Baxter State Park Part 3: Katahdin (Hamlin Peak & Baxter Peak)

Hamlin Peak (Katahdin):

  • Elevation: 4756 Feet
  • Location: Baxter State Park, ME
  • Date Hiked:  July 13, 2020
  • Companion: Stud
  • Trails: Hamlin Ridge Trail

Baxter Peak (Katahdin):

  • Elevation: 5268 Feet
  • Location: Baxter State Park, ME
  • Date Hiked:  July 13, 2020
  • Companion: Stud
  • Trails: Hamlin Ridge Trail, Northwest Basin Trail, Saddle Trail
We woke up from a deep sleep in our lean-to at Chimney Pond.  The sky very light and I was concerned that we’d slept late but it was only 5:30am.  We didn’t waste any time given yesterday’s forecast predicting afternoon thunderstorms for today and Katahdin is a completely exposed rock ridge where people have been struck by lightening and we knew our window had to be early.  We got up and dressed and drank coffee and ate some breakfast, hung our food and headed off.  We signed the trail hiker register a little before 7am and Ranger Andy popped his head out of the Ranger cabin to ask us what our hiking plans were and let us know that the forecast had changed and afternoon thunderstorms were no longer expected!  We welcomed this great news knowing that weather in the mountains can change on a dime and the sky still had lots of foggy clouds moving on and off the summits so we wasted no time and headed up the Hamlin Ridge which also wastes no time and before we knew it we were climbing exposed boulders and popping out above the trees with epic views and gaining elevation quickly.  I put my poles away and scrambled up on all fours weaving myself in and around the boulders avoiding looking at the steep drop offs on either side.IMG_3229
Ranger Andy referred to the Hamlin Ridge as a mini Knife’s Edge.  The actual Knife’s Edge is this jagged trail across the basin that is over a mile of hairpin rock ridge with sheer cliffs on either side connecting Baxter Peak with Pamola Peak.  Its a famous trail that I use to really have my heart set on climbing across and have since become real clear that I never want to hike the knife’s edge and that climbing across steep boulder fields is edgy enough for me!
IMG_3237The trail leveled out and we found a spot to catch our breath, chug water and have a snack.  We powered up to the summit of Hamlin Peak from there and were feeling great.IMG_3239 The could lifted and we had views of everything expect Baxter peak kept drifting in and out of the clouds.  We began our ridge walk feeling great and happy heading down into the saddle and then the accent up to the very top of Katahdin began.  Its was rocky and then it became a boulder field and before we knew it, we were on top snapping a picture with the sign.  The wind dies down, the clouds blew away and we found a spot to sit and enjoy the views and eat and drink.  We admired Chimney Pond from this height and were happy to see that it was only 11:15.IMG_3254IMG_3244IMG_3257
As we made our way back down the ridge, we watched the sky hoping none of the clouds would form into thunderheads.  We made it to the intersection with the Saddle Trail and began our slide down the slide.  It was slow going and rocks would just slide out under food.  I slid down a good chunk of this trail on my butt, constantly looking for places to take a solid step.  It was exhausting.  I fell at one point but it wasn’t anything too bad, more of a slide followed by a second slide and slight loss of control and it was a little painful but I mostly felt lucky that I was basically fine.  My slip woke me up and gave me that last blast of adrenaline needed to stay upright.  It took what felt like forever getting down this thing but we were back down at Chimney Pond by 1:30 and eating the last of the pizza we had packed in.
We headed down to this water basin where swimming was allowed since you can’t swim in Chimney Pond.  The water was freezing so we basically just soaked our feet and legs which always makes a huge difference after a big hike.  We chatted with this guy who had just fulfilled his dream of 25 years of Hiking Katahdin with his grown son who he’s been hiking with since the kid was 5.
We headed back to our lean-to and changed into our camp clothes delighted by how clean and dry we were compared to yesterday’s hike on North Brother.  We spent the afternoon relaxing, stretching, playing yahtzee and then cooked ort freeze dried dinners, salivating over the salty processed contents and enjoying the novelty of camp food and tiny stoves.
Stud slept late but I was up early the next morning and I enjoyed a little solitude.  I walked down to Chimney Pond where the basin was completely clear and I could see the summit and knife’s edge perfectly.  I had the little beach to myself and I listened to the bird song while these little wisps of clouds slowly blew in and before I knew it, the ravine was socked in with clouds. IMG_7069I filled my water bottle and headed to the bear cables to take down our food bags so we could make coffee.  Stud was just waking up when I got back and we made coffee while the snowshoe hares frolicked around our lean-to.  Such big playful rabbits they were!
After breakfast, we packed up and headed out and had a lovely hike down the Chimney Pond Trail, unlike our hike in a couple days before.  We stopped at the Basin Pond for a snack and a last moment with this wilderness before popping out at Roaring Brook and driving south.  So grateful for this restorative respite and I can’t wait to return.IMG_3287

