Thursday, August 28, 2014

Best Hikes and Mountains in New England

The time has come for me to bid Maine and New England happy trails, fair winds and following seas. This fall I'll be relocating to Chicago, Illinois to begin my career as a Family Nurse Practitioner. For personal and professional reasons, this is a very welcome move but I will be leaving behind the way of life I've come to love over the last three years. I'm sure this is evident from my constant adventures and trip reports that are written about in this blog. 

The internet is filled with posts blogs about the "top 10 list" of this and that. While I've indulged in a few posts such as those for boosting SEO and internet visibility, I've tried to refrain from that in the more recent years. I won't say I've never read that type of internet fodder from time to time but the writing always seems to be shallow and superficial and the pictures are the same. At the same time, I want to showcase what I thought were my best outdoor adventures and experiences in the vast wilderness that is the North Woods and Bold Coast of Maine and New England. So I suppose this is sort of my "best of" album. It might come off as another internet plea for attention, but I hope it reads more like a narrative. 

First summer in Maine (Naples, ME)
California to Maine

I first came to Maine the day after I graduated from undergrad in Southern California. You could say that I went as far as you could from there without leaving the United States (Hawaii is closer to So Cal than Maine). I showed up off of a plane at the Portland Jetport with a backpack of stuff and a sleeping bag. Like many summer residents of Maine, I came for seasonal work- I worked at a camp and that was where my "Maine Thing" began. Over that summer, I got 6 days off from work and I filled them with hiking. At the time I didn't know I would be back for many years to come so I did all the typical things- Hike Mt Katahdin's Knife's Edge, Mt Washington, Mt Mansfield, Acadia National Park and the Camden Hills. It was a lovely summer: typically Maine and totally new to somebody raised on the West Coast. I finished that job and embarked on a trip on the Maine Island Trail all across Penobscot Bay. A particularly fond memory of that trip, other than the remote islands and wild seas, was studying for the GRE by flashlight at night. I didn't know I would end up in Grad School in Maine, but I started studying for it right there on the beaches of tiny islands with only primitive campsites. I briefly returned to California only to apply and be accepted to Nurse Practitioner School at USM in Portland. My next chapter of my Maine Thing started with a 6,000 Mile Road Trip from So Cal to Portland. 

The Maine Island Trail played a large part in my reasons for returning (Downeast Islands, ME)
Graduate School

Going to graduate school to become a Nurse and a Nurse Practitioner was a challenging 3 years. One of the most important lessons that a clinician could ever learn is the importance of self-care. For me, that meant taking advantage of every opportunity I could to get outside and get back in touch with myself. Graduate School ends up being a precipitous balancing act between school, work and personal obligations. Nursing is notorious for destroying that balance. As strange as it sounds, one had to be very proactive in scheduling down time. For me it was in the form of travel and adventure. I sought out to explore and experience everything that the wilds of Maine and New England had to offer. Writing about it and photographing it was part of my personal care plan in staying sane though the rewarding but grueling process of becoming a Nurse Practitioner.

Remembering my first autumn in New England (Jay State Forest, VT)
Finest Hikes and Mountains

By my count, I've hiked about 175 mountains while in New England. My penchant for climbing mountains can only be described as monomaniacal. Summits have ranged from the extensive alpine peaks of New England 4,000 footers to the mountains of the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec. The ancient summits of the Appalachians and the geologically volcanic summits of the White Mountains have been eroded to relatively low elevations but they certainly challenged this Californian who's used to bagging thirteen and fourteen thousand foot summits. There were no gimmes. 

Inevitably, I was drawn to climb the major peakbagging lists of the White Mountain 4000 Footers, New England 4,000 Footers and New England's 100 Highest. Additionally, the less traveled but still daring quest to climb New England's 50 Finest Mountains provided further opportunities for adventure. However pointless it was to set off on such a quest was irrelevant after traveling over 10,000 miles and hiking over 1,000 miles to climb all those mountains. Especially with respect to the Hundred Highest and 50 Finest, many of the mountains were obscure, wild and relatively unexplored. Mt Baker, in particular, had just 20 names on the summit canister placed over two decades ago. 

