Little Moose Loop

“I don’t want to leave this place!” my son screamed as I struggled to carry his flailing body up the last half-mile to the trailhead.

I have heard worse comments at the end of a hike. In my exhausted state, glee propelled me forward. We did it! We hiked the entire Little Moose Loop Trail.

We first attempted the Loop a year ago. At that time, I still carried my 2.5 year old son Mitch for most of our daily hikes. I would strap trucks to the Kelty so he could play along the trail or at the summit. The trucks did not usually derail a hike. In the case of the Loop trail, they did. Once I unclipped the trucks at Big Moose Pond, Mitch played with them for hours at the shore of Big Moose until the leeches found us.

Fast-forward to this summer. Mitch and I have not been hiking together as much. I work part-time, he is too heavy for the Kelty, his big trucks are too bulky to carry. My family also started raising concerns about me taking him into the woods by myself. As a result, I usually adventure without him.

This week, though, I began hatching a plan to return to the Little Moose Loop Trail with him. I would let him pick out his favorite junk food and candy. Yet he also expressed envy when he saw pictures of me hiking with Chris’s dog Avalanche last week. “I want to hike with that dog!”

Chris and Avalanche happened to be available to hike the Little Moose Loop on Wednesday. With the four of us on the trail together, Mitch quickly assumed the lead. He marveled at every rock bar. “What’s that for?” We navigated around a blow-down, which he called a “blow-up”.

When we reached Big Moose Pond, I held my breath. Yet Mitch stayed on the trail and headed for the bridge. He laid on his belly to look under the bridge and then asked about the remnants of the dam.

At the junction where the Pond trail splits, I told Chris we should go whichever way hits the scrambles sooner. I wanted to hold my son’s attention. Scrambles always seemed to do the trick.

When we reached the sandy beach on Big Moose, my son took off his shirt and resembled Mowgli. He hung off trees, banged sticks in the water and sand (much to the excitement of Avalanche), and dashed back to the trail at the sound of other hikers.

I thought he might quit there. By some miracle, we continued onward. Once the trail became an uphill tangle of roots, Mitch passed an out-of-breath Connecticut couple.

We soon hit the most photographed overlook, the one other hikers save as the grand finale: Big Moose front and center, the lake and its entourage of mountains off to the side. The blueberries surrounding the outcrop sweetened the deal.

We hiked from overlook to overlook, my son often running the needle-laden trail. Only once did he ask for a hand.

We did not set any speed records, but my son proved himself a steady hiker. Even after he soaked his shoes attempting to detour around a bog bridge, he continued barefoot.

No one ever wants a satisfying hike to end, especially not a 3.5 year old boy. Yet Chris did have to work that afternoon. We could not stay all night, as the exhausted boy wished.

As he screamed “I don’t want to leave this place!”, all I could reply was “I don’t want to leave this place either”.

Attean Mountain and Sally Mountain

Attean Pond as seen from Sally Mountain.

In Maine, where is the most beautiful body of water with hiking trails accessible by canoe? I am interested in hearing others’ suggestions. However, Attean Pond delivered such a fun day of hiking and paddling that I am rather smitten and partial.

One Jackman hike seems to lead to another. After I posted about hiking Number Five, Rick Thackeray commented that he found the trail up Number Five (a 3000 footer) to be more gradual than the trails up Sally and Attean (2000 footers).

“There’s a trail up Attean? Where is it?”

Rick shared a treasure map, one X marking the Sally trailhead and the other X the Attean trailhead. The Attean trailhead started near the campsites on the beach where the pond narrows before the Holeb portage.

That morsel of intel led me to invite my buddy Chris on a day of canoeing and hiking, in which we would bag Attean and Sally. Only problem? I did not have a canoe.

Luckily, I stumbled across Cry of the Loon Outdoor Adventures. Andy, the owner, leaves you a canoe at Attean Landing, and you call when you are finished for the day. It is best to reach Andy via phone, not Facebook messenger. Andy is a wealth of information about the Moose River Bow Trip. He also turned out to be one of the few people who knew about climbing Attean Mountain.

“Yep, that leaves from Hodgeman’s Beach. The owner of the Attean Lake Lodge sends out his employees to maintain the trails around the lake, but I do not think they are maintaining Attean any more.”

On the Attean Lake Lodge website, I found a map of the surrounding trails, Attean Mountain not marked. Even with little to go on, I had confidence that if even a hint of a trail remained, Chris could find it.

