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Castle Trail – Mt. Jefferson

Castle Trail, Mt. Jefferson

I was on the road by 6:00AM, headed to the Castle Trail in Randolph, NH. The weather report was hot and muggy with a cold front moving in bringing potent, scattered thunderstorms. My best case plan was to make it up the Castle Trail, over the Castles, to the summit of Mt. Jefferson and back an undetermined route before really bad weather set in. As I drove through Gorham, NH toward Randolph, I could see a wall of black to the west hugging the slopes of the Northern Presidentials. I drove by the Appalachia parking area on route 2 seeing that it was packed to overflowing. Cars were parking on the edge of the highway. Not a good sign if you want solitude. I drove approximately 3 mile further to the Castle Trail parking lot on the left of route 2. I was the only one there. The sky looked ominous so I checked my cell phone for signal… none… I drove back toward Gorham until I had decent cell reception and checked the weather forecast at the Mt. Washington Observatory. Forecast was gusty winds, strong thunderstorms, possible hail. Increased chances as the day progressed. I decided that I would hike until the weather turned. My primary goal wasn’t to reach any peak today. I just wanted some exercise and solitude.

The Castle Trail

The trail begins on an old railroad bed, now snowmobile trail. Watch for signs as there is private property close by. It crosses under power transmission lines shortly where you can begin to hear the Israel River. I was surprised how much water was flowing considering how dry it had been this summer. Once across the ‘river’ (really a good sized brook), the trail parallels the river, meandering toward and away from it. This section is steadily uphill, but gradual and the trail bed is smooth. At 1.3 miles the Israel Ridge Trail diverges to the left while the Castle Trail heads straight on. For the next mile, the trail gets continuously steeper as it turns into a continuous stairway climb. Once above this first steep section, the trail smooths out and meanders for 1/2 mile, steadily uphill, along a wooded ridge. Along this section I began to get one of my symptoms that indicates a migraine coming on. In this case I was getting tunnel vision in my left eye. I came upon a tee intersection and had a decision to make. Continue on, turn around, or take a side trail. BTW, just before this intersection is a spot that looks like it could be used as a tent site in a pinch. Rooty, but flat. Looking at my map I could see that I was at the intersection with the Link Trails, just below the first Castle. Fog was settling in. It was getting breezy. I might have a full blown migraine in an hour or so. I decided that I would go left on the Link (the Fink) down into Castle Ravine (if you go right on the Link toward the Caps Ridge Trail, it’s called the Dink).

Castle Ravine

Immediately after going left at the Link intersection, the trail becomes narrow and STEEP (down). The trail is maintained well, but did not look like it received much traffic. As such there was a lot of moss and slippery spots. Pay attention if going down this trail! In about 1/2 mile the Link hits the bottom of the ravine and intersects with the Castle Ravine Trail. Just before the intersection are two or three great spots to set up camp. SIDE NOTE ON CAMPING: This area is within the White Mountain National Forest and as such you are not permitted to camp within 200′ of trails and streams.  I turned left at the intersection and headed downstream. I quickly came upon another camping spot right next to Castle Brook. Beautiful spot where I took the below picture:

Castle Brook 2 8.0 sec @ f11 49mm ISO 200

Castle Brook 2
8.0 sec @ f11 49mm ISO 200

Shortly downstream I came upon yet another camp site where I took this picture:

Castle Brook 1 2.0 sec @ f11 38mm ISO 50

Castle Brook 1
2.0 sec @ f11 38mm ISO 50

The Link Trail picks up again to the right and parallels the side of a ridge a bit under a mile, where it intersects with the Israel Ridge Trail and Cascade Ravine. Upstream and downstream from this intersection are the First and Second Cascades. I didn’t stop for pictures today as the sun had come out during my hike and would have created too many hot spots. Below are pictures from the last time I was at this spot:

First Cascade - Cascade Ravine

First Cascade – Cascade Ravine

Second Cascade - Cascade Ravine

Second Cascade – Cascade Ravine

I stayed on the Israel Ridge Trail paralleling Cascade Brook for about a mile where I once again came upon the intersection with the Castle Trail. On my was back to the parking lot I was enjoying the seclusion. Not more than 3 miles from one of the most visited areas in the White Mountains and I had not seen a single person all morning. No sooner did this thought pass through my mind when I met a group of four twenty somethings heading up the mountain. Still not bad. Back to the parking lot by 12:30 PM. Great morning hike!

Baxter State Park in June

Baxter State Park in June

As is our annual ritual (mostly???), Tammy and I went back to BSP June 17 – 20. I wanted to get in to Chimney Pond during the longest days of the year. During the Summer Solstice, the sunrise points more directly into the Chimney Pond basin than at any other time of year and I thought it might be a good opportunity for sunrise pictures of the basin and mountain. We made reservations well in advance for a night at Chimney Pond, a night at Davis Pond and a final night back at Chimney Pond.

Day One – Chimney Pond

As always we were excited to get on the road and not be working on a Friday. We arrived at the BSP gate house before 10:00 AM and were on the trail at Roaring Brook Campground by 10:30. The hike from Roaring Brook Campground to Chimney Pond is a bit less than 3.5 miles and is pretty easy. Arriving at Chimney Pond by early afternoon, we found our assigned lean-to, unpacked, and ate lunch. The afternoon of day one was spent scouting morning photo locations, washing up, and getting our gear in order.

One potential plan was to do the classic circuit of the Knife’s Edge on our last day back at Chimney Pond. This route is typically hiked either up Cathedral Trail, over the Knife’s Edge, and down the Dudley Trail, or vice versa. Unfortunately there had been a land slide on the Dudley Trail over the winter/spring and it will be closed until 2018. This makes a day trip over the Knife’s Edge with Chimney Pond as the start/end impossible.

We found the black flies to be pretty bad this year, but we planned ahead and brought a no-see-um screen cloth that fit pretty well over the front of the lean-to. Some flies still got in, but it was livable. It would have been hell without the screening.

Chimney Pond Lean-To Bug Screen

Chimney Pond Lean-To Bug Screen

Day Two – Davis Pond

The next morning I was up before dawn and headed for the Chimney Pond outlet for pictures of the pond and mountain. Black flies were, once again, annoying, but not terrible. I was able to get in a few shots just before sunrise and a few with Baxter in the sun. Below are the two best.

Baxter Alpenglow .5 sec @ f 8.0 12mm ISO 100

Baxter Alpenglow
.5 sec @ f 8.0 12mm ISO 100

Baxter Sunrise 1.0 sec @ f 13 10 mm ISO 100

Baxter Sunrise
1.0 sec @ f 13 10 mm ISO 100

I woke Tam up after sunrise and had our standard breakfast of instant oatmeal, pop tarts, and coffee. We packed up and headed out for the Saddle Trail to the saddle between Baxter and Hamlin peaks. Going was slow with full packs, but the morning temperature was good and the bugs weren’t bad while we were moving. After an hour or so, we reached the top of the saddle and headed off for the North West Plateau. This section of trail has a bit of boulder scrambling, but isn’t difficult. In about a mile we reached Caribou Spring at the junction of the Hamlin Ridge and Howe Peak trails. The spring was running steady, but not as fast as I have seen in the past. I’m always amazed at the power of water pressure and how there can possible be flowing springs on mountain tops. We continued on the North West Plateau Trail and headed down to Davis Pond. We had come here in October of 2013. It was a wet Fall and the trail had fully flowing stream running down it. I said I would never come back, not only due to the trail conditions and steepness getting off the North West Plateau, but the trail from Davis Pond to Russell Pond was a slog in boggy water up to your knees. Well, we came back, but were not heading all the way to Russell Pond on this trip. As on our prior trip, there was running water in most of the trail and the last half mile or so was steep, steep, steep. It was daunting to think we would have to come back up this the next morning.

