Monday, June 24, 2013

Kayaking Lake Onawa

The weather was not cooperating on my free day this weekend.  Showers were falling when I got up for the day.  The forecast called for more showers throughout the day.  It was a warm, muggy morning when the rain wasn't falling.  I wanted to get in some outdoor activity, so I decided to go kayaking.

Kayaking is a good choice in these weather conditions.  You can cool off in the water if it gets too hot. If it showers, you don't get chilled.  As long as there isn't a thunderstorm or the rain isn't too heavy, paddling in a shower isn't too bad.  Despite the somewhat dreary morning, there was no wind, which makes paddling on a lake more enjoyable.

I decided on Lake Onawa as my destination.  I never kayaked here.  The lake is surrounded by mountains and sees little traffic.  I didn't have any other ideas for an outing.  With the questionable weather, Lake Onawa seemed like good choice.  I hit the water just before 9am.

Lake Onawa is located about 45 minutes from my house.  It sits at the base of  Barren Mountain in the 100 Mile Wilderness and is visible from the Appalachian Trail.  At roughly 1200 acres, it's a decent sized lake.  While there are some camps along its shores, they are mostly concentrated in one area with majority of the shoreline being undeveloped.

Barren Mountain 

Immediately I was presented with good scenery.  Borestone Mountain rises basically from the lake and stands nearly 1500 feet above the water.  The side of Borestone facing the lake is very steep with much of the mountain consisting of exposed cliff.  The north side of the lake is framed by Barren Mountain which rises more than 2000 feet from the lake.  The most outstanding feature of Barren is its exposed ledges and slide which are clearly visible from most areas of the lake.  The eastern side of the lake is flanked by the ridge of Benson Mountain which also rises nearly 1500 feet above the lake.

Borestone Mountain reflecting in the lake

Barren Ledges

Benson Mountain's ridgeline

When I arrived, a few sprinkles fell.  Despite the rain, visibility was good enough to see all of the mountains.  There was absolutely no wind and the lake surface was a sheet of glass.  The calm wind and humid weather made for some bad mosquito conditions however.  Away from the shore the bugs were not much of a problem. However, in the marshy areas around lake, they were quite pesty.

The mountains were not the only scenery.  A few wildlife sightings added to the experience.  Several sets of loons were on the lake.  The best sighting was a pair of loons with a chick.  The chick was quite small.  I never saw a loon chick so close.  Besides the loons, I was lucky enough to see a couple of deer drinking at the edge of the lake.

Loons with chick


Close shot of loon

Deer that was drinking from lake, if you click on picture you can see it has antlers starting to develop

The area of the lake between Borestone and Barren Ledges is the most scenic.  The other end of the lake while still pleasant, gets into the area with camps.  The outlet of the lake holds a well known local landmark.  The Onawa Trestle is a rail bridge that crosses the outlet.  It is often photographed by locals and a popular destination with its view over the lake and the mountains that surround it.

Onawa Trestle

By the end of the trip conditions deteriorated.  The clouds dropped and obscured most of the mountaintops. A steadier rain fell the last 15 minutes I was on the lake.  Luckily my trip was winding down.
Looking at Borestone Mountain on left and Barren Mountain on right with clouds starting to cover summits

I spent almost three hours exploring the lake.  The entire time I paddled, only one other boat was on the water.  Perhaps because the lake is out of the way and overshadowed by larger local lakes like Moosehead and Sebec, it doesn't see much traffic.  I was pleasantly surprised with the lake and will probably go back again soon with Puma.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Katahdin and Hamlin Peak: Hiking Maine's Two Tallest Peaks

The forecast seemed like it would provide a window of nice weather just long enough to get in an alpine hike Sunday.  I got up at 4am and headed to Baxter State Park.  My destination for the day was Katahdin and Hamilin Peak, Maine's two tallest mountains.  The loop covering the two mountains is probably my favorite route to hike in New England.  The hike covers over 11 miles with nearly half of distance above treeline taking in perhaps the most stunning mountain scenery east of the Rockies.

The morning started without a cloud in the sky and looked promising for a good day.  The 90 minute drive to the park passes through a remote area that offers a good chance for seeing moose.  I was not let down.  I managed to pass a trio of moose along the road.  A short distance later another moose emerged from the roadside, the fourth one of the morning.  A good start to the day.

The only moose of the four I saw that was photogenic

Swamp Donkey aka Moose

I arrived at the trailhead at Roaring Brook about 640am.  To my surprise there was only a handful of cars.  This parking lot often fills to capacity on summer weekends and is closed to additional traffic when full.  I passed a few groups on the Chimney Pond Trail before reaching the trail to Hamlin Peak.

