On June 3, 2018, we hiked Burnt Meadow Mountain in Brownfield, Maine, via the Burnt Meadow Mountain Trail (blue blazes) and Twin Brook Trail (yellow blazes), an approximately 3.3 mile loop (took us about 2.5 hours at a relaxed pace). These trails are well-maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and the Friends of Burnt Meadow Mountain.
This is a favorite hike of ours, done many times before, including when daughter was much younger. Brownfield is less than an hour from Portland, and during mid-late summer, the wild blueberries all the way to the summit make for a pleasant distraction and motivator for younger children.
As usual, the best description of this hike is in the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. An optional add-on to the loop is Stone Mountain, reached by a .7 mile spur off the Twin Brook Trail. We decided to save that extra peak for when the blueberries are ready.
The Burnt Meadow Trail took us through shaded woods and over exposed rock faces up a short, steep climb to the North Peak (1,575 ft). On the way, we saw hawks wheeling below us, and visibility was outstanding on a sunny, cool June day.
The broad, open summit of Burnt Meadow is a great place for a picnic. We didn’t linger too long, though, just enjoyed some jerky and proceeded across to the Twin Brook Trail. A large cairn marked the point to start our descent.
The Twin Brook Trail was a rolling course back to its junction with the Burnt Meadow Mountain Trail, and from there back to the parking lot. One of the reasons we love this hike is its proximity to the Brownfield Town Beach, which is a great place to cool off in the summertime (Note: While dogs are plentiful on Burnt Meadow Mountain trails, they are not allowed at the beach after June 1st).
Sweetie’s Ice Cream in Standish is another great way to cool off on the way back to the Portland area. We didn’t make it this time, as they weren’t open on our way home (they opened at noon, and we did a morning hike), but it’s a must-stop. We did, however, stop at the Whistle Stop General Store in Baldwin to grab a hamburger, fries, and a coffee, all of which we enjoyed.
This blog has been quiet for a few weeks. When you’re out of town, whether for business or vacation, you can easily get locked in to indoor spaces because of the comfort of a hotel room or the challenge of unfamiliar surroundings, particularly in a place that seems like it’s hopelessly locked in suburban sprawl. But that would be a shame, as there are always new trails to explore via hiking and/or trail running which may hold surprisingly different flora and fauna.
I spent a few weeks in northern Virginia, and found that there are wild spaces to be found- not as wild as Maine, but still beautiful and historic, and blooming in what seemed to be a full season ahead of the Northeast. I used the All Trails app, National Park Service, state and county government websites, and word-of-mouth to find parks. Here are a few:
A $7 admission fee (according to signs at the park, it was scheduled to go to $10 as of May 1, 2018, but I believe this was rolled back) gets you entrance to a beautiful forest sanctuary in Triangle, VA with miles of trails (see official park map here). I chose a fairly aggressive loop from the Visitor Center parking lot, using the Laurel, South Valley and North Valley Trails, Burma Road, Scenic Drive, Oak Ridge and (again) South Valley and Laurel Trails to create a tour of the park that spanned almost 15 miles.
Like the other trails and parks I will describe below, this park appeared to have sustained heavy trail damage from storms, and trail crews had been busy. The loop took me through rolling hills, and included waterfalls, dogwood blossoms, and a large variety of wildflowers.
There were also animals to be found, including birds, butterflies, frogs, and what looked like a large water snake (I had no idea what “large” was- more on that at Mason Neck).
This was a beautiful, uncrowded, quiet park, minutes from terrible I-95 traffic and shopping malls, and a welcome respite. Originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as the Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area (RDA), it is a triumph of land management, including the reclamation of an old pyrite mine and its former pollution of the surrounding streams.
Mason Neck, located in Lorton, VA, is a peninsula on the Potomac River, with miles of hiking trails (see park map here), and water/paddling activities available, as part of the Occoquan Water Trail. Again, $7 for out-of-state residents. I was there on a weekday evening, and took the Kane’s Creek (1.2 mi) and Eagle Spur (1.29 mi) Trails, as well as the Bayview Trail (1.02 mi). This is a place to see bald eagles, and an observation blind sits at the end of the Eagle Spur Trail.
I didn’t see any eagles or osprey. What I ended up seeing on the Bayview Trail were snakes. Lots of snakes. Big water snakes.
But I didn’t bother the snakes, and they didn’t bother me. Mason Neck is, again, right next to the I-95 corridor, but a beautiful, well-maintained park. Each trail has its own self-guided tour, with brochures available at the map/kiosk next to each trailhead, and plenty of green space and benches to enjoy the scenery.