We made it to the Davis Pond lean-to in the early afternoon, dumped our gear, and immediately went to the pond to wash off the sweat and grim. There was a waterfall flowing down the back wall of the basin last time we were here and I was not sure if it flowed year ’round. It did not disappoint as it was fully flowing this day also. I wanted to go explore near it, but it was a long scramble away and unfortunately the black flies were horrendous. My original plan was to explore the larger Lake Cowles further down into the basin, but the black flies crapped on this plan too. We got back to the lean-to ASAP, put up the bug screen, and spent the rest of the day in relative comfort.

The next morning I, once again, got up before sunrise to snap a couple shots of the waterfall. We then ate our standard breakfast, packed up, and began our journey back to Chimney Pond.

Davis Pond Lean-To

Davis Pond Lean-To

Davis Pond Waterfall 1.5 sec @ f13 150mm ISO 50

Davis Pond Waterfall
1.5 sec @ f13 150mm ISO 50

Day Three – Back to Chimney Pond

Back the way we came to the North West Plateau. It was steep, steep, steep, again (obviously), but we took our time and it really wasn’t that bad. The wind was brisk on the plateau and we settled in behind some boulders to eat a quick snack. At this point we decided that we didn’t want to go back down the Saddle Trail with full packs as there is a lot of loose, granite sand. It is a landslid after all. Our final plan was to hike a bit longer to Hamlin Peak and go down the Hamlin Ridge Trail back to Chimney Pond.

Davis Pond to Northwest Plateau

Davis Pond to Northwest Plateau

Hamlin Peak

Hamlin Peak

Diapensia

Diapensia

We met a family on Hamlin Peak that were picking off the New England 4000 footers. We exchanged taking pictures for one another and off we went in opposite directions. We did the entire circuit of Hamlin, Baxter, and Pamola peaks in June of 2014. On that trip we ascended the Hamlin Ridge Trail with day packs. Today we were descending with full packs. It is a beautiful trail and I was able to appreciate it for the first half mile or so. After that we both just wanted to get to the bottom. Lots of ledge and boulder scrambling made for a difficult day with full packs, but we finally made our way back to Chimney Pond for our last night.

 

Below are some photos of our trip in June 2014

Katahdin Alpenglow 6-2014

Katahdin Alpenglow 6-2014

Katahdin Sunrise 6-2014

Katahdin Sunrise 6-2014

Painted Hills – Day 5

Painted Hills

On day 5 we headed out early for the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument outside of Mitchell, Oregon, about 3.5 hours away. This would be our longest traveling day on our entire trip, but I had seen pictures of this area and I knew we had to get there. The overall plan was to hit the Blue Basin area first, if time permitted, and then hit the Painted Hills area before sunset. We set out early back toward Hood River and on to The Dalles. From there is was a south easterly trip through pretty mountainous terrain what was dry, yellow, and desert like. I’m not sure what this area is like in the Spring, but in Autumn it was dry, dry, dry.

We stopped at White River Falls State Park on the way to break up the trip. We could see the area a long ways away as all was dry with this small, green band of trees in the distances indicating the flow of the river. It was an interesting stop. We were the only ones there beside the Park caretaker. There used to be a power generation station here that was fed by a good sized steel pipe running from the upper area of the falls. Most was in disrepair, but the old station itself was pretty interesting with a lot of old machinery and graffiti.

White River Falls State Park Graffiti

White River Falls State Park Graffiti

White River Falls State Park Machinery

White River Falls State Park Machinery

We used my phone GPS on the way and decided to skip the Blue Basin, due to time restraints. We arrived at the Painted Hills a couple hours before sunset and noticed that my phone no longer had service (remember this, it’s important later). The Painted Hills Unit had four trail areas, none of them very long. We began a the Red Scar Knoll area and walked the short path around one of the red and yellow ‘hills’. It was very interesting, but it’s unfortunate that idiots had made foot prints in the side of the hill. The signs and all literature clearly state that walking the hills is forbidden, but there are always idiots that can’t seem to follow simple directions. Any markings take years, if not decades to fade away. The close up below provides an indication of what this soil looks like when dry.

Painted Hills - Red Scar Knoll

Painted Hills – Red Scar Knoll

Painted Hills Oatmeal

Painted Hills Oatmeal

We then moved on to the Painted Cove area where there is a walkway between some of the maroon red hills. I could imagine Mars looking something like this.

Painted Cove, Painted Hills, Oregon

Painted Cove Trail

Then on to the main event….. the Painted Hills Overlook. The trail is around 1/2 mile one way and we scoped all along for locations to photograph once the sun started setting. There were a few others shooting photos and some just enjoying the scenery, but I was surprised at how few people there were overall. We stayed until the sun began to set and we packed up after I was sure that the sky wasn’t going to cooperate with a spectacular display. The panorama below was the best shot of the overall area with a somewhat interesting sky.

Painted Hills

Painted Hills Oregon

Painted Hills Oregon

Painted Hills

After packing up and knowing that my phone had no service, I decided to use my iPad for directions back to the hotel in Cascade Locks. My phone needs service for directions, but the program I use on my iPad (CoPilot) had the maps and directions built into the app. When we got back to the access road that would take us back to civilization, my iPad indicated that I should head in the opposite direction than we had arrived. I went wit the flow as the terrain looked spectacular. In hind sight, I think my iPad was set to take the shortest distance route, not the shortest time route, and we ended up travelling over 40 miles on dirt road that was through desolate, but spectacular Oregon wilderness. I’m glad we had a 4 wheel drive. It was late in the day and got darker the longer we drove. Tammy said that the darkness was a good thing for me as we were traveling on single lane, dirt roads that were on the edge of steep drop offs, which I could not see due to the darkness. Below is a map of the area we drove.

We were planning on grabbing a nice dinner somewhere on the way back to our hotel, but all of the towns we passed through were so small, most didn’t have gas stations or even a convenience store. We found a Wal Mart in Hood River and grabbed microwave sandwiches and beer to take back to the hotel. Long, late day, but sooo worth it. If you have to go out of your way to see the Painted Hills, do it. You won’t regret it.

Eagle Creek – Columbia River Gorge – Day 4

Eagle Creek – Columbia River Gorge

We finally awoke to a beautiful, crisp morning. The peaks in the gorge were still cloud covered, but the Columbia river was clear and we could see the clearing skies heading East from Portland. This was the day we would hike all day. This was my main reason for planning our vacation in this area. We would hike Eagle Creek, the most popular hiking trail in the gorge, to and beyond Tunnel Falls. After an early breakfast, I packed my camera equipment and we grabbed some snacks and water for the hike. We drove to the main parking area for the Eagle Creek Trail #440. We did not park at the head of the trail as we were advised that there had been vehicle break-ins there in the past. By parking at the main parking lot we were adding 1/2 mile to the hike each way (about 14 miles round trip), but we were getting a little peace of mind. On our walk to the parking at the head of the trail we noticed an awful stench like rotting fish and guess what…. it was rotting fish. Salmon were spawning in the creek and many were dead and decomposing. The creek was full of huge salmon. I believe most were finished spawning, but some were still skipping through the shallows on their sides. We saw a heron looking ready to feed, but was not able to get any decent pictures.
Sunshine over the Gorge

Sunshine over the Gorge

Eagle Creek Salmon

Eagle Creek Salmon

The trail begins with a gradual incline on the left side of Eagle Creek heading upstream. It is cut into the side of the gorge wall almost from the beginning. As the trail continues it migrates up the side of the gorge wall and the width decreases. In some of the more dangerous areas there are cables hooked to the gorge wall for stability. The area was absolutely gorgeous and continued to impress the further we walked. As the trail moved away from the gorge into old growth forest, we reached Metlako Falls , the first of many, at around 1.5 miles. The falls can be viewed from a short side spur. There is one pretty good location to photograph although it requires a telephoto lens as the falls are about 1/4 mile away from the view point. At around 2 miles we reached a side trail leading to the bottom of the gorge and Lower Punchbowl Falls. We descended and received a head on view of Lower Punchbowl. Walking up the creek bed we rounded a corner and were face to face with Upper Punchbowl Falls. This is much more impressive than Lower and well worth the side trip to the bottom of the gorge. As we were about the head back up the side trail I noticed that there was a ‘trail’ of sorts right up the sheer side of the gorge. Knowing that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, I wanted to go this route. Tammy said, “Is it a trail?”. I said, “Of course it is.” I could see tread marks so that’s a trail right? Well, we make it to the top, but not without a lot of sweat and a re route or two. So… it was the shortest way to get out of the gorge, just not the easiest. Anyhow, our route out of the gorge landed us at a viewpoint over Upper Punchbowl. I decided that I’d take photos from this location on the way back as the falls were too back lit from the morning sun and by the time we made it back here in the afternoon, the sun would be behind the far wall of the gorge.
Eagle Creek Trail

