Dateline: Baxter State Park

When I thought about the things I wanted to do with my summer back in June, Baxter and Acadia were high on the list. I’d never been to either, which seemed weird after all this time in New England. But summer here is tough: there is so much to do in so little time.

It was pretty serruptitious when one of my new classmates approached me about heading up to Millinocket, Maine for some hiking and white water rafting. Of course I was in! I took the week off from work, did some research, and made plans to head north. While the rest of the group would arrive Monday, I made plans to drive up a day early to stay/camp at South Branch Pond and then hike the Travelers Loop, which sounded almost as beautiful as Katahdin. A classmate jumped in to join me, which made the seven hour drive north much more bearable.

04-fullsizerender-29Not my car

Sadly, the universe had other plans. We arrived at Baxter to a light rain, and a three-mile trail run showed me how treacherous wet granite could be. When I awoke to persistent rain the next morning, I knew I’d need to make alternate plans. The mountains were socked in with fog, and I had no desire to be above the tree line for hours in those conditions.

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We broke down camp and were out of South Branch by 7 a.m. There wasn’t much reason to stay longer.

We decided to head south a different way than we’d arrived, following the park road west before turning left. It was beautiful, and we seemed to have the whole place to ourselves. I started to get hungry shortly after 8, so we stopped at a waterfall/picnic area to eat and take in the view. It was pretty nice, and I imagine on a hot day it’s very nice.

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We started to see more people the further south we got, but it was never crowded. Baxter does an amazing job at crowd control, though it sometimes feels like they don’t really want you there. Camping is on a reservation system, there are limited parking permits to climb Katahdin/Baxter Peak, and there is no back country camping allowed. While Acadia felt claustrophobic, I felt almost like I had all 200,000 acres of Baxter to myself.

The highlight of the day was Kidney Pond. It was so unexpectedly lovely: beautiful scenery, a serene lake teeming with loons and frogs (and leeches), canoes, cabins…. I would have spent whole week there. By then, the weather was improving, so we signed out a canoe ($1/hour) and went exploring.

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Kidney Pond is also home to the cutest library, full of old books, board games and puzzles. It reminded me of a cross between my grandmother’s house and summer camp, and the absolute anthesis of today’s screen run, connected world.

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Which reminds me: There’s almost no cell service at Baxter. Like none. It’s kind of glorious, but it means you have to go old-school in the planning and communication. As in “We’ll be at the lake anytime after three… see you sometime.” That was pretty much the plan with our friends.

We headed out of the park at the southern entrance, pausing to take a look at Katahdin, which we planned to climb the next day. The mountain dominates the landscape, and factors prominently into the lore of the local native population, who believe that a winged storm god lived in the vicinity, creating wind.

I had no idea of the journey ahead the next day. At the moment, I was happy to simply take in the view.

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