The treasure map provided enough info for us to navigate to Hodgeman’s Beach. Once there, we checked every campsite and found no trail sign or blazes. At the middle campsite, we did find an unmarked trail that led to the grassy road behind the campsites.

“If there’s a trail up Attean, it must intersect this road. We are nearly at the end, so we should turn left”. I had ripped a page out of the Gazetteer, and that was the best I could reason. I began peeking in the woods, wondering if we would still reach Sally if we bushwhacked up Attean.

“Found it! Blue blazes on this tree.” Chris had walked further down the road, and found blazes leading uphill into the woods. He also found a Holeb Falls trail sign only feet away, but that led down the road. Did we find it?

The blue blazes appeared so consistent that we had to be going somewhere, so we followed it into the beech-maple forest. At first, we seemed to head up a long-abandoned road, obscured by well-established vegetation. As the blazes veered more steeply uphill, I found a wooden arrow sign nailed to a tree. “It is a trail! No one would do that on a property boundary”.

Around 1700ft, we encountered a large white rock where someone had gone hog-wild with the blue spray can. Above there, the forest opened up due to relatively recent harvesting. We had left the land of consistent blazing. We now entered the realm of climbing uphill over three consecutive blowdowns and searching for the next sign of blue.

We reached an open ferny plateau and encountered a sign that said “top”. We could see the top from there. That did not make the going any easier. The ripe blueberries and raspberries caused us to dawdle in the overgrowth. Both of us agreed that swimming-and-berry season proved to be an ideal time for this adventure.

We continued to push through blowdowns and question the blazes between there and the summit cone. I have always thought I should be able to see where I placed my feet. Progress on this route required disregarding that notion.

The good news about the summit cone? By some miracle, the blowdowns ceased for the last tenth of a mile and the trail bed looked more defined than ever. The bad news? The trail pitched at such a steep grade that Chris compared to Big Spencer. I did not realize the steepness until I slid couple times on our descent.

Rick told me that we would reach a sign that says “trail’s end”. Yep, still there. The blue blazes continued off to the right of that sign, and they lead to a partially obscured view of Attean Pond. Mystery solved, we had summited Attean Mountain!

On the descent, we grappled with a final question: where did the trail begin? How did we miss it when we checked every campsite? When we returned to the road, we followed the trail to the water and found it came out at the far southern end of the beach. We had not walked far enough down the beach, but we still managed to find the hidden treasure.

Not everyone wants a hike to feel like a treasure hunt, but Chris and I enjoyed the challenge. In comparison, the 1.6 mile trail up to Sally seemed uneventful. I eyed the loop trail over Sally, but we had run out of time. No worries. I am thrilled to have a reason to return to Attean Pond and spend more time there.

Deboullie

The Deboullie slide
Deboullie fire tower

Deboullie Mountain proved to be the most logistically-complicated hike in the front of the Gazetteer. In researching Deboullie, I realized that the hike would involve a four-plus hour drive from my home in Waldo County to the trailhead in Aroostook County. The last hour and a half would traverse remote logging roads and pass through a North Maine Woods checkpoint.

I did not feel comfortable taking my Honda Fit or my toddler. I did not want to go alone, and I sensed it should be an overnight trip. I needed an adequate vehicle, companionship, and time.

As a result, ever since fall 2020 when I decided to climb every hike in the Gazetteer, I have kept Deboullie on the back burner. I priced out rental vehicles, float planes, Red River Camps, Ashland and Portage accommodations, and the North Maine Woods fees. I asked everyone I knew if they had ever been, or wanted to go, to Deboullie. The standard response? “That is a loooooong drive.”

Then Registered Maine Guide Jeanie Cote posted a Deboullie hiking trip for the weekend after my birthday. It sounded like my best chance to bag Deboullie. After stopping at Baxter to break up the drive, I would head to a cabin in Ashland on Friday night. Jeanie would drive us to Deboullie on Saturday in her 4-runner, and then I would stay in Ashland on Saturday night as well.

The plan worked flawlessly. On Saturday morning, we headed down those roads unfit for my Honda Fit. If you have ever driven down Rapid Stream Road or the Moxie Bald Road, those roads have more potholes/sketchy rocks/questionable areas than the roads to Deboullie Public Lands. Wide and well-maintained, the roads to Deboullie are built to tolerate the weight of a logging truck (we did dodge three fallen trees). However, the Deboullie roads go on and on and on. Seeing the roads, I felt relieved to be a passenger.

