Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Baxter State Park

This morning we drove into the park to explore!  Baxter is a different breed of park from other state parks, it’s totally wild and unspoiled!  There are a ton of rules, many of which keep out most people!  There are strict vehicle size limits, no motorcycles allowed, all the roads are dirt, there are no stores, no gas, no food, not even any potable water (there’s plenty of water, but it all must be treated before you drink it!)!  There are no flush toilets, only outhouses.  No trash cans, you bring it in, you bring it out.  Between the rules and the fact that it’s so remote, there aren’t many people there, just lots and lots of wilderness! 

Mt. Katahdin is the crown jewel of the park.  It rises over 5,000 feet from the surrounding area, most of which is flat.  There are several other mountains in the range, but they all just shoot up out of the ground, they are not part of a chain of mountains or anything.  The area around the mountains is mostly flat and filled with ponds, bogs, pine forests and mosquitoes. 

The park road goes about 50 miles around and then you have to drive another 50 miles to get back to the highway.  We decided we weren’t going to drive the whole road, just part of it, and explore. 

When we arrived at the park entrance station the ranger had a lot of questions for us – where were we going, what were we doing, who should we call in case of emergency, etc.  We then had to turn in out parking pass on the way out so the rangers knew who was in and who had left. 

We stopped at a few ponds and got out to look and take pictures.  We found the Katahdin Stream campground which is where the AT crosses the road and then goes up to the top of the mountain.  It’s funny how this is the end of the AT and the big finish for many hikers, yet it seems like no big deal in the park.  Other parks I’ve been to make such a big deal about the trail going through but here, where it should be a big deal, it’s not.  It was fun seeing some of these places myself since I’ve read about this park so much in different AT books that I’ve read! 

We got to Kidney Pond in time for lunch and lucky for us it was the perfect lunch spot!  There were some rustic cabins you could rent and they were along the lakeshore and there was a small picnic pavilion where we ate lunch.  The pond was lovely and there was a nice breeze blowing. 

After lunch dad and I decided to take a quick walk around the lake.  The sign said it was about 3 miles and we knew it would be mostly flat.  The first part of the trail was flat, but very rocky and hard to walk on because you had to hope from one rock to another.  If it wasn’t rocks slowing us down it was roots!  As we went around the lake more of the surrounding mountains revealed themselves to us!  We could see about 6 big mountains as we walked!  Kidney Pond was surrounded by mountains!  I was thinking I wanted to go for a swim in Kidney Pond but I didn’t have my backpack and pockets were loaded down with electronics – between my keys, my fitbit, and my phone! 

Soon we’d walked most of the way around the lake and got to the Kidney Pond Outlet Trail (also called the Kidney Pond Cutoff Trail on the trail signs).  It all started out fine – we were making good time – the rocks were fewer and the roots were smaller!  Then we came to a spot where the bog bridges (logs that had been laid down to walk on so you weren’t waist deep in mud) were at odd angles and there were a bunch of blow downs.  It was tough getting past it, but we did, and the trail got better just past it.  Then we came to another spot where the weeds were so overgrown we couldn’t see the trail very well, but we kept seeing blue blazes on the trees or these orange markers we’d seen at the 1st trouble spot.   Then we came to a spot where we had to ford the creek.  The ford wasn’t hard, but we had to take off our shoes and we couldn’t see where the trail went on the other side.  We consulted the map and determined this was likely the spot for ford and went for it.  Sure enough right after we forded there were orange trail markers and then a blaze!  The weeds got worse.  We were up to our necks in weeds and brush.  I was trying not to think about the snakes and other critters that live in the underbrush, while at the same time wondering what had happened here and why the trail was so overgrown.  We kept seeing blue blazes though so we were on the right track. 

Until the blazes ended.  We saw one, but we couldn’t find another to know where to go.  The whole area was so overgrown it was almost impassable.  We were still up to our necks in weeds, yet there were no blazes.  No signs of a trail. We bushwhacked around and couldn’t find the trail.  Finally we thought maybe we should head to the river and hike in the river since it crossed the road like the trail did.  We were going to do that, but then we couldn’t get to the river, it was too overgrown.  We went back to the blaze we’d seen and decided to head in the general direction of the road.  Soon we came out of the weeds into the trees, and there, we found the trail!  It was there that Dad’s GPS finally connected with the satellite and was useable also. 

The last 0.8 of mile of the hike we were able to stay on the trail, but it was overgrown as well.  There were bog bridges and the bridges were covered with weeds, but we knew we were on the right track so it was easier.  Eventually we did come to the road and we made it back to the parking area!

We collected Mom, who we’d left to defend her candy against the platoon of attack chipmunks who live at Kidney Pond, and drove a little further down the road to Ledge Falls and then we headed out, back to the campground for showers and dinner at the restaurant here.  When Mom and Dad were here 6 years ago they discovered the wonderful restaurant at The Big Moose Inn which is why we are staying here.  It wasn’t open last night so we had to go tonight.  It was very good and I left fuller than I’ve been in months! 

After dinner Dad and I walked to the lake near the campground and then stopped in the General Store that’s right here to ask some questions.  While we were there I picked up the local Bangor newspaper which had a picture of the destruction from a flood 2 weeks ago.  A major flood that had occurred just 45 minutes from where we were.  I then remembered that when I made the reservations here I’d checked the weather forecast and it was raining and there were flood warnings.  hmmmm….  I asked the gal in the store if the flood that was on the newspaper could also have caused Kidney Pond area to get flooded and take out trees and then get overgrown and she “yes”.   She was surprised to hear about the conditions over there – she said it’s usually wide open and very easy to walk. 

The newspaper also had an article about yesterday’s brush fires.  Apparently they were caused by burning debris that flew out of truck heading down 95.  Apparently, the truck had a container of debris and when it was lifted onto the flatbed truck they realized the container was too tall and wouldn’t fit under the underpasses on the highway so they cut it shorter with welding tools.  Well, the welding process caused some of the debris to catch on fire and then the burning debris flew out.  

As interesting as today has been tomorrow we are, hopefully, sticking to something tame and hiking 10 miles of the AT in Baxter State Park.  Hopefully this is like the hiking “superhighway” and it will at least be passable!

Baxter State Park 7.11.12

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