrent of rain drops now ceased. The mountainside was completely silent. Hand over hand, I slowly put this rock slide beneath me. I cannot say this rock slide scared me; I only remember being hyper-alert to my every movement, ensuring every footstep was meaningful and was 100% glued to the rock below – with every step I reminded myself that I was now alone up on the highest peak in Maine – on my own up here.

The images of warning signs posted up back on flat ground reminding hikers that self-rescue was a necessity began to float through my mind, all worries of my car, my bank account, my rent, everything that was not right here in front of me in this minute, on this mountain had slipped away and my mind elevated to the most “in the moment” state.

Hand over hand I climbed.

The weather continued to just float on by, right around my feet – skirting through the surrounding valleys as I reached the top of the slide and back onto flat land.

Glancing toward the west, searching for the Brothers from yesterday’s adventure – I may have shed a tear.. it may have been rain water from my soaked hair, but there is a high probability that I may have actually shed a tear – what I saw in the sky was blue!

From left to right my eyes scanned the now mostly flat horizon from 4,600ft. What an absolutely stunning landscape laid out before me – directly northeast was my path, but beyond all of that I found a certain A-frame.. this was the summit of Baxter – the very northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail!

I could not waste any more time – I ran along this martian terrain, bouncing off the tops of rocks, splashing through the mineralized red puddles; next stop the 5268′ summit that I searched for in so many of my childhood dreams.

My watch his 9am as I stood atop Baxter Peak and Katahdin, the highest location in the state of Maine. I had done it!

The rain continued to hold off as I snapped photos of the bronze-colored USGS survey marker, the distant ‘Knife Edge’ trail, and beyond the valley to Hamlin peak. Time to pack up and move on.

That’s when the loudest, ear drum shattering thunderclap I had ever experienced rang out just above my head, somewhere within the clouds which layered just feet above my head. I jumped, hair on my neck stood straight – I figured this was mother natures cue to stop dicking around on her mountain top and move along. I was lucky today.

A full on sprint began as I turned away from the summit rocks, descending toward The Saddle about a mile away – it seemed that I encountered every type of rock on earth here, the most brutal being the section of red softball-shaped rock-balls that seemed to disintegrate underfoot – I more-or-less skied through these over-sized ball bearings.

From The Saddle around mile 6.5 I motored through the next mile, gradually ascending over wet rocks, new puddles of red mud, and soon disappeared into a scrubby alpine forest where all branches had it out for any open eyes.

Minutes later, heading down the Hamlin Peak spur trail and over a 1/4 mile sea of jagged rocks – I stood at the cairn marking the high point of this landmass. It was still early enough in the morning to roam around, take in some sights and walk over toward the trails drop-off point before making my return to New Hampshire.

The high point of Katahdin where I had stood only thirty minutes earlier was now shrouded in cloud cover. My timing could not have been any better!

The rain again picked up, which was my cue to move along and keep warm. Upon returning to the col of The Saddle, I glanced back to where I had just stood – another high point in which I once stood now tucked deeply into a cloud layer. For what I was dealt, this climb could not have gone any better.

Finger joints grew stiff as I made my way back up those red softball-like rocks from earlier, searching for the cut-off and fearing with every fiber in my body that I had missed it completely – I totally did not want to ascend Katahdin once again in this weather, but at least the thunder and lightening had not yet returned!

Now my trek was completely in a cloud, vision limited to maybe 25 feet in any direction as I found the cut-off trail and took off, sloshing through every puddle. There was no time to turn the Katahdin trails into an obstacle course and hop rocks to avoid the freshly re-hydrated muddy puddles, fingers continued to grow stiff in the chilly alpine air as the rain beat down in soaking sheets.

So relieved to finally see signage! Finally, back at the Thoreau Spring junction – I looked around but found myself still shrouded in dense cloud, nothing else to do now but continue back where I had ascended earlier this morning: back down the Abol Slide!

This was even more of an upper body ordeal now that the rocks had been soaked, puddles had formed and one could even see where thousands of mini-streams had pushed aside sand particles, rushing off the cliffside in the dumping rain as I was on the other side of the mountain only minutes earlier.

It was nice to be back on familiar turf, making good time again running the switchbacks.

I snickered to myself at the sight of flat-bottomed Converse All-Stars and said a warm “good morning!” to three dudes making their way up the hillside, I wished them a very nice day and good hike!

Five hours and fifteen minutes after I had departed the day-lot, I was able to put a check mark next to my name at the trail register. I was back. I was safe. I had done it. Nearly thirty years of dreaming of this moment and I finally defied my fears to stand among on the summit rocks of Katahdin.