When we arrived, we drove past the campsites on Pushineer and Deboullie Pond. Every campsite looked occupied during a hot July weekend. We also passed trailers loaded with motor boats. Not crowded by any means, Deboullie Public Lands acts as a recreational hub in Aroostook County. With over a dozen ponds and a network of trails, visitors can seek out solitude or stay on the more well-travelled trails.

I had heard that the less-travelled trails in Deboullie Public Land need trail maintenance and can be hard to follow. We hiked a 5.7 mile loop over Black and Deboullie mountains and had no trouble following this popular route. I would recommend this route and in the direction we did it: starting up Black and crossing the ridge over to Deboullie. Along the way, we stopped at a handful of viewpoints showcasing ponds and mountains.

I am not a fan of climbing fire towers. From the ground, I appreciated the new fire tower cab and new cabin on the summit of Deboullie. If you do not climb the tower, you will not see much from the summit. The other hikers who climbed it said the breeze felt refreshing on the hot day.

At the picnic table on Deboullie, Jeanie surprised me with a tiara and birthday cupcake. At that moment, I knew that I had hired the right guide for the job.

Jeanie is a hair stylist turned hunting/hiking guide. She has been coming to the Ashland-Portage area her whole life. Not only does she love Deboullie, she brought a fun, entertaining element to the trip. Gosh did I want that. This happened to be my 37th birthday. I did not want anyone dull and boring escorting me up Deboullie.

“It would have been cooler to say I bagged a bear or moose with you, but thank you for helping me get up this mountain”. Deboullie had been an elusive bear in my life. Climbing that mountain gave me a glimpse of the satisfaction that hunters feel.

Of course, what better way to celebrate than to jump in the pond? As we descended Deboullie, I realized it would have been steeper to go up Deboullie than Black. We reached the picnic area at the pond. Jeanie explained that the picnic area is the take-out spot if we wanted to canoe part of the distance. Yep, this can be a paddle-hike if you want it to be.

Yet if we had canoed, we would have missed walking the most beautiful section of trail, the Deboullie Slide next to the pond. The rocks on the trail had been laid flat for ease of walking. From the slide, we could see slides on the other steep mountains. Stunning, unlike anywhere else in the state, totally different from the Allagash that is a stone’s throw away.

A little further down the trail from there, Jeanie said, “let’s jump in!” In that heat, no one had to say that to me twice. I cannot remember the last time a swim felt so good, even with the waves almost submerging our heads. I could not ask for a better place to hike during a heat wave, or a better guide to accompany me.

The Owl

Popping out of the trees, the first time

Man, I wanted to hike the Owl in Baxter in 2022. I had heard and read conflicting reviews, ranging from warm and fuzzy (“aww, that was one of my first hikes in Baxter as a child”) to nerve-wrecking. Greg Westrich had included the Owl on his Wicked Wild 25 list, a compilation of the most challenging hikes in Maine. I knew it could not be completely mild-mannered. The trail had to include a juicy part, and I wanted to experience it for myself.

However, since the Owl shares the Katahdin Stream parking lot with the Hunt trail, the AT route up Katahdin, it became more complicated to experience this trail for myself. I either had to stay inside the park, reserve a parking pass for Katahdin Stream, or show up at the South Gate super early and score a no-show spot. I reserved two Katahdin Stream passes—one for a Saturday in July and another for a Saturday in September—and hoped I could find agreeable company and decent weather for one of those days.

My peakbagging friends Scott and Thomas jumped on board this adventure, all of us eager to see a new-to-us corner of Baxter. The Owl trail branches off the Hunt Trail immediately before Katahdin Stream Falls. Having done the Hunt Trail several times before, I knew that first mile would be gentle. Having never taken the left hand turn onto the Owl Trail, I did not expect it to continue as gently as it did for as long as it did. Do not get me wrong: the trail is a gorgeous green tunnel of moss. However, the part of me that knew we had over 2500ft of elevation gain wanted to get this party started.

The party does not really get started until around 2.9 miles from Katahdin Stream Campground. At that point, we finally popped out of the trees to see a spot unlike any other in Maine. We could look across to the Hunt Spur and make out little hikers that looked like ants navigating their way up the scramble. Next to us? A shear cliff that could be called the Half Dome of Maine, for those familiar with Yosemite. This is where I started to feel…nervous. The question of the hour? How close was the trail going to that cliff?

