Mt. Katahdin: Knife Edge Trail

We had hiked Katahdin, but daughter had never taken the legendary Knife Edge Trail, the narrow 1.1 mile stretch (and Maine rite of passage) from Pamola Peak to Baxter Peak. At age 12, it was time. On September 9, 2018, we hiked together to Baxter Peak on Mt. Katahdin via the Helon Taylor Trail to cross the Knife Edge. On the way down, dad and daughter took the Saddle and Chimney Pond Trails (total R/T appx 10.2 mi). (For maps, other routes, and links to Baxter State Park’s great resources, see our September 2017 Mt. Katahdin post.)

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On the way in to Millinocket the night before, we stopped at Hannaford to stock up on supplies before staying at the Parks Edge Inn. In preparation, we went with a chocolate and peanut butter theme, and for our lunches, wrapped Nutella, peanut butter, and bananas in lavash bread like some Willy Wonka burritos, and grabbed peanut butter chocolate chip Larabars and peanut butter M&M’s to snack on.

To get into line at the Baxter State Park gate the next morning, we woke up around 5 am, and signed in to start hiking at Roaring Brook at 6:47 am. The $5 Day Use parking pass for Maine residents has to be the most value Mainers can get for $5. This easy online step is essential to guarantee a spot in the park, which is kept wild in many ways, including the limitation on daily access to the park.

The climb up Helon Taylor Trail was steady and tough, but we took our time, and enjoyed the changing vegetation and ubiquitous chattering of red squirrels, often looking back to enjoy the views behind us to the east, as we slowly emerged from the forest, patches of scrub pine, and finally above the tree line, reaching Pamola Peak around 10 am.

Getting ready to descend into the beginning of the Knife Edge.

The first step of the Knife Edge was the descent into the chimney adjoining Pamola, then a quick climb back up, setting the tone for a fun traverse. We saw several other groups of people crossing the Knife Edge, including some coming from the direction of Baxter Peak, one of which contained the only other child we saw, a nimble little boy, younger than daughter, leaping from rock to rock.

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The Knife Edge Trail is a dizzying series of up and down climbs.

After the climb up Helon Taylor, exposed to the wind, and steeply ascending until our legs ached, we agreed that the Knife Edge was more mentally than physically challenging, and stopped frequently to gaze down into the bowl created by the steep cliffs of Katahdin, look at rock slides down the cliffs to the south, and watch ravens wheel and glide on the air currents below us.

We did not spend long on the summit of Baxter Peak, which was crowded with thru-hikers and large groups, with a long line to take pictures at the summit sign. Millennial-types used the cell service available due to the summit’s elevation to FaceTime with friends (“You’ll never guess where I am right now”) and send Instagram pictures ad nauseam. Daughter waited for a quick break in the action and snapped a ghost summit photo.

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A weather-worn sign cautions hikers on the Saddle to take care with alpine plants.

Much more interesting was our meeting on the way down to the Saddle Trail with a Baxter State Park ranger, who educated us about the fragility of alpine plants. She told us that even a small patch can take up to one hundred years to grow back, and can be killed by as few as seven footsteps on it. We asked a number of questions we had gathered during our hike, including why some slides looked different- she explained that the slides where the trees were laying downhill were caused by avalanches in the winter, but that when the mountainside was denuded of vegetation, it meant that a rockslide had occurred. This ranger, from Asheville, North Carolina, works at Baxter from May to October educating hikers, conducting rescues, and sometimes climbs Katahdin every day.

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Relaxing on the descent by Chimney Pond.

Our descent of the Saddle Trail was slowed by the onerous process of passing what looked like a large school group, and we got to Chimney Pond around 1:40 PM, where we took a long break to enjoy the sunshine, air out our feet, and birdwatch.

From there, it was a downhill walk over rocks and roots to Roaring Brook and our car, getting back around 3:30, for a total of almost nine hours of hiking. During this last stretch, one of dad’s hiking poles snapped, but our hike was otherwise uneventful.

