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Throwback Thursday #5 – Hiking southbound on the AT over Chairback and down Third Mountain Trail, forming a loop with the logging roads in the 100 Mile Wilderness.  

We did this hike in June 2013.  The Gulf Hagas area of the 100 Mile Wilderness takes nearly 2 hours to drive to from Millinocket, but the drive is definitely worth it.  We decided to hike a “loop” that we formed by hiking southbound up and over Chairback, down Third Mountain, Trail, and finally hiking 2 miles on the logging roads back to our car at the Gulf Hagas Trailhead.  The weather was beautiful and starting to warm up, but the warm weather and sunshine after weeks of rain and cold in Central Maine means one thing – BLACK FLIES.  They were absolutely brutal on this hike, nailing us in the face and back of the neck (they left scabs on my neck for weeks after this hike!) 

The hiking southbound over this mountain, which is a boulder-scramble for the SoBo’s, was a lot tougher than it seemed the first time we hiked it (northbound, of course) during our thru hike in early September 2012. A 16-mile day in the 100 Mile Wilderness was ambitious and it was a full day of hiking, but the views were stunning and the hike left us both blissfully exhausted.  Above, you’ll see 1) the view from Monument Cliff, 2) a bog on the logging roads on the way back to the car, 3) the typical trail scenery in this part of Maine, 4) the view looking at the back of Chairback (aptly named, now you can see), and 5) NoKey on top of Chairback. 

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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. 

Canoeing South Branch Pond and hiking North Traveler Mountain, Throwback Thursday #3

In late August, we were seeking solitude from the massive number of people we had seen in the previous weeks due to Northbounder season being in full swing.  The north end of Baxter State Park provided the perfect escape and dose of nature we needed to maintain our sanity! We drove the 2 hours north and around through rural northern Maine to the Matagamon Gate of the park, and then another 45 minutes or so on the winding and narrow Tote Road to South Branch Pond.  In the park, for a bargain price of $1 per hour you can rent a canoe.  We did just that and canoed around South Branch Pond for two hours enjoying the sunshine and a cool breeze.  The pond has a small outlet into a second smaller pond, where we beached our boat and walked the short path for a stunning view of the Knife Edge of Katahdin from the northern side, one many people, especially visitors to the area, don’t get to see.  After a few hours and some worn out arms, we turned in our canoeing gear, threw on our packs, and headed up North Traveler Mountain.  This is a challenging loop trail you can complete, but in August it’s recommended you start before 8 a.m.  Since it was late in the day, we only went to the peak and then back down.  The climb was actually tougher than I had expected, but most climbs in Maine usually are!  We were treated to a stunning view of South Branch and Black Cat Mountains, as well as the Knife Edge in the far background.  Looking north, the land is farms and small hills mostly, but incredibly unspoiled.  We had found our solitude!

After coming back down the mountain and getting back to the car we had decided we weren’t quite yet done for the day.  Consulting the map showed us that South Branch Falls would be a short 1.5 mile addition to our day, so off we went for that hike.  We hiked mostly level and a little downhill to the falls, which weren’t quite full, but still beautiful nonetheless.  We did some bouldering and soaked up some sun on the warm rocks before calling it a day.  When we returned to the small parking area, we met some people who had noticed our AT sticker on the car and asked us about our thru hike.  They lived south of us, near Pleasant Pond Mountain (just outside Caratunk, ME) and did some maintaining for the MATC.  The trail truly can connect us anywhere, even when we’re not on it!

After leaving, we drove the Tote Road a little further south before turning around and calling it a day.  The best part of going to the north end of the park may be the beauty and solitude, but the second best is the food!  Craig’s Clam Shop (affectionately known to us as “The Clam Slam”) is in Patten, Maine, and the food there is outta this world!  We stop in for milkshakes, burgers, and handcut fries made from potatoes in the fields less than a mile away.  It’s always a great end to a day in northern Maine!

The photos today are from the beach of South Branch Pond before pushing off in our canoe, looking at the Traveler Mountain range, a sign warning you that rescue can be hours away (and they aren’t kidding, this place is REMOTE!), and the view from North Traveler looking at Black Cat Mountain with Knife Edge on the far right side. 