Hamlin Peak, despite its status as Maine's second highest peak, sees relatively few people.  I wouldn't see another person until I reached Katahdin, nearly 5 miles away.  Hamlin by itself is an attractive hike with much of the route traveling above treeline taking in alpine scenery.  The Hamlin Ridge Trail affords awesome views across the Great Basin to Katahdin and the Knife Edge as well as views into North Basin.  Once on the Hamlin Ridge,  you reach treeline quickly and your feet are usually walking on rock.

Looking into Great Basin from Hamlin Ridge

Looking back down Hamlin Ridge

From Hamlin's Peak, the hike heads to Katahdin.  The trail crosses a high alpine plateau called the Tableland.  The Tableland crosses boulder fields and alpine grasses and offers 360 degree views the entire route.  As I reached Katahdin, a group was departing and I had the peak to myself.  On a weekend in the summer, this is fairly uncommon.  Standing on Katahdin alone is quite a treat.  The view is unlike anything east of the Rockies.  Many large lakes dot the valleys.  The other peaks in Baxter State Park are close by as well as the mountains around Moosehead Lake and the 100 Mile Wilderness.  The most outstanding features are the view over the Great Basin and the Knife Edge.

Knife Edge and Katahdin from below Hamlin Peak

Rock strewn stretch nearing Katahdin's summit

Tableland and last miles of Appalachian Trail

Looking back to Hamlin

The Knife Edge is perhaps the most remarkable mountain terrain in the eastern US.  The Knife Edge runs from the summit of Katahdin to the summit of Pamola for just over a mile.  While it is somewhat overstated in some trail guides, it is still quite impressive rising to a narrow ridge towering over 2000 feet above the valley on either side, a few spots only as narrow as a few feet.  All the while, the entire Knife Edge remains well above treeline.  My route took me across the Knife Edge and provided dramatic scenery the entire way.  The pace is generally slow going across the Knife Edge but the most precipitous section is the Chimney.  The Chimney is a col between Pamola and Chimney Peaks that requires careful scrambling  to safely negotiate.
Upon reaching Pamola, the trail descends over three miles, some of it over loose rock, on the Helon Taylor Trail.  I passed several hiking groups along the Knife Edge.

Knife Edge from Katahdin summit

Knife Edge, Katahdin Lake in distance

Looking down Knife Edge

Knife Edge

Knife Edge

Knife Edge

Looking back Knife Edge toward Katahdin, pockets of snow remaining

The weather held out nicely for my day.  Although some cloud cover moved in, they remained quite high and didn't obstruct any of the great scenery despite a little bit of haze.  The weather was comfortable above treeline with my thermometer reading 52F on the summit of Katahdin.  It felt somewhat cooler with a steady breeze.  On the ridges I did encounter some black flies.  Descending Helon Taylor, they were quite numerous and pesty.  They covered the backs of my arms, neck, and had fun getting in my ears.  Luckily I wasn't bit too many times.

As I said, this is among my favorite hikes.  This was my fourth time doing this loop, fifth time on Hamlin, and 15th summit of Katahdin.  Not only is the scenery impressive but Katahdin is a particularly memorable mountain to me as it marked the end of my  jouney on my 2100 mile Appalachian Trail thru hike.

Brann's Mill Pond Revisited

I wrote about Brann's Mill Pond a couple weeks ago in "Paddling Local Waters."  I went again with Puma on Friday and wanted to post a couple pictures from that outing.

Goose with babies, click for better view

Puma paddling in Brann's Mill Pond inlet

Bald Eagle perched on island, nest was nearby, click for closer view

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Gulf Hagas

I have been eager to do some hikes in the higher mountains in the area like Katahdin or the Presidentials but the weather hasn't been cooperative.  Yesterday brought heavy rain and showers fell throughout the day today.  I don't want to hike to the summits to have zero visibility in the clouds.  One of the best places to hike after heavy rain is somewhere with waterfalls.  The hike at Gulf Hagas passes numerous waterfalls in a relatively short distance.  I have done this hike several times before but with high water levels I expected the falls to be gushing, and they did not let me down.

Gulf Hagas is located just about in the dead center of Maine just off the Appalachian Trail.  It is a popular hiking destination in Maine and attracts quite a few people on a summer weekend.  Gulf Hagas is referred to as the "Grand Canyon of the East."  While it does flow through a canyon, that moniker is a tad overdramatic.    Go for the waterfalls alone and you won't be disappointed.