So what worked? Obviously, chocolate and peanut butter. But daughter felt good about her hiking and running in the weeks leading up to the Knife Edge, and it got her into shape for the climb.

Mentally, we had talked about the challenges, and even used technology to our advantage, watching YouTube videos of the Knife Edge (the volume was quickly muted) to dispel fears. We started hiking with the agreement that we would not stupidly try to push through bad weather, and even reserved another parking spot for the following day, just in case.

We had a ton of water, using our 3 Liter Osprey hydration systems (Dad still ran out with a mile or two left to go). Dad carried a light pack with extra clothing layers and food. Daughter stayed with a Camelbak pack that allowed her to carry water and a few energy bars, but didn’t hinder her while climbing.

We shared a great hike, and daughter enjoyed being the tallest thing in Maine, even for a few seconds. With the right attitude, preparation, and training, the Knife Edge can be an incredible, unforgettable experience for kids, as part of an exploration of Maine’s tallest mountain and the limits within themselves. Even an unsuccessful attempt, safely and properly handled, can create a goal for future conquest, and build decision-making and risk management skills.

Cliff Walk at Prouts Neck (Scarborough, Maine)

If you like dramatic cliffs, ocean views, rocky beaches and stunning homes, this may be your walk! The residents at Prouts Neck harbor a secret gem in their gated community – but fret not – while the entrances are hidden and parking is complicated, it is still possible (and legal) to walk that same 1-mile route that Winslow Homer did, even if you are not an “insider.” This is definitely categorized as a Sunday stroll-type of walk, a walk with a good friend that you haven’t seen in a while or a lone walk with a camera or sketch book. The uneven terrain and sometimes narrow path demand a leisurely pace. The smell of rugosa roses, the salty ocean breeze and the lobster boats are center stage and require frequent pauses. The views are unbeatable. The only problem is logistics.

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Based on previous reviews online, I noticed that there are a lot of complaints about accessibility. This is real. At the end of Black Point Road, where it becomes Winslow Homer Road, you will be stopped by a gate and a keypad, signaling a private road (And likely a member of the Scarborough Police Department just idling in his car). Winslow Homer’s old studio (owned by Portland Museum of Art and open to public with a ticket purchased in advance) is in this development, as well as a myriad of super wealthy people who don’t want the riff-raff. Just before that gate on your right, you will see a driveway and about twenty feet down the driveway on your left is a crooked sign that says “Cliff Walk” with an overgrown-looking trail. While this is one entrance, this does you almost no good because you can’t park here. In fact, there is no parking at all around here. This is some of the most prestigious real estate in Maine – they certainly don’t want more cars. I had a cop follow me nearly the entire way down the road until I got to the gate. 

My best advice is to have lunch at the Black Point Inn, which is on Black Point Road and they will let you park in their lot if you are a guest of the hotel. Once you are done with lunch, ask them where the entrance to the cliff walk is (you have to walk towards the back of the Black Point Inn property), change into some walking shoes and get going. The Black Point Inn restaurant closes after the summer, so keep that in mind.

Second best advice is to get an uber. Lastly, perhaps you make nice with that co-worker of yours who says her in-laws have a place on Prouts Neck.

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If you are not deterred by the parking issue, press on to marvel at the splendor that is the Maine coast. The trail is not marked by signs along the way but there is only one trail and you will know soon enough if you have strayed from it – you will either be on someone’s back porch or in the ocean (If you do end up in someone’s back yard by accident, get back on the trail. It must be really annoying having tourists wander on your property and on a gorgeous Saturday, you do see this, unfortunately).

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There are opportunities to walk out along the jutting cliffs and take in the crashing Atlantic waves and there are a couple of small, rocky beaches where you can sit and admire the squawking sea birds and perhaps even see a seal while listening to the hypnotic sounds of water receding over stones.

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This may not be the best walk for a small child who likes to run, as this is a cliff walk with no barriers. This is also not appropriate for your relative who walks with a cane, as there are exposed roots and  rocks on the path.  But if you can make it on the trail, you are in for a mile of coastal Maine beauty.