The nearly 100 mile view from the infrequently hikes Mt Kibby in western Maine comes to mind when I think of "the best view I had"
No grouping of Maine photography would be complete without the Traveler and South Branch ponds photo
Boundary Bald is exceedingly gorgeous and infrequently hiked
The view from White Cap Mountain, looking towards Katahdin
Thinking about what I would consider to be the best mountains is difficult. Some were memorable for all the classic reasons; panoramic views and exquisite wilderness. Others were emblematic of states and regions. Others weren't particularly enjoyable at the time but involved substantial struggles though weather and only faint routes which are, of course, more fun saying you've done than doing. Nevertheless, several summits come to mind.

Maine's Most Memorable:  Frequently, Boundary Bald, past Jackman, makes my overall list for most memorable mountains. The total wilderness that surrounds it along with a view of the Appalachians and the Quebec lowlands was unique. Another close call for best overall mountain was the Traveler Loop. It isn't as obscure as Boundary Bald but the entire 10 mile loop involves circling an ancient volcano that actually feels much like the Cascades. Recently, I hiked the above Mt Kibby which had a near 100 mile view. Although low compared to the surrounding White Mountains, Speckled Mountain and Mt Caribou in Western Maine were as enjoyable as any 4,000 footer.

White Cap Mountain and Mt Abraham are good competitors for Maine's best view. White Cap stands at the crest of the 100-mile wilderness on the AT and is a magestic final summit before Northbound hikers finish on Katahdin. Even the Maine Mountain Guide says it is arguably the best view. Mt Abraham is far away from Katahdin but boasts an extensive alpine area which is comparable to the latter. It was curiously left out of the Appalachian Trail for the ugly but taller summit of Sugarloaf. 

Mars Hill is only 1,748ft tall but it is a major mountain in the rolling planes of Aroostook County
Little Summits: There were also some comparatively low summits which were part of my most memorable hikes. Mars Hill (1,748ft), doesn't even break 2,000 feet but it receives the first rays of sunlight during the summer and is a nice summit. Bald Mountain(1,260ft), the one near Penobscot Bay, had a unique view of the Penobscot River, Bay and the mountains of Acadia. Just outside of Baxter State Park is Mt Chase (2,415ft) which has an excellent vista for seeing all the major peaks of our favorite park. Jockey Cap (600ft) and Mt Cutler (1,232ft) were hills in Western Maine that I frequently bypassed for greater summits but I'm glad I finally paid them a visit.

Winter hiking had its challenges but it was so much nicer to have the trails to myself.
Pemi Loop, NH
New Hampshire's Most Memorable: I always found that hiking in New Hampshire was quite different from Maine. The trails are far more established and there is such a robust industry around it that I didn't get as much solitude as I did in Maine. However I did have a wonderful time climbing the 4,000 footers. The backpack traverse of Mt Waumbek and Mt Cabot contrasted the otherwise crowded trails of the southern Whites. The vicious Pemi Loop which included over a dozen summits was a fine excursion of the wilderness although it lived up to its reputation as being "the White Mountain ass-kicker". A classic but crowded Presidential Traverse rounds out my list of White Mountain death hikes. Of the non-4kers, Mt Smarts was probably the best. Mt Shaw, which isn't even 3,000 feet, was unique in that it was a nearly conical volcano with views of all the southern White Mountains as well as lake Winnipesaukee. 
Fall on the Long Trail
The Northeast Kingdom
Lake Willoughby, VT
Vermont's Most Memorable: Vermont was a nice change of pace from New Hampshire. The Green Mountains don't have the alpine vistas that the Whites do, but they made up for it with lush forests. The Breadloaf Range Hike gets to the heart of the Vermont wilderness and its sufficiently off the radar for most of the day hiking crowd. The Northeast Kingdom is the most memorable part of the state and the hikes included several novelties. Lake Willoughby, a fjord-like feature in the NEK, almost looked Scandinavian in nature. Nearby, Jay Peak rises just south of the Quebec border and serves as a perfect farewell mountain for Northbound Long Trail Hikers. Vermont's more historically valuable hikes were equally enjoyable including Mt Stratton, the birthplace of the Appalachian and Long Trails. Mt Dorset's small but important role in the history of Alcoholics Anonymous made for a poignant hike. Mt Philo, which is not even 1,000 feet in altitude, was a whimsical hike with a great view of Vermont's Lake Champlain. (Of course, Mt Abraham and Camels Hump were also great, but everybody knows that. 
With an apparent temperature of 60 below zero, Fahrenheit, my traverse of the Kinsman Ridge easily takes the cake for coldest day I've ever experienced
A brief break in the clouds as I hiked Mt Isolation
Cold Winter Hikes and Worst Weather: Its a bit strange that one of the draws to Mt Washington is "World's Worst Weather". Of course, cold weather means empty trails which is a nice draw for folks like me. I had several particularly cold winter days which lead to some memorable hikes. Mt Kinsman was absolutely frigid with the White Mountain Observatory forecasting ambient temperature of 20 below zero and windchill of 60 below zero. Wicked cold, ayuh... However, when the temperature was a balmy 20 to 30 degrees above zero, winter hiking was pleasant. The Hancocks, Osceolas, Mt Chocoura, Moat Mountain and the Tripyramids are normally overrun with people in the summer but I saw nobody there in March. I generally saved the more popular hikes for cold, snowy days which stifled the regular day trippers. 