The good news is that the Owl is not exposed like Knife Edge or the Precipice. A flimsy amount of vegetation creates a plausible illusion that you are scrambling up rocks far far away from that drop that would lead to certain death. Phew.

We once again popped out of the bushes on the summit plateau, the tableland of the Owl so to speak. We proceeded the tenth of a mile or so to the small summit. Dinosaur that I am, I pulled out my map and tried to orient it so I could correctly identify which parts of Katahdin we were admiring. As we descended from the summit, we also appreciated all the peaks in the direction of the Klondike: the Brothers, Coe, OJI.

It was not until our descent off the summit plateau that Scott and I began to appreciate the juiciness of the hike. When we had our backs to the cliff on the ascent, we forgot it was there. As we butt-slid down the rocks in the section of trail between the summit plateau and the first place we popped out, we became aware that the vegetation would not act as a net and catch us.

“How far do you think the cliff is past that vegetation?”

“I do not want to think about or talk about that right now.” You have to hike with people with whom you can be real, and I have always been able to be real with Scott.

To be honest, I breathed a sigh of relief to be back at the first place we popped out, once again watching the ants still crossing the Hunt Spur. I breathed an even bigger sigh of relief and almost napped at Katahdin Stream Falls. I enjoyed that spot today like I never have before, a bit of calm to wash down the anticipation and excitement.

Number Five Mountain

View from Number Five

If you are looking to escape the crowds over Fourth of July weekend, highly recommend Number Five Mountain in Jackman! Jackman seems to fly under the radar of most hikers. At least, it flew under my radar until 2022. In January, in search of new-to-me trails, I decided this would be my year to attempt to hike the handful of trails up there. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to hike with someone who wrote a guidebook detailing the trails up that way.

Fast forward to May, when I received a message from Bill, a hiker in Greenville:

“Hi Amy,

Chris Keene and I are planning a hike up Number 5 and Number 6 Mt sometime in the next month or so. Number 5 is a nice hike. Number 6 is a bush wack along the ridge between the two summits. There is no trail. If you’re interested and able, let me know.”

Ok, fangirl moment here. For those that do not know, Chris Keene is a Greenville writer-hiker who has written six editions of North Woods Walks. North Woods Walks is this entertaining guidebook that covers a curation of trails, ranging from the Traveler Loop to the Great Circle Trail to Moxie to Little Spencer. I had met him in April when I bought his book in the Indian Hill sporting goods section. I bought the book thinking it would help me plan my Jackman outings this summer, but I did not expect to hike with the author. Everything about hiking with Chris was a yes for me.

Everything about hiking up Number Five was a yes for me too, but did I want to bushwhack over to Six? Aside from wandering around the woods as a kid, I did not have significant bushwhacking experience, and I told Bill that.

“No worries at all,” Bill replied. He assured me that both he and Chris could handle the navigation, and I could tag along for the ride. He also recruited his sidekick Sandy to join us on this adventure.

Yesterday morning, the four of us convened in Greenville and headed off to Jackman in Bill’s big truck. Thank goodness we were riding in that high-clearance vehicle down Spencer Road. Once we turned down the access road to the trailhead, Bill threw it into 4-wheel drive to barrel up to the parking area. Surprise, surprise, we were the only ones there on a Wednesday.

Chris warned me that we would hike in the trees until we reached the top of Number 5. He and I hiked together, and it gave me a chance to get to know him better. From reading someone’s writing, you only see a sliver of a person. I knew he went partridge-hunting with his dad. His favorite hiking partners seemed to be his dogs. He demonstrated a fondness for bushwhacking and sleeping on summits.

Yet hiking with Chris is a treat unto itself. He baked gluten-free peanut butter cookies for the occasion. In the parking lot, he spotted wild strawberries and could not resist picking them. On our ascent, he nibbled on sorrel and spruce buds. At the summit of Five, he noticed a snowshoe hare dart out of the bushes. With no assistance from an app, he identified all the surrounding mountains from the summit.

After lunching at the summit, we headed back down the Number Five Trail to pick a spot to start heading west towards the scree field on Number Six Mountain. Bill and Sandy navigated using Gaia, while Chris forged ahead, relying on what I call “woods smarts”. I ended up as the caboose, tying flagging tape so we could find our way back to the trail.