The most popular access point is from the Katahdin Ironworks (KI) Road.  To get to the Gulf, one must ford the Pleasant River.  This is a fairly wide crossing and after the heavy rain makes the ford potentially dangerous. There is also a tricky crossing of Gulf Hagas Brook that involves crossing over a downed tree or fording the very fast brook.  I decided to hike in from the upper end of the Gulf.  Both routes are over 8 miles of hiking with the route I chose being slightly longer but slightly quicker without the ford.

The hike begins on AMC trails leading to the Pleasant River Tote Road, an old logging path that is now a hiking trail.  I chose to hike clockwise so I would have the scenery build as I hiked.  The Tote Road is a fairly flat stretch of trail that tends to be boggy and has many long stretches of bog bridge.  After several miles I reached the Rim Trail and the start of the waterfalls.  

The first waterfall is Screw Auger Falls.  This consists of several drops.  Although the first drop is probably the highest, the second drop is the most scenic and a very popular subject of photographs.  Further downstream the brook continues to cascade over several more smaller pitches. In total there are at least a half dozen different drops in this area.  Several swimming holes invite hikers below several of these falls.
The upper falls of Screw Auger Falls, also the highest

Screw Auger Falls, the most popular of Gulf Hagas waterfalls (25 ft drop)

Another view of Screw Auger Falls

the lower falls of Screw Auger Falls

The third highest drop at Screw Auger Falls

Leaving Screw Auger Falls the trail climbs to the rim of the canyon.  Several lookouts take you to the edge of the canyon to capture views of several smaller drops and the walls of the canyon.  The next waterfall with a significant drop is Buttermilk Falls.  A short side trail drops to water level to the base of the rushing waterfall.  A deep hole below the falls makes for a nice spot to swim.  Just beyond the waterfall, you can look down upon the falls from above.
Buttermilk Falls (about 10 ft drop)

A fairly high but narrow unnamed falls near Buttermilk Falls (30 ft drop)

The trail continues following the canyon rim with several more views into the canyon before reaching Billings and Stair Falls.  Billing Falls seems to have the most volume of water passing over of any of the waterfalls on the hike.  There is no trail leading to the falls but the view from the trail looking down to the falls is impressive.  Shortly after Billings is Stair Falls which consists of a series of small drops resembling a set of stairs.  Above Stair Falls is the Head of the Gulf.  Puma and I had lunch at this spot overlooking Stair Falls when we hiked here a few years ago.  Above the falls is fairly deep and sandy and made for a nice spot for Puma and I to cool off.  The trail returns to the Tote Road just beyond the Head of the Gulf.  Once on the Tote Road I retraced my tracks back to the trailhead.
View of canyon walls

Billings Falls (16 ft drop)

Billings Falls and canyon above

Stair Falls (5 ft at highest drop)

Unnamed falls on side stream across Stair Falls (10-15 ft drop)

The hike of Gulf Hagas is moderately difficult.  The seasoned hiker should have little difficulty but it could be strenuous for the casual visitor, especially if fording the Pleasant River.  Even though the trail doesn't have significant elevation gain, the area tends to be wet longer than most areas making for treacherous footing over slate and never-ending roots.  Lots of small ups and downs over wet roots can be tiring.  With the recent rain the trail was exceptionally slippery with areas of slate being as slick as ice.  It rained on an off as I hiked and that kept the people to a minimum.  The recent rain also made for magnificent conditions of the falls.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Little Moose and the Tale of Two Beavers

Wednesday turned out to be a picture perfect day so Puma and I decided to take advantage of the nice day.  We decided on a hike at Little Moose Mountain near Moosehead Lake.  We have done this hike together several times and the trip never disappoints us.

Little Moose Mountain sits just a few miles from Moosehead Lake and the town of Greenville on state land called Little Moose Public Reserved Land.  The mountain was originally called Little Squaw Mountain until the term "Squaw" was deemed offensive by the state of Maine and all such named places were renamed "Moose."  Being so close to town makes it one of the more popular hikes on the many trails in the Moosehead Lake region.  There are several trails on the mountain but the most popular is the Loop Trail that makes a circuit around some small ponds with designated campsites and several rock outcroppings with excellent views. 
Campsite on shore of Little Moose Pond