The Beauty of Acadia National Park – Throwback Thursday blog #2

In early September, NoKey and I took our day off to visit Acadia National Park.  We had wanted to go since arriving in Maine, but we also wanted to miss the tourists in Bar Harbor.  September brought cooler and damper weather, but smaller crowds!  Since it was raining that morning, we had a limited opportunity to get any hiking in, which is okay in Acadia since you can drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain.  We decided to call it “car hiking” and enjoyed it very much (other than the fact that there were bus loads of elderly people milling about up top!)  Since it was raining and misting, we didn’t expect many views, but it was still stunning to be on top of a mountain and be above treeline at only 1500 feet.  The mist and cooler weather definitely made you feel the fall-like atmosphere, and the smell of the coniferous trees took us back to the days we hiked in the soaking rains of New Hampshire for two weeks back during our thru hike.  

We walked on the large paved paths and then found the roads less-traveled on some muddier ones.  We even did something true to a Sprinkles and NoKey hike and went exploring on unmarked trails.  After we’d had enough of the crowds, we did more “car hiking” around the park and drove along the coast of Maine, seeing beautiful bays and Thunder Hole.  We enjoyed the sites in Acadia and would one day like to go back for some hiking and possibly bike riding along the loop.  There is no backpacking allowed in the park due to the fragility of the alpine plantlife and the harsh conditions of Mt. Desert Island.  

This was also the day before NoKey’s birthday, so we took time out to go out and grab a bite to eat in a good restaurant and a good quality draft beer, something we didn’t get much of in Millinocket!

There wasn’t a whole lot of hiking done, but every once in a while it’s about relaxation… and we really enjoyed our trip out to the Maine coast. The photos are (1) The view from Cadillac Mountain into Frenchman Bay. (2) A beautiful, classically rocky view of the Atlantic from the Maine coast. (3) A serene and sandy beach on the southern part of the island.  

Recap of the past few months – late 2013 and early 2014

Since leaving Maine and moving to New York for a little while I haven’t had time to get much hiking done. Being that I’m now working two jobs to save up some cash and the fact that, despite it being mid March, there is usually a foot of snow on the ground at any given time, hiking has taken a backseat as of late.  I’ve done some exploring of the Central New York region, going snowshoeing at Beaver Lake, hiking at Clark Reservation, and exploring area greenways all while trying to find my way around the area.  One place I haven’t been yet is up to the Adirondacks!  I’m definitely looking forward to some warmer weather so getting up there won’t be such a big challenge. 

Speaking of big challenges, time to announce the next one of mine: Becoming a 46er!  Here in the Adirondacks, we have 46 peaks measuring 4,000 feet or higher.  Hike them all, you’re a 46er!  My challenge is going to be to peak bag all 46 this year, preferably before the end of autumn.  I’ve been doing some research on the area, as well as talking to people I work with who are or are actively on their way to being a 46er and learning all I can about permits, fees, etc. before embarking on this challenge in about six weeks.  I’m glad to say NoKey will be doing this with me to help us get in shape for bigger and bolder plans in the spring of 2015 (more on that at a later time!)

During the next few months, the blog will be busier again and I’ll recap all my hikes and backpack trips like I did before.  I feel sad I didn’t have the time to do so on all my hikes in Maine, but will be definitely making the time for it somehow as I document the trails of the Adirondacks.  I can’t wait to share my trips with you guys!

A few photos above: Snowshoeing for the first time at Beaver Lake; Max Patch in October 2013 on our roadtrip following leaving Maine; Katahdin from Turtle Ridge Trail in the 100-Mile Wilderness in Maine, October 2013. 

I spent last weekend at the Northern Ruck in Bluemont, VA.  The snow was beautiful, the trail running was fun, and the company of former thru hikers and hikers-to-be was the greatest I’ve had in a long time. 

The food at The Ruck couldn’t be beat!  There was a wide array of dishes, from Indian to vegetarian to BBQ pork.  I can’t even get into how many delicious desserts there were!  If there’s one thing hikers like more than anything else, it’s food, and former hikers sure know how to throw a feast.

A good time was had by all and I’m looking forward to the next gathering ALDHA throws. The photos above are of Bears Den Trail Center, in the middle of the infamous VA Roller Coaster section of trail, and a photo on Sunday morning of NoKey, Rocket, Testament, and me having some coffee and saying our goodbyes.