This is almost a week old, but some people might still be interested. Accompanying pictures are here.
On Wednesday (August 20, not August 27) Cindy and I drove up to Baxter State Park in Maine. We had originally intended to drive up to Millinocket and get dinner before entering the park, but the drive took less time than expected so we ended up getting to Millinocket well before dinner time. We should always have such problems. :-) Millinocket is a neat little town, but has been hit hard by the closing of the paper mill that formed the cornerstone of the local economy and there are lots of abandoned businesses even on the main street. Oddly, there still seemed to be a plethora of insurance companies. After going from one end to the other of that main street without finding anything terribly interesting (the pool hall looked interesting until we realized it was closed) we went back to a little picnic area we’d observed on the way in and sat down to read for a while. Actually we went back to a drugstore first because I realized I didn’t have any reading material at all and we hadn’t noticed any bookstores. I ended up reading Jennifer Crusie’s Faking It; it looks and sounds like a book no real man would ever admit to reading, but it was actually quite hilarious in a style that reminds me of Christopher Moore.
After a while we figured dinner was a reasonable option, so we got some sandwiches at the Appalachian Trail Cafe downtown, then headed into the park. Instead of going straight to our campsite, we went to Sandy Stream Pond first to see if we could spot a moose. Sure enough, there was an adult female moose at the far end of the pond, grazing contentedly – too far away to take pictures, unfortunately, and this was the only moose we saw the whole time we were there. There were also lots of cedar waxwings, flying overhead so close at times that we could hear their wings beating. By the time we got to the campsite after that it was getting a bit dark, so we quickly set up the tent and then conversed with the other members of the group (eleven in all) in the dark before turning in.
On Thursday, we climbed both peaks on Doubletop. It was a moderate climb (about seven miles and 2500 vertical feet, I think) that gave us all a good chance to get acquainted and gauge the party’s abilities. We also saw an amazing variety of mushrooms, as you can tell from the pictures. Afterward we went for a swim near camp, and also enjoyed a chips-and-salsa happy hour. That night, we had our first nocturnal visitors…owls. One was easily identifiable as a barred owl, with its distinctive “who cooks for you” call. The other one seemed to be responding to the first, and it was much closer, but the call – a weaker rising trill – was unfamiliar. In the morning we were able to determine that it was probably a juvenile barred owl.
On Friday the weather report looked kind of gloomy with a high chance of rain, so we used it as an “off day” instead of climbing Katahdin. We hiked around Kidney Pond to Daicey Pond, where there are some lodges and also canoes that some members of the group used. I mellowed out on the porch of the camp library, reading a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book version of La Balsa about a raft expedition that did Kon-Tiki one better by sailing all the way from South America to Australia. I did step out for a while to look at a loon, though. He (I assume) was behaving a little strangely, flapping quite a bit and skimming rapidly across the surface of the water but never quite taking off. It’s a little late in the year for learning to fly, and way too late for mating displays, so it’s possible he was injured somehow…or maybe he was just having fun. After that we hiked to the local version of Niagara Falls, which were quite beautiful, and back to camp. As it turned out, Friday was probably the best day of the trip weather-wise, and we hiked further (though with less vertical) on our “off day” than we had the day before.
That night, we had another nocturnal visitor. At first we thought it might be a bear, until the crunching of small branches told us the visitor’s true identity. It was a moose. We weren’t able to get a really good look at it – Cindy says she managed to see a light reflected in its eyes at one point – but we certainly had a good listen. We could hear it snapping off twigs and chewing for a while, then heavily clomping to the next tree or bush, for quite a while. In the morning, we could clearly see where it had been by looking at the snapped-off ends of branches – no more than ten feet from the tent at one point.
Saturday was the biggest day, hiking-wise. We went up the Abol Slide trail to the Katahdin “tableland” (plateau) and from there up to the summit of Baxter Peak. I was feeling unusually energetic, and this is exactly the kind of terrain where I excel; I ended up reaching the plateau quarter of an hour before anyone else in the group and nearly an hour before the stragglers, having passed about ten other groups on the way. After having lunch at the top, we headed down via the Hunt trail, which is where we ran into a spot of trouble. It seems that some fool has double-blazed part of the trail, so that it forks and rejoins without any indication of any kind. As luck would have it, the people in front decided to wait for the others while we were on one of the forks, and the last three people took the other fork. After having waited for a while some of us went back to look for the missing three, eventually going as much as a half-mile uphill to a point where we knew all eleven of us had been together. It was a little bit frightening, actually. After a while you start to imagine all sorts of terrible scenarios for what might have happened. I’m pleased to say, though, that nobody lost their head and I personally was able to contribute to the effort in a positive way by making sure everybody knew what everybody else was doing (which involved a couple of extra trips up and down to convey information).
Eventually we determined that the three missing party members were not still on the trail behind us, so the focus changed from searching for them to getting the remainder of the group to the bottom and enlisting more skilled help if necessary. Five of the members had been sent on ahead, so the three of us who had been searching just headed down the trail to catch up to them. We immediately found ourselves on a part of the trail that we didn’t recognize, even though both this part and the other had been quite clearly blazed. This allowed us to figure out that there had been a fork in the trail, but it still seemed very unlikely that the three from the back had gotten in front of the other eight; the whole reason the group had become separated was because those three had been moving very slowly. We eventually caught up to the five who had gone ahead and reported what we’d found, and then the eight of us kept going. When we reached the trail register at the end, we found that the other three had been there about fifteen minutes before, after having overtaken us (while we were searching) and then stayed ahead. Had the trail been just a little longer, we might have caught up before reaching its end. Needless to say, we were very relieved, and ultimately had a pretty good talk about it back at camp. There were a few things we realized we could have done better, but overall the system worked. Nobody did anything to make the situation worse, and everything turned out well. In the end it was a positive experience, that probably left everyone involved a little better prepared should they ever find themselves in a real lost-hiker situation.
After an uneventful night (for once) the group pretty much broke up on Sunday morning. Cindy and I went to do a short casual hike to Blueberry Ledges via the Abol Pond trail. The blueberries were so large, and so plentiful, that we were completely ignoring berries we’d normally be delighted to find, as we picked and ate the largest berries by the handful. We also found a beaver pond, and got a very brief look at the beaver himself – a first for me. It was a nice mellow end to what had been a very satisfying trip.