Kevin joined Madelyn Given to hike Mount Redington in Maine.

Mount Redington in Maine

Have you heard the term “Peak-Bagger”? Only recently have I heard that people who climb mountains have this attached to their name. Recently I climbed Mount Redington, a 4,000 foot mountain in Maine. For the past few summers a friend and I have hiked a mountain in Maine. Although Kevin is very physically fit, he is new at mountain climbing, but he’s adapted well, as you can see in the photo above. It is always more exciting for me to climb one I haven’t done before, so I chose Redington, the only one of two 4,000 mountains I had not yet summited in Maine. For Kevin, he would add two new ones on this climb, as we had to climb Crocker Mountain, also 4,000’, to reach Redington. Redington has another element that is challenging: it is the only 4,000’ footer that has no maintained trail. There are only two of these in all of New England; I knew this would be a good challenge, and Kevin was very excited about the adventure.

We were up and out before 5 am for a two hour drive to the trail head. It would be an all-day climb, and to reach Redington would require bushwhacking to the summit. It is considered difficult and a GPS is required. I had looked up several sites on Google and downloaded information; along with a GPS and survival essentials in our packs, we were prepared for the mountainous hike.

We started out on a clear, crisp day with little wind, and it was the first time I had ever hiked on Halloween. We followed Rt. 16/27 to Stratton and turned off onto Caribou Valley Road, an unmarked dirt road to the trail head. After approximately 4 miles, the road was blocked with a metal gate and a small parking space. There were no markings or signs for directions to the trail. I followed the downloaded information: beyond the gate, we walked less than a mile on the dirt road, looking for a trail on the right. We crossed a metal grilled bridge after the gate, plus two more wooden bridges, and then we saw a worn trail with no sign or markings. We decided to try it—but not far down the trail, there was an Appalachian Trail sign.

This was the trail to South and North Crocker, with Redington off the trail on the west side of South Crocker. It was a scenic, 1.0 mile gradual hike to Crocker Cirque Tent site, which is a side trail off the AT. We had no difficulty and made good time. Then the trail became steep all the way to South Crocker summit, another 1.1 miles. Here, at the summit, the trail to Redington began, and we had to find it. Near the wooded peak of South Crocker was a sign for a turn off for to a viewpoint. We followed that, and just before the viewpoint was a herd trail to Redington—again unmarked. It went through a dense evergreen forest, and since it looked like the right direction, we took that trail.

The trail became a narrow path: some places were so narrow that I had to squeeze through, with my daypack brushing on both sides. We were now on the opposite side of South Crocker. It was very steep going down; we knew that later we would be retracing our steps on this same path on our return, going up South Crocker, across the summit, and then down the other side. It was steep and unmaintained. There were many places you could lose your bearings and get mixed up, especially at sharp turns and around downed trees. Someone had put orange plastic ribbon on branches, and this was very helpful. We followed the trail to a cut-down boundary line, unmarked, which was not the trail to Redington—we continued on the narrow path instead.

It was exciting: the air crisp and clean, and a perfect day for climbing, but it took full concentration to watch our footing ,and at the same time, not lose our path. We reached the valley between the two mountains. There was a small opening of shrub brush, and in the distance, we could see Redington straight ahead. Now we had to climb our second 4,000 footer of the day on this narrow and unpredictable trail. After a while, the path in the dense forest came out to a cairn and an overgrown logging road. We followed this for a short distance and then the trail went off in the woods again to the summit.

We checked our watches, knowing we had only so much daylight to reach the summit and then retrace our steps—and we had many hours of climbing still to do. Our level of energy was still high, and we both were excited to bag another peak.

(posted December 1, 2015)

As the ice begins to melt, Madelyn enjoys an early spring kayak ride.

Kayaking in Maine

Kayaking is a great water activity: it is enjoyable without being burdensome on others. Canoeing is an activity our family enjoyed for years, but when I want to go by myself, kayaking is very doable—not so easy with a canoe. I like the fact that a kayak sits lower in the water and is more stable than a canoe. I can go from my home any time, without waiting for assistance as I would with canoes. I try to go several times a week, and it’s even more fun when I take my cocker spaniel, who loves to go along. This spring, after not kayaking in Maine for six months of winter and cold, I asked my dog one morning if she wanted to go kayaking. She ran straight to the kayaks before I gave any sign of what I was doing! Only then did I go to the garage for the paddle and lifejackets—one for her, too. She sits very still and alert, with her front paws up on the front opening of the kayak. We are quite a familiar team on our waterway, and people wave to us.

In the spring, I watch for enough of the ice to disappear so that I can go out for the first time. I don my lifejacket and head out, maneuvering around the bergs of ice, from one end of the open way to the other. The time of this first kayak ride varies each year; I am able to get on the water sometime between mid-March and mid-April. When I can go out in the kayak, I know that spring is truly on its way.