Eagle Creek Trail

Eagle Creek Trail

Eagle Creek Trail

Metlako Falls

Metlako Falls

Upper Punchbowl Falls

Upper Punchbowl Falls

Off to High Bridge at 3.3 miles. This is the first crossing of the gorge and marks the beginning of permitted camping. The trail becomes wider, but in places it was 120 feet above the gorge floor! On the way we passed by the single drop of Loowit Falls on the opposite wall of the gorge. High Bridge was a little sketchy. It was sturdy, but it was very narrow and very high above the gorge. Made me a little uneasy. A few tenths of a mile later there are limited views of Skoonichuk Falls. The forest noticeably thins in this area and a sign indicates that there was a forest fire here in 1902. As we continue on, the trail gradually loses elevation until it again crosses the gorge at the appropriately named 4 1/2 mile bridge. This bridge is very different than High Bridge being only 4 feet above the creek. We met some folks here relaxing in the sunshine on the rocks in the creek.
Loowit Falls

Loowit Falls

High Bridge

High Bridge

After crossing at 4 1/2 mile bridge the trail meanders back into the forest and gains elevation as it pulls away from the creek. The trail passes more campsites with a particularly impressive one just off the trail to the left. Near this section the forest changes from evergreen to hardwood. The trail runs pretty straight for a while and after crossing a couple of talus slopes you come upon the area known as the “Potholes”. The trail here crosses over the top of basalt columns and is one of the coolest portions of the trail. As the trail began to narrow again I could hear the sound of rushing water. Continuing along I could catch glimpses of a waterfall behind the trees around a bend. We must be approaching Tunnel Falls! This is what we hiked 6+ miles for! We emerged from the forest and the falls were before us in their full glory! What a beaut! As we approached the falls and the tunnel behind, the trail became wetter and narrower. There were no handrails on the approach, but shortly after emerging from the tunnel, the handrail began again. I passed another hiker admiring the falls just past the narrowest part of the trail and set up to get a shot of Tammy emerging from the tunnel. It was awesome! After a quick photo shoot and a movie, we headed to our designated lunch spot another couple of tenths of a mile up the creek. The approach to Twister Falls (sometimes called Eagle Creek Falls) was the narrowest part of the entire hike and is often referred to as the “Vertigo Mile” for a reason. You are higher up and more exposed on this section than anywhere else on the hike. There was another couple eating lunch at the same spot, but there was plenty of room to get privacy if you wanted it. After a light lunch, some relaxation, and more photos, we headed back the way we came.
The Potholes

The Potholes

Tunnel Falls

Tunnel Falls

Tunnel Falls

Tunnel Falls

Twister Falls

Twister Falls

Twister Falls

Twister Falls

Broad Leaf Maple

Broad Leaf Maple

Upper Punchbowl Falls

Upper Punchbowl Falls

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Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood – Day 3

Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood

On Day 3 of our Oregon vacation we once again we arose to light drizzle with the promise of improvement later in the day. Over breakfast, we decided to attempt the 0.3 mile scramble into Oneonta Gorge. This one was on my bucket list, but there were some unknowns. There is a big log jam a short way into the gorge and I was not sure the difficulty of navigating it. There is also a spot where the gorge narrows and the water can get quite high. At periods of high water, this section requires swimming. We planned on getting wet, so wore sneakers and light pants that we wouldn’t mind getting wet. Keep in mind that this is Oregon in October and we had no idea how cold the water might be. We pulled into the parking area and followed the narrow trail down one side of the bridge crossing the gorge stream and headed out. A short distance up stream we encountered the log jam. We found that even though the logs were wet, they were not slippery due to the number of people frequenting this spot. We had to climb over, under, and through portions of the jam, but it was not difficult; just time consuming. Post log jam the walk was beautiful as the gorge walls rose up over our heads and the way became increasingly narrow. Within site of Lower Oneonta Falls and the head of the gorge, we encountered deep water. It reached my waist, but we were quickly through and once again on bare stones on the gorge floor. Luckily the water was not ice cold and we were quick to recover once out. There were only two others in the gorge really working the place with their cameras. Tammy helped me out with keeping my camera dry as there was a pretty steady drizzle coming on. I took photos for 20 minutes or so, before we decided to head back. Before hitting the road, we also stopped for a quick shoot at Horsetail Falls close by.
Be advised… the video is long, but browse through it, it’s pretty cool….
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Oneonta Gorge 8

Oneonta Gorge 8

Oneonta Gorge 2

Oneonta Gorge 2

Oneonta Botanical

Oneonta Botanical

Horsetail Falls HDR

Horsetail Falls HDR

With the sky still overcast, we headed up the Columbia River to the town of Hood River for lunch and brews at Full Sail Brewing Company. Awesome beer and great food! The sky was continuously improving with sun, patches of blue sky, and plenty of white, puffy clouds. The plan for the afternoon was to drive scenic route 35 to route 26 around Mt. Hood. Just outside of Hood River we began to pass fruit farms and orchards the likes of which I have never seen. There was every variety of apple and pear tree that you could imagine as well as high bush blueberry and grapes. Local farm stands were in abundance and we stopped at one to grab a couple of local pears and apples. As we continued into the back county the elevation continued to increase drastically. As we crept closer to Mt. Hood (of which we had yet to catch a glimpse) the clouds rolled in and light rain returned. We were to find that this was common. The Cascade range forces the moist Pacific air to drop its moisture on the West side of the mountain leaving the East side much drier. We stopped by Trillium Lake on the South West side of Mt. Hood, scouting for potential early morning locations to shoot. We also stopped by Sahale Falls. This one is easy to access by vehicle. As we had increased elevation significantly, it was pretty cold here. Continuing on, we stopped at the village of Government Camp for a gas up as stations were few and far between on this stretch of road. When we reached Zig Zag we hopped onto the LoLo Pass road (closed in winter) hoping for a scenic route back to Hood River. This road was paved for a long way and followed power lines up and over the pass. It eventually turned to a one lane dirt road with no junction signs. After miles of driving we finally ended up on paved road heading toward Lost Lake (portion of the drive here). I was hoping to scout here for morning shots as well, but I guess they named it Lost Lake for a reason. We found the access gate to the Lost Lake Resort, but all was gated. Driving around some of the roads close by, we never did get a view of the lake. As the afternoon wore on, we headed back to Hood River. On the way we turned off 35 and drove to Panorama Point. We finally got our first view of Mt. Hood.
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Mt Hood

Mt Hood

 

After a quick stop we headed for Big Horse Brew Pub. We grabbed a quick beer there, enjoying the unique setting on a side hill overlooking the town, then headed back ‘home’ to Cascade Locks. We hadn’t had any dinner yet, so back at Cascade Locks we located Thunder Island Brewing and enjoyed another beer and some so-so nachos. We had a bit of a time finding the place as it was after dark, and what eventually turned out to be the brewery looked like a town garage. Overhead doors were open with a small pay-as-you-go step up bar area. After this stop, we were ready to hit the hay. Short hike, road trip, and three breweries…. Busy day!