Summer sometimes had days of torrential rain and wild thunderstorms. Mt Isolation is already a difficult hike and that was compounded by a summer Nor'Easter for me. Again, there were no gimmies. 

Some bushwhacks were enjoyable such as Grass Mountain, VT. Others were... memorable
Saddleback Mountain (in Northern Maine, not the ski resort) was a mountain better viewed than viciously bushwhacked
Toughest Bushwhacks: We take out hiking and bushwhacking quite seriously up here in New England. If one wants to climb the 100 highest, there's a fair bit of bushwhacking involved there! It is one of those things that you come to love and hate. Off-trail navigation does test the limits of your orienteering and tolerance for steep mountains without views. However it also allows the hiker to get to some places that seldom see any humanity, ever. As I mentioned earlier, Mt Baker is overall the toughest bushwhack I've done in New England. Other people who have done a fair amount of 'whacking (and not just the easy 100 highest 'whacks) would confirm this. Saddleback Mountain near Greenville was tough but not quite as bad. On the other hand, the final 0.3 miles to the true summit of Big Spencer was the toughest 0.3 miles of any bushwhack I've done. In New Hampshire, I encountered less difficulties with bushwhacking- Scar Ridge, Peak Above the Nubble and especially Vose Spur were really more of herd paths than bushwhacks. Obviously the sport of peakbagging has lead to this.
The erie summit of East Mountain, Vermont holds discovery of an abandoned Cold War Era Military Base
Hiking on the international boundary
Most Strange and Unique: Several hikes were noteworthy for their role in history or other strange sights. Of the strangest hikes I've ever done across the country, East Mountain in VT takes the cake. There was a massive Cold War military base on and near the summit that was creepy and almost unsettling. It was a reminiscent of a "Life after people" episode. There's also reports of survivalists, hermits and Hell's Angels hanging out here although that time appears to be long gone. The hike itself posed no danger but it felt haunted.

Another strange hike was the Unnamed Peak on the International Boundary between Quebec and Maine. Part of it involves hiking on the actual boundary swath between two countries. It was weird. 

Dorset Peak plays a small role in the history of Alcoholics Anonymous as being near the childhood home of Bill W. The summit itself wasn't much of a sight, but the area around it is steeped in Vermont and AA history which made the hike all the more enjoyable. 

Jerimoth Hill, in Rhode Island, is one of the shortest state high points in the country but it was once the country's most difficult high point to reach. This was because of a very tenuous relationship between hikers and the original landowners which evidently became violent on some occasions. These days it is easy, free and visitors are welcome. However it is funny to think of such an otherwise forgettable high point being harder to reach than Denali. 

The Cutler Coast in far eastern Maine, was as memorable as any summit
I hope I can return to Block Island, Rhode Island
Quechee Gorge, Vermont's Grand Canyon
Best Non-Mountain Hikes: I'm so goal driven that it's not very often that I hike a place that doesn't have a mountain summit to enjoy. Nevertheless, although peakbagging reigns supreme here in New England, several hikes are worth mentioning that don't get to a high point. The Cutler Coast is renowned in Maine as being rarely hiked but being frequently featured in photography of the State. Unlike other coastal areas of Maine, it seldom sees visitors as it is a very long ways away from anything. In the same vein, Gulf Hagas or "The Grand Canyon of Maine" was completely devoid of visitors despite its name. Vermont's answer to Gulf Hagas was Quechee Gorge which was more of a short walk than a hike.