Locust Shade Park is sandwiched between I-95 and U.S. Route One, but has some great trails in between, with a listed length of four miles (see map here), full of birds, flowers, and lizards. A word of caution – the AllTrails app appears to have this trail transposed a mile or so to the east, which would put someone who used the app for navigation at the gates of the Quantico Marine base.
I visited this park in the late afternoon, and the nearby highway was jammed with traffic, making me feel lucky to walk or run on trails. The terrain was rolling, with a few hills and streams, and made for a pleasant hike, rather than the usual rocky challenge of Maine trails. The trail also has a Fitness Trail loop, with self-guided stations for exercises.
One thing that makes Locust Shade special is its proximity to the National Museum of the Marine Corps, and the Locust Shade trails connect at their northeast terminus to the silent looping trails of memorials looping around the museum by the side of well-laid brick walkways. Nobody does tradition like the Marine Corps.
Government Island is a small park and historic site, originally a quarry purchased for the federal government in 1791 by Pierre L’Enfant, where freestone was extracted for construction of the White House and the Capitol. Navigation using Google Maps can be difficult, but using the physical address, 191 Coal Landing Road, Stafford, Virginia, seemed to work.
Admission is free, and the trails are only about a 1.5 mile out and back loop around the island on Aquia Creek (see the trail map above), full of birds and trees.
So, next time you find yourself somewhere different with time on your hands, look up a trail, and start walking. You never know what you might see.
Mt. Cutler (1,232 ft.) is a relatively short (appx. 3 mi. loop) hike in Hiram, Maine, with impressive views along the way (here is a detailed map and guide: MtCutlerTrails2017Rev2C-1). The trails, maintained by AMC volunteers, are made possible by private landowners.
The Barnes Trail, marked with red blazes, ascends from the former railroad depot off Mountain View Road through overgrown Merrill Park, where a (shallow) abandoned gold mine can be accessed from a side trail to the left. The trail quickly ascends up rocky ledges to points overlooking Hiram and the Saco River below.
The ridge walk contains great views and blueberries in the summer. The Barnes trail does not extend to the actual summit of Mt. Cutler, which is on private land (there is no marked trail to the summit), but turns hard left at the notch below the summit, where it meets the Saco Ridge Trail, completing the loop down to the parking area.
Thru-hikers can have many different reasons to attempt the Appalachian Trail (AT), whether it be the fulfillment of a dream, a personal challenge, or any number of life events, and in Hike It Forward: Hiking the Appalachian Trail Strong, Safe and in the Spirit, (self-published, 2015) David Rough recounts his successful 2014 thru-hike from Georgia to Maine, as part of an “unavoidable call” and an effort to improve tuition assistance at the Christian school system in Ohio of which he was Academic Dean at the time. Rough blogged about his hike in the Hike It Forward blog.
Rough (trail name: Rowdy) details his preparations for the hike, and how these preparations stood up to the 2,186 mile test, including gear and clothing. In addition, Rough’s book includes three bonus features: Trail Preparation, Trail Journal, and a State-by-State guide. A bibliography includes everything from A Walk in The Woods to The Lord of the Rings.
Rough breaks down AT lingo, most importantly explaining the HYOH concept: Hike Your Own Hike, respecting the different goals, motivations, and methods of other hikers. Rough also converts the “trail magic” concept to “trail blessings,” which reflects Rough’s Christian faith. Most of the blessings involve food, which is central to the thoughts and well-being of thru-hikers.
The book reveals a daily life on the trail containing surprises, nasty falls, and unexpected acts of kindness. These vignettes range from uplifting conversations with other thru-hikers, most of them referenced by trail name, to lighthearted musings on moose encounters, to an incident with a peeping tom at a hostel.
These stories illustrate lessons learned by Rough, and his trail journal provides a sense of scale regarding the sheer mileage of a thru-hike, and its effect on his mood. Additionally, Rough is careful to credit his wife and sister, and the many others who supported his hike, showing that while an AT hike is inherently a solitary endeavor, the added motivation and encouragement to see it through can be the difference between success and failure.
Rough also discusses the challenges faced in adjusting to normal life again after his AT experience, and how small things like shoes, being inside, and changing his diet caused stress, and how Rough dealt with this, and how reconnecting with friends from the AT cushioned some of the loss felt upon leaving the trail. Rough concludes:
The Appalachian Trail is forever etched into my life. God allowed me to experience a path that few have walked. My hike was so uniquely mine and the spiritual journey so personally embraced me that words cannot describe its intimacy. A one hundred and fifty-two day walk incorporates 3,648 hours of experiences and people and blessing and adversity and adventure. To capture it in a book, to recall it in words, to reflect it in pictures, or even to fully understand it myself seems to evade my abilities.