Super pumped that my weekend in Baxter State Park had worked out; I had all the gear that I needed to run, hike, camp, explore and be safe here in the park, but most importantly of all – I had a lovely lady and two pupper-dogs to get home to nearly 350mi away.

These runs, climbs, treks, and crazy getaways are the moments I can remind myself of everytime that I get bummed out – what an absolute joy I have turned my life into, one decision at a time, one foot step at a time. Heck – two years ago, I never could have imagined that I could feel so good to do what I truly enjoy.

Of course – thanks to Ciara for encouraging me to be a kick-ass human being, pushing the limits of what I was confined to yesterday, stepping out on that ledge to see what else I can accomplish today.

Thanks to you for following along my epic journey through this life!!

Got a question or just want to tell me how silly I was to keep climbing Katahdin in a thunderstorm? Hit me up with a comment below or follow along daily on Instagram!

Where will life take us next?

Just be sure to enjoy the ride!!

Much love,

-Erik

 


 

Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 13.45miles
  • 5hr 29minutes
  • 5,833′ elevation gain
  • Baxter Peak, 5268′
  • Hamlin Peak, 4756′

 

 


Favorite Gear of the Day!

 

While it’s a marvel of technology to have maps on our phones, what happens in the winter when our batteries get zapped?

Paper maps to the rescue!

My go to for any trails – National Geographic maps are not only water-proof but also tear resistant for getting stuffed back into your pack and being open and folded back up for many years to come.

 

 

Baxter State Park, Maine – Day 1

As if I never even drifted to sleep, I jumped out of bed at 2am to the sound of Led Zeppelin blasting from the four 16″ JBL’s directly beneath my pillow.

This was how the Hamilton’s knew it was time to shovel in some apple cinnamon oatmeal, wash it all down with several tall glasses of fresh orange juice, lace up our Merrill boots and pack like sardines into the ’91 Toyota Corolla with all of our gear. Our weekend routine looked a little something like this for many years, making the trek to our secret hiking and camping destinations that my father would give tantalizing clues about; with names like “Giant” or “Hurricane”, my 6 year old brain would run wild – assuming these were the hidden spots where dinosaurs still ran wild.

Our hiking adventures back then all took place pre-internet, so the bookshelves where I was known to nap (I could still fit behind the books!) were filled with huge manuals and text books; one could find my fathers college books, early writings of astronomy – and also by far my favorite cluster of books: the Mountains. He owned books on climbing, backpacking, snowshoeing, a small library of maps and Appalachian Mountain Club trail guides, and several books recounting early expeditions up Everest; tucked neatly next to the Everest texts, one would find the guide to Maine mountains and trails along with crisp maps of Katahdin.

Back in those days this mammoth pile of rock was no different in my mind than.. say.. the book it butted up against: Everest. They were both beyond my scope of understanding – I only knew each mountain as one and the same: they were big, scary and they killed those who did not respect the mountains.

Fast forward nearly thirty years later and still no one in my family had attempted this hike, granted it was quite a drive to get to – pushing +11hours one way from where I grew up, there were so many other summits to relax on and lovely trails to explore in our own backyards!

Ciara and I made a list of ‘goals’ for 2019, wrote these goals on pieces of paper and tacked them on the wall where they hung out in plain daylight to glare us in the face, as if to mock us for not attempting them yet. One of our recycled pieces of paper simply read: “Katahdin, 5268ft”.

Honestly, it was a reminder for myself that I had always wanted to stand atop its summit, but knowing that it was still a 7hr drive from where we now resided in New Hampshire – I did not consider it to be a likely goal for 2019 – unless I could get Ciara to join, but overall I did not know how to tackle this as dogs are not allowed within Baxter State Park, but yet the recycled piece of paper remained there glaring at me, laughing at my longing to attempt Katahdin.

It may have been a combination of checking mountain-forecast.com, baxterstatepark.org, and knowing that Ciara was working all weekend – but finding a decent weather forecast for Sunday, realizing that the entire parking lots where the three main Katahdin trails initiate – I jumped on a $5 parking pass for the Abol trailhead as the lot where I had done all of my research thus far was sold out deep into the future every day.

