My grand daughter was here for her annual visit, she is almost 11. My youngest son, Justin (28), was to be wed on Sunday. It was a hectic week, yet a group of friends were heading to one of the most amazing places I have ever been to, Baxter State Park. After the wedding on Sunday I planned to spend Monday preparing for the trip of a few days up to Baxter to spend some time with friends and hopefully to get in some hiking if it didn't rain. It always seems to rain at Baxter when I'm there. Things were set: My grand daughter would visit with other relatives while I was away, I packed up and I was off. Around Bangor I knew what I had forgotten: my tent. I had been planning all week to get out and buy a larger tent, but with everything going on it never happened. I should have gone into Bangor for one, but I held out for Millinocket. There has to be a sporting goods store in Millinocket, right?
I drove around the town. Well, of course there is no such store in that ghost town. I asked a few locals, "You can try the hardware store, or maybe go back to Medway where there might be a place, Twin Rivers that maybe sells tents." I wasn't going back. "Twin Rivers is on Rte.11", ' "No, it's on the road to the interstate." I didn't have the patience to tell the local that WAS Rte.11. I walked into the hardware store. "Can I help you?" "Well, it's a long-shot. Do you have any tents?" He pointed to two faded boxes on an upper shelf. "Can I see them?" He climbed up and got them down. One was $89, one was $39. I had three tents in my closet back home. "This will do." I took the $39 one. I had an Easy Up I could put over it to keep things dry.
I got to Foster Field in Baxter and began to set up. I put up the Easy Up and pulled out the box with my new tent, I would say it had been on that shelf since 1980. I set it up then it occurred to me: My air mattress was a queen, my new two-man tent would barely fit two hobbits. It looked kind of funny sitting on top of a queen size air mattress. I was going to do what I had to do to be there, I didn't care. Later I saw Mike blowing up his single air mattress, "Hey Mike, let's trade!" That worked out great, now I actually had a mattress IN the tent. Things were great, until I had to actually get in myself. "Wow, kind of cramped." I couldn't stretch out. Apparently they hadn't invented ventilation in 1980, either. Oh well, it would have to do.
I had brought my kayak. We were right near Kidney Pond and sunset was approaching so, I set off for a paddle. Things were getting better. Across the pond was a small island. As I approached I heard the lonesome call of a loon. There, near the island was a parent with a young one, not fully grown. The parent was catching tiny fish and feeding the chick, and besides the occasional call to its mate, was unconcerned of my presence. I watched for quite awhile as they swam and dove together, as the parent taught the young one to fish. I was surrounded by majestic mountains, ominous clouds and a sun setting through a thin break near the horizon. There was total peace and serenity. Yes, this is why I drove 6 hours.
Though it had been a hot day it cooled down a bit after sunset and I was able to sleep that first night despite the tight quarters and poor ventilation. Despite a light rain overnight the morning broke bright and clear. If I was going to hike I better get up and get going. While my friends fried sausage and eggs and made blueberry pancakes, I struggled with my things and got ready to hike. I had to ask myself as the breakfast odors taunted me, "Do I really want to hike? It would be so much nicer to sit here and eat this amazing breakfast!" They had all hiked the day before and this was to be an off day. I poured my tea and was off for Roaring Brook.
The objective was Hamlin Ridge to Hamlin Peak. I already had a pocket full of excuses ready if I didn't make it. I hadn't hiked over 4k in four months. I hadn't had boots on hardly at all over the summer. I knew I was out of shape, the pack seemed like it weighed a ton, yeah, I was really out of shape! I had been sick for a month or so with some unknown disease, but had been feeling better. It was hot, and worse, humid. I was glad I was alone, I would have been embarrassed. I thought of February when I did a 23 mile hike across the Bonds. I thought of March when I hiked Washington and Jefferson, then Adams and Madison the following weekend to complete my winter 48. All I could think of in the heat and humidity was how nice and cool the snow and ice was last winter.
I struggled along the Chimney Pond Trail with these thoughts. I got to the upper junction with the North Basin Trail and started up. I soon found myself at the Hamlin Ridge Trail and up I went giving myself the promise that I would have lunch at the first good outlook. After scrambling up the boulders over some nice viewpoints I began to think about the forecast which predicted rain. I got to the first bump on the ridge. It was amazing how fast you get above tree-line on this trail. The views towards Chimney Pond with Pamola, Baxter and the towering cliffs was incredible. To the east the sky was brilliant, the Basin Ponds shone with reflections of the sky. To my north the North Basin wall was incredible, and above me on the trail was Hamlin Peak, still a mile away.
I sat and took it all in. I was hungry, thirsty, sweaty and tired. I took pictures and video and tried to push myself on. Then it began. Dark clouds began to roll across Baxter. The wind picked up to a steady 20mph, occasionally gusting higher. The clouds continued to roll in. I started to ask myself questions: "Could I make it to Hamlin?" I felt like crap. "Did I really want to descend these boulders in the rain?" That was a definite "NO". "Would I be able to go on to Saddle Junction and descend there? What if it was raining hard?" I folded. In the wind and rain I started back down. At the junction with the North Basin Trail I decided I would at least return the opposite way and visit Blueberry Knoll while I was at it.
I had my lunch in the rain at Blueberry Knoll. There were tremendous views into North Basin, and back to Baxter and Chimney Pond. The clouds were as threatening as any I had experienced in the mountains back home in NH. I was alone and remote if anything happened, I was somewhat disappointed at not reaching my objective, but I felt I had made the right decision. The rain rolled through as I ate my lunch. I started back down the other leg of the North Basin Trail. The rain stopped and the sun made some brief appearances. I probably would have survived the ridge, but it would have been wet. If I had a trail-name it would be "Stumblefoot". I assured myself I made the right decision by coming down and not stumbling around on wet boulders up there.
Back down I signed off the trail at the ranger station. I headed out the " Nature Trail" from there. Last year I had found some interesting orchids in the bog out there and it has a great view of South Turner Mountain. The sun was shining, the high peaks had pretty much cleared. The cotton grass danced in the wind across the bog, it was beautiful as well. Hamlin Ridge would be there when I had my hiking legs back. Maybe this fall, maybe next year. I went back to camp and started supper. I made 4lbs. of Mojito Lime Shrimp for the happy campers and broke out the huge lasagna I had made. The Trumans had brought pulled pork, we feasted!
I crawled off to my cramped quarters. The humidity must have been 100%. By dawn it rained, then it poured. I had planned on staying another night and leaving Friday morning. After an amazing breakfast akin to the one I had missed the day before we listened to the weather radio. One to two inches over the course of the day. It was pouring. There would be no enjoyable hiking or paddling this day. I packed up and headed home for an extra day with my grand daughter. I'll be back, Baxter! See you then!