Overall, Rough’s narrative effectively describes his initial romantic view of the trail being replaced by hardship, but then re-forged, one step at a time, hiking his own hike, into an appreciation of the trail as it is.
Katahdin is the grandfather of Maine mountains, and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It’s hard to describe the way Katahdin’s bulk dominates the landscape without actually seeing it for yourself. Dad and daughter climbed Katahdin’s Baxter Peak (5,268 ft) via the Chimney Pond, Cathedral, and Saddle Trails (total R/T appx 10.5 mi) on September 9, 2017 to cap off our spring and summer of hiking. Dad had previously hiked Katahdin via the Hunt Trail (11 mi R/T), and via the Helon Taylor, Knife Edge, Saddle, and Chimney Pond Trails (total R/T appx 10.2 mi), but this was daughter’s first ascent.
Here is the Katahdin trail map from the Baxter State Park website, which wisely suggests allowing 8 to 12 hours for a Katahdin hike, and has all the info you will need for a successful hike:
Climbing Katahdin requires some prior planning, due to the remoteness of Baxter State Park. We stayed in Millinocket the night before our climb, as well as the night after, as not much was available for campsites within the park. We booked late, and due to a good deal, stayed both nights at a large suite in the Parks Edge Inn, which was more space than we needed, but it would be a perfect arrangement for a larger group of hikers, as it was cozy, friendly, there was a kitchen, and there were plenty of places to sleep.
Our day started early, with the drive out to wait in line by the park’s gate. Luckily, dad had secured a parking pass for the Roaring Brook campground beforehand, and we weren’t turned away, as some in line were. Definitely plan ahead, and allow yourself the time to get to Baxter State Park’s gate, as well as the time for the slow drive on the Park’s dirt roads to wherever your trailhead is, as this will always take longer than you think.
We parked at Roaring Brook, took a look at the scale model of the mountain at the ranger station there, signed the log, and began our trek beside Roaring Brook on the Chimney Pond trail.
Chimney Pond is beautiful, and a great jumping-off point for multiple hikes, as well as family-friendly ranger-led programs in the summertime. With ominous clouds moving in, we signed the trail log, got advice from the ranger at Chimney Pond to avoid descending the Cathedral Trail, and decided to make our push up Cathedral, and to return via the Saddle Trail. We decided we would forgo the Knife Edge, and take it the next time the weather allowed us to.
Dad and daughter started the steep climb, and mom, who had accompanied us on this trip and hiked with us as far as the Chimney Pond Campground, then turned back to wait at the Roaring Brook lot for us as we climbed to the top. We felt strong, and our packs were intentionally light, focused on water, food, and light rain gear (in that order).
Dad/daughter each carried a 3 Liter Osprey water bladder (dad is one of those humans who just flat-out uses a lot of water), and we left daughter’s less full to reduce weight. Water on Katahdin is crucial, as straining leg muscles can easily dehydrate and cramp up, making for a difficult trip. In addition to water, eating bananas, and/or taking small amounts of salt and magnesium with food can help counter this cramping.
We encountered several other pairs of hikers, who we spoke to briefly as we leap-frogged our way past and then behind them again during rest breaks. Cathedral was a serious climb, with a few hand-over-hand scrambles to follow the blue blazes.
We didn’t linger long at the summit of Baxter Peak, or stay for our planned lunch break. There was a large crowd that had come up the Hunt Trail, and the clouds did not look friendly. When dad did this hike the first time, it had been an icy affair, with stinging hail and ice, combined with a steady rain, and sure enough, we heard distant thunder, and started to feel a few drops.
We scrambled down the Saddle Trail as the rain began to pick up, and about halfway down, dad’s feet went out from under him on a wet rock, and he took the weight on his wrist. The pain was dazzling, and we looked at the joint and the hand, but besides the discomfort, it appeared to be fine, so dad pulled it into his stomach to minimize the jostling as we descended, and we kept going.
The rain really began coming down, and we stopped in the treeline to put covers on our packs, and for daughter to don her rain jacket. The rain began to lighten while we stopped to enjoy some PB+J in a covered shelter at the Chimney Pond Campground. From there, we covered the ground quickly down the Chimney Pond Trail to the Roaring Brook lot, and our truck.
Getting back in the truck, dad realized that he couldn’t shift, steer, or turn the keys in the ignition with his right hand, and used his left to reach over the wheel for these tasks. As we wrote in our brief post on this hike to start this blog back in September 2017, it turned out, after X-rays a couple weeks later, that the wrist was broken. Bummer. Again, a great argument for the utility of hiking poles on a slippery descent, which would likely have mitigated this injury.