Note: Others noted that they paid the fees at Scarborough or Ferry Beach to park and were able to do a 4.3 mile loop which included the cliff walk and stunning beaches. This will require a map of the area, as there is no sign helping you to find your way from the end of Ferry Beach to the beginning of the Cliff Walk.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (Katahdin Loop Road)

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During a visit to Baxter State Park, dad and daughter found ourselves with sore legs and a half-day to explore, and we decided to check out Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument via the Katahdin Loop Road.  We got our direction from a Katahdin Chamber of Commerce visitor’s guide and a pamphlet from Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), but we had followed the progress of the Monument since its creation in August 2016.

The standard route into the South Entrance is via Route 11 from E. Millinocket/Medway to the Swift Brook Road along the Katahdin Woods and Waters Scenic Byway, but we were feeling adventurous, and took the Stacyville Road north from Millinocket to where it meets the Swift Brook Road.  We savored the lonely ride along this quiet logging road, occasionally startling game birds (this is not the way to take a low-clearance or non 4×4 vehicle).

The 17-mile loop of Katahdin Loop Road is punctuated by meadows, bogs, and ridges, and the south and west parts of the loop boast excellent views of Katahdin and the surrounding area.  This is an opportunity to see the Monument and cover distance in a vehicle, while having the chance to get out and explore at a variety of hiking paths and overlooks.  The best map of the loop we found (which I wish we had when we were there, as it is also an excellent interpretive guide) was from the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, and can be found here.

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Lynx Pond

The Lynx Pond Walk is shortly past the Loop Road Gate, on the right just past the Mile 2 marker.  Shortly after the trailhead is a parking area on the left of the Loop Road.  This is a very short walk through the woods to a small boardwalk by the pond, and a spot for quiet reflection and wildlife viewing.

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Looking south from The Overlook on Katahdin Loop Road.  The large lake is Millinocket Lake.
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Views of Katahdin from The Overlook on Katahdin Loop Road

Katahdin towers over the loop, and there are multiple spots around the Loop Road with views of the lakes and mountains to the west and south, particularly The Overlook, between Miles 6 and 7, which conveniently has a picnic spot and a toilet.

We continued around the Loop Road, and got out to stretch our legs again at the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) and trail to Barnard Mountain, passing over Katahdin Brook and by the IAT lean-to.  This wide logging road made for a sunny trail, and though we did not make the turn towards the Barnard Mountain summit, we enjoyed the walk, and the familiar plants and animals that inhabit newly overgrown woodcuts, with blue jays diving across our path and into the trees.  The Barnard Mountain trail itself is a moderate 4-mile round trip with summit views of Katahdin and Katahdin Lake to the west.

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Late summer flowers and plants along the IAT

The IAT continues from the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Baxter Peak across Maine, into Canada, across to Greenland, and Europe, to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.  For a great exploration of the concept of the IAT, see On Trails by Robert Moor, reviewed on this blog.

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Moose tracks and droppings on the IAT

There are seven mountains in the Monument to hike, including Barnard, as well as paddling opportunities and waterfalls.  The Loop Road was quiet, as were the trails, with natural sounds, and only a few others exploring the area.  A bumpy drive back down Stacyville Road took us to Millinocket, where we devoured a Hawaiian pizza without remorse at the Millinocket House of Pizza.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a special place, and we will be back there for hiking, biking, and paddling.  The views during peak foliage season must be spectacular.  Ensure you plan ahead, bring maps, and a cooler with water and snacks, as there are no facilities at the Monument, and cell coverage ranges from little to non-existent.  But that’s probably what you’re looking for in the first place.