Columbia River Gorge – Day 1 and 2

Columbia River Gorge

Day 1

We flew into Portland, Oregon via Alaska Airlines on a Saturday evening. After grabbing a rental at Avis (be aware that Avis is not in the airport terminal. You have to take a shuttle.) we headed for Cascade Locks about 45 minutes east. We arrived at the Best Western Plus in Cascade Locks, Oregon at about 10:00 in the evening. We were looking for a snack and beers. The concierge indicated that there was only one place in town that sold beer at that time of night…. the Cascade Inn down the street. Their kitchen would be closed, but they could do up deli sandwiches if we were so inclined. It took a few minutes to find the place even though it was within walking distance. It looked a little sketchy with an old local out front, obviously well into his night of drinking. From his looks a night of drinking is probably his norm. We walked into an old, run down bar with one pool table and half dozen video slot machines lined up against the wall. Looking for a beer, I asked the woman behind the bar what was on tap. They had three; Budweiser, Coors, and a local brew. Great selection (sarcasm) so we chose the local. In the mean time, a couple next to us was finishing up their order of 5 sides of mashed potatoes and gravy to go. I didn’t want to know what they were going to do with it when they got home. After a couple brews and a little discussion with locals (mostly just having fun listening to them) we headed back to our room for a well deserved rest.

Day 2

The next morning we awoke to pretty steady drizzle (no, drizzle isn’t some Snoop Dog term). We grabbed breakfast at the Bridgeside restaurant next door (included in the hotel fee), and decided to book a dinner cruise with Portland Spirit on a stern wheeler for dinner that evening. We then headed to a roadside waterfall not too far away on the Washington side of the Columbia River beyond Carson, WA. We found Panther Falls after a couple of turn arounds and when we finally found the short trail to the falls, we noticed in great big, blue letters in the middle of the road “FALLS”. Go figure. The falls were only a couple hundred yards from the road and they were spectacular! Our first outing of the trip and it surely did not disappoint. Tammy said that I was a little too excited, though not in those exact words….. I have a Kata rain cover for my camera to keep it waterproof. It works fairly well, but can be hard to focus if you like to shoot in manual as I do. After a little shuffling around to make it work well, I finally gave up and Tammy held it over the camera to keep water off it, while I continued shooting.
Panther Falls

Panther Falls

Panther Falls

Panther Falls

Since the sky was still a little threatening, we decided to spend the rest of the day going to a few of the road side waterfalls along the Columbia Gorge on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. Even on a dreary Sunday in bad weather, some of the locations including Multnomah Falls, were down right packed. Locations we hit:
Latourell Falls

Latourell Falls

Latourell Falls

Latourell Falls

 

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

 

Wahkeena Falls

Wahkeena Falls

Wahkeena Falls

Wahkeena Falls

Wahkeena Falls

Wahkeena Falls

 

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls - Keith

Multnomah Falls – Keith

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Quick Photography Note

Just a quick side note about our adventures and photographing locations. I have noticed that how photos are composed and post processed provides a photographer’s interpretation of the location. I am always amazed at the difference in what I think a location is going to look like based on photographs I have seen and how the locations looks in real life. Above at Multnomah Falls is a good example. The photos I have researched always reminded me of something out of ‘Lord of the Rings’ as I hope is represented in the top photo. The above photo is a shot that Tammy took of me shooting the falls; people wandering everywhere and no real good spots to shoot from. I was standing on a stone wall in order to get above everyone’s head. Hopefully the top photo invokes a better response than the above.

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After a quick shower back at the hotel we walked down town near the Marine Park to hop on the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler for our dinner cruise. We boarded just after 5:30 PM for a 6:00 PM departure. The boat was nice; built in nearby Hood River in the mid 1980’s. I was surprised that it only drafted 5 feet. Upon departure I was pleasantly surprised by the smoothness of the stern wheel drive. Even though it was still powered by a diesel engine, it produced nowhere near the vibration of a propeller drive. We had a couple of local brews with our dinner, which was average (the dinner… the brews were awesome). We cruised down stream under Bridge of the Gods to the Bonneville Dam, then turned around and headed up stream past Cascade Locks to Stevenson, WA. We then turned back to finish at our departure point at Cascade Locks. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset early on the cruise. Tammy thought it would have been better to cruise during the day, but I thought it was a perfect, relaxing ending to a busy day. Overall I thought it was a good value at $50.00 pp for dinner and two hour cruise.
Bridge of the Gods

Bridge of the Gods

Bridge of the Gods

Bridge of the Gods

Coumbia River Sunset

Coumbia River Sunset

Nahmakanta Lake Adventure

Nahmakanta Lake

Tammy and I went to Nahmakanta Lake Camps over a long weekend. We had been planning this for a few weeks. I found out about the camps while hiking the 100 Mile Wilderness in the Katahdin region of Maine. While hiking the Appalachian trail along the edge of Nahmakanta Lake, my niece and I found ourselves on the top of Nesuntabunt Mountain overlooking the lake. We could see a beach, boats, and cabins at the North Western shore of the lake. When I got home from that trip, I researched the area and found the camps run by Don and Angel Hibbs. Contacting them through email I found a weekend that worked for both parties. The Hibbs offer a full service option with meals or a housekeeping only option where you provide your own food. We chose the housekeeping option as sometimes we like to keep to ourselves.

The camps can be reached north of Brownville, Maine on the road to Jo-Mary Campground or via the Kokadjo area north of Greenville, Maine. Be advised that both methods of access require driving on 30+/- miles of dirt road and if you choose the Kokadjo route, the road is worse, but there are no fees this direction. We chose the Jo-Mary option. Upon reaching the access road there is a check point where you are required to pay an entrance fee. There is also an exit fee. The Hibbs provide a discounted coupon when staying at their facilities. There are also an abundance of first come/first serve camp sites in the Jo-Mary Wilderness that may be of interest.

On our first day we arrived early in the day and hiked into Rainbow Stream Lean-to. This was my favorite section of the Hundred Mile Wilderness and I wanted Tammy to enjoy it. I fished a bit in the stream (catch and release, artificial lures only during this time of year) and made a lousy attempt at landing an 8″ brookie. After giving up on that I took some photographs of the stream while Tammy headed out along the trail. We reached the lean-to after a couple of miles and ate a snack for lunch. It is really a beautiful spot and a great place to use as a base for fishing some of the back country ponds. Just before we headed back, a couple of guys showed up on their way back from fishing Bear Pond. They were also staying at the camps and unfortunately had no luck this day. I had heard that there was a shorter access path to/from the lean-to, but was unsure where the path was and where it would end up, so we decided to back track the way we had come. Half way back, we ran into John Winter, my friend’s son who was finishing a North bound through hike of the AT. I thought that he might be in the area as I knew his projected completion date, but I was reasonably sure that he was further North on the trail and we had missed him. What an awesome experience to meet up with him and some of his trail buddies. We visited for the better part of an hour before they decided that they needed to make it to the shelter at a reasonable time. John wanted me to hang out at the shelter with them that night, but I had paid for a cabin with a wood stove for heat and didn’t want to give that up for a night in a lean-to. I know…. I’m getting old.

Rainbow Stream

Rainbow Stream

Rainbow Stream 2

Rainbow Stream 2

Trail to Rainbow Lean To

Trail to Rainbow Lean To

Rainbow Lean To

Rainbow Lean To

We made our way to the camps in the late afternoon and checked in with Angel. She showed us our cabin and went over all the details. It had a private, detached bathroom and shower, full kitchen, two beds, and a wood stove for heat. There are also canoes and kayaks that come with the cabin fee, and motor boats for an additional fee. We got our camp fire ready (right on the shore line) and started cooking dinner. It was so peaceful. No sounds of cars or trucks. No light other than the gas lamps in the cabins and the camp fires on the shore. Perfect!

