Tag Archives: Baxter State Park

Moose on Mount Katahdin in Maine. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Adventures on Katahdin: Part 2

Every time I went to Baxter State Park, we hiked one good hike either to Katahdin, Russell Pond, or other long trails. One time my daughter, son-in-law, husband, and I went to Russell Pond for a couple of days. Our loads got shifted and the food bag got left behind, but it wasn’t discovered until after we were preparing for our first evening meal after a strenuous day of hiking! We survived on snacks and water. We survived and learned our lesson: check your packs before taking a single step onto the trail.

We would take days off from strenuous hiking, go in to Sandy Stream Pond, sit on the big rock, and watch moose. I was never disappointed, as one or several will come out at almost any time during the day. We would take our car, go around the perimeter road, enjoy the views, stop at one of the waterfalls, and let the kids get cooled off in the mountain pools below the falls.

One of the craziest, scariest, and most irresponsible sights I saw was at Avalanche Field, a picnic area near one of the three entrances to Baxter State Park. Nearby was a town dump that was prone to black bear activity. As we gathered for ,lunch we saw a party of 4 teenagers standing around laughing and having fun. Unbeknownst to them, their toddler had walked away and was now at a distance, running towards a black bear, calling “Teddy bear…teddy bear.” The bear was slowly walking away from this running tiny child, until it came to a high cliff. It was trapped there, with only the toddler blocking its way. At our picnic table, we all jumped up, horrified at the scene unfolding. But we were further away even than the teenagers, who didn’t have a clue as to what was happening. A man sitting in a car closest to the situation got out of his car, ran to the toddler, scooped her up in his arms, and ran towards the picnic tables. We met him part way and told him the child belonged to the teens. The teens never seemed concerned, but the rest of us knew that child was very lucky that day.

Over the years I have been to Baxter State Park though all three entrances, coming from Greenville, Lily State Park, and Kokadjo on a private gravel road. It is slow going for many miles to Ripogenus Dam and the West Branch of the Penobscot River, but 54 miles from Greenville, you finally arrive at Abol Bridge. Then you must continue on the private Golden Road and enter the park at the Togue Pond Gate, 64 miles from Greenville. This tells you the park is surrounded by acres and miles of woods.

Another way to enter is by way of Pattern in Aroostook County, which is the northern entrance to Baxter State Park. Fuel your car in Pattern, 10 miles to Shin Pond, then Matagamon Lake, 16 miles across the bridge on the Sebois River. Continue on now 26 miles and cross the East Branch of the Penobscot River, then the Grand Lake Dam, a starting point for canoe trips down the rugged river, with many rapids and falls.

The East and West Branches of the Penobscot River combine to form one of the biggest rivers in Maine. The park is a mile beyond this dam, which is a 27-mile trip to this park entrance from the nearest small town. I have kayaked in this area of the park, and Travelor is the most well-known mountain in this area of the park. The third and the most popular park entrance is by way of Millinocket, off a major interstate, and it’s 18 miles from the park entrance: easiest, most popular, and closest to gas and supplies. Once you are in the park, you can settle down and let nature take hold.

One challenge in hiking different trails is to have a member of your hiking party volunteer to drive and meet the hikers coming down another trail at the end of a long hiking day. It takes an hour just to drive from one trail head to another, and no gas is available within the park. There are rangers at all the campgrounds and sign-in books for all hikers leaving on trails each morning.

Baxter State Park is a very strictly, carefully protected and maintained park, and therefore pristine and naturally wild and remote. For this I am glad.

(posted September 22, 2015)

Mount Katahdin in Maine, photographed by Madelyn Given.

Hiking in Baxter State Park: Russell Pond

There are many adventures hiking the trails of Maine, especially in Baxter State Park. Sometimes our small group would elect not to climb Katahdin, but spend a few days hiking in other places within the park. One of my favorite places was the hike to Russell Pond. It is 7.1 miles one-way from Roaring Brook Campground, at least a five-hour hike, and with children, we always planned to stay one night at the bunkhouse or lean-tos at Russell Pond. It is primarily a valley trail, with several ridges northbound between Katahdin and Russell Mountain. The biggest challenge on the trail is crossing Wassataquoit Stream, a large mountain stream. After a period of heavy rains, this can be a very dangerous crossing. It also has very slippery and sharp rocks, and with a heavy backpack, it is quite an experience. The water is so cold, even in midsummer, that your feet and legs are numb by the time you reach the other side. Years ago we didn’t have crocs, but survived; now it is easier. One time one of the children slipped and their pack had to be retrieved downstream. We were very careful with the youngsters and no one was ever hurt.

     We often encountered deer or moose while hiking this route, which is a lovely scenic trail. You can see one of my photos at the top of this blog post. We passed Sandy Stream Pond, then Whidden Pond, both great places to spot moose or deer. The trail flanks South Turner Mountain and then ascends towards Russell Pond. Along this section is a house-sized boulder called a glacier erratic. Sometimes our group would take a snack break here under the protection of its gigantic overhang. There are a few brooks to cross and plenty of water along the trail. Each trip we would try to learn a few facts of nature, and recognize types of ferns, lichens, and trees.