Baxter State Park Part 2: North Brother

North Brother:

  • Elevation: 4151 Feet
  • Location: Baxter State Park, ME
  • Date Hiked:  July 12, 2020
  • Companion: Stud
  • Trails: Marston Trail

We woke up at first light, cozy in our sleeping bags looking out at the misty foggy sky from our lean-to at the Nesowadnehunk Field Campground wondering if the weather was going to let us climb North Brother.  We got up and walked over the the ranger cabin to see if there was an updated weather report but only the one from yesterday was still posted which was predicting scattered showers with possible afternoon thunderstorms.  We walked back to our lean-to and packed up and got ready to hike deciding we could always turn around.  We sat on the edge of the lean-to drinking coffee and eating some breakfast, reading some trail descriptions and looking at maps before heading off.  Stud pointed out a huge rainbow rising from the filed and our spirits were high.

We were the first ones in the parking area at the trailhead and we were hiking by 6:45.  It was misty and extremely humid and we were drenched in a combination of sweat and cloud pretty quickly.  The forest smelled delicious wafting balsam fir, pine, and spruce and we cruised the first few miles eventually stopping at a stream to have a big snack and dunk our bandanas to cool ourselves off.  We hiked onward and came upon a beautiful mountain pond and the fog cleared just enough for us to see the mountain before us.  From the pond we climbed some steep rock staircases to a saddle and cruised along that before reaching another steep section that eventually became a completely exposed alpine boulder field.IMG_3206As we got above the trees, the wind was whipping so hard that we could hardly hear each other.  The fog was thick and we stayed close.  No views.  We made our way to the summit and then turned right around and came upon a group of hikers, the first we’d scene all day!  IMG_3210IMG_3212We made our way back below the trees finding a place to sit and have a big snack and recover from the intense exposure.  Our adrenaline was pumping and we were feeling good.  We made our way back down to the pond, stopping to admire it and look up at what we had just come down from.  About a mile later, out of the corner of my eye I see this large dark mass move off the trail directly front of us.  We are hiking down at a pretty good clip and Stud is telling me a story when I stop and say something like, “Stud, just so you know, there is a HUGE moose right in front of us.  About 20 feet in front of a us, a massive moose who was coming up the trail towards us and us toward her, stepped off the trail and is standing next to the trail.  I turn around looking for a tree or a rock to climb not really knowing what to do.  We just stand there kind of frozen and I click my hiking poles together to see if the moose might move along but she doesn’t budge and I’m reminded that they are territorial and tend to stand their ground and I look around making sure there are no babies in tow.  We decide that she is waiting for us to pass by her so she can continue along the trail and so we very slowly and calmly walk by her until we get around 30 feet away and we look back and watch as she steps back on the trail and continues on her way.  We had maybe 2 miles left to the car and I must have turned around like every 2 minutes to make sure she wasn’t following us.It was amazing.  A moose on the trail.  I have both dreaded and dreamed of this moment.  I’m so glad our encounter was so peaceful.  What a gift.  She was massive and her brown hair was reddish and she looked so robust and healthy.  I’ve never been so close to a moose in all my life.  We both wish we could have taken a picture but it wasn’t worth the risk and it made the whole encounter more special and more ours.

