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.
California to Maine
|First summer in Maine (Naples, ME)
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)
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.
Finest Hikes and Mountains
|Remembering my first autumn in New England (Jay State Forest, VT)
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
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.
New Hampshire's Most Memorable:
|Pemi Loop, NH
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
Vermont's Most Memorable:
|Lake Willoughby, VT
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
Cold Winter Hikes and Worst Weather:
|A brief break in the clouds as I hiked Mt Isolation
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
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
Most Strange and Unique:
|Hiking on the international boundary
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.
, 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
Best Non-Mountain Hikes:
|Quechee Gorge, Vermont's Grand Canyon
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.
, 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
Best Canadian Hikes:
|Quebec and New Brunswick aren't visited enough by Mainers, if you ask me
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!