by Amy Patenaude
Baxter State Park is way up there. I made it to the Big Moose Inn & Cabins in Millinocket from Franconia in about five hours. After I checked in, I drove a couple miles to find a big view across Millinocket Lake of Mount Kathadin and Baxter State Park’s many other mountains. The sight across the Lake filled me with excitement and anticipation for the day ahead.
I had satisfying and delicious meatloaf in their Loose Moose Bar & Grill and I wondered what Bryan and Zachary were having for supper. They were already camping in the park and they would be for the week, but I decided I’d spend a night in a nice bed and just one night sharing their campsite.
Laurie owns the Big Moose. It has been in her family more than 40 years. Laurie was already up when I walked into the breakfast room at 5:15 am. She made me a yummy Big Moose breakfast sandwich and along with hot coffee and a banana I was set for the day.
The south gate at Baxter State Park (BSP) opens at 6 am and there were a few cars ahead of me as I rolled through the gate around 6:30 am after paying $15 dollars. Maine residents get in for free. It is their park.
The maximum speed limit in BSP is 20 mph and it was about 13 miles to reach the Marston Trailhead. I drove slowly down the narrow gravel Tote Road and I saw two moose along the way.
My plan was to hike Mount Coe, South and North Brother and Fort Mountain. These peaks are on the New England Highest Hundred List and North Brother is also on the New England 4,000 Footer List. I have visited Baxter State Park just twice before each time to hike Kathadin along its Hamlin Peak.
In my backpack I carry the essentials and a personal locator beacon my mother bought for me. Bryan and Zachary knew my plan and I would be meeting them at their Nesowadnehunk campsite at the end of the day.
All the brook crossings were easy and the open ledges on Coe’s slide were dry and grippy. I hiked steady and I was on top of Mount Coe soon. I was lucky the sky was blue and the panorama was grand completely filled with forest and mountains. The trail along Coe’s summit is open and its exposed steep flank is impressive.
The hike over to South Brother was pleasant in the trees but the spur up to its summit is rather rugged. I scrambled up the big rocks and I was thrilled to stand on top and look back at Coe.
I was happy and felt lucky that the Marston Trail between the Brothers had dried out. A week ago I had seen photos posted by another hiker that made this section look like a full brook. I kept my feet dry hopping on rocks on the steep washed out trail section that had water running down the middle of the trail.
Much of North Brother is above tree line and it was windy. The bigger peaks of Hamlin and Kathadin looked mighty fierce. It was much like looking at Mount Washington but Baxter is wild, there is no abundance of mankind anywhere.
From here I could look right down on Fort Mountain and its summit’s rocky ridge. There is no maintained trail to Fort. To get there I followed the herd path or what we jokingly call the Bushwhack Trail. From North Brother’s summit the herd path is easy to follow above tree line but once I entered the woods the trees got tight quickly. I would push the spruce branches away and follow the worn tread way. Several times I had to circle around some fallen trees to find the path past them. Occasionally there would be a piece of orange flagging that someone had left behind to mark their way. Rock cairns began to appear as I neared and led me to the summit.
I pulled out my map and I enjoyed a long lunch while I tried to name all the nearby peaks. At the time I didn’t know it but Bryan and Zachary were on nearby Mullen Mountain, this was one of a half dozen peaks they would reach via difficult bushwhacks during their stay in the Park.
On my return from Fort, I could hear something in the woods. I stood still. Then I saw a man wearing a UNH ball cap. I surprised him. He was the only person I saw the whole day while hiking.
Back on top of North Brother I could see the man was now standing on top of Fort.
I retraced my way down to the intersection of the Mount Coe and Marston Trails and then I continued down the Marston Trail. My track would look like a lollypop with two sticks.
Unlike the terrible trails we have in the Wilderness Areas in New Hampshire, the trails in BSP are well cared for and are blazed so that they are not too difficult to follow. Doing trail maintenance doesn’t just make for a better trail but it protects the forest by keeping people on the trail. The forest along the trail was lovely. I found myself wishing that the folks who control the Federally designated wilderness areas would learn a thing or two from BSP.
I had a splendid time visiting four mountains, I hiked about 12 miles and climbed nearly 4 thousand vertical feet. What a day!
I found the boys’ campsite and the blackflies were terrible and I was grubby. So I jumped in my car and drove about a mile to Ledge Falls in the Nesowadnehunk Stream. The sign warned me that the rocks were slippery and when I waded into its cold water to scrub up I slipped and landed right on my butt! I got a good dunking. The ledge was warm in the sun and there was a nice breeze that kept the black flies at bay.
I wasn’t back long before Bryan and Zachary returned from their adventure. Thankfully Bryan had set up a screen tent over the picnic table. When not protected by its screen we all wore head nets. I presented supper—a jumbo bag of tortellini, a jar of sauce, bricks of cheese and Mom’s strawberry rhubarb pie. Zachary boiled the water, cooked the pasta and mixed up the sauce. We ate it all and there was not one crumb of the delicious pie left behind.
The next morning we rose at 4:30 am for breakfast. I caught a ride when they did a car drop for their bushwhacking up OJI to Barren Mountain to The Owl. Zachary dropped me off at Kidney Pond Road and I hiked point to point over Doubletop Mountain.
Again I appreciated the well blazed trails and I could tell by the fresh sawdust that the blow-downs had been recently removed. The last half mile of the trail to reach the summit was steep and rugged. I had to use all my rock climbing skills to carry myself up and over some of the large blocks of rock. The trail popped me up on the south end of the summit ridge and it was extremely exposed and windy. I didn’t venture too close to the edge. The trail follows the open ledge along a cliff face.
Doubletop’s summit has a “Wow” factor of a perfect 10. I was totally Wowed. I was on top by 8 am and it was another perfect clear day and I could see the peaks I had reached the day before. I sat on top and enjoyed a snack but I didn’t linger too long.
I continued to follow the Doubletop Mountain Trail down and I hiked back to my car parked at our Nesowadnehunk campsite.
The drive home was long. I even stopped at a rest area along I-95 and took a 20 minute nap.
The new Maine Mountain Guide is coming out in July. I can’t wait to get my hands on it and visit Maine again soon.
Amy Patenaude is an avid skier/outdoor enthusiast from Henniker, N.H. Readers are welcome to send comments or suggestions to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.