Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Rhon Bell, an outdoor enthusiast, spends his time exploring the Maine Woods and documenting his journeys.
Growing up in Aroostook County, he embraced the outdoor lifestyle at a young age. Living today near Portland, he spends weekends and week-long adventures hiking New England summits, canoeing the historic Maine waterways, and ice fishing for lake trout.
Follow the journey as Window to the Woods discovers new destinations, and check out his other blog, Backwoods Plaid.
Ventures through the country are always memorable. Relaxation is found in these vast expanses of open land, dotted with pine-tree covered mountains and lined with winding narrow roads. There comes a point (somewhere between the time where you see the “Next Gas Station – 60 Miles” sign and when you finally hit a bumpy dirt road) that you happen across a General Store.Rare would be understating the stumbling across a true working general store. Unkempt corners of cobwebbed deer mounts always hang high above the expired rack of Lay’s potato chips. Working wood stoves are central fixtures and should your visit be during the colder months, it will be firing. Prize catches of salmon are situated atop the racks of cheap cigars, corn cob pipes and Trojan condoms. Only two sale items remain behind locked glass – guns and wedding dresses. Walls of general stores are lined with antique photos, housing the memories of founding citizens, stick-built homes, picturesque local mountains, and old hunting grounds. The depictions bring us back to what surely was a better place and time. No matter where you find yourself in life, enjoy the roads traveled, take in the sights, keep smiling and if you see a General Store – swing in.
Growing up in the woods of Northern Maine, like in most wild states, hunting was a family occasion. Like the hunting land we’ll tramp across today, the skills of game scouting have been passed down from my Grandfather. Keeping the tradition alive, I’m heading out with my cousin, Shawn, in search of hopeful signs that Whitetail Deer are present this season.Our old map leads us, on foot, down a narrow woods path. The destination lies a couple hundred yards east of a power line and just West of several ridges. Three miles in and mid-way up a small hollow we sit down to take a breather. Shawn slips off the 30-30 that has been handed down through the family, and rests the rifle at his side. Morning temperatures hover above freezing and cause heavy steam to rise from our Thermos. Coffee always tastes better in the field. Our talking immediately hushes as we hear heavy steps coming from the exposed field to our right. A cow and her calf appear from beyond the back side of a knoll and within a few short moments the two are in clear view; their silhouettes boldly standing out against the blue skyline. The bustling of opening my day pack and grabbing my camera quickly draw their stare. Side by side they peer down at me across the opening. I rush to adjust the camera settings in hopes of a perfect exposure and begin snapping away. I grew up in this area and have seen many a moose, but this was special. As a young man, it wasn’t uncommon to see 30 moose in a single field, grazing on the frozen stems of a harvested broccoli field. It is apparent with each step the cow takes that her front right leg had been injured. Perhaps the injury occurred while defending herself, or her calf, against a small pack of coyotes. No matter how it happened, the limping makes you feel for the wild beast as she tenders it with every step forward. The two soon ignore our presence and continue onward toward their rightful destination. I feel lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. We gather our gear and press ahead ourselves. Scavenging the area, we find multiple early scrapes. It’s not far and we find a daytime resting area where these deer are bedding down. Judging by the size of the droppings nearby, we have a large deer on our hands, possibly a mature buck. We’ll be looking forward to opening day. You simply never realize the joys you’ll encounter in the out-of-doors until you put yourself there.
Conversation revolved around a particular question after reaching our cabin Friday night. “How many rounds you put through this one”, we each asked, picking up one another’s handguns and rifles – inspecting each. Five of us had gathered from as far away as Rhode Island to take in the Maine woods, bum around a family camp and cook over an open fire. The camp, smack dab in the middle of nowhere, sits behind a gate that only three individuals have the key to: my buddy, his grandfather, and the logging company. And the logging company doesn't come here. For entire weekend we have 3,000 acres - it's woods and waters - all to ourselves.I wake early Saturday morning and stoke a fire. We all gather for a breakfast of sausage, green pepper, and onions - all lightly charred from a hand-me-down, seasoned cast iron pan. We toss a combination of the above into a roll and enjoy a lasting meal before piling into the bed of a late 90’s Ford pickup and setting off down an old dirt road. With frequent stops to toss a fishing line into the occasional brook or target practice with empty cans, the day is thoroughly enjoyed. An afternoon hike brings us atop a private mountain. Within 30 minutes we reach “The Ledges”, a rock-faced bluff, offering exquisite views of Acadia Park. You might as well call it Lookout Mountain. We spend a couple hours chatting, our feet dangling from the rocky ledge, while staring 100’s of feet down on the tops of white pines, distant lakes, and Cadillac Mountain. I consistently say that no better time can be had than that which is spent in the woods and each week I grow more fond of the concept. Here, life can be spent as intended with a bright sun shining directly above, friends at your side and enjoying what Mother Nature has to offer – it also helps when you have a cold drink in your hand.