Daughter and dad agreed that Katahdin was the most challenging mountain of the summer, far surpassing Washington. We were happy with our route, and would suggest it to those tackling Katahdin when the Knife Edge is not a good idea due to weather. Cathedral offered us incredible views, and we used our rest breaks to turn and survey our progress and the landscape. We are looking forward to hiking Katahdin again, as well as exploring more of the newly established Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.
A Post Script….
We did enjoy a great mini-hike the following day on the way home, as we had a full day available to us. We stopped on the way south at the Orono Bog Walk, a 1-mile boardwalk loop that starts at the Bangor City Forest.
This was fascinating, particularly for the opportunity to see pitcher plants, which we had seen in the Barren-Chairback range during our 100 Mile hike, and for the many varieties of birds along the route.
It was also a relatively easy loop, and an opportunity to stretch our legs after Katahdin the day before. Larger loops are well-marked and available for running and walking within the adjacent City Forest. Just get there early- parking was at a premium.
Maine’s seasons are different than those of our neighbors to the south- sometimes the resolutions of the New Year are still buried under several feet of snow, even at the beginning of Daylight Savings. I believe it’s important to get outside in the winter either way, but this article will focus on planning for the traditional hiking season.
Step 1: Create a difficult, even unrealistic goal.
How we did it in 2017: In the winter of 2016-2017, we decided to attempt the 100 Mile Wilderness. The difficulty of this task forced us to create a training schedule, and to prepare our gear and bodies one piece at a time for a “capstone” hike, so that we were not fully ready for it until we stepped onto the trail. The training then became part of the journey, instead of being a series of unrelated excursions. And we also had a blast doing it.
How you can do it in 2018: Pick a goal, and plan for it. Check out this great article by Carey Kish on Ten Great Hikes You Should Do in 2018. Or this one, again from Maine Today, on 10 Brag-Worthy Hikes in New England. Pick one outside your comfort zone, something you haven’t done before. If you are a more experienced hiker or backpacker, do the same with longer, multi-day hikes. Try the Section Hiker blog for ideas. Great ideas in the area include Maine’s Bigelow Range, the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire, and even the Long Trail in Vermont. Or maybe you are tired of explaining why you have lived in Maine for X number of years, and never been to Katahdin’s summit. Make it challenging.
Step 2: Make yourself accountable, find a partner if you can, and lock in your plans.
How we did it in 2017: Daughter and dad agreed on our training plan and final goal. Hiking together is fun. We told people (family, friends, co-workers, gear salespeople) we were going to hike the 100 Mile Wilderness together. That made it hard to back out. We also set aside vacation days for the attempt, and later, booked a Baxter State Park parking pass ahead of time for Katahdin. Planning is fun, too, and having these outdoor excursions to look forward to can be soothing, depending on your life situation and “day job.”
How you can do it in 2018: Start with the end goal in mind, and back up to the current day, making incremental additions to your training plan. For accountability, book your arrangements early (vacation days, lodging, re-supply) so you are motivated to follow up on your investment. Put everything on a calendar. In general, buying a state park season pass is a good deal, and will prompt you to get out there. Maine’s is $55 for individuals, or $105 for a vehicle pass, and free for seniors. The White Mountain National Forest offers an annual pass for $30, and an annual household pass for $40. These passes also allow you to forgo the hassle of trying to find a pen and exact change at the many self-service kiosks at trailheads, and to support our great parks.
Step 3: Let experts do the work for you.
How we did it in 2017: We devoured the books and blog posts we could find on the 100 Mile Wilderness (check this out), and purchased the Appalachian Mountain Club Guide to Maine, as well as the maps for the 100 Mile. For our training hikes, we consulted the Maine Mountain Guide and the White Mountain Guide (skip to Recommended Hikes, get in the car, and go).
Step 4: If your plans are disrupted, do “something” anyway.
How we did it in 2017: We couldn’t always get out on the trail. School, work, travel, injuries, commitments came up that kept us out of the woods. But we figured out ways to work through. Daughter played basketball, and dad focused on weight room exercises (lunges, box jumps, squats) that strengthened legs for the terrain of the 100 Mile. We skied. On a couple weekends we couldn’t hike, or were out of town somewhere, we signed up for several 5K road races – try Running In The USA. The way to get better at doing hard things is to do hard things. Just do something.