Nesuntabunt Sunrise

Nesuntabunt Sunrise

The next morning we rose early, cooked breakfast, and I went to talk to Don about suggestions for fishing. I decided to try 6th Debsconeag pond as I had heard good things about the brook trout here. Don showed me the best places to fish and said that while the trout might not be plentiful, if I caught any they would be of descent size. Tammy and I grabbed a canoe and paddled about two miles down the lake to a spot indicated by a large, painted red spot on a boulder along the shore. Landing the canoe here, we unloaded, packed up and headed up a woods path about a mile to the pond. We were the only ones at the pond and I landed a 15″ brookie within the first 30 minutes. The landing included the normal stressed hilarics of Tammy trying to get the net to help me and me yelling “don’t stand up!”, “hurry up I’m gonna lose it!” Of course that was the only strike I got this day, but it was all worth it. The biggest fish I’ve ever caught on a fly rod!

Trout Slayer

Trout Slayer

After the hike back and paddling the two miles to the camps, we decided to explore a couple of the waterfalls in the area. Don suggested some falls along Pollywog stream in Pollywog gorge. I remember hiking the top of the gorge earlier in the year with my niece, but the edge was so wooded we could not see into the gorge. We drove directly to the outlet of Pollywog pond and took a short trail maintained by Don and his crew. The outlet of the pond flows directly into the gorge over a significant drop. A half mile or so further into the gorge is a better set of falls. The trail was fairly easy, but very steep getting down to the lower falls. It was a great afternoon hike.

Pollywog Gorge Upper Falls

Pollywog Gorge Upper Falls

Pollywog Gorge Lower Falls - Blue

Pollywog Gorge Lower Falls – Blue

Pollywog Gorge Lower Falls - Gold

Pollywog Gorge Lower Falls – Gold

We headed back to our cabin once again to cook dinner. Tammy made a superb linguine with garlic, lemon, mushrooms, onions, peppers, etc. I started the camp fire again and we drank some fine beer. One of the best was a pumpkin porter made by Red Hook out of Portsmouth, NH. The next morning I cooked breakfast with the addition of the trout caught the day before. It was perfect. I find that larger trout sometimes taste fishy (go figure), but this was clean and mild. So good! We packed everything up to get that out of the way and did some kayaking around the two inlets of Pollywog and Rainbow streams. Unfortunately we headed home shortly after. Great thanks to Don and Angel for the wonderful time. We will surely go back again.

 

Maine 100 Mile Wilderness

Maine 100 Mile Wilderness

During the last week of May, my niece (Katrina Brace) and I began our journey to finish the Maine 100 mile wilderness. We started north bound last year at Monson and hiked the first 30 miles to Gulf Hagas. This year we finished off the remaining 80 miles to the base of Katahdin.

Background on the 100 Mile Wilderness:

The 100 Mile Wilderness is called such as there is no access to resupply from retail merchants anywhere along this section beginning at the town of Monson and ending at the small variety store at Abol Bridge just outside of Baxter State Park. There is limited road access throughout for possible resupply points, but all are remote and should not be relied upon. Most publications recommend carrying ten days of food for the average hiker. It took us nine days over the two years for us to complete this section, so I guess that puts me into the ‘average’ category.

Day One

We began Saturday, May 23 where we left off last year; the West Branch of the Pleasant River at the bottom of Gulf Hagas. Seven days of food, 50lb. pack, boots that I already knew had given me problems, but thought I had a handle on it. It was 37 degrees F; below average for this time of year even in Northern Maine. Fording the river was easy as we had very little rain after the snow melt run off this Spring. Traveling toward Gulf Hagas brook, Katrina jumped a moose, but only saw the beast’s but. It was cold enough that any precipitation that fell was small hail pellets. We both hiked most of the day with light jackets; very abnormal for me as I heat up quickly and sweat profusely if not ventilated enough. The first 5+ miles to the Carl A. Newhall lean-to were uneventful. The trail follows Gulf Hagas brook very closely and is very picturesque. We ate a quick snack at the lean-to and began the ascent of Gulf Hagas Mountain, the first of four peaks this day. During the ascent we met our first hiker; a SoBo (South Bound through hiker) that had hiked North to Tennessee and come to Maine to flip flop and head South. He told us that although Baxter State Park was open, they were not letting anyone hike Katahdin, because of the snow pack still on the mountain. Our plan was to scale the Hunt trail to Baxter Peak on our last day. Hopefully it would open before we reached there.

Katrina-Gulf-Hagas

Katrina-Gulf-Hagas

Gulf Hagas Mountain

Our first encounter with snow on the trail. I didn’t expect snow, but there was only a couple of patches. Kinda cool (no pun intended).

Gulf Hagas Mountain Snow

Gulf Hagas Mountain Snow

West Peak

After Gulf Hagas Mountain, we continued up to West Peak and the snow started getting deeper; 3 to 4 feet in places. In places it was hard packed on the trail so you could walk on top of it, then without warning you would break through and be up to your calf or knee. Then the blow downs started. Evergreens were blown across the trail everywhere. In some places there were so many blow downs that we could not locate the trail. Luckily a few other hardy hikers had been through and we could follow their melted out boot tracks. It was exhausting and in places we only averaged 1 mile an hour.

Hay Mountain

More snow, more blow downs. UGH!

White Cap Mountain

The last of the peaks today and the last of high elevation for the entire trip. White Cap is approximately 3,700 ft. elevation so is not a big mountain, but on a good day would be an awesome place to stop for lunch as the views are outstanding, but today was cold and the wind was blowing. The snow disappeared on the top as it’s completely exposed and gets good sun all day, but we didn’t stay long. A couple of pictures of Katahdin (our first sighting) and a snack and we were off to get below tree line for some protection from the wind. More snow, more blow downs! It was horrendous and completely demotivating. Luckily, where trail crews that built steps into the mountain, all the snow had melted off, but where there were no steps there was more snow. Slow going…..

White Cap Katahdin View

White Cap Katahdin View

White Cap West View

White Cap West View

We finally saw the roof to the lean-to at between 6:00 and 7:00 PM. 9-10 hours for 13 miles….. slow for us. I was exhausted; not sure about Katrina, but I’m sure she was tired. The lean-to sits in a ravine between two shoulders on the back of White Cap. Logan brook is a small stream following the ravine with little cascades. Great spot to fall asleep to the sounds of water. We cooked dinner (mashed potatoes, chicken, and gravy) and immediately got settled for bed. Sore spots on my heals, but I had taken precautions earlier and put on patches of mole skin with duct tape for extra adhesion. We had most, it not all of our clothes on, with jacket, hat, gloves, inside our sleeping bags, but were warm and slept good.

Logan Brook Lean-to

Logan Brook Lean-to

 

Day 2

Breakfast of coffee and instant oatmeal (which Katrina now likes after surviving her freshman year in college). I always use Starbucks Via instant coffee as it’s the best instant coffee I have found and is still within a ‘reasonable’ price range. Our initial thoughts were to make it a 19 mile day and reach the Antler’s tent site on the shore of Lower Jo-Mary Lake. The morning was overcast as we headed out, but we quickly saw breaks in the clouds with blue sky poking through. The first couple of miles after the lean-to parallels Logan Brook on the edge of a steep ravine overlooking the brook. The trail was in good shape considering what we experienced the first day. We passed a little used dirt road early in the morning and soon after forded the East Branch of the Pleasant River.

Ford at East Branch of the Pleasant River

Ford at East Branch of the Pleasant River

Little Boardman Mountain

After a touch up for my feet, we headed off to Mountain View pond and Little Boardman Mountain. We ran into a few blow downs on the way up Boardman, but not bad. It got really bad on the way down. Forests of beach trees that were blown down all over the trail. Beaches are very gnarly and the limbs are nothing close to straight. It was brutal getting around them and it really discouraged us both. I was beginning to think that our entire hike would be blow downs. A short distance south of the Kakadjo B-Pond road we met a trail maintenance crew clearing the blow downs. We gave them an indication of what they were up against south bound and kind of wished we were a day later as most of the blow downs on this section would have been taken care of. The lead maintainer told us that she heard Katahdin would not be open for summiting until the following Monday. Since this was Sunday, May 24th and we expected to be picked up in Baxter State Park on Friday, May 30th, it didn’t look like we would be summiting. I decided to call our pick up when we could find a signal and determine the schedule for our last days of the trip.