At first, we pushed our way through evergreen saplings so thick that we could barely fit between them. As we descended into the saddle between Five and Six, the forest opened into a sprawling fern meadow, and I could feel the slightest breeze across the ridge. “Usually only moose see these beautiful spots, but today we are borrowing their trails”, I thought.

By some miracle, we reached the base of Six around 330pm. We began climbing up an unbroken carpet of thick, beautiful moss on top of boulders. Chris warned us to watch our footing so we did not step in a deep hole between the rocks. In a perfect world, we wanted to reach the scree field on Six. In reality, we began to discuss a turn-around time. “430? 4pm?”

We decided to keep going up Six until 4pm, in hopes of at least catching a glimpse of that scree field. No luck. It became clear that the scree field would have to wait until another day. Now it was time to decide how we would return to the truck.

As I trailed behind, exhausted from flagging for over three and a half hours, I heard my hiking companions discuss possibly bushwhacking down Six to Spencer Road.

Now, despite being off-trail in one of the most remote corners of the state, I felt safe and confident with my companions: Chris a registered Maine guide, Bill a former sea kayaking guide, Sandy a level-headed seasoned outdoorsman. That being said, I knew it would be dark in four and a half hours.

“Listen, I do not want the Warden Service to show up at the end of this hike. I think it will be fastest to follow the flagging tape back”.

“The voice of sanity!” Bill said. I laughed, because never in my life had I been told I was the voice of sanity. To the contrary, I had a track record of advocating for lots of silly decisions on hikes.

Yet in this moment, the consensus seemed to be that the flagging tape would be the fastest route back. Relieved that I could finally stop tagged trees, I became the leader, finding my tape. The tape led us to a quarter mile from the Number Five trail. Once we were in the thickest woods, however, we reached a point where we could not find the next piece of blue.

Enter Chris, with the trail nose. You betcha that he stumbled back onto the Number Five trail like it ain’t no thing. After spending the afternoon being whacked by branches, I could appreciate the ease of walking on an established trail even more than usual.

The Horn

Berrypickers trail, accessed from the saddle between Saddleback and the Horn.

Always fun accompanying another hiker on the final Maine 4k of the 14! When Heather was looking for someone to join her to bag the Horn, I jumped at the chance. I too felt like I had unfinished business there. Last year, I finished my last 2 Maine 4ks and vowed to revisit the other 12. However, illness cut my hiking season short, and I only made it to 11/12, the Horn the one I missed. Truth be told, I had not climbed it since 2011, nor had I ever climbed it with a daypack. I needed it, I wanted it, I felt as all in as Heather.

“What route do you want to take?”

Now, if I were a cool girl, I would say, “oh, I don’t know, I will check out AllTrails and pick one”. Yet I am not a cool girl. I am this trail addict who daydreams about which route I would take up this or that 4k should I ever climb it again.

“How about the ski slopes to the Horn, down Berrypickers, and then Fly Rod Crosby back to the car?” I cringed at the thought of climbing the ski slopes again, but they prove to be the fastest route to the top. Having descended Berrypickers before, I considered it my favorite trail on the mountain, but I refuse to attempt to drive to that trailhead. Fly Rod Crosby is the logical connector between those two routes. It would be a 12 mile/3000ft gain day. I knew Heather would like that much mileage and gain.

We had planned for all of that. What we did not plan for? Gorgeous weather, the lupines still in bloom, Heather carrying 2 smooshed mini Whoopie pies that turned into our celebratory cake. It turned out to be a spectacular day on the Saddleback-Horn ridge, and on the Berrypickers trail, and on the section of Fly Rod Crosby where you pass pond after pond. I think we could both do without the uphill section of Fly Rod Crosby. Neither of us wanted significant elevation gain after we turned off Berrypickers, and yet there it is, part of the package.

No, I am not done with Saddleback and the Horn. I hope to continue revisiting these two darlings as long as I am physically able. Yet I am devoting the next couple of weeks to climbing new-to-me trails, mountains that are not on any official lists but my own trail wish list. Super excited about those too!

Moxie Mountain (southern trailhead)

Moxie Mountain
Moonscape

In today’s installment of “will my low-clearance vehicle make it to that trailhead”, to my own shock, my Honda Fit did indeed reach the southern (Heald Pond) trailhead up Moxie Mountain. Last summer, I read so many social media posts and AllTrails reviews warning against attempting it that I opted for the well-graded road that leads to the western (Deer Bog) trailhead. After having fallen in love with the Moxie moonscape, I vowed to return and access it from the south.

