Once atop South Branch Pond Mountain, the clouds are eating up the Traveler Range.
Photo by Ryan Linn
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Baxter Backpacking, Day 4: North into the Past

After two days of self-inflicted ass-kicking hiking over Katahdin, I was really looking forward to a day of long miles with little elevation. For many, this would mean a boring day in the green tunnel. For me, you could just replace “boring” with “glorious.” Tramping through the lowlands of northern Maine is, for me, one of the highlights of any backpacking trip up here. The dense forest floor is lush with sphagnum moss, reindeer lichen, and rotting deadwood. The forest looks and smells like life.

Ryan Linn       Trip Report       09/03/2014
Ryan Linn
Trip Report
09/03/2014

After two days of self-inflicted ass-kicking hiking over Katahdin, I was really looking forward to a day of long miles with little elevation. For many, this would mean a boring day in the green tunnel. For me, you could just replace “boring” with “glorious.”

Tramping through the lowlands of northern Maine is, for me, one of the highlights of any backpacking trip up here. The dense forest floor is lush with sphagnum moss, reindeer lichen, and rotting deadwood. The forest looks and smells like life.

I started off ahead of Tom and Chris again, aiming to cover more miles than them. After walking around Russell Pond, I set out on the Pogy Notch Trail, which instantly led me into denser forest with a trail that seemed untrodden compared to those in the campsite. Pogy Notch is the only connecting trail between the southern end of Baxter State Park and the northeast corner, and seemed to get very little traffic.

A wooden boardwalk winds through a dense green forest.
Lush trails in the deep woods near Russell Pond.
Photo by Ryan Linn

The moss and spruce needles making up the forest floor were still springy, not packed down by hundreds of boots over the years. As I walked north, I moved deeper into as pure a wilderness as you can get in the east.

I imagine little has changed in this section of the park in decades– few people come out here, and the forest seems to bear little impact of humanity.

A little too soon, I came to Upper South Branch Pond, where we would be camping in the evening. I guess I had lost myself in my thoughts, and the miles had passed quickly.

The day was becoming overcast, which didn’t bother me much because I would be staying low almost the entire day. I stopped at the shore of the pond to have lunch, then set out to walk the loop over South Branch Pond Mountain, a short (2500 foot) mountain next to our campsite.

Of course, in the usual Maine fashion, the height of the mountain had little to do with the difficulty of the trail. I climbed straight up the side of the mountain, through scree and boulders, to reach the partially bald summit. The Traveler, the high peak of the northern end of the park, was thick with clouds by now, but I rejoiced at the view anyway.

Canoes sit in front of a blue pond surrounded by a green forest.
Early morning on Russell Pond. I didn’t rent a canoe this time, but you can bet that’s my plan next time.
Photo by Ryan Linn
Lichen covers a rock formation.
Reindeer lichen on the Pogy Notch Trail. Combined with sphagnum moss, this is what tells me I’m home.
Photo by Ryan Linn
A small waterfall flows through mossy rocks.
Thick beds of moss coating streams in the deep woods. I’ll never get tired of this.
Photo by Ryan Linn

Combined with yesterday’s long and difficult miles, today became exhausting a little earlier than usual. I plodded down the north side of South Branch Pond Mountain, around the northern end, and then back down the Pogy Notch Trail on the other side of the ponds.

By this point I was running into a handful of day hikers, coming out from the northern entrance of the park, but compared with the (still reasonably light) crowds on Katahdin the other day I could count the trails as nearly deserted.

A lake reflects a green mountain.
Lunch break by Upper South Branch Pond, looking up at South Branch Pond Mountain. I’m going up there soon.
Photo by Ryan Linn
A small waterfall flows through rocks and into a clear pool.
One of many water fall/swimming holes on the Howe Brook Trail.
Photo by Ryan Linn

To finish the day, I walked up Howe Brook before returning to our remote campsite on the south end of the ponds. The Howe Brook Trail follows the brook up into a notch in The Traveler, ending at a pretty impressive water fall.

That was a fine end to the day, but even better was the lower portion of the brook– a finer set of gorges, ledges and waterfalls I have rarely seen. In the first quarter mile of the trail I counted at least five world-class swimming holes, so on the way back down I took a few jumps into my favorite one.

The air was not particularly warm, which made dunking in an icy mountain brook a little less appealing, but after the first jump I felt like a new man. All of my aches and pains from the past few days of backpacking melted away, and I practically ran the last mile to our campsite.

Here is Uncle Tom’s account of the day.

A waterfall cascades down a stone ledge into a clear pool.
The falls at the top of Howe Brook. Another reminder that hiking doesn’t need to be above tree line, or out in the open.
Photo by Ryan Linn
A person swims in a rocky stream.
On the way down, despite the chill in the air, I had to test out the icy mountain waters. I liked it so much I had to take two dips.
Photo by Ryan Linn

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Baxter State Park

Baxter State Park is home to Maine’s highest peak, Mt. Katahdin, as well as lakes and campgrounds. Bottom line, Baxter is worth the trip!

Learn more
170+ miles of trail (275 km)       $9.99 full guide
Turner Deadwaters, Baxter State Park, Maine
Photo by Ryan Linn
Turner Deadwaters, Baxter State Park, Maine
Photo by Ryan Linn

Baxter State Park

Baxter State Park is home to Maine’s highest peak, Mt. Katahdin, as well as lakes and campgrounds. Bottom line, Baxter is worth the trip!

170+ miles of trail (275 km)
$9.99 full guide
Learn more
Get our trail guide for this area!
About the Author
A man wears a blue shirt, blue backpack, and a tan baseball cap.

Ryan Linn

Ryan is also known as “Guthook”, which is where our apps get their name. Already an avid hiker, he hiked the Appalachian Trail, New England Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail before joining forces with Paul to create the Guthook Guides apps. Ryan handles iOS development for our apps from his office in Maine, and usually runs away to the forests and mountains throughout New England. He also volunteers with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Baxter State Park in Maine is his happy place.