Morse Mountain to Seawall Beach (Phippsburg, ME)

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Your five-year old could do this, but everyone in the family will love it. It’s the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area near Phippsburg, Maine.  Wife here again to report that I think I may have found my favorite “hike” so far! (Full disclosure: while I love the outdoors, I am not on the hard-core side of the hiking spectrum, preferring instead to walk at a steady pace for up to three hours in nice weather. Furthermore, I do not get an adrenaline rush from dangerous climbs so I avoid them.) Hike is in quotations here because this particular adventure may be more of a beautiful walk, given the minimal altitude (433 feet) and the terrain (paved) and the distance (3.8 miles round trip). This hike checks all the boxes for me. Let’s begin!

This trailhead is well-marked. From Bath, you follow Route 209 south to Route 216 to Morse Mountain Road where there is a small parking lot on your left. We chose a peach of a day and arrived early, which is a necessity because parking is limited. When we arrived at about 8:30 am on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, people were trickling in but there were still plenty of spots available. When we left about noon, there was one car waiting for a space, as all the spots were full.  There was a friendly attendant there, giving maps, selling crafts and answering questions (donations accepted).

The entire trail is paved, as this is a service road, so it is wide enough for a bunch of people to walk together and chat (I doubt you will need a trail map, but if you do: Morse Mountain Map). Shortly after departing the lot, you notice the area is quite well maintained by the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Corporation with members from the St. John Family (who originally conserved the area), Bates College and the public.

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We enjoyed the views of the Sprague River Salt Marsh.

Based on the reviews by other hikers, bugs can normally be a big problem here. There was enough of a breeze that they didn’t seem to bother us too much. We are Deet fans, so that also helped to keep them away, too. About halfway into the hike, you will see a fork in the road and you head right to get to the summit. “Morse Mountain” is really not much more than a hill, yet there are fantastic views at the lookout: the snaking Sprague River, the cliffs in the distance and the gorgeous…drum roll…beach and ocean!

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Yeah, I really can’t wait any longer to tell you that this hike ends at Seawall Beach and for those of you who thought you died and went to heaven when you saw nearby Popham Beach, you will be counting your blessings when you see this two-mile stretch of gorgeous sand that is Seawall Beach. After you leave the summit and return to the main path, you have roughly a mile to go to reach the beach. Then, kick off your shoes and enjoy this huge, uncrowded beach. We headed right upon entering the beach area and walked for approximately a mile to the “red pole” which is marked on the map and signals the end of the conservation area. Try to hit this beach at low tide if you can so you will have plenty of room to roam. Daughter loved the large clam shells, sand dollars, sea gulls, ospreys, and little plovers.

Since access is limited, there are so few people on this beach! For three people who hate crowds and love the ocean and the sand, it was kind of hard to leave. The trail is easy and beautiful so the 33 minutes it took to walk back were very pleasant. Here is my advice for your trip to Morse Mountain:

  1. Go to the bathroom before you get on the trail and do not plan to drink much liquid unless you are a camel. There are no restrooms and since the trail was fairly crowded, you cannot just “pop of the trail” and go behind a tree very easily without being seen. You also cannot just “pop” into the ocean unless you are part seal. It’s freezing.
  2. Bring bug spray.
  3. Consider staying a while at the beach, which means that you might need a towel, sunscreen, hat, and snacks! The beach is that good.
  4. Go early in the day to get a parking spot.
  5. Try to hit low tide.

This truly is a Maine gem and when visitors come and ask where to go, this is going to be on the top of my list as it showcases the beauty that Maine has to offer without the crowds. A little exercise, fresh air, woods, marsh, beach, snacks, family and friends – you can’t beat it.

Northland: A 4,000-Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten Border, by Porter Fox

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In an age of technology and enlightenment, physical borders remain enigmatically relevant.  While information and intellectual property pass by on hidden virtual pathways, we are confronted daily with news of aggressive border incursions, walls, migration and separation.  Porter Fox’s book Northland: A 4,000-Mile Journey Along America’s Forgotten Border (W.W. Norton and Company) navigates these troubled waters in a modern pilgrimage along the U.S.-Canadian border from Maine to Washington State.

