Saturday, September 22, 2012

More Baxter State Park - North Brother and Fort - August 30, 2012

After getting out from our Katahdin hike, we took the 24-mile drive (1.5 hours on 15-20 mph roads!) over to the other side of Baxter State Park and Nesowadnehunk Campground, where we had 2 more nights reserved in a lean-to. It was very quiet on this side of the park, with only one other lean-to occupied and one or two tent sites in the entire campground. Water, we discovered, was available at a bridge near the ranger station (1/4 mile away, but you can drive there). You had to lower a bucket on a rope into the water and lift it up, then filter from there. Kind of fun at the end of a long day though, with terrific views all around.

Around our lean-to on both nights rabbits came out at dusk to munch on the grass. They were mostly un-afraid of us as long as we didn't do anything too crazy, we frequently walked within 5 feet of them without them doing more than pausing their eating momentarily to see what was up. Very nice experience with lots of coyotes howling at night too.

Rabbits at the neighboring lean-to

The Brothers/Coe from the lean-to at sunset

Doubletop Mountain

An example of the lean-to accommodations at Nesowadnehunk

The next morning (8-30) we woke up to do our final hike of the trip. The original goal had been to do not just North Brother, the only other 4000-footer in Baxter State Park, but also South Brother, Coe, and the trail-less Fort Mountain, all on the same ridgeline and on the New England 100-Highest List. In fact, there are only 6 peaks on said list in the park, these 4 and of course the 2 Katahdin peaks. But The hike to do all 4 of these mountains in one day was not something my dad was up to, and honestly, I had my doubts about even North Brother due to how my knee had been feeling all week.

We decided the day before to go for North Brother, and if time and energy permitted, Fort Mountain, which is reached from a faint herd path through thick spruce off of North Brother. I will return another time for more Baxter adventures (hopefully next summer!). We woke up to a nice-looking day, the best of the week so far. The Marston Trail starts about 4 miles down the road from Nesowadnehunk, and is a relatively short 15-minute drive away (again, the roads in Baxter are narrow, windy, and gravel, doing much over the posted speed limit of 20mph is optimistic at best).

Doubletop from the Marston Trailhead
Trailhead - we go to North Brother today since it is a 4000-footer

Earlier portion of Marston Trail - pretty nice
The Marston Trail was a nice change from the trails near Katahdin. Most of it was a fairly mild grade, with only a couple fairly brief steep stretches, and the footing was good for most of its duration. We actually made reasonable time despite the long climb (over 3000 feet, 4.5 miles to North Brother).

Trail junction, go right to Coe, left to the col between the Brothers

Doubletop Mountain from a ways up the Marston Trail

South Brother and Coe to the South

Doubletop Mountain from near the top of North Brother

South Brother

South Brother with Coe behind

Doubletop Mountain

After a steep stretch following a small pond, you reach a flat stretch and eventually reach the col between the Brothers. Here the Marston Trail turns North to North Brother, while the Mount Coe Trail joins in from the South where it passes near South Brother and drops down a slide from the summit of Coe. From here, the Marston Trail was very overgrown and a few spots had rough footing. It would be nice if some brushing of the trail was done here, but it wasn't terribly hard to follow either. Eventually we reached the open summit of North Brother, with terrific 360-views. And winds near what we'd had the day before on Katahdin. We ducked down just past the summit to get out of the wind and snack.

South Brother and the tip of Coe from North Brother

Fort Mountain - next up

Katahdin massif

The Travelers

Travelers behind Fort

From this spot we could see a few carins marking the start of the herd path over to Fort. Back in the 1940s, a mail plane blown off course in a storm, thinking it was over Bangor and thus flying around 4000 feet as a result, struck the side of Fort Mountain. Most of the plane is still there to this day, near the summit. We hoped as a part of our visit to go see this plane crash, and we could even see what looked to be the tailplane a little below the right summit (true summit is actually on left, despite what it looks like in the above pictures) from North Brother.

We followed the herd path, and it was certainly that. The trail is VERY thick and overgrown, and while we never lost the path, it was really tough to see in spots. Whenever it seemed to stop we'd have to look carefully in the brush around us around foot level to find the path. There were several orange flags along the way, but never at the questionable spots, so they really only served to confirm we were on the route. The descent off North Brother is about 500 feet, as Fort Mountain at 3867' just barely makes the 200-foot prominence rule. The col opened up a little for a short stretch, before a bunch of small scrambles to get to Fort's ridgeline.

There are only a couple pictures along this route, as for the most part all we had was branches in the face and the occasional glimpse of Fort or North Brother depending on which way one looked. Unless you are comfortable off-trail, I do not recommend going to Fort, it's very close to a bushwhack while not actually being a bushwhack. We took about 1hr 10 min in each direction between the summits, despite it only being roughly 1 mile long, due to the slow going.

North Brother from the North Brother/Fort col

Katahdin massif from Fort Mountain

Old relic form the plane crash someone brought to the main summit of Fort

One of 2 nearly-identical-height summits on Fort Mountain, picture taken form the true one (with the plane relic)

North Brother from Fort

Mullen Mountain

Travelers in distance

Main Fort Mountain summit region towards Katahdin
 We reached the main summit of Fort, with its 360-views (and wind as well) right at our pre-determined turn-around-time for the day. Thus we didn't venture down the ridge and drop to the plane crash, that would really have needed close to 2 more hours to get there and have a good amount of time to explore. Instead we waded through the brush back to North Brother and headed back to the car for the day.

We saw no one on the trails this entire day, and according to the log book at the trailhead, only one other person, over 1 hour before us, headed up that day, and they went to Coe. We were able to maintain roughly a book-time overall pace on everything except the herd path to Fort, pretty much in-line with when my father and I used to hike together before. The trail was far better for walking than the trails around Katahdin with all the bouldering.

That night we again slept in the lean-to at Nesowadnehunk and left early in the morning to head back to Massachusetts. Baxter State Park was absolutely incredible, and I am already working on figuring out how to get up there again next summer. There are a bunch of other things I'd love to hike, including Coe/South Brother, the Travelers, Doubletop, Katahdin again, and so on.

In all the days I spent in Maine hiking this summer, I never saw a single moose, which are more common than people in the state allegedly...hahaha!

That night while pumping some water at Nesowadnehunk's bridge, we played around with our cell phone's cameras a little (not the camera I normally take pictures with), and I got this stunning sunset picture using the HDR feature. Nice way to end on!

Sunset from Nesowadnehunk

Peaks: North Brother (4151', NE4K), Fort Mountain (3867', NEHH)
Trails: Marston Trail and herd path out-and-back
Mileage: ~10.5 miles (9 miles r.t. for N. Brother, plus about 3/4 mile each way for Fort)
Elevation Gain: ~3700 feet

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