As it turns out, the secret to accessing it from the south is to ignore all the misguided advice of Google Maps, Apple Maps, or whatever your usual digital navigation system may be. Apple Maps wanted to send me down Stream Road and Chase Hill Road. The Apple Maps Algorithm may think that is the fastest route, but I assure you that you do not want to risk driving down those roads. At least I did not. I consulted both North Woods Walks and Mainebyfoot.

The consensus of these guidebook writers directed me to take ME16 to Townline Road (unsigned, but if you miss it heading eastward, you will immediately pass a Mayfield/Moscow town line sign). Townline Road becomes Dead Water Road, and you will know to turn onto Heald Pond Road because you will see a huge yellow sign that says “Head Pond Road”. Continue straight for 4 miles or so until Heald Pond Road joins with Chase Hill Road. No signage at this intersection, but Chase Hill Road is steep and rocky and you will think “no way do I want to drive down there”. Turn right here and proceed half mile or so to the marked trailhead (grassy parking on the right).

The quality of roads on this route are not as well-graded as the Baxter tote road, but not as potholed, rocky, and stress-inducing as Rapid Stream Road or Caribou Valley Road. I hate hate hate everything about the CMP corridor, but multiple folks said to me that the improved quality of the Dead Water Road and increased signage is due to that expletive corridor.

Okay, enough of my road rant….other than that, a perfect hike selection when I only had a morning to play. I have to confess that I like the west trail better than the south trail. The woods road at the beginning of the south trail is nothing to write home about. The boreal forest in one section of the west trail has a magical feel to it, and the west ledges on the west trail are the best moonscape on the whole mountain.

Moxie was not a one and done for me. Furthermore, I do not think it will be a two and done either. On my next visit, I hope to complete a Moxie traverse: start at the southern trailhead, summit, head to the western trailhead, and either spot a car or return the way I came. Neither the western nor the southern trailhead is significant mileage, but if you want to make a longer hike out of this mountain, you definitely can.

I also met a dude who is fixing up the cabins on the pond within a stone’s throw of the south trailhead (Moxie Mountain Cabins on Airbnb). Right now, the one finished cabin is about as sparse and lovely and inexpensive as a Daicey Pond cabin. Quite a lovely spot to chill for a weekend.

Blue Hill

Overlook on Blue Hill Mountain.

When asked about the best date-hike destination in Hancock County, I always say, without flinching, “Blue Hill Mountain”. Sure, Acadia may boast of drop-dead gorgeous date destinations, especially intimate in the winter months (think Sand Beach, Jordan Pond, Cadillac, Bar Island, et al).

Yet in terms of a spectacular spot to chill and get to know another person, no place compares to the overlook in front of the radio towers on Blue Hill

Mountain. Not only have multiple chicks told me that their relationships started with hikes up Blue Hill Mountain, it seems like anytime I go there, I see at least one couple on a date. It does not matter if it is mud season, or lupine season, or blueberry season, or foliage season. Couples gravitate towards this stunner of a coastal monadnock.

Of course, with today’s single digit temps, I did not expect to see any couples on dates. I chose the Hayes trail, because I suspected others would also opt for this popular route. As a solo hiker, a well-traveled route is usually part of my hypothermia-prevention plan.

Sure enough, I pulled into the Hayes parking lot on Mountain Road to see one other vehicle there. Soon after I arrived, a car and a truck pulled into the lot. “Goody, the more hiker traffic, the safer.”

Self-absorbed as I shuffled things in and out of my pack, I ripped open a package of hand-warmers. I had decided that if I did not start with them in my gloves, the hike would be over before it even began. I listened to the other hikers banter about microspikes. I happened to look up when the dude hiker introduced himself to the lady hiker, and the tone and body language screamed date-hike.

“OMG!” I thought to myself. “This is the most Downeast Maine thing ever, going on a date up Blue Hill in single digit temps!” The couple soon crossed the road, and headed up the field at a fast pace, while I fumbled to pull my microspikes over my boots.

My gosh did I need those microspikes, especially for the icephalt in the lupine field. Without them, I would have struggled. With them, I soaked in the ecstasy of a bluebird day on one of my favorite trails in Maine. I have lived and hiked in Hancock County more than anywhere else in this state, and it is the beauty of days like today that remind me why this place will always be home.

When I arrived to the overlook, the couple had made themselves at home there. Not wanting to interrupt their moment, I bee-lined to the summit. When I reached the access road, I took one look at the exposed ice flows and decided I would also be going down the Hayes trail.