Several trails merge at Russell Pond, making it a fun place to meet other hikers taking different trails. Northwest Basin leads directly from the summit of Katahdin (a long and arduous trek), Wassatquoit Lake Trail is a very long trail through a large portion of the park leading to Nessowodnehunk Field Campground (another entrance far from where we entered), and Pogy Trail is another long trail coming from South Branch Campground, also quite far from where we entered the park.

After our hike into Russell Pond, we would usually do short day hikes to Wassatquoit Lake or to the Lookout Trail, where we had a high enough elevation to get a decent view and to see Katahdin from the Little North Basin. Those who wished to fish enjoyed going far into the wilderness for a few brook trout.

One of the worst nights for want of sleep was encountered in the bunkhouse at Russell Pond. It was a rather small building, divided by a partition, and our group shared one half, while another party had the other half of the bunkhouse. There was a woodstove for heat and cooking. But the mice had inhabited the building in force. One person was on patrol, keeping the critters from running over the sleeping children, and people used whatever was handy—including hiking boots—to bat them away. The banging went on all night, as the mice tried to find the food, which had been hung in bags tied to the rafters. In the morning, everyone came out of the bunkhouse completely exhausted. We stayed in lean-tos every time after that stay.

Despite the mice that one year, Russell Pond has been a favorite place to hike and stay. It is wild nature at its best. The forest is pristine, and it is far from roads and civilization. It rests the soul and sooths the mind. She soothes my cares.

(posted September 8, 2015)

Madelyn Given, at the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine, with the kids who hiked all the way to the top!

Hiking in Baxter State Park

Over the years I have hiked a number of trails in Baxter State Park, which is home to Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine. I remember a few trails: Chimney Pond, Abol Stream, Helon Taylor, Saddle, Sandy Stream, Russell Pond, Hunt, Dudley and Cathedral. When I first climbed Katahdin, I had no idea the level of difficulty it entailed or the training I should have had prior to climbing. I suffered a lame and tired body after some of those hikes.

When my children were 7 and 9, we decided to climb Katahdin. It was our second year of hiking there; it was both a family event and a reunion with my college roommate. We decided to take the Cathedral trail, because from the nearest campground in the park, it was the shortest climb to the summit, Baxter Peak. My college roommate had led a group on that trail one year and said it was very doable and not to be concerned. The most important factors were getting an early start (at dawn), and hiking at a steady pace with no breaks.

The first part of our hike was from Roaring Brook Campsite, up the Chimney Pond Trail, to the Great Basin. We were familiar with this trail, having done it the previous year. It was a 3.3 mile hike below tree line to Chimney Pond, and we made steady progress. Our children were anxious to climb to Baxter Peak and boast of their accomplishment.

We stopped, sat on the rocks at Chimney Pond, and took in the view of the massive Great Basin in front of us. It is such a big horseshoe-shaped mass that the trails go outside this basin to the summit. It is a sheer wall of granite, beautiful and daunting. We had to get above this mass, several more thousand feet up, and walk on top of it, which is part of the top of Katahdin. I thought of my children and wondered if we should be doing this, but they were eager beavers and athletic. After a lunch break, we signed in at the Ranger Station at Chimney Pond, and we were well on our way before 12:30, the cut-off time for climbing above this point.

Now we were on the Cathedral Trail. It is a very steep climb, over three large rock buttresses that have many vertical fissures, which give the appearance of columns like cathedrals. It is almost all above tree line. There is an elevation change of 2,353 feet just from the Great basin to Baxter Peak. We were doing well, staying close together and walking at a steady pace, until we came to one particular buttress: this one had an overhanging rock, which everyone who was short in height needed a boost to climb up over. To look down, over a thousand-foot dropoff below, made me petrified. Never before or since has a knife edge, crevasse, or dropoff phased me like this one time. The children, spry and limber like monkeys, did great. I was the one holding up the group. Quitting was not an option, but I had the encouragement of everyone in our group. With their assistance, “place one foot here,” “now one hand here,” “don’t look down,” and “you got it,” I made it! I trembled for a while after, as I continued up the trail, and I never forgot that exact place.

We made it to the top! Once there, we had a snack and took the photo at the top of this blog post. I’m the woman on the right, with my daughter in the green jacket, and my blond-haired son in the middle, plus the kids who came with my college roommate. We enjoyed the great view from the tallest point in our home state. Our hike down was much faster, as it was easier than climbing up, and everyone was energized after reaching the top of the mountain. We arrived at our campsite before dark and enjoyed a campfire dinner, relaxing by Roaring Brook. We rehashed our adventure and listened to my college roommate tell tales about Katahdin.

(posted September 2, 2015)