Fox’s adventurous journey along the border (which splits both man-made and natural features, and has constantly been re-drawn and argued by the U.S. and Canada) was conceived during a 2014 lunch with Fox, his editor, and his agent, and brought to life “three years and four thousand miles later” by canoe, freighter, car, and foot.  The fourth dimension of this journey is the history of tribal peoples and European exploration, which Fox weaves skillfully alongside his own narrative.

Fox divides the journey into five parts from east to west: the Dawnland, the Sweet-Water Seas, Boundary Waters, Seven Fires, and the Medicine Line.  Not by accident, the origin of most of these names is drawn from the native populations who are omnipresent in the narrative, their proximity to the border a fateful combination of ancestry and displacement.

Fox finds commonality in all the populations banding the U.S.- Canadian border: social and personality traits mandated by the climate, economy, and the very nature of the stark world between two countries which these “northlanders” straddle.  These commonalities include “[e]thnic communities with centuries-old histories, small towns that modern America skipped over, forgotten industries and Old World professions that rely on hands, not machines.”

The saga of these northlanders is not the only origin story: the birth of many things, from the U.S. Coast Guard to Thousand Island Dressing, is hidden within these pages.  Fox takes the best approach in a travel book, making himself an observer, rather than an actor, and documenting the stories of those he encounters.  This is not navel-gazing, this is journalism.  Fox’s own story only emerges during brief memories of his own northland origins in Maine, or in humorous or poignant interactions with people along the way.

Fox also refrains from preaching or taking sides – any reasonable person can make their own conclusions regarding the effects of global warming, incompetent border management, marginalization of native peoples, or over-fishing and deforestation, making a diatribe superfluous.  Fox observes:

It looked like night.  The sky and land were dark.  Flames blazed above tall, cylindrical smokestacks, casting orange light on the ship.  The waterfront was barricaded by dunes of iron ore pellets and coal.  It was nine in the morning.  The water was oily green.  I looked through the porthole in my cabin and saw a truck pour molten slag into a ditch.  A bright-orange splash flew into the water and incinerated a duck swimming by.

Thus continues Fox’s story of his journey from the Saint Lambert Lock in Montreal up the Saint Lawrence Seaway through the Great Lakes (Ontario, Erie, Huron, Superior) to Thunder Bay, Ontario on the Algoma Equinox, a 740-foot freighter, reading like the opening of a post-apocalyptic version of Ben E. King’s Stand by Me.

It is in this excellent section on The Sweet-Water Seas that Fox truly hits his stride, capturing the chaotic, spooky world of the Equinox and its crew, as well as the unforeseen benefit of only traveling ten miles an hour.  Fox writes beautifully, carefully, and sympathetically about the people and places along this route, interspersing modern vignettes with the movements of glaciers, floods, Champlain, La Salle, and inexorable commerce.

The book is full of these interactive moments that capture so much.  Fox visits the Boundary Waters of Minnesota with Paul and Sue, legendary guides and explorers, watching Sue swing a canoe onto her shoulders for portage, “like putting on a sweater, except the sweater was a sixteen-foot Kevlar hull.”  In North Dakota, Fox visits the Standing Rock protest camp of the Sioux Nation, against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and in Idaho, interviews a militia leader, who gives him “the kind of cheery welcome you’d expect from a car salesman.”

An otherwise-mundane guided tour (“The tour group itself was a thing of antiquity.  I was the only one under the age of eighty.  The comb-over on the man beside me was a work of art.”) of the Glacier Park Lodge in Browning, Montana yields an unexpected insight when the tour guide shows Fox and the group a large-format black-and-white photograph shot in the late 1800s:

The image was of two Blackfeet riders on a grassy knoll.  Behind them were a forest and a few high peaks.  Their hair was braided.  The one in the front wore deerskins; the one behind wore blankets.  Mist covered a valley at the foot of the mountains.  There was no sun – just a dark line between earth and sky.

Amid the cedars, buffalo skulls, and antique china, the photo was indeed the only object in the lodge of extraordinary value.  It was a split second in time from a lost world.  “I like showing people this last,” the guide said.  “I like them to know that we weren’t the first people to live here.”