Only at the summit did I consider modifying that. “Maybe today is a day for Larry’s Summit Loop”, I thought. My friend calls it the “drunk trail”, because it swings out towards some ledges and then drops down into a gully before popping out at the overlook.

The ice on Larry’s Summit Loop proved consistent with conditions elsewhere on the mountain. At one point, I felt especially grateful that my microspikes prevented me from falling off the slope in the direction of the bay.

The way Larry’s Summit Loop approaches the overlook, it is hard not to look like a lost and confused hiker when you enter the overlook. It is best to happen without an audience. However, guess who was still sitting at the overlook playing the awkward small talk game with each other?

Upon coming out of the brush, I launched into my own awkward small talk with the couple, about the bluebird day, and my hand warmers, and thank goodness that I improved my ventilation so my hair is not frozen. I wanted to exit as soon as possible, to not disturb the mood. I plunged down the Hayes trail as soon as I saw it.

At this point, temps hitting the double digits, I saw more hikers headed up as I headed down. I remained toasty warm, and I still had a couple of hours of daylight to play. The mountain had only whet my palate for more exploring on the peninsula during the rest of the afternoon….

Blueberry Hill and Blue Hill

Blueberry Hill, Winterport.

In all the outdoorsy parenting circles, I hear the expression: “there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing”. Who knows, that may be true for the women hiking with their McDreamy/McSteamy hiking partners who will pick them up and carry them off a 4k should a blizzard hit. As a solo hiker and the parent of a toddler, I object to the blanket statement “there is no such thing as bad weather”.

As a solo hiker, no amount of clothing can compensate for strong wind, dense fog, or whiteout snow. As a mother, any weather in which my child is not having a good time is bad weather.

For everyone who thinks I make hiking with a toddler look enviable and effortless, ha, I needed a good hard belly laugh. After two failed hikes two consecutive days in a row, I am “giving myself grace”. At least I think that is what all the parenting books say to do.

Hike Fail #1. Blueberry Hill, Winterport. In trying to make the best of brutally cold temperatures, I thought, “let’s try a spot infested with an ungodly amount of ticks in summer”. At some point in the summer, I had driven to the Blueberry Hill parking lot, oohed and awed over the view, and then screamed to see my shoe covered in a dozen ticks just by standing outside the car. I thought, “maybe this is better as a winter adventure?” I still think it is. However, yesterday, when we pulled into the parking lot, my son eager to wear his “spikers” as he called his microspikes, I opened my car door to the single digit temps and doubted he would have a good time. Hopefully, third time is the charm there…

Hike Fail #2, Blue Hill Mountain. “Hook me up with my microspikes”, my three-year old said. I thought, “I have created a monster”. When hiking Acadia with him in my belly, I had hoped he would be the hiking partner of my dreams, and he is. I will be hellbent on going somewhere and doing something. He is the radar that determines if that thing I want to do is going to be fun or miserable. For as giddy as he felt about wearing the microspikes, he refused to wear anything on his hands and did not plan on going up the mountain with anything less than three trucks. To say the least, we did not make it above the field before we ditched the plan in favor of a hot cocoa and donut run.

So yeah, for us, bad weather is any weather in which we are not having a good time, and appropriate clothing only saves the moment when my son agrees to keep it on his body. If any other parents have been struggling with winter hiking with toddlers, you are not alone….

Stratton Brook Hut

Rescue 911, New Year’s Eve edition. I had zero intentions of hiking on New Year’s Eve. I had planned to cross-country ski myself silly in this elaborately-planned loop in the Maine Huts and Trails (MHT) network.

My plus-one had bailed. I decided to go solo rather than try to find someone else who would agree to the pace and distance I had in mind. I stop and smell the roses plenty when I adventure with my son. Without my son, I crave a more aggressive pace, and do not want some buzzkill holding me back. Better to be solo than with the wrong plus-one, how is that for setting the tone for 2022?

Starting at Campbell Field in Kingfield, I enjoyed what felt like ideal conditions on the Narrow Gauge until I turned onto the MHT main trail. At 930am, the only existing tracks were from fat bike tires. As I started to break trail through the shallow snow, the snow stuck to my skis. At the encouragement of a passer-by, I tucked my skis behind the sign and proceeded to the Stratton Brook Hut on foot.