The Knife's Edge trail starts out wide. I wonder out loud, and to myself, why others make such a fuss over a 15 foot wide trail of granite boulders. This is easy. Raindrops begin falling from the gray mass of clouds and fog that surrounds us. A clap of thunder rings out in the distance towards Millinocket. It's at this point in the hike the hood of my jacket begins flapping in the wind. 45MPH winds pick up and an uncomfortable feeling kicks in. It's now the trail thins out and I begin to realize the reason for its name. I swallow hard as I drop to all fours (for the second time today) with the full intention of not being blown off this mountain top.The trail is the one rock's width wide, sharply dropping off on each side, and as we proceed, that one-rock path rises sharply to a new elevation before dropping dramatically, to only rise again. Fog blocks further vision. I holler ahead, asking if we should turn around. The answer isn't one I wanted. Apparently we've come too far to turn around. Rain is pouring. We're soaked. It gets worse. Driving sleet and hail start flying into our faces. My heart sinks. The fog lifts slightly showing us the last portion of the trail - reminiscent of a movie where the actor flees out a hotel window and crosses a 6-inch ledge to the next window down. Our path is one half-foot, bodes pressed forward tightly, yet insecurely, against a wet granite wall. Howling wind and rain slapping our fogged sunglasses. A murderous 2,000 foot drop waits should our wringing wet hiking shoes slip on the slick rock. This is no longer fun. Should conditions be different, perhaps sunny, this might be enjoyable, but right now my chest is thumping in my soaked-through rain jacket. Three points of contact... three points of contact... three points of contact is the phrase in my head. If even I could see how far I was going to drop (should I fall), it might make me feel better. The more I think that thought, I'm grateful for the fog. One hand in front of the other, one foot then another. It's 1PM, but feels like I'm already late for dinner. Pushing your boundaries, making yourself feel just a bit uncomfortable, trying something new and doing something that scares you can help you become a different person and have a better understanding for what "hard" means. I was never so happy to set foot on the next peak, Pamola and start hopping the down the Helon Taylor Trail. Before I knew it I was back amongst the trees, dropping elevation. Knife's Edge is nothing but a memory... and a damn good story to tell. I'll probably never hike it again, but I can always snootily look down on those who've hiked it in optimal summer conditions with a one-up.
I pop the top on a PBR can as we unpack our sleeping bags, spreading them across the rough wooden floor of this Baxter Park lean-to. A big haul off an ice cold can gives me a bit more inspiration to unload gear and setup the propane stove for dinner. Katahdin Stream rushes by, just beyond the visible tree line, providing relaxing white noise - and an easy spot to clean fry pans after dinner.
The afternoon hours we spent fly-fishing a local pond and tonight would be served to plan tomorrow's hike of Katahdin. All intentions were to cross famed Knife's Edge - a narrow ridge line between two of the parks highest peaks. At certain points (they say) you have a two foot path, both sides dropping a dramatic 2,000 ft. It's something I've wanted to do since I was a kid.
We rise with wide eyes and hit the trail at 5am. From Roaring Brook, we gain elevation over the next hour and a half before Chimney Pond enters into view. I've heard this ranger station is the most sought after position for a ranger on the entire East coast, if not all the country. Located in a serene basin, surrounded by granite walls, green trees and crystal clear water. Peacefulness.
Cathedral Trail, before long, has us scrambling on all fours, grasping for handholds. The instruction from our Maine Guide friend rings out from up the trail, "Three points of contact!". That's coaching I'd never been given before nor want to hear again. This isn't hiking. This is climbing. The beauty of the flat Maine countryside begins to ring out atop the trees. Blue ponds and far stretching forest for as far as the eye can see. Try to spot a house. You can't. This is nature.