We were reeling by the time we got to the car and we were filthy.  We chugged some water and ate some cold pizza from the cooler and drove clockwise on the tote road over the Roaring Brook campground where we would unpack our day packs and transition into our backpacking packs leaving Stud’s car, climbing the 3.3 miles into Chimney Pond where our coveted lean-to awaited us for the next couple days.  We were exhausted and filthy, covered in mud and it was raining.  We lazily shoved our gear into our packs, doing a terrible job of packing them into lumpy leaning towers of hell.  I bet mine weighed like 40 lbs.  Ofcourse, anything I needed for the hike into Chimney was not accessible because I was in denial about what was ahead so I had zero snacks for the hike in and all Stud had accessible was a bag of lucky charms cereal in her pocket and that was basically what fueled un up the humid bouldery climb.IMG_3228We had face coverings on when we started since there were a lot more people around.  Our packs were so heavy and it was so humid and we were so tired that we had to stop like every half hour to chug water and rest.  It took us forever and we were so wrecked by the time we arrived but when we saw our lean-to, we were overcome with joy.  It was huge and dry and freshly built.  They have since replaced all the lean-to’s since I was last there almost 10 years ago.  They smelled fresh and we exploded our packs and cleaned ourselves up and got into dry clothes before the friendly ranger came by to check us in and give us a little orientation to this backcountry camp.  He was sooo nice and we just wanted to talk to him all day.  Ranger Andy is the best.  IMG_7045IMG_3218IMG_3262We then walked around camp, finding the outhouses and filling our water bottles from the pond and treating them with aquamira so we wouldn’t get beaver fever.  We ate a bunch of snacks and then hung our food on the bear cables they have permanently set up.  e got into our sleeping bags and watched as these blond snowshoe hares hopped all around our lean-to.  They would hop up and say hello and then dash off into the forest.  They were so cute and hilarious.  We stretched out our aching bodies and talked about our big hiking plans tomorrow and wondering if we’d be able to climb Katahdin with the weather that might be coming…

Part 3: Katahdin (Hamlin Peak & Baxter Peak)

Baxter State Park Part 1

Sometime in April as the pandemic slowly ground the life I knew to a halt, and as I found myself in the midst of cancelling/rescheduling and then re-cancelling most of my work and spring, summer and fall plans, Stud called up Baxter State Park on a whim and was able to reserve us a lean-to at Chimney Pond for mid July.  These lean-to campsites are highly coveted and very hard to get.  I’ve been there a couple times but not in almost a decade and I recall having to mail in a reservation request with 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice dates exactly 4 months in advance to the day.

Stud just so happen to call in the exact right moment and speak with a ranger who was working from home and was able to book us a lean-to Chimney Pond for 3 nights in July.  I could hardly take in the news and had no idea what July would look like and if we’d even be able to go under the pandemic circumstances.  We watched the covid-19 cases and death toll rise and fall in Massachusetts as well as neighboring states while following along with protocol updates with the various trail systems in the state and national parks and forests of the northeast.  We read about entitled AT hikers who defied all rules and protocols running from rangers into closed parks as we carefully deciphered whether or not we could ethically go to Katahdin in July in a safe-ish rule-abiding way.  We processed the crap out of our potential plans with our partners and the four of us got together and talk it through in the 6 weeks leading up to it.

On July 1st Baxter State Park opened for day use and then a week later, they were open for camping.  Maine issued a “Keep Maine Healthy” plan requiring all out-of-staters to either get tested for covid-19 before traveling to Maine and bring proof of a negative test result taken within 3 days of arrival (72 hours) or quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.  We went and got tested together on a Wednesday afternoon so that our results would be valid for our Saturday afternoon check-in.  Our negative test results came in on time and we rejoiced and started packing.

Stud picked me up early Saturday morning and we hugged for the first time since February which is likely the longest I’ve ever not hugged Stud since we met 15 years ago.  This would be my first car ride with anyone other than my partner and it was very exciting.  There was no traffic and we stopped at a few rest stops feeling nervous about how we might be perceived wearing masks since most people in New Hampshire in Maine were not wearing masks and we’ve heard stories about people getting harassed for wearing masks in some areas.  But it was all very chill and no one bothered us and there were very few people traveling so our normal but extra elevated public bathroom anxiety lessened as our journey continued.  We had a full cooler with all the food we needed for the next 5 days and thus avoided going into any of small towns only stopping at rest stops to use the bathroom.