Block Island, in Rhode Island, lived up to its well deserved reputation as being a better option for us outdoorsman than the nearby Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Unpretentious and accessible, it is not a wonder that the island makes the Nature Conservancy's short list of "Last Great Places". 

Moxie Falls, Maine
New England has so many gorgeous waterfalls that it is entirely possible that one could spend as much time hiking them as they would hiking the 4,000 Footers. Moxie Falls near the Forks, ME was a favorite place as were the more popular Glen Ellis Falls, Arethusa Falls and Ripley Falls all in New Hampshire
Quebec and New Brunswick aren't visited enough by Mainers, if you ask me
Best Canadian Hikes: Maine is an American peninsula surrounded on three sides by Canada. There's a lot to do up there! I wished I could have explored more of our northern neighbors but I did get some great trips here and there. Mt Albert, pictured above, was part of my extensive road trip around the Gaspesie Peninsula of Quebec. What I discovered was a whole other range of mountains which were not unlike the White Mountains but had distinct French Canadian flavor. I spent much time hiking around the International Appalachian Trail and wasting time on the coast- a splendid way to spend time in Canada. The "IAT" is Canada's compliment to the American Appalachian Trail and has as much historical and natural value. I would have liked to have spent more time hiking the IAT though PEI, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Another time, I suppose...

I could write books about how much I enjoyed my outdoor adventures up here in New England. Perhaps some day I will. For now, blog posts will have to do. I didn't do everything in New England though which is why I know I'll continue to return for further exploration and adventure. After all, there's still plenty left to do!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bushwhacking White Cap Mountain and North Kennebago Divide: Maine New England 100 Highest

As it turns out, the final hikes I accomplished on this recent bonanza were the two difficult summits of White Cap and North Kennebago Divide. Both peaks are reached though a combination of old logging roads, light to moderate 'whacking and herd paths. I was able to do them in 1/2 a day and combine them with East Kennebago Mountain.
The logging road leads to North Kennebago Divide and White Cap
The "Rangeley 6 Pack" is a famous group of remote mountains which inhabit the bottom of the New England 100 Highest List and often are the last summits people climb in their quest. Frequently you see the summit canisters signed with a terse "#100!!!!" which is a testament to their ruggedness and difficulty. Again, in the grand scheme of bushwhacking, these summits are not really difficult but to those who are used to well traveled and well signed trails, it is a bit daunting. Additionally, you have to be very familiar with the Maine Gazetteer and driving on logging roads to finish these summits. Some people set off to climb the NEHH and find no difficultly in bagging the likes of Baldpate and Nancy but simply never work up the desire to drive 10-20 miles on decrepit logging roads and spend most of a day fighting through spruce for a summit without views. Its a strange game.

Here's an area map-

Getting to the "trailhead" is a hell of a trip. The logging roads are in pretty good shape because they are active. However there are multitudes of logging trucks which travel these roads and you better be sure to pull off well to the side of the road if you see one coming. As it turns out, I busted a flat the furthest I could be from anywhere- things like this happen well out there.

Regardless, I parked pretty far away from the end of the logging road you see above which significantly increased my mileage. I think I could have driven further, but I was glad I didn't. From the clearing at the end of the logging road, I stayed generally to the right and found a very well trodden herd path almost all the way to the saddle between NKD and White Cap. Note that there are several smaller herd paths along the way that can confuse things.

The easiest part was getting to the Saddle. White Cap wasn't too difficult whereas NKD was essentially a bushwhack. I started with White Cap- you can see on the map in satellite view how there's a very well-demarcated route that comes within about 200' of the summit of White Cap. This is an excellent trail and easy to find. The trail comes to the height of the land and then there are a few cairns to mark the herd path to White Cap. Overall, it is a very easy bag (considering it is in the famous Rangeley 6-pack).
Bushwhack? No, not really
Great herd path, almost as good as any trail
Small cairn in the middle of the trail marking the herd path to White Cap
There's nothing much to see on White Cap. I perhaps saw a fleeting view of Boundary Peak, but it was difficult to say. I quickly came down from it and to the saddle between NKD and White Cap.