Copper Brook Falls

We stopped for a snack and a break at Crawford Pond. Sandy beach, nice breeze, sunny day. What more could we ask for?

Crawford Pond

Crawford Pond

Shortly after our break, we reached the pond outlet and the remains of an old dam. Fortunately we were able to walk right across and didn’t need to take our boots off.

Crawford Pond Dam

Crawford Pond Dam

The trail began a flat, slow descent through hard and softwood forests. It was perfect walking, but we were both worn down from navigating blow downs yesterday and all this morning. At around the 11.5 mile mark we came upon the Cooper Brook Falls lean-to. Our initial intention was to eat lunch here and plod on another 8 miles to Lower Jo-Mary and the Antler’s tent site. Once we took our packs off and began eating a snack, I suggested that we stop here for the night at we were wiped out, and after all this trip was supposed to be enjoyable. Katrina agreed and we unpacked. I have an old (and I mean old) Camping Gaz cook stove that has had valve problems for the past couple of years, but I didn’t want to buy another stove unnecessarily. During dinner cooking I turned the stove down to simmer and it went out. Upon relighting it, flames shot out all over and under the burner and near the valve connection. Couldn’t get it to stop no matter what I did so we retired the stove and from then to the end of our trip we cooked on the open fire. We had the lean-to to ourselves and I think we both slept great with the brook and falls right near by.

Copper Brook Falls

Copper Brook Falls

Copper Brook Falls Lean-To 1

Copper Brook Falls Lean-To 1

Copper Brook Falls Lean-To 2

Copper Brook Falls Lean-To 2

Day 3

Getting into the routine, we got up early, had coffee and oat meal, and headed out with Nahmakanta Stream Campsite as our destination. We were making good time with Katrina in the lead when a vein in my nose decided to pop. I have had nose bleed problems most of my life. Seems to be dryness, heat, over exertion, or any combination that sets one off. This day was hot and at the speed we were going, my heart rate was up. Luckily we were near a bog and I was able to get some cool water to slow the bleeding enough that it would clot. This was one of the few days that we met anyone on the trail and the guy we saw must have wondered what was up with a bloody rag tied to my backpack. He didn’t ask though….

Antlers Camp Site

We made the Antlers Campsite on Lower Jo-Mary for lunch. This was where we were aiming to stay last night, but didn’t make it. It would have made a wonderful place to stay. There were half a dozen tenting spots, a nice privy, and it was right on the edge of the lake. Unfortunately while we were there for lunch, the black flies were terrible.

Antler Camp Site - Lower Jo-Mary

Antler Camp Site – Lower Jo-Mary

Katrina and Katahdin Lower Jo-Mary

Katrina and Katahdin Lower Jo-Mary

Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to

After lunch at the Antlers campsite we skirted the Northwest end of Lower Jo-Mary Lake and along up to Potaywadjo Ridge. I discussed options with Katrina for the ending of our trip. We could get picked up on Thursday, or I would hike a portion of Katahdin with her on Friday, but she would have to summit alone. My feet were in no condition for steep terrain. She decided that she didn’t want to summit alone so we would try for a Thursday pick up. I was able to get a cell signal here and decided to call our ride (Mom) to let her know that we had decided not to summit Katahdin and ask if she could pick us up at Katahdin Stream campground on Thursday instead. I was able to leave a message.

We stopped at Potaywadjo Spring lean-to for a snack and headed out shortly after. Just past the lean-to we crossed a bog bridge next to the spring. The spring was HUGE! The water boiled up through the sandy bottom of a pool and created a good sized stream. Very cool!

Nahmakanta Stream Campsite

The going wasn’t too bad the rest of the day, but by the time we reached Nahmakanta Stream Campsite I was beat. After this 15.5 mile day my feet were really hurting with continued blisters. I soaked my feet in the cold Nahmakanta stream while we filled up our water bags and jugs. Mosquitoes were bad, but bearable after we got a smudge going to cook supper. A SoBo came in and scouted a place to hang his hammock. He was looking for a cell signal, but I couldn’t get one here so he was out of luck. He was averaging 30 miles a day at this point. Way out of my league. Our first night in the tent and we no sooner got in and settled for sleep that the rain came in. It rained all night, but we stayed dry.

Day 4

Early AM I got up to grab something to drink and a Cliff Bar in the drizzle. No hot coffee or hot breakfast today. We packed up in the rain and headed for Rainbow Stream Lean-to, 14.5 miles away. As we passed by the sleeping SoBo guy, I couldn’t help but admire his sleeping set up; hammock with a mesh cover and rain fly, smaller gear hammock below for gear that could not stay on the ground, and all other gear on the ground under both hammocks. Even though it rained all night, he and all of his gear looked dry. Great set up!

Wadleigh Stream Lean-to

As we headed out with our light rain gear on, we passed by a couple of tents just to the North with presumably SoBo hikers sleeping away the wet morning. The rain stopped shortly after, but we still kept our waterproof gear on as the trees were still dripping. It was pretty smooth going to Wadleigh Stream Lean-to. This was a nice spot beside a washed out stream among hardwoods. We had a snack and began the steep ascent of Nesuntabunt Mountain.

Nesuntabunt Mountain

This would be the last real ‘mountain’ to traverse on our trek to Katahdin and what a mountain it is. While only 1500′ +/- and a total elevation gain of less that 1000′, this steep uphill destroyed me. With still a pretty heavy pack, soaking wet woods, and increasing day temperatures, I huffed and puffed and sweated with the best/worst of them. If I wasn’t so worn out I might have been able to enjoy the alternating steep ascents and small hanging valleys. We finally reached the top overlooking Nahmakanta Lake and stopped for needed water and snack. We were able to get a cell signal here so called my mom and made sure she would be available to pick us up at Katahdin Stream Campground on Thursday afternoon . From our vantage point we could see the entire length of the lake as well as our path for most of the afternoon.

Rainbow Stream Lean-to

After resting we headed out to polish off the remaining 6 miles to Rainbow Stream lean-to. Somewhere after the mountain descent (or along it, I don’t remember now) I slipped and bent the end of my hiking pole to a 90 degree angle. Upon attempting to bend it back, I broke the bottom 3 of 4 inches off. Luckily there was still plenty of length to extend and still make it usable. We ate lunch at the side of Crescent pond in the full sunshine and enjoyed a light breeze. Shortly after we came upon the edge of Pollywog gorge and stream. The trail follows a ledge high above the gorge for at least a mile. Unfortunately there is not much of a view into the gorge from the AT. We crossed a road and bridge over Pollywog Stream and followed Rainbow Stream for 2 miles to Rainbow Stream lean-to. Along the trail were many cascades and waterfalls. It would be a wonderful place to photograph, especially during fall foliage, but at the time I had no desire to appreciate the scenery. I was dead tired. We arrived at the Rainbow Stream lean-to and what a place! Beautiful location beside the stream with a natural platform to the North of the lean-to for tents. Unfortunately the black flies were once again pretty bad here, especially at the edge of the stream.

There were five people and a dog at the lean-to when we arrived. They were a group maintaining the trail consisting of the lead maintainer, his son and daughter, the daughter’s fiance’, and a friend. They had come for a couple of days for their Spring maintenance trip. There would be seven plus a dog in a lean-to meant for six people. The fiance’ was fishing the brook and we saw him pull out a couple of trout. Shortly after, they all headed out for the afternoon to cut brush and blow downs.

Katrina and I rested for a couple hours (glad I always bring a paperback along) and fixed up dinner. The maintainer group came back in the early evening and they built a fire and cooked their dinner. The family friend had a new Pocket Rocket that he didn’t know how to use. He didn’t realize that the valve was open when he began screwing on the fuel container and it began blowing propane/butane in volumes right in front of the fire! We were all lucky it didn’t ignite before he figured out how to turn off the valve. During conversation we found that they drive to a location not far from the back side of the lean-to and haul all of their maintenance gear in that way. From there they would go North one day, return to the lean-to, and go South one day. It was good to find out that there is a short cut to the lean-to. I’d like to come back here with the grand kids some day.