Shortly after passing Millinocket, Maine, the last town before heading into the wilderness, I was delighted to see my phone no longer had service.  As I put my phone on airplane mode, I vowed to not take for granted this gift and absolute privilege of being able to unplug for a few days in the backcountry.

We pulled into Baxter State Park in the early afternoon clutching our negative covid-19 test results along with our signed Certificate of Compliance as requested on Maine.gov but no one asked us for any of it.  The masked ranger who checked us in at the toll gate’s only concern was our plan to hike North Brother Mountain the next day in the rain.  He sent us on our way and we drove the 20 mile an hour dirt tote road counter clockwise thru the park towards Nesowadnehunk Field Campground where we’d be staying for 1 night before hiking North Brother Mountain and then making our way onward to Chimney Pond.

It was maybe 1pm as we drove past the trailhead for North Brother, I thew out the possibility of us maybe just going for it and hiking it right then.  I did the math and calculated that if we started now, we’d be back down by 8 or 9pm and would maybe have to hike the last mile or 2 in by headlamp which seemed kinda fun.  For a moment we looked at each other and tried to imagine it but it was kind of late for an unknown 9-miler and the weather was iffy for an exposed alpine summit and were a bit anxious and unsettled so we continued on to Nesowadnehunk as planned where we took a long walk before settling into our lean-to where we set up this massive bug net that Stud pulled out making a bug net box inside the lean-to and then we played a few rounds of yahtzee before having a 4pm dinner from our cooler and attempting to make a fire between the the rain showers.  We were in our sleeping bags by 5pm processing about life, racial justice, social media, covid-19, work, queerness, relationships and like everything and anything that was occupying our minds.  Then Stud read to me from Jurassic Park.  We reminded each other that summiting mountains was not the most important thing and that we were just so happy to be in such a beautiful wild place that was quiet and smelled really good.  We watched the lightening bugs light up the field as we wondered what tomorrow would bring before slowly drifting off to sleep.IMG_3197

Part 2: North Brother

Part 3: Katahdin

Toadstool Walks eNewsletter

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Its official.

I am now a Certified Forest Therapy Guide.  I have successfully completed a six month practicum beginning with an 8-day training and followed by a list of assignments that included a bunch of practice Forest Therapy Walks, plants studies, mapping, drawing, journaling and writing.  I had monthly phone meetings with my fellow cohorts, my mentor, my co-mentor and other mentor.  I created a new website, business cards and joined social media (instagram and facebook) after being off-line for about 5 years.  Thus I have reconnected with various folks I have known over the years and have been vigilantly networking, making new connections and trying to get the word out about Toadstool Walks and trying to find community and support around this new offering.  The response has been amazing so far.

All the while, I’m still envisioning the who’s, what’s, why’s, how’s and where’s.  I’m throwing myself off the cliff constantly catapulting myself forward without perfect clarity.  I’m rewriting content after I’ve sent it.  I’m approaching land managers and proposing imperfect pitches.  I’m fighting my analysis paralysis and trying to trust the process.  Meanwhile, I continue to support myself as Handy Tam and try to understand what that is all about and who I am and what is my purpose and how did I get here and what is possible.  Its not been a super clean streamline process despite how it may look. It has ripped me open at times. I have been held up by my inner circle (my girlfriend, closest pals, and a few folks I’ve met thru my training.)  I have poured my heart and soul into this…sometimes a little too much.

In conclusion, it has been a fun, challenging, and vulnerable process.  I had a Threshold Ceremony a couple weeks ago to formalize things.  I have a graduation call coming up and an actual Certificate being made and mailed which I will proudly frame and hang on my wall next to my End-To-End Long Trail Certificate.  I am so so so grateful.