North Kennebago Divide was a bit of a different story. While I wouldn't classify it as a particularly hazardous bushwhack, it wasn't exactly the well marked herd path that White Cap was. I wished I had hiked this one first and then followed that nice trail all the way down from the earlier summit. Oh well. From the saddle between the two, I essentially followed a combination of herd paths and my own path all the way to the summit. It took about as long to get to NKD from the saddle as it did to get from White Cap from the bottom. 
My signature on the register
NKD summit canister
So yes, it was a pretty mid-range bushwhack without a lot to say other than that there weren't many views and most of it was though logging land. It wasn't exactly something I'd want to do again, but maybe a winter ascent would be different.

That's #95 of 100!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hiking/Bushwhacking East Kennebago Mountain, Maine: New England 100 Highest

Situated between Stratton and Rangeley is East Kennebago Mountain, a tall and isolated summit which makes the New England 100 Highest List. I climbed this in a 1/2 day along with a few other summits in the area.
A nice undercast in the valley separating east Kennebago and the Saddleback Range
After spending the night back on the US side of the border, I headed towards Rangeley to hike East Kennebago Mountain. This is a surprisingly prominent ridge that makes the northern half of the valley of the South Branch of the Dead River. I find the Route 16 drive between Rangeley and Stratton through this valley to be one of the finest mountain drives in the state. East Kennebago interested me for that reason. Like nearly every mountain in the area, getting to the "trailhead" involves a creative combination of logging roads and snowmobile trails. As such, I had to use my car, mountain bike and feet to get to the summit!

Here's a rough idea of what I'm talking about-

View East Kennebago Mountain Hiking Map in a larger map

As always, the Maine Gazetteer was invaluable to getting to the "trailhead". Looking at the map above, I drove the black line which was passable by passenger cars and then biked the brown part to the parking area for high clearance vehicles. I should note that it does follow the strict rules for hiking New England's 100 Highest as I didn't bike further than the highest reachable spot by a high clearance vehicle. As you can see from the satellite view, the parking area is evident. 

I took off on foot on the logging road which was very overgrown but there was a clear "herd" path through the long grass that was evident. Clearly many people have hiked this mountain in the same pursuit. The logging road goes though an area of past clearing before getting into the higher woods. At that point is looks almost like a regular trail. Before too long, a few cairns appear on the left which mark the herd path. If you pass them, you will cross the little stream which separates the West summit from the East summit. See the topo map for help.
For this mountain, the herd path was as obvious as they come

Walking the "boundary line"
The logging road is overgrown but very obvious
The generally accepted route up the mountain involves hiking along some boundary line which is well marked with yellow blazes and then going straight for the summit once this line makes it to the height of the land. Overall, it was was one of the easiest bushwhacks I've ever done. In fact, it really is just a trail to the summit. Others have reported having trouble with finding the trail, perhaps I'm just used to bushwhacking and following the pretty evident signs of travel. 

There were many different cairns and bushwhack paths that lead from the logging road towards the summit but the best trail is marked with a cairn on the north side of the trail and an easily-missed yellow stake that could be mistaken for a tree. I missed it on the first pass but with careful lookout, found it on the second pass. After that the "boundary" line or town line was so well marked I hardly had to think about where I was going.

Walking to the height-of-the-land was pretty obvious as was the trail that left the boundary line and headed almost directly up the summit. I was on the top before 1000 after starting at 830. I didn't even have much of a time finding the summit canister-
The summit canister faced away from the trail but it wasn't hard to find
Overall impressions, it was probably one of the easiest "un-trailed" hikes of NEHH and I'd hardly call this a bushwhack after others that I've done at this point. On average, this mountain is somewhere between #85-#95 on their quest so it is likely that you've done tougher hikes in the past. None the less, it is a great trail though somewhat of an alpine wilderness which makes the journey nice. It can be easily combined with others in the "Rangeley 6-Pack".

That' exactly what I did- headed off the mountain and headed over to White Cap and North Kennebago Divide. I'd be up to #95 before the day was done.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Quebec Hike: Mt Gosford

