If you haven't been to Baxter State Park, you need to go. Something is missing from your life. It's that awesome.
D and I were thrilled to be returning this year, and our three days in the park didn't disappoint. Last year, marked the end our of self-imposed ban from Baxter. When we were planning our hike of the Appalachian Trail, one of things we were looking forward to most was walking into Baxter to summit Katahdin. It didn't work out exactly the way we planned. Instead of finishing in 2005, it took us until 2008. But, the culmination of our journey atop Katahdin was no less sweet, but it did delay our return. This time around, we had a mellow trip planned, since D is carrying some extra cargo. Then again, mellow can be a relative term.
We hit the road on Sunday morning—fueled by Tim Hortons, of course. It took us about 3.5 hours to reach the park and another half hour to arrive at our base camp, Daicey Pond Campground. It was a cushy trip for us: we were staying in a cabin. Sure, no running water or electricity, but no tent either. Plush. Unfortunately, we couldn't check in right away, so we headed up to Kidney Pond to eat lunch and get in a hike of Sentinel Mountain.
Despite mostly cloudy skies and one pesky plume atop Katahdin, we had terrific views from the ledges of Sentinel Mountain. And, in case you're wondering, D was the only 7-months pregnant woman on the summit that day. We moved a little slower than normal, in other words I could actually keep up with her. I also had to help her maneuver over some tricky spots, but all in all, she trucked right along—even passed a few people. I was pretty impressed. She kept apologizing for how slow we were going. That's D.
It started to rain just as we returned to Daicey Pond, so we scurried to get everything into the cabin. Things stayed mostly dry and we cooked dinner and relaxed on the porch of cabin #7, Loon Lodge. Like I said, plush.
Monday dawned clear, and we traveled to the northern end of the park to South Branch Pond Campground. When I say "traveled," I really mean traveled. The roads in Baxter are "unimproved," and we drove for more than an hour and a half to reach our destination. The mud on the side of the car was epic. (Sadly, D washed it today. Lame.) Our plan was to do a loop hike over both peaks of South Branch Mountain and down around the South Branch Ponds.
In order to reach the trail, we had to cross the outlet of Upper South Branch Pond. It was knee deep...on me. What a way to start! The climb to the north peak of South Branch Mountain was fairly stout. Plus, it was slippery. It was also clear that the trail received little traffic. That being said, the forest was beautiful—lush and green. We eventually reached the summit and stopped for lunch. We briefly debated turning around and cutting the hike short, but that's not her style. In just a short while, we were thrilled with our decision. We reached the south peak of South Branch Mountain and the views were stunning. The summit was akin to an open meadow, and we had clear view of the Travelers, the Peak of the Ridges and the Hamlins and Katahdin in the distant south. It took us a long time to leave. Luckily, the descent was also spectacular. The trail wound through open meadows affording more great views. Not a bad day on the trail.
Eventually, we reached the wooded section of trail, and we took a break. We'd been on the trail for over 4 hours, and D was tiring. A snack break, a regroup, and we were on our way. Slowly, but still moving along. We reached the southern end of Lower South Branch Pond and were once again rewarded with terrific views. But, not until we had waded through the muddy, squishy inlet to the pond. We soon junctioned with the Pogy Notch Trail and began the long 2-mile walk back to the campground. A few more stops along the route, but after five and a half hours, we were done. We cooled off with a wade into the pond, and it was time to eat. Today was a bit tougher, and perhaps we pushed our luck, but D did great. Once again, most impressive.
Another hour and a half drive back to Daicey Pond, and it's time to build a fire. Excessive, yes, but we had to eat. After way too much smoke in my eyes, dinner was served—sausages with veggies. And they are best served on a picnic table, lakeside. And, we needed only walk a few paces to see the day's last rays of light on Katahdin. I told you Baxter was cool.
Our last day was preceded by a very sound night's sleep. Very sound. No hiking on the docket for this day. It would have been a shame to stay at Daicey Pond and not canoe on the actual pond. So, paddle we did. The pond is small, so it only took us an hour, but it was an hour well spent. We packed up the car and slowly made our way out the park. We stopped for a short walk out to Grassy Pond...and more great views. Then, one final stop for lunch at Abol Pond, and we were on our way. Yup, a fantastic three days, and our last vacation together with just the two of us for a very long time. I sure hope the little lady will like her trip to Baxter next year.
Here are our photos.