By the time the journey ends, on a coastal Lummi tribal reservation at the western end of the border in Washington state, the reader has skillfully been transported stride-by-stride with Fox through the past, and across the northland.  In his introduction, Fox explains that he wanted to visit the northland again before it changed for good.  The borderlands seem to change more slowly than the center, giving us a glimpse into the past.  In these margins, we see the cost of progress, and the stark natural beauty of the land that was, giving us pause about the right way forward.

AMC Maine Mountain Guide, 11th Edition, Compiled and Edited by Carey Michael Kish

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The hardest part about replacing my earlier (10th) edition of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide, 11th Edition (Appalachian Mountain Club Books), compiled and edited by Carey Michael Kish, was carefully transferring all of my handwritten notes and highlighter marks.  The smashed mosquitoes and coffee stains I will have to replace as I go.  Kish recently posted an article on Maine Today regarding the new edition.

As referred to many times on this blog, this indispensable book has been the starting point for countless adventures over the last couple years.  According to the back jacket of the new AMC Maine Mountain Guide, this new 11th edition features 175 new trails, 50 new mountains, and 17 additional in-text maps, “capturing Maine’s booming trail building and expansion during the past five years.”  Additionally, the existing trails include more details and updates, including more than 450 trail revisions.

In his Foreword, Carey Kish relates his hiking history, with the interestingly prescient detail that Kish bought his first Maine Mountain Guide in 1976.  The Acknowledgements section shows the true breadth and depth of the book, with tips of the cap to AMC staff, Maine state departments, and a long list of names from “Maine’s incredible community of land trusts, conservation organizations, environmental agencies, trail clubs, trail advocates, outdoor recreation groups, and other good friends of Maine trails.”  And it really must take a village to compile this book.

The introduction includes helpful information and advice for hikers specific to Maine, including descriptions of Maine geography and geology, climate, vegetation, animals, and trail etiquette.  For map and GPS nerds, the section on Maps and Navigation (at the tail end of “How To Use This Book” is packed with reference books and maps to use as companions to the guide, with a short segment on LiDAR data, and how it has been used to correct the summit height of peaks.  There is even a sample packing list (you are going to want those convertible pants), and a common-sense primer on backcountry hazards.

So what changed? The first Section is on Maine’s showpiece, Baxter State Park and Katahdin, and the new layout is apparent.  The Suggested Hikes, which were previously at the end of each Section, are now at the beginning, in order from least difficult to most.  The Trail Descriptions of the sixteen trails to the six major summits of Katahdin are now each prefaced with a table showing distance, elevation gain, and projected time to allow yourself.

These information-age upgrades haven’t changed the narrative, however, or characterizations such as that of the Knife Edge: “The dizzying height, sheer cliffs, and extreme exposure combine to make this one of the most spectacular mountain trails in the eastern United States.”  This descriptive prose, fortified with weather warnings, sources of water, and historical notes on the trails, is the continuing magic of this guide.

The Sections of Maine have been broadened from ten to twelve, with stand-alone sections for Mahoosuc Range and Grafton Notch (Section 5), and White Mountain National Forest and Evans Notch (Section 6).  It really is an expansion, and I skipped to some recent hikes I’d done to see the differences.  I noticed subtle edits in the Downeast hikes I’d done recently, and updated road names added to trailhead directions.

Viewing the Southwestern Maine portion (Section 8), I noticed six brand new in-text maps in that section alone, with popular trails Bradbury Mountain State Park, Douglas Mtn. Preserve, Bald Pate Preserve, Burnt Meadow Mtn., Mt. Cutler, and Mt. Agamenticus all getting their own cartography.  New trails also debut, like the 47-mile Hills to Sea trail through eastern Waldo County from Unity to Belfast, which was opened to the public in 2016.