Mt Gosford is part of Quebec's small but nice slice of the White Mountains. The Mont Gosford ZEC is famous to us New Englanders as being a fine site for an approach of Boundary Peak but it is a great park in itself. The mountain is one of the tallest in southern Quebec.
Mont Gosford is actually part of the same White Mountains that make New Hampshire famous
In the far corner of northwestern Maine lies a curiously drawn border which has the appearance of teeth. The Quebec-Maine border is a spectacularly rugged region of the continent that must have been laborious to scout and place at some point. The border runs through many of the highest mountains in the state of Maine and the province of Quebec. It also mostly follows the watersheds of major rivers. I've always enjoyed traveling and hiking on the Border Mountains. Driving up from the Maine side, the mountains get steeper and less populous until you crest on the border, then you cross into the lowlands and farm lands of Quebec's eastern townships. In Maine, it seems like the further you travel North, the more sparsely populated the area gets but this is only until you cross the Quebec border and then you run into farm country and the suburbs of Quebec. However Quebec has one fine section of the mountains though Mt Gosford ZEC

The Mont Gosford area is famous in Quebec for its hunting and hiking opportunities and the residents of the area are every bit as rough and tumble as the Mainers on the other side of the border. Mt Gosford is well hiked but remains as a wilderness. The Sentiers Frontaliers Trail of Quebec takes advantage of old logging roads, trails and the boundary swath as a long distance hiking trail which includes many of the tallest summits of the area. I suppose you could consider it a Mini-Appalachian Trail for Quebec. (although, the International Appalachian Trail of Quebec is also a good long distance hike)
The trails of Mont Gosford are very well maintained
I did hike the Boundary Peak that remains unnamed as a quest to hike New England's 100 Highest Mountains. After this, I headed back towards Mt Gosford for a nice afternoon hike. It is just 4,9 km to the summit on a well-maintained path. The summit itself has a quintessentially alpine environment with open stone paths and a summit tower with panoramic views.

I was able to make it to the summit in just under 1.5 hours. It was a little steep in some sections but nothing that any New England hiker is not accustomed to. I would recommend buying a map or bringing a map as all the distances and signs are in French (obviously) and it can be confusing to those of us who know not a lick of the language!
Looking directly across the border in to Maine
The summit and summit tower
A thunderstorm rolled in and prevented me from spending too much time on the summit
Many trails left from the summit which invited long-distance backpackers and thru-hikers. I would have liked to spent more time in the area. Unfortunately I missed the nearby Mont Megantic National Park which is an isolated mondadnock not unlike the Grand Monadnock in New Hampshire. Also, it is a dark sky reserve, for those who are astronomy buffs. This part of Quebec has as much appeal to us outdoorsy types as does Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. I hope to return someday.

Read. Plan. Get Out There!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Maine/Quebec Hike: Boundary Peak (Monuments 445-446), New England 100 Highest

Boundary Peak, as it is called, is probably the most bizarre hike on the entire 100 Highest List. Getting there is quite the trip and the preferred method of hiking it is using a combination of ATV trails and walking on the actual international boundary. It is also best approached from the Mt Gosford ZEC located in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.
Walking along the international border to the summit of Boundary Peak, ME/QC
Bring your passport for this one, boys and girls! Boundary Peak, on the actual boundary between Maine and Quebec is the only New England 100 Highest Mountain that is best approached from Canada. It is a peak that hold little importance to anyone but is frequently hiked simply for the novelty of it. As reported by all knowing Wikipedia, Boundary Peak also happens to be the highest mountain on roughly 3,100 miles of the Canada-US border until Montana. Another strange reason to hike this mountain, I suppose!

Boundary Peak, also known as Panther Peak to some locals, can be bushwhacked from the US side (and it is a fierce bushwhack) or it can be hiked relatively painlessly from the Quebec side. So, pick your poison- I chose the easy way. It also allows for the hiker to explore the Mt Gosford ZEC or the equivalent of a state park in the United States. The highlight of the park is not the border peak but its namesake, Mt Gosford. It would be a shame to come all this way and not hike the park's best mountain. Hiking Gosford in the afternoon after hiking the Border Peak would be a great day of hiking. 

Here's a hiking map to help with directions-

Directions can obviously be very confusing, especially if you're not good at the metric system and don't know French. PapaBear has posted fine directions which I followed to the "T". I personally parked at the first parking area noted above but it probably wouldn't have been too much of a problem to drive all the way to the second. There's a large open area at the second parking area and the trail leaves off from the right.

From there, the trail crosses a stream and comes to a very steep ATV trail with a hunting sign in French. The ATV trail makes a pretty direct climb up to the border and is very clear. Apparently this is one of Quebec's premier moose hunting areas so it wasn't surprising that everything was clearly well traveled. Once you hit the boundary, it is a simple matter of walking the swath.