In my research the night before, I noticed a post that said the Maine Huts were offering free cookies and hot cocoa from 12-2 on New Year’s Eve. I felt highly motivated to reach the Stratton Brook Hut one way or another. Incidentally, Coastal Mountain Land Trust offers free cookies and hot cocoa at Beech Nut Hut on New Year’s Day. I laughed to myself at the thought of attending both, and trying to figure out who does this free hot cocoa and cookie business better.

I expected to encounter a steady flow of trail users on the MHT trails, and I did. As a solo hiker, it appealed to me to have others around in case I injured myself. Never did I imagine I would come to the aid of another trail user.

I had passed the Oak Knoll trail. The main trail had assumed such a steep grade that I felt fortunate not to be on skis. I passed a pair of skis on the side of the trail and thought: “hmm, someone else ditched their skis like me”. Wrong. A few hundred yards up ahead, I noticed a group of five off to the side of the trail. Two middle-aged adults hovered over one whose bare leg revealed a significant laceration, a twenty-something held a cell phone up to her ear, and another twenty-something hovered near-by.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” I asked as I approached the group.

They had all the supplies to wrap the leg, but knew they would need a sled to extract their companion. I had incurred a similar deep laceration down to the bone on my leg in a bike accident in Acadia. I knew that once the skin had split open, trying to walk on it would exacerbate the tear.

The woman on the cell phone said she was talking to 911, but asked if I could go to the hut and request a sled. She gave me her cell number so I could contact her once I arrived. Accustomed to the lack of service in the Bigelows, I could not believe that she had service in that spot, or that I would have it at the hut. She reassured me that I would.

Before I parted ways with them, I thought of my over-exuberance purchasing nutty chocolatey snacks at the Kingfield grocery store that morning. “Want some peanut butter cups?”

They told me they had snacks from the hut, but peanut butter cups did sound appealing. I dug through my pack and tossed a package their way.

Then I started to hustle as fast as I could towards the Stratton Brook Hut. I am not built to be a sprinter, certainly not an uphill sprinter. I have the broad shoulders and brawny lower body well-suited for long-distance backpacking and running. Yet if I learned anything from years of playing soccer, it would be learning to pick up the pace when the occasion called.

I soon hit the turn-off to the Stratton Brook Hut. “0.7 to go, I got this,” I thought. I estimated that 0.7 had to have been as far as I had already come. That 0.7

remained a steady uphill, and I kept pushing myself to move faster. I passed the turn-off to the Bigelow connector trail, and soon encountered fat bikers whom I warned about the injured skier on the steep downhill. “You may want to walk that stretch so you don’t run into them”.

I finally approached the Hut, and saw a lone figure leaning against a door.

“Do you work here? There’s an injured skier who needs a sled.”

He led me inside, and whipped out his cell phone to call his boss. I realized he was the only one working there. I told him that I was willing to go back and bring them whatever they needed. “Oh no, we got snowmobiles that could come from either direction for that.”

“Are you ok? What do you need?” he asked me. I had not been in a Maine Hut in 10 years. They are as beautiful and elegant inside as I remembered: inviting leather couches and otherwise stylish interior design.

“I am just out for the day. I heard something about hot cocoa and cookies?”

“Ah, yes, the hot cocoa will be about 10 minutes, and I am just about to put the cookies in the oven.”

I sat on a couch, chugged my Gatorade, and texted the phone number that I had been given from the group. “At the Stratton Brook Hut, a snowmobile is on the way.”

“Thank you”.

“Happy to do it:)” I shared the cell number with the caretaker, so he could directly text them. Once I caught my breath, he offered me the most chocolatey hot cocoa of my life. When I commented, he said he melted chocolate chips before adding milk. Man oh man.

He asked me where I was from, always the most difficult question for me to answer. I explained to him that I could claim multiple parts of Maine as home—Norridgewock, Ellsworth, Mount Desert Island, Unity, the list goes on—and as it turns out, so could he. Phillips, Phippsburg, Waldo County, Washington County, some of the sweetest corners of my home state.

As much as I enjoyed talking to him, it was not yet noon. From my perception, I had consumed approximately 20,000 calories already that morning, including the four warm cookies I had just scarfed down out of the oven, and burned approximately 50. I had already salvaged this day once after my plus-one cancelled. Now that I had performed the task requested of me, I needed to steer the day to be mine again.

I headed down from the Hut, the skier picked up by a snowmobile by that point. I found my skis exactly where I left them….