The book ends with Appendices listing alphabetical contacts for the trails and lands listed in the guide, from the Appalachian Mountain Club to the Woodstock Conservation Commission, and checklists for New England 4,000 footers and New England 100 Highest.  And in the back of the book are two pull-out map sheets, containing a total of six large-scale trail maps of Baxter State Park, Maine Woods, Bigelow Range, Camden Hills, Eastern Mount Desert Island, and Mahoosuc Range-Evans Notch.

The 11th Edition of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide has been completely revised and updated while maintaining its essential character, an impressive achievement.  This is truly the hiking handbook for the state of Maine, and a must-have for outdoor explorers of all levels.

Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path: 35 Trails Waiting to be Discovered, by Aislinn Sarnacki

Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path

When I first looked through the 35 trails listed in Aislinn Sarnacki’s book Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path: 35 Trails Waiting to be Discovered, (Down East Books, 2018) I remembered how much in Maine is left to be hiked, a realization which is both humbling and encouraging.  Sarnacki, the outdoor columnist for the Bangor Daily News, has assembled an eclectic, formidable line-up of trails spanning the Pine Tree State.  Her introduction to the book spells out her goal in writing this book, starting with her journey into hiking, detailing a mixed experience ascending Katahdin at age sixteen, when she was “far from hooked on the activity.”

Sarnacki discusses how hiking subsequently got her through tough times, culminating in an undergraduate thesis on the positive ways it can affect a person’s holistic health, and a job at the Bangor Daily News writing Outdoors features.  Sarnacki explains the changing map of trails in Maine, and her navigation of information provided by state parks, land trusts and other non-profit organizations to find these trails (did you know there are more than 40 other peaks besides Katahdin in Baxter State Park?  I didn’t).

Sarnacki continues the introduction with a wonderful explanation of the value of Leave No Trace, with a description of Abol Pond during a Leave No Trace trainer course, and the change in enjoyment of natural beauty with the observation of the policy, versus without.  She then provides helpful sections entitled Staying Safe While Hiking (all good tips – “Spoil Your Feet” and the limited use of helpful technology in particular) and At War With Ticks (common-sense strategies for dealing with an emerging problem).

The 35 hikes described by Sarnacki are spread across the state, bracketed by Wells Barren Preserve in in the south, Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge to the east, Scopan Mountain near Presque Isle to the north, and Aziscohos Mountain in Lincoln Plantation to the west (man, I hope I got that right).  Each includes a detailed description, detailing the Difficulty, Dogs (permitted or no?), any Cost or fee, Access (accessible overnight?  four seasons?), Wheelchair accessibility, Hunting, Restrooms, How to get to the trailhead, and precise GPS coordinates.

Each trail has a clear, accurate map (take a photo of the map with your cellphone if you don’t feel like carrying the book with you on a hike), and excellent photos that give you an idea of the trail’s surroundings and vista points. Sarnacki describes the plants and animals to be encountered, gemstones and rocks, trail markings (or lack thereof), interpretive signs, and everything in between.  To the extent there are land trusts, a town office, or other caretakers of the trail, Sarnacki provides web addresses and telephone numbers for more information, and personal notes with helpful anecdotes for the area or the trail.

These detailed vignettes brought back the best part of talking about hiking and trails, the part that is mostly lost in the technical focus of apps and guidebooks: word-of-mouth referrals for hidden outdoor gems, and personal stories about these special places.  It is these connections that keep us coming back, and Sarnacki’s writing does an excellent job of capturing that idea.  Having just come back from the Grand Lake Stream area, where we enjoyed the Baxter Outdoors New England Trail Series Downeast Lakes 5-Miler, I particularly liked Hike 25, the Little Mayberry Cove Trail, managed by the Downeast Lakes Land Trust (I agree with Sarnacki that the tiny silver and blue trail signs are aesthetically pleasing), and the photos capturing the changing light along the trails.

Reading through this book, I found myself continually reaching for my Maine Gazetteer to look at the hikes, and running through road trips in my head.  As a result, this new book is already dog-eared and bookmarked with ideas, which is the mark of a truly adventurous guide.  As Sarnacki concluded in her introduction, I was inspired “to get out there, off the beaten path.”