I was happy with my decision, it signaled my trip to Katahdin as officially ‘begun’, knowing that I.. if nothing else.. I now held a parking pass for Baxter State Park – should the cards fall in my favor and I actually take the long trek North. This literally was the only planning set in place up to this moment: well at least I had Step One checked off – so pumped to actually be the proud owner of a Baxter State Park parking pass! I assumed that I would simply sleep in my car, or better yet, drive up the night before and not have to find a place to rest – just drive up, hop on the trail, summit this behemoth and drive back home, seemed easy enough to me if I turned on my stubborn genes and just get the task done!

The following day found me looking around for a small tent spot, at the request of my lovely adventure partner! Finding all of the campgrounds were booked to the max within the State Park, I ended up with a $30 site at the New England Outdoor Center – despite having no campground map or being able to choose a particular site, it looked promising based solely on the quality of the website. I would find out if this still proved true upon my arrival Saturday evening.. assuming the plans continued to unravel in this positive direction.

Continuing to check the weather daily, almost obsessively as the clouds turned to rain which then turned to ‘chance of t-storms’ Sunday afternoon, I still remained hopeful as the weather never seemed settled for even 5 minutes leading up to the weekend!

When a new waterproof National Geographic map landed in my Post Office box Thursday evening – I think this was the realization that things were getting pretty serious, my pilgrimage to northern Maine would indeed take place!

Friday evening all I wanted to do was teleport home from my work day to begin the task of packing; I foraged through all of our running, tenting and backpacking gear – throwing anything and everything that I thought might be useful in an “organized” pile: if I thought there was a chance I would want a certain piece of gear out on the road, I packed it. I had my entire Subaru Impreza for all of my junk (*very important gear..), so I filled that sucker up with anything to make my weekend top-notch (and a successful one)!
The drive was literally 6 hours and 47 minutes from our cabin to the entrance to Baxter State Park, which consisted of one stretch of asphalt upon entering Maine that my GPS rattled off in a robotic SIRI-esque voice “continue straight for ONE HUNDRED and EIGHTY MILES!!” All I can say is – thank the good heavens for the Rich Roll Podcast and for snacking on peaches, apples and my 5lb bag of carrots that I had picked up in Plymouth, NH during my grocery run earlier in the morning!

Saturday was most definitely the better-weather-day, the Subaru read 91 degrees outside and sunny, some humidity.. nothing brutal and all enjoyable! Driving straight to Baxter State Park and informing the gate attendant of my parking pass for Sunday, he asked “are you sure you still want to enter the park today??”, heck yeah I still wanted to enter the park today! It was just barely 1pm, which meant my day still had plenty of time for exploration.

I held secret a desire to scope out several other summits should I arrive in time on Saturday, which I did, so bring on the dang mountains! Being on my internal radar for days prior, I researched the loop beginning at the Slide Dam parking lot/trail head and trekked up to and over North Brother, South Brother and one I had never heard of – Mount Coe.

From the gate house the parks Tote Road began west, circling under and around the massive bump in the earth known as Katahdin. I was able to see the other parking lots as I made my way, the Abol campground and day-use lot where I would begin the next morning, as well as several ponds that all looked rather lovely for a picnic.

What the actual hell is that?!“, I exclaimed to myself – peering through the trees at a slab of gray rock that appeared to be pushed up damn-near vertical rising up from the forest floor. Checking the map to see where I was directed and trying to narrow my options, I guessed it to be an anomaly in the topography marked appropriately on the map as ‘Doubletop’. Remembering that I had heard its name tossed around in some trail guides or text somewhere or another – the climb looked epic!

I began to fall deeply in love with this part of Maine and the forest where I now found myself!

I must have been wearing my lost puppy face as the State Park Ranger left his truck and walked over to my side of the car. Being totally prepared for him to break the sad news that this lot was full and that I would unfortunately not be able to adventure in the forest surrounding these Brothers that I had read so much about after all – nope! I found myself speaking with one of the kindest Rangers yet as he talked highly of the campground where he was care-taking (in the park) and how special these mountains and trails were to him.

Asking if my intention was to climb North Brother, I sighed and confessed that it was and I could clearly see that I showed up just a few minutes too late. He pointed to a spot of grass next to a white BMW and said “there you go.. just don’t hit the trees!”

My love and respect for Baxter State Park continued to grow!

Quickly prepped the gear, filled all water flasks and hit the trail before the sun could get any higher or hotter in the sky!

Instantly, I stepped my Altra’s onto what I would not hesitate to claim were the ‘sweetest’ trails I had ever run on.. up to that moment! Of course, they had their share of rocks, roots, and streams running underfoot – these northern Maine trails had me reminding myself that I was indeed still in the east.. and not running somewhere in Oregon, truly a magnificent place!