If you want to subscribe to my monthly eNewsletter please do:  SUBSCRIBE

 

Black Eyed Birthday

Today I turned 39 years young.  To celebrate I am getting Wilderness First Aid Certified!  It’s a 16 hour long class broken into 2 days.  The Nols instructors are talented make-up artists and cover us with bruises and cuts and fake blood.  Then we do lots of simulated backcountry accident scenarios in which we practice newly learned wilderness medicine tools by assessing various circumstances, checking vital signs and determining injuries and arranging emergency evacuations.  

It’s a weird thing to do on my birthday that was just when the timing worked.  I wanted to do it close to home and this session takes place at the Boston Audubon Nature Preserve in Mattapan.  It’s a beautiful place and we do lots of the training outside lying in the grass pretending to be disoriented and dehydrated.  It’s pretty funny but also kinda stressful.  It’s a lot to remember but I have to say I do feel empowered having the knowledge.

After my long first day of wilderness medicine training I came home to a festive birthday dinner with my dear ones and some really sweet gifts.  

8 more hours of backcountry life saving skills tomorrow and then I’ll be certified!  

Shoulder Season Update

Lets talk about “Monorail”.  Not fast elevated train but rather the slow lingering snow and ice pack along mountain hiking trails that thaw and refreeze and thaw and refreeze creating a thin edge that one must walk on like a balance beam if one wants to hike in the White Mountains in May.

The White Mountain Trail reports are currently filled with descriptions of mud, ice, high water,  and “unstable monorail” meaning that this snowy balance beam is melting and during this time, it is easy to fall off of it or sink in it.  Its not like a huge cliff or anything but its like this weird added obstacle to trails to that are already seriously challenging in terms of rocks, roots, steepness, exposure, etc…

While there is still snow in New Hampshire, and while the summit of Mt Washington got a few new feet just last week, overall there is not enough snow for snow shoes yet whats left of the snow can be a little mushy so potholing is still a thing (meaning, when your foot sinks thru the snow).

Regardless, hikers are out there at all times of the year in all conditions and some of them write detailed trail reports daily describing the “monorail”, mud, ice, wet/slick/water on trail.  I use these trail reports to help make decisions about whether or not to go for it and to get a sense of what to expect seasonally..  I try to avoid hiking in the spring because I don’t really enjoy taking my micro spikes on and off 100 times or sinking in deep mud and navigating melty monorail.  I did enjoy some of the winter hikes I did this past season where there was a nice snow packed trail and I could just put on my spikes and keep them on.  If theres fresh snow I prefer cross country skiing to snowshoe hiking.  Once the snow melts I prefer to wait for a dryer trail which means late May but really June.  I’ve also been waiting for the perfect combination of a warmer ocean, sunshine and waves to dust off my surfboard and flail around at sea.

In the meantime, while I keep a close eye on the surf reports and the New Hampshire Trail reports I take many walks in my local Arboretum and sometimes in the nearby Blue Hills.  Spring in Boston is blowing my mind.  I’ve been watching the buds break open, the conifers growing baby red pinecones, the bees pollenating, the ants eating the sugars, the hawks and cardinals and robins forage for food, the waters rise and fall.  The changes are fast.  If I miss too many days in a row of visiting the Arboretum I feel uneasy.  I watched the lilacs bud and bloom day to day and enjoyed them under bright blue skies in full peak bloom before they quickly withered away. Oh impermanence!  How you keep my eyes glassy!

The other thing I am doing right now is working as much as I can.  I’m saving up for something big in addition to wanting to free myself up this summer in order to hike and surf and be outside enjoying beautiful New England for all its summer glory.  As I climb up and down my ladder I imagine that I am training for the mountains.

On my lunch breaks I scroll thru my phone and live vicariously through a few long distance hiking blogs.  More specifically, I am following Little Bear Stumbles who I met on the Long Trail last summer.  Little Bear is currently hiking Northbound on the Appalachian Trail from Harpers Ferry.  I’m hoping I might bump into Little Bear on the trail once she makes it up to New England!

I’m also following Scissors who I met in Portland Oregon on my recent visit.  Scissors is hiking Northbound on the Pacific Crest Trail and writes from the experience of being queer, femme and having never gone backpacking before.  She is totally entertaining and inspiring!