How you can do it in 2018: Shorter hikes can be very rewarding when time is not on your side. Try a big-payoff one like Burnt Meadow Mountain or Pleasant Mountain, steep hikes with great views. Try trail running, which is just hiking’s skinnier cousin. There are trail running groups throughout Maine. Baxter Outdoors does a great race series, which might take you to some places you haven’t been, help you meet some like-minded people, benefit charity, and get some free beer. Here are some tips to get ready for hiking with a pack from Backpacker Magazine. Understand your limits, particularly with an injury, but focus on the things that you can do. For example, dad broke his right wrist descending Katahdin in September 2017, and this precluded a lot of activities, but still allowed him to hike, and as a result he developed more dexterity in his left hand. A caveat: all these things help, but hiking with a pack seems to be a singular exercise, and the best way to get better at hiking is to hike (see above regarding hard things).
Step 5: Let the momentum propel you to staying on the path.
How we did it in 2017: Despite our difficulties at the end of the 100 Mile attempt, we were both invigorated by the hiking we’d done, and talked about more goals. Daughter had never climbed Mt. Washington or Katahdin, and felt strong after our training. It was only mid-July, so the good times we’d had kept us hiking, and we completed both of these mountains, as well as some great hikes in between. We started taking more pictures, and talked about capturing our adventures in this blog, which we began last fall, right after our Katahdin hike.
How you can do it in 2018: Use the aforementioned accountability to keep you going, locked in to activities, and check in with people who are doing the same. You will feel stronger each time you get out there, and maybe your goals will change by the time you hit your big hike. You will see intriguing side trails and places along the way. If you are into social media, use it to catalog your progress. You won’t find any “look at me shirtless doing yoga on top of a mountain” selfies on this blog, but if that’s your thing, and helps you… Either way you will have fun and get outside.
On July 23, 2017 we hiked Mt. Washington (6,288 feet) from the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail and the Lion Head Trail (4.3 miles). The best road map for this strenuous hike is the AMC White Mountain Guide, which contains maps and trail descriptions. The Pinkham Notch Visitor Center also sells maps for a nominal fee, has free advice and info, and a scale model of the mountain and its trails.
Having attempted the 100 Mile Wilderness two weeks earlier, we now set our sights on Katahdin later in the summer, and focused on getting in some climbing to prepare for our capstone hike. We packed light, though, and focused on water and snacks. Dad carried a pack with clothing and essentials, and daughter used a small Camelbak pack that held a water bladder and not much else.
Knowing that the parking lot and the trail would be busy on a Sunday in the summer, we got an early start, signing the trail log and beginning our hike before 7 am. Still, we were not the first ones to hike the mountain that day, because a scary fit guy wearing no gear came running hard down the trail, having already been to the top.
About 0.3 miles up, we stopped to take a picture of Crystal Cascade. The next two miles were a steady climb upward on a wide, rocky trail. We shed some layers as the sun rose higher in the sky, then took the right-hand turn onto the Lion Head Trail.
The trail became a lot steeper as we approached the edge of the tree line. We took a break shortly after clearing the tree line to apply sunscreen and eat some peanut butter M&Ms, a favorite of ours. Hiking a mountain with such light packs seemed easy, after our 100 Mile ordeal.
The open climb and bright summer morning gave us excellent views of Tuckerman Ravine below. We also paused several times to admire the foliage in an area close to the Alpine Garden Trail.
There is so much more to see, and this is a great video describing some of the varieties of plants and flowers in the Alpine Garden.
The final climb to the summit, .4 miles, which seemed to go straight up, with no end in sight, ended abruptly at the parking lot near the summit. This has always seemed a strange juxtaposition, to be immersed in nature, then to have so much commerce at the top of New England’s highest peak, but we also enjoyed the opportunity to buy a chili dog and slices of pizza in the snack bar. For round-trip hikers, there are restrooms, as well, and water points to refill for the descent.
We made the decision to purchase tickets for the van shuttle back down to the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center, rather than hiking the descent, as daughter was fighting a headache, and we had done the fun part of the climb already. The price was reasonable ($31 for dad, $13 for daughter), and included a pass to the Mt. Washington weather museum, which we visited while waiting for our scheduled van. The moral of the stories contained in the museum seemed to be: be careful on Mt. Washington in the winter. Daughter purchased a plush moose she instantly named Tuckerman, and a clever cat-themed t-shirt (“The Meow-ntains are calling, and I must go”).
You can see how volatile the weather can be from the featured image at the top of this post – immediately above is a photo from dad’s summit in June 2016, with better visibility. Dad usually climbs Mt. Washington once per summer, via the Tuckerman Ravine or Lion Head routes.
After a short jaunt down the auto road in the van, and back to our car at Pinkham Notch, we drove the 15 minutes south to Jackson, NH, where we cooled off in Jackson Falls and picked blueberries by the side of the river to end the day.