North Maine Woods

Throwback Thursday #4 – Ice Caves Trail and canoeing on Grand Lake Matagammon.

In early August the warm and clear weather provided me a chance to go to see the Ice Caves, a trail that isn’t long but has frozen caves with ice nearly all year long.  I’d heard about this trail from some of the hiker’s families and had been wanting to go, so I was excited to finally get the opportunity.  NoKey wasn’t feeling well this morning, so I set out to see the caves myself.  The drive from Millinocket isn’t bad at all. Taking 11 North to the Golden Road and driving out to Abol Bridge, across the bridge, and then taking the first left after the bridge will get you out to the road on which the Ice Caves Trail is located.  The trailhead is about 2 miles down this 1.5-lane gravel road, which also has some beautiful campsites maintained by the Maine State Parks, some of which have a stunning view of Katahdin.  I was surprised, and a bit happy, to see I was the only car in the parking lot this morning.  Last time I drove out here to find the trailhead, there was not a single place to park, let alone turn my car around!

I started the hike by crossing a former logging bridge and then turning left to follow the blue blazed trail.  This is an easy 1.2 miles to the Ice Caves without much elevation gain at all.  Immediately you get the serene feeling you can only find in the Maine woods.  The smell of pine needles with the softness of the pine bed underfoot is immediately calming and makes for great hiking, not to mention the quiet of the 100 Mile Wilderness located just across the lake!  After walking 0.9 miles, there is a trail junction where you can go go up to an overlook, down to the Ice Caves, or even further down to First Debsconeag Lake.  First, I went up to the overlook which stands over the lake and looks at Rainbow Mountain.  I could see a canoe slowly making its way across the lake and sat on a rock to soak up some sunshine.  After a short break, I decided to venture down to the Ice Caves, which were not at all what I expected! I saw the sign marking the caves and a small hole in the ground with an iron bar to guide me down… I didn’t think I’d fit!  Thankfully, I was able to get down into the caves without any problems but was disappointed to see there was only a thin layer of ice left, which is understandable for August.  The cave had a layer of thick mist hanging in the air and was a nice cool sanctuary for the humid August morning.  After looking around for a bit and getting creeped out at being alone, I climbed back out of the cave and headed down the 0.2 miles to First Debsconeag Lake.  This part of the trail was fairly newly dug with lots of switchbacks and some nice step work leading down to the lake. The trail ended directly in the lake I had looked at half an hour earlier from the overlook.  

When I arrived home, NoKey was feeling better and ready to get out of the house so we decided to make the long drive up to the north end of Baxter State Park since we’d heard they rent canoes for the bargain price of $1 per hour!  It’s nearly 2 hours of drive time to the north end from Millinocket, taking I-95 north to exit 264, turning left, and following the signs through Sherman, Patten, and Shin Pond.  When we arrived at the Matagammon Gate, we encountered Dana, a friendly ranger who had been with the park since the 1950s.  He was a great conversationalist and was probably a bit lonely working this end of the park, since hardly anyone is ever up here!  He let us in without charging us the out-of-state fee ($14 per car) and threw us a canoe key.  It was about 2:00 p.m. when we got out onto the lake and while there was some sunshine to the east of us, to the west we could tell a storm was blowing in.  We canoed around the lake for a little over an hour before the choppiness of the water let us know the storm was close enough and we got out of the park.  We headed to Craig’s Clam Shop for the first time and thus began our love affair with them!

The photos above: 1) The trail junction on the Ice Caves Trail; 2) Looking down into the ice caves; 3) A view of Katahdin over the Penobscot River; 4) Our canoe stealthily locked away in the woods; 5) Katahdin from the north side with the rain clouds looming. 

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