This weekend is Boston Youth Pride and am tabling for The Venture out Project.  Later on I will be working “coat check” for the Youth Prom which I have done for the last 6 years and its super fun.

I got big plans in the works and a lot to look forward to.  Trying to stay present and grounded even though my head wants to float up to outer space.  Today I smeared some Norway Spruce sap all over my hat on a morning walk so I could take some coniferous goodness with me back to my many tasks to remind me to be grateful and here. Fortunately sap is very sticky.

 

Spring

For the past 18 years I have had the incredible privilege of living within walking distance to the Arnold Arboretum.  As I grow and evolve I notice so much more and wonder how I never saw all that I see now. I’ve been watching closely as the buds bud and start to break into flowers and leaves.  It’s amazing.  I befriended a black oak tree and leaned against it resting the crown of my head under the thickest longest branch expressing my deepest gratitude for this old lonely-seeming tree that gave me so much comfort.  

Street Magic

Street Magic #1:

I walk out to my car in the pouring rain and find a note under my windshield wiper carefully wrapped up in a plastic bag so it won’t get wet.  It was from someone who believed they left a scratch on my rear left bumper.  They apologized and left me their phone number in case it was an issue.  I looked at my bumper and laughed cuz it has scratches all over it as a bumper should.  I tend to think of my car like a skateboard.  It’s a mode of transportation and I don’t care if it gets beat to shit so long it runs and can get me to the mountains and the ocean and get my tools to my jobs.  I’ve just never really been into cars in that way.  My dream car had always been more practical than shiny.  For me it’s simply a tool…and truly incredible to own one.  I am often awestruck that I get to own one of these machines…but I don’t really care that much what it looks like.

So I text the number and thank this brave and honest stranger.  I explain that I am not at all concerned about scratches on my bumper.  I thanked them for giving me a restored faith in humanity and asked if I could buy them a cup of coffee or something to express my gratitude.

They wrote back!  They expressed a shared restored faith in humanity and agreed to let me buy them coffee.  So we met up at a cafe a few days later and she turned out to be an herb farmer and brought me a jar of herbs which had all kinds of personal significance and relevance to various things going on in my life…particularly the oats that were in that jar…that were part of the tea…that when harvested early promote a calming a effect.

We sipped our coffee and talked about the trials and tribulations of being tiny business owners.  We talked about the earth, farming, evolution and politics.  We talked about other local farmers that we both know and we networked about ideas and dreams.

Street Magic #2:

My pal Stud’s birthday is coming up.  We are going to attempt a huge hike on her actual birthday.  In the meantime I had this thought hit me this weekend where I imagined how fun it would be to try to get her some Red Sox tickets as a birthday present.  Stud enjoys a baseball game at Fenway Park and has been known to spontaneously buy herself a ticket and take herself to a game.  I have been known to join Stud every couple of years for a game as well. I am not much of a Red Sox fan nor am I much of a sports fan in general but there is something really fun and magical and nostalgic about Fenway Park and I’ve had some fun moments in the bleachers.  The last time I sat in the bleachers with Stud we watched this drunk dude being obnocious and yelling and waving his arms annoying all his neighbors.  Finally some dude a few rows back yellws at him,  “Hey!  Sit down ya fuckin mahshmellow!” Drunk dude turns around in slow motion and comes back with, “You calling me a fuckin mahshmellow?!”  Security was on that shit and escorted the guy out pretty quick.

Approximately two hours after thinking the thought of how fun it would be to get baseball tickets for Studs birthday, a random stranger approached me and asked me if I wanted some Red Sox tickets.  Like literally the same morning I wondered if I could get tickets, they just appeared in my hand…This guy was traveling from out of town and bought really good seats for a game that got rained out and he had to leave town before the rescheduled game and he literally just walked by me sitting on my stoop and asked me if I wanted them.  What?! They are first row lodge box seats at first base and I have definitely never sat that close to the action before.  So Stud and I are going to go to this baseball game in the middle of the afternoon….and it’s suppose to be sunny.

Street Magic is real.