I stopped in the sun to watch a beaver drift by with absolutely no sense of urgency around his pond, craving my own switch to a more relaxed mindset, perhaps that of the floating beaver!

Departing the beaver pond I continued up the Marston Trail climbing beyond the 2400ft contour line, passing several hikers in the opposite direction. Finally found myself catching up to a gentleman heading up to the summit rocks of North Bro who said hello and immediately directed his complaining to the “bushwhacking” that he found himself doing to make any progress up the trail, this was where he confused the heck out of me, as I found nothing but smoooooth sailing up these incredible Maine trails!

The summit of North Brother at 4143ft is completely exposed with open boulders making for a scramble that would have made any agile youngster on the playground screech with joy! The Altra’s clearly giving ample traction as I leapt from one rock to the next, making my way to the weathered wooden sign at the high point of the mountain!

After soaking in the views, getting my first real glimpse of Katahdin and thinking “ehh..it really isn’t that mean looking!”, I retraced my steps, wished my new bushwhacking friend an exceptionally great day and continued due south to my next Brother of the day.

Within what seemed like minutes I reached my next destination, the signage indicating that I now take the spur trail and cut southeast to the 3942ft summit cone of South Brother. Again, leaping from boulder to boulder (admittedly I was searching for any signs of an old USGS survey marker!) taking in the sights, soaking up the vitamin D and attempting to outwit the blood suckers of the mountaintops!

Between South and Coe is where the trail really showed any signs of blowdown or insecure footing – but dang did I continue to grow fonder by the footstep of these mountains and trails!

What I knew was that the loop trail basically passed directly over the peak of Mount Coe, and that was about it. Despite being a mere 3795ft at its high point, Mount Coe’s views definitely did not disappoint!

Peering back to where my feet had taken me, the sights were breathtaking! Glimpsing off to the east at tomorrows task, the views were completely reminiscent of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, these ginormous beasts of mountains spiking up above tree line and their ever-reaching shoulders seemingly stretched for miles and miles in either direction!

Atop Mt Coe, I just by chance turned my phone off of airplane-mode after snapping a few panoramas and videos – despite what the brochures read, I immediately found full bars – which led my thoughts straight to Ciara! I sent several messages to let her know where I was and that I had survived the mind-numbing drive, I think she was relieved to hear from me!

But as a precaution, I don’t ever assume that service will be there.. I just happened to be completely lucky to find it around 4000ft with no trees to block the signal!

Not long after leaving the summit rocks of Coe, I found myself standing tall among the scree and bare slabs of an enormous old rock slide (perhaps the ‘J’, of the O.J.I trail.. named for its neighboring slides?). The slide had its share of mini-waterways trickling down the bare rock which made my mind on high alert before trusting any footsteps!

Believing that all of my epic ‘west coast style’ trails were behind me for the day, I reached the end of the slide..and yet again onto an even more beautiful trail heading back to the junction! This time I was graced by the calming sound of rushing stream running directly next to my feet, an even more welcome perk amongst this mid-summer heat!

What was a joy to run on during the beginning of my trek heading in was now an extreme blast to let loose and cruise  for the final miles of my day! I somehow had soaked both feet making the jaunt up and down North Brother so by this time I was in a playful ‘go-mode’, splashing and cooling my tootsies off in the fast flowing streams.

The parking lot was near-empty as I finished my first day of running the mountains of Baxter State Park. Drippy shoes were ripped off and strewn out in my backseat with hopes that they would dry ever so slightly before stuffing stiff feet back into them tomorrow morning.

Following the dust storm from a pick-up truck heading back to the main entrance of the park, I couldn’t help but notice how sore my face had become – that’s what a day of laughing and big ol’ grins will do, I suppose my situation could have been worse!

My park exploration of day #1 had come to a close as I pulled onto the NEOC campground road and tried dearly to figure out how this place operated. Convinced that it was a ‘free-for-all’, ran by high schoolers – yet happy enough to have a place to watch the sun drift behind the mighty Katahdin, and a flat piece of earth to rest my tired eyes for the evening.

Tomorrow would be an even more epic day.. 

 


 Overall stats for the day:

Recorded with COROS Pace

  • 10.56 miles
  • 3hr 59minutes
  • 4,163′ elevation gain
  • North Brother, 4143′
  • South Brother, 3970′
  • Mount Coe, 3795′

 

 

 


Want to continue on and see what happens, I’ll tell you…

Katahdin happens, that’s what. Read all about it.. HERE!!!