What a peculiar sight the boundary was. Every 1/2 mile or so there is a boundary monument in concrete with a 2 foot post. Otherwise there's an obvious ATV track going on the Quebec side and just stout vegetation on the right. It was strange and somewhat mysterious. There was no sign of any border patrol but I carried my passport, just in case. There were 2 very large moose blinds and probably 20 salt licks on the way. Again, it was a very odd sight.
Boundary Monuments
Moose Blind
You actually have to hike about 3 smaller summits before getting to the true summit. It doesn't take too long, but getting to the boundary itself is only 1/2 the battle. The "summit" has a canister on the American side and it is marked as "Panther Peak". I signed the summit canister and recognized about 1/2 the names. On average, people were saying this was somewhere between #90 and #95 on their 100 highest quest- a testament to the remoteness of this mountain. Some people actually did the extremely difficult bushwhack from Snow Cupsuptic, North Kennebago Divide and White Cap! That's 14 or 15 miles of bushwhacking!

Due to the nature of the boundary swath, there were great views however I later hiked Mt Gosford which had superior views. Again, don't come all the way out here and not hike Mt Gosford.
Great views!
It was strange to be hiking on the international boundary. You couldn't do this in my home state of California!
Miles and miles of mountains
I was down from the mountain before lunch time. This was good news because I was able to hike Mt Gosford before the afternoon thunderstorms. The trailhead is passed on the way to the Boundary trailhead so it wasn't too hard to get back to it. 

Read. Plan. Get Out There. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Maine Hike: The nearly 100 mile view from Mt Kibby, New England's 50 Finest

I hiked Mt Kibby on a lovely August afternoon and was treated with a *nearly* 100 mile view from its summit to the summit of Katahdin. As far as I can tell, this is the longest line of sight I've ever had hiking on this coast.
Mt Kibby and the new windfarm
After climbing the nearby Mt Snow, I turned north and headed down a bunch of improved logging roads to the trailhead of Mt Kibby. As others have discovered, the Boundary Mountains of Maine are a pristine wilderness with hundreds of opportunities for adventure. Its mostly just logging roads, ATV and snowmobile trails which permeate the area although the wind farm has made the roads more traveled. The creation of the wind farm, like all hot topics in Maine, created considerable controversy between environmental groups, landowners, residents and outdoorsy types. Regardless of your ideological leanings or feelings, I think we can all chuckle at the fact that Maine seems to have some of the fiercest local politics in the country. The continued debate over the environmental benefits of wind power and its negative impacts of it will probably forever be a topic of substantial debate.

Driving up the access road to the wind turbines was somewhat of an adventure in itself. What was once a barely mapped logging road is now somewhat of a dirt road super highway which is used by outdoor enthusiasts, locals and workers alike. It was weird to see so many vehicles on the trail- there's been other logging roads where I'm confident I could have pitched a tent in broad daylight in the middle of the road and never worry about getting run over. 

Here's an area map with driving directions, the trail and the area of the Kibby Mountain Wind Project-

View Kibby Mountain Hiking Trail in a larger map

As you can see, it takes a long time to get to Kibby Mountain from basically anywhere. However, it is nearby the Chain of Ponds area which is an excellent place to camp overnight.

The Kibby Mountain trail begins off of the access road to some of the wind turbines and the trail/road is not marked. You can park right off to the side of the road but be careful that you don't obstruct the road, even by a centimeter!
The logging road is actually quite nice
It is just 2.3 miles to the summit with about 1,100 feet of elevation gain; quite tame, actually. The first 0.9 miles are walking on an old logging road and then a fork appears and you go right. From here, the road narrows to a trail and it is about 1.4 miles to the summit. There aren't any real views until you get to the actual summit and you have to climb and old fire tower. Mind you, the fire tower is ancient and some of the wooden boards have rotted though. The cross beams appear to be in good shape so just stick to those. It is worth the climb because the view is uniquely situated so that you can see nearly every tall mountain in the state-
Attempt at a panorama, looking southwest
Mt Katahdin can be seen from the summit but is not apparent in this picture without a telephoto lens
I don't know if it is always this magnificent or if I happened to catch it on a good day, but Mt Kibby was well worth the 2.3 mile hike. I'd certainly do it again. I camped over night at the Chain of Ponds and readied myself for tackling Boundary Peak!

Read. Plan. Get Out There!