A father/son SoBo duo showed up at the lean-to and decided to pitch their gear on the natural platform near the lean-to. The father was using a hammock set up and I was interested to hear about how he liked it. He said that he had been using hammock systems exclusively for a while and it was the best sleep he had ever had in the woods. He had even used it in sub zero temps and said it was perfect as long as there was enough insulation between you and the hammock. I really have to look into these systems more….. It was warm enough that I slept on top of my sleeping bag most of the night, in a lean-to made for 6, but with 7 people and a dog. It worked out fine.

Rainbow Stream Lean-to

Rainbow Stream Lean-to

Broken Pole

Broken Pole

Day 5

Routine: out of bed, make coffee, make oatmeal, eat, clean up, pack up gear, hit the trail. We quietly prepared as the trail maintenance group were still asleep after a hard day of work. Katrina and I headed toward the Rainbow Deadwaters. The fiance’ in the group had stashed a small inflatable boat at the deadwaters to use fishing. The trail skirted the West side of the entire 5.5 mile length of Rainbow Lake. The lake is crystal clear and we could see granite sand and boulders easily in 20-30 feet of water. Most of the morning we could hear and see sea planes coming into the lake to transport sports men as that is the only method of getting to the lake other than hiking. The sun came out as we ascended Rainbow Ledges and as usual, by the time we reached the ledges, I was a sopping mess. We relaxed at the top with a quick snack and pictures of us in front of Katahdin.

Rainbow Ledge - Keith

Rainbow Ledge – Keith

Rainbow Ledge - Katrina

Rainbow Ledge – Katrina

Katahdin from Rainbow Ledge - Keith

Katahdin from Rainbow Ledge – Keith

Katahdin from Rainbow Ledge - Katrina

Hurd Brook Lean-to

From Rainbow Ledges, the trail was a steady downhill slope to Hurd Brook lean-to. We rock hopped a stream (the water source for the lean-to) just before the lean-to. I fell in….. Oh well, only one wet foot. I also got a pole stuck in the mud and pulled the handle right off the top. Putting the pole back together and shaking my wet foot, we finished the couple hundred feet to the lean-to. We unloaded our lunch sacks and consumed lunch at the lean-to. A care taker showed up while we were eating and we discussed what her duties were. She was only here for a couple weeks to give the SoBo’s education. Sometimes much needed education about leaving no trace, what to do with body waste, all the out door good stuff. She kept looking a Katrina oddly and finally said, “I recognize you somehow. I’ve seen you before.” She didn’t recognize me, but she did Katrina. We finally figured out that she and a hiking friend had met us the year before between Monson and Gulf Hagas. She remembered Katrina, because she was so impressed with her sure footedness. They were sitting on the edge of Thompson brook contemplating how they were going to get across. Katrina and I came along and we never stopped to access the route across the brook. We just did it. They were so impressed that they gave us a standing ovation. Funny how small the world is.

Hurd Brook Lean-to and Care Taker

Hurd Brook Lean-to and Care Taker

Abol Bridge and Abol Pines

When we started this day, we weren’t sure if we were going to stay the night at Hurd Brook or move on, but since it was only around 2:00PM, we moved on toward Abol Bridge, the end of the 100 mile wilderness and the start of Baxter State Park. We had a couple of options once at the bridge: find an open pay site at Abol Bridge Campground (the only private campground on the A.T. in Maine) or find an available lean to at the self serve Abol Pines State sites. We finished off the 3 miles or so to Abol Bridge and decided to check availability at Abol Pines first. We found a magnificent lean-to available for $8.00 pp/night right on the bank of the Penobscot River. Looking upstream toward Katahdin, we could see black clouds rolling in from the West. After unpacking and washing in the river, we gathered up enough fuel to cook supper. Knowing that rain was inevitable, Katrina also gathered up enough branches and pine cones for morning cooking and put them in a dry location. I remember this dinner for some reason: Caribbean rice, ramen noodles, and canned chicken. It was awesome! Not long after dinner massive thunderstorms rolled in. We stayed dry in the lean-to and watched the lightning show. One bolt struck directly behind the trees on the opposite side of the river! Glad we were on the other side. All in all, the perfect spot for our last night!

Katahdin from Abol Bridge

Blisters 1

Blisters 1

Blisters 2

Blisters 2

Blisters 3

Blisters 3

Abol Pines Lean-to

Abol Pines Lean-to

Day 6

Our last day on the trail with 9 miles to go. We slept in late. For us that meant ’till 6:30 or 7:00AM. We took our time with breakfast and packing and didn’t head out until around 9:00AM. We only had 9 miles and we were meeting our ride (my Mom) at Katahdin Stream campground by 4:00PM. Packed and ready, we headed out from Abol Pines and back on the trail. A guy scoping the river for a rafting group was nice enough to take our picture.

Keith and Katrina at Abol Pines

Keith and Katrina at Abol Pines

Daicey Pond

The day began with some overcast and threatened rain. We walked over the Golden Road and the Baxter State Park winter parking lot, heading back to the AT. We no sooner got back on the trail and crossed over the border of the park when the mosquitoes descended! Worst on the entire trip! We quickly dowsed ourselves in bug dope and continued on along the banks of the Penobscot River. The trail parallels the North bank of the river for about 4 miles before turning away from the river and following Nesowadnehunk stream. At this point it began to rain, but not a torrent. Just enough to cool us off. We put on our rain gear and came to a side trail meant to cut off a portion of the AT during periods of high water. The AT crosses over Nesowednahunk stream and then crosses back further up stream. Since the water was already high, it was raining, and I was pooped, we decided to take the cut off to avoid a double crossing. The trail continues uphill and joins the stream again near Indian Pitch. Pushing on we passes Windy Pitch, Big Niagara Falls, and a side trail to Little Niagara Falls. We knew we were coming close to Daicey Pond Camps when we began seeing day hikers along the trail; Some definitely not prepared for wet weather. We kicked into high gear and made it to the Daicey Pond road for an early snack. Luckily the rain stopped while we were eating.

Katahdin Stream Campground

After our snack we packed up again and headed out for the final 2.5 miles to Katahdin Stream Campground. No rain, but my feet were wrecked and every step hurt. We passed Grassy Pond. When my kids were small we fished here with my Mom and Dad while staying at Katahdin Stream Campground. So much had changed in the 20 years since that it was unrecognizable. Things change so much over time (or is it just that memory changes bit by bit until what you remember isn’t the reality of the experience?). Not long after, we reached the tote road on the West side of the park with Katahdin Stream campground entry just across the road! We walked into the campground, dumped our gear, and I collapsed on a covered picnic table with a spectacular view of a snow covered Katahdin in the background. It was just about 2:00PM. Off with my boots and on with the bug dope. The black flies were terrible here! We had just started to relax with another snack when my Mom showed up early at about 2:30PM! Perfect! We loaded our gear, washed some of the funk off, and headed to Millinocket for meatball subs at Subway!!!

End of a Great Trip

I’ve been hiking since I was 13 and this was the longest continuous hike, with the most mileage and heaviest pack that I have ever done. Would I do it again? Probably not this section, but it’s finished and I would definitely go this distance elsewhere. With the world as large as it is and all of the wonderful places to see, why would I want to do this again? I don’t know… maybe someday, but I’m not getting any younger. It really gave me an insight as to what it must be like to hike the entire AT. You get into a daily rhythm of eat, hike, eat, hike, eat, sleep, repeat. I don’t know if I’ll ever do the entire trail, but my buddy’s son is doing it now, and Katrina talks about it. What an adventure it would be (mind game more like it).