We chose to do the Loop Trail in the clockwise direction.  This direction allows for a buildup of the views with the best view near the end of the loop.  From the trailhead we reached a junction for the first of several campsites.  Soon we reached the outlet of Big Moose Pond.  There is a view of the ridgeline that the Loop Trail later traverses.  The trail passes the shore of Little Moose Pond passing two campsites.  The trail stays low passing over large section of bog bridge to avoid swampy areas.  The trail soon ascends to the top of the ridge where it passes over several humps.  There are several rock outcropping with good views, the last one being the best.
Looking across Little Moose Pond 

Section of bog bridges

The view from the final outcropping is one of the finest in the Moosehead Lake Region.  You overlook both Big and Little Moose Ponds directly below the outcroppings.  Beyond the ponds sits Big Moose Mountain, towering well over 1000 feet higher than the outcropping.  Moosehead Lake spreads out to the north with all of the mountains in the region visible including Kineo, Lily Bay Mountains, and mountains in the 100 Mile Wilderness.  To the south stands Moxie and Moxie Bald Mountains.  There was not a cloud in the sky and the view was as good as it gets.
Big Moose Pond and its feeder pond with Big Moose Mountain in background

Little and Big Spencer Mountains over Moosehead Lake

Lily Bay Mountains and mountains in 100 Mile Wilderness

From this outcropping we had an extra treat.  Several hundred feet below the rocks sits Big Moose Pond and a smaller pond that flows into it.  In the smaller pond Puma spotted movement.  Upon closer look she realized it was a beaver.  I had binoculars with me and you could see the beaver clearly.  As it swam it approached more movement which was a second beaver.  We watched them for several minutes.  One swam toward the center of the pond while the other moved to land where we could see it moving through the grasses. Soon they both disappeared.  Although we saw no moose, there was plenty of "nuggets" along the trail as well as some tracks. 
The dark spot in middle of lake is the beaver.  Clicking on picture makes it a little clearer.  Unfortunately from the top of a mountain I couldn't get a clearer shot.

There are many hikes in the Moosehead Lake Region.  The Little Moose Loop Trail is one of the easier hikes in the area and provides some of the best views in the area only minutes from town.  Puma and I are never let down when we visit this area.  

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Kayaking Local Waters

The weather in Maine has been all over the place the past month.  The beginning of May was absolutely gorgeous with a couple week run of clear skies and comfortable temps.  That was followed by rain and rain  showers for 16 out of the next 18 days and over 6 inches of rain in that period.  Last weekend saw steady rain with a temp in the low 40s on Saturday afternoon.  This week turned hot and humid with yesterday passing 90.  All the rain raised the water levels in the rivers.  With the hot temperatures this week and rivers running at good levels, I headed out in kayak.

On Wednesday, Puma and I headed for the local river, the Piscataquis.  We ran the same section that I wrote about in April- First Kayak Trip of the Season. This time it was much warmer, no ice floating or wet suits needed.  We saw more than half a dozen bald eagles, several flying and several more perched on trees along the banks of the river.  

On Sunday I paddled Brann's Mill Pond.  Brann's Mill Pond is relatively small by Maine standards, 300 acres or so, and is located about 15 minutes from my house.  Despite its small size, it offer miles of shoreline to paddle.  While there are a few camps on its shores, most of its shoreline is wild and natural.  There are several small islands that would make for a nice place to have lunch.  One of the islands has a fire ring although I don't know if it is privately owned or if camping is allowed.  There are large areas of shoreline that contains marshland as well as large areas of aquatic plants.  Throughout the morning I continually saw fish jumping and saw quite a few fish swimming in the shallower areas.

Perhaps the most scenic part of the pond is its inlet.  I was able to paddle a mile or so upstream into the inlet of the pond.  The narrow brook slowly snakes through wild and secluded marshland.  Much of the way through the brook I passed water lilies in bloom.  Although I didn't see any beaver, there were several signs of their presence including a couple of lodges and an old dam.  The only wildlife I saw was a deer that struggled through the marsh and numerous red winged blackbirds.  Eventually the brook narrows and reaches some riffles that can no longer be paddled upstream.  Surprisingly, the marshy area was free of bugs.  Only nonthreatening mayflies were abundant.

Taking time to explore the inlet brook marshland, pass around most of the islands, and paddle most of the shoreline took me about two and a half hours at a leisurely pace.  For a hot weekend day I didn't see too much traffic.  There was one powerboat, a canoe, and a few other kayaks.

Paddling up the inlet brook of Brann's Mill Pond

Paddling through marshland on Brann's Mill Pond inlet brook

Aquatic plants

Canadian Goose in Brann's Mill Pond

Beaver Dam