During the summer, I go out in a kayak to relax and view nature. I check to see how the bald eagles are doing in their huge nest, high up in a now-battered pine tree. Every year, the couple repairs the same nest, and for a number of summers they have successfully raised one or two eaglets. Although they are large birds, they make a small, sharp, high-pitched call. The loons are always happy to show off by flapping their wings, then diving deep and far. It is amazing to find where they will come up. Red-winged blackbirds have their nests in the marshy area nearby where I pass. The ducks, mallards, black and pintail are busy skirting about the surface. Cliff swallows appear above the water, especially on warm, calm days, skimming the surface for water bugs. After dark, bats do the same thing, skimming and darting above the water eating insects.

What fun to watch a muskrat family that lives on the shoreline, with burrows under the tree roots below the ground. In early spring, I have seen one of the adults scurry across the ice, so afraid of predators. Rarely will they swim straight out across a big span of open water—safer to go along the shoreline, under our dock, or safely home.

There are turtles: box, painted, and big snapping turtles. On warm sunny days, a few will be lined up on a fallen log above the water, until the kayak comes too close, and then all will dive into the water, like dominos falling one by one. There are fish nests in shallow areas, with one of the adults always swimming above the nest to protect the eggs. The blue heron is a favorite bird to watch, slowly wading in the water, looking for tiny minnows. It follows a regular flight pattern and daily routine of when it comes and leaves.

I kayak in other nearby places on rivers, lakes, and along the coast. It’s a lovely change of scenery. Kayaking is a great activity for a single individual or a large group of friends. Whether I go for a few minutes or a full day, it adds another dimension to physical fitness; best of all, kayaking celebrates the calm of nature.

(posted November 24, 2015)

Fall foliage in Labrador, Canada. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Labrador and Home

We were in Fermont, Quebec, only 14 kilometers from the Labrador border, in a wilderness hotel complex for iron ore miners and guests. That morning we looked out of the hotel window to see a snow storm. Now we were concerned about getting home safely. We had two choices: go back the way we came, or take the ferry to Newfoundland. We decided to drive to Labrador City and have breakfast, and then decide whether or not to go east to Goose Bay.

In the snow storm, we set out slowly for Labrador City and Wabush, and as we crossed the border, route 389 ended and the same road became route 500 in Labrador. There was not much to see in Labrador City. It was the first snow storm of the season, but the people were prepared for winter. The ponds had a thin coat of ice forming on them; fishing season had passed. However, it was hunting season, and we did see a hunter with a big bull moose. The forests are filled with moose, bear, and deer, and further north, caribou and polar bear. I was reminded by my husband that we started out to see the fall foliage, and the shortest distance back was the way we came, so we decided to turn the Jeep Commander around and head home. We stocked up with water and supplies and filled the gas tank in town. We did not want to be stranded or have the car break down. We headed back on the only road: Route 389.

It was slow traveling for the first hour or two, with slippery roads and the low visibility of the snow storm. As we worked our way onward and south, we left behind the slippery road, and snow turned to rain and fog; by late morning, there was an overcast sky and a clear road. We headed toward the ferry at Baie-Comeau, which would make our return trip significantly shorter than driving all the way back.

But taking the ferry would not be easy: the service was going on strike the next day, there was only one ferry that day at 5 pm, and we had no reservations! Catching the ferry, checking the gas gage, and staying safe on the wilderness highway were our priorities as we drove on, hour after hour. The scenery was beautiful. There were geese and several bald eagles in flight, and a partridge ran in front of our vehicle. More than once on this long drive I thought, as our earth is filled with people and everything to do with populations, being in a vast wilderness even for a short time is a memorable experience.

As we drove back, we passed the few places we recognized: the many places to cross the railroad tracks near Fermont, the sidewalk of the burned down town, the vast remains of the forest fire, the mining camps, and the two dams miles apart. When we reached the final dam and the road became pavement for the final time, we checked the time: if our luck prevailed, we might just make the ferry terminal at Baie-Comeau.

We pulled into the ferry terminal at 4:32pm, two minutes after the half-hour deadline for the ferry departure. The attendant gave us the last tickets, smiled, put the closed sign in the window, got up from her seat, locked the door, and left the booth. We were assigned line nine, and we were the last vehicle to get on the full-to-capacity ferry. It was a happy moment for us!

After the two-hour ferry crossing it was late, and we stayed at a motel in the small community of Matane, Quebec. In the morning, we drove by the ferry terminal: the strikers, carrying their signs, were in the empty lot. We headed south. It was a sunny fall day, and as we drove by, when the rays of sun hit the colored leaves and the water on the ponds, it made our trip very memorable. We stopped and crossed the three covered bridges we had seen earlier; in a field by one of the covered bridges was what looked like a horse. Suddenly I realized that was a moose! It looked up as if to say, “I came out just to please you and make your day.”

As we crossed into northern Maine, we drove through Aroostook County, which is known for growing potatoes. It was once recognized as the Potato Capital of the World—or at least the United States. We passed fields and fields, all empty, as the potatoes had recently been picked. Some schools still close for three weeks for picking season! We stopped at a farm and bought a large bag of new potatoes, on one of our last stops on our way home.

Seeking out the fall foliage in Labrador: what a great place for an adventure if you truly want to see a rare place on earth, still left mostly untouched by humans. No airplanes flying overhead, no pollution, no rows of houses—it is a getaway place where nature is in full command. It was a once in a lifetime adventure.

(posted November 17, 2015)