Hocking Hills Ohio

Over the last weekend I traveled to the Hocking Hills area of Ohio, about an hour away from Columbus. I was on a business trip for the week just outside Dulles, Virginia and decided to fly back by way of Ohio. I have wanted to photograph the Hocking Hills area for some time and it looked like a perfect opportunity. I had seen pictures of deep, dark gorges with beautiful waterfalls. Well…. word to the wise…. there is NO water in Hocking Hills during the summer. No where in my research had I found this little tidbit of information. Apparently, the only time there is flowing water in these parts is after the spring snow melt and shortly after good, steady rainfall. Regardless, I had a great trip and produced some wonderful shots of the rock formations in the area.

I stayed at Chandler’s Enchanted Acres in a nice, new log cabin with few amenities. There was a small fridge, microwave, and coffee pot, but no running water and the lavatory is a porta potty. I’m fine with that as it is more than I’m used to when doing this stuff, but beware if you’re used to being in a full service camping area. It was reasonably priced and I had the place to myself.

Also be aware that it is hard to find anything in this area of Ohio. There is only one gas station within 15 miles, you will be hard pressed to find a restaurant or pub, and it took me the better part of two days before I found a place that sold coffee by the cup. The area is beautiful, hilly, and somewhat remote so come prepared.

I was able to explore the major areas over a two day period, but could definitely spend more time either in the spring or during fall foliage. The major areas are Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, Conkles Hollow, Cantwell Cliffs, and Rock House. Ash Cave and Old Man’s Cave are both recess caves, meaning that they are really cliff faces where the ground level portion has eroded under the main cliff face. Conkles Hollow is a narrow gorge enclosed by high walls of sandstone. Cantwell Cliffs is an area where steep cliffs wall a narrow gorge. You can explore some of the cliffs up close, walk the gorge, or follow a path around the cliff tops. Rock House, my favorite, is a group of caves carved in limestone on a cliff face.

On my last day I had a couple of hours to kill before making a flight out of Columbus and noticed a road sign for Soaring Cliffs zip lines. I stopped by to inquire and they were able to get me in immediately on a solo tour. The staff was awesome and the zip lines were thrilling. My first time on a zip line, but definitely not my last!

I have plans on coming back here with Tammy some spring when the water flow is full bore…….

 

Ash Cave Panorama

Ash Cave Panorama

Ash Cave

Ash Cave

Rock House 1

Rock House 1

Rock House 2

Rock House 2

 

 

Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps

Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps

Over the long weekend for President’s Day, Tammy and I and our good friend Tawn headed to Millinocket and Baxter State Park to ski into Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps. I’ve been hiking in Baxter State Park for over 20 years and just discovered this gem last summer. They offer full service meals and they also offer a housekeeping option where you prepare your own meals in select cabins. All the cabins have wood stoves and gas lanterns. Some have kitchen facilities.

We arranged with Holly at the camps to meet their shuttle snowmobiles at the Abol Bridge parking area (the Winter entrance to BSP) at 10:30AM that Saturday. The lots were full, which was a huge change from last year when Tammy and I parked here and there were only two other vehicles besides ours. The camps offer to shuttle all of your personal gear into the camps with an option to ride with them to the summer BSP gate at Togue Pond two miles away, and an optional ride near the end of the trek at Avalanche Field for the last three miles to camp. The middle part of the trek is along the East tote road inside the park and as such does not allow motorized travel for visitors in the winter months.

We paid for the shuttle service to the Togue Pond gate, but declined the option at Avalanche Field. We wanted to ski the entire 9+/- miles from the gate to the camps. It was a cold and windy day, but it was a good temperature for active sports and we had plenty of warm gear, snacks, and water for the 6 mile ski along the tote road and 3 mile ski from Avalanche Field. The three snowmobiles dropped us off at the Togue Pond gate a little before noon and we headed out with our skis and day packs. The snow conditions were perfect. We were slow and steady and encountered a couple of groups with full gear sleds heading into Roaring Brook or Chimney Pond bunkhouses.

We encountered one steep, blind downhill where Tammy fell and a guy with a full sled hit her from behind in the trail. I thought for sure she would be hurt, but luckily she had planted her pole beside her where the sled struck. It didn’t hurt her, but her pole was nicely bent. I straightened it out as best I could, but it will never be the same ;).

Tammy Skiing

Tammy Skiing

The trek to Avalanche Field was uneventful after that. We didn’t make good time as it was gradually uphill most of the day and we didn’t get much glide on our skis. Once at Avalanche Field we headed off on a single track snowmobile trail that is a hiking trail in warmer months. It was steep and difficult as it was only wide enough for a snowmobile, which made it hard to plow on the steep downhills, and hard to herringbone on the steep uphills. If memory serves me, there was a 400 foot drop in the last 3 miles.

We made it to our cabin (Windy Pitch) before dusk and there was already a fire lit so it was nice and toasty inside. We gathered our transported gear and began the unpacking process. We were provided all cooking and eating utensils, potable water, and plenty of wood for heat. This night was my turn to cook so I made rice pilaf with chicken strips and gravy; quick, easy, and satisfying. We didn’t stay up too late this first night as we were all pretty tired from the day’s trek.

Windy Pitch Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps

Windy Pitch Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps

The following day we had planned to be shuttled back to Avalanche Field so that we could ski the mile or two into Roaring Brook and snowshoe/ski to Chimney Pond at the base of Katahdin, but the wind was blowing so much, and the clouds had settled in so Tawn and I decided to try snowshoeing on the Lake. We only made it about 1/2 mile toward the outlet when we took a break on shore and decided to head back. It was so windy it almost blew me over a couple of times.

 

Keith in an Almost White Out

Keith in an Almost White Out

Keith on Katahdin Lake

Keith on Katahdin Lake

A young family had been playing on the shoreline near the cabins when we left. When we returned the adults were making an igloo, while the kids were sledding down the embankment on the shoreline. Too cold and tired to stay out, we welcomed the warmth of our little cabin. Later in the day, Tammy and Tawn snowshoed back up the path toward Avalanche Field for a bit to get some more exercise.

Igloo on Katahdin Lake

Igloo on Katahdin Lake

This evening Tawn made spaghetti, meatballs, and sauce. It was all pre packaged, but it was awesome. We also had some of Tawn’s home made wine, which was the best I have ever tasted. Damn was it potent! I was hoping I didn’t drink too much, ’cause no one wants to run to the out house in the middle of the night with the temperature below freezing and the wind howling ;).  After dinner we explored the lodge where the staff feeds those that purchase the meal plan. The place is very cozy and has some amazing photos and art work on the walls of the Baxter area. We arranged to have them shuttle us to Avalanche Field early in the AM.

It was still cold and a bit windy the final morning, but the sun was shining! We finally got a glimpse of the mountain from the lodge on this last day of our trip.

Pamola Peak from the Wilderness Camps

Pamola Peak from the Wilderness Camps

The trip to Avalanche Field was uneventful, but I really noticed the elevation gain and was amazed that we skied down this two days before. Once at Avalanche Field we began the six mile trip back down the tote road where we would be picked up again for the final shuttle back to Abol Bridge. I was still cold and windy, but the wind was at our back and the sun was shining down.  I gave my truck keys to one of the drivers and he was nice enough to put all of our gear in my truck back at Abol Bridge, then drop off my keys on the way back by. The trip out was only 2 1/2 hours or so. I didn’t realize during the ski in how much elevation we had gained. If we weren’t going directly downhill on the trek out, the slope was enough to give us the opportunity for some good glide on our skis.

We timed everything perfectly. We had only been waiting at the Togue Pond gate for 15 minutes or so when our snow machine shuttle showed up. We shuttled back out to our truck and  got ready for the 3-4 hour drive home.

I’m disappointed that we were unable to get to the base of the mountain and Chimney Pond, but we’ll try again next year. The staff at Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps was awesome. They were so pleasant and helpful. We will definitely come back here to stay with them. It was a great trip that I would recommend to anyone any time of the year.