Tuesday, July 28, 2015

#99, #100 South Brother and Mt. Coe, July 25, 2015

#99, #100 South Brother (3,970') and Mt. Coe (3,795') via Marston, South Brother Spur and Mt. Coe Trails 7/25/15

Mileage: 11.2 (RT)

Elevation gain: 3,700'

Trailhead: Trail begins at the Slide Dam parking area on Park Tote Road in Baxter State Park, Maine ($14 entry fee). Parking area is on the right side of the road about 45 minutes from the Togue Pond Gatehouse (14 ish miles).  The small lot rarely fills up but may on weekends (so get to the gate early).

This route avoids the Mt. Coe Slide, instead hiking the back way to the summits.

Hiked with Ed, Jill, Ken, Robin, and two Riches.  All but one of the Riches had also done yesterday's hike up Fort Mountain, which damn near broke us (see previous report).  They survived to return the next day to accompany me as I completed my New England Hundred Highest list. Today, South Brother would be my penultimate peak  and Mt. Coe my 100th.

Yesterday's ordeal had me wondering if we had any energy left to hike a second day. And, I felt so beaten I'm not sure I even cared! 

But, the group looked forward to a new day and a more interesting trail and the challenge of the Mt. Coe Slide. And, hiking in drier, warmer weather. 

It was not to be.  

It had rained off and on through the night.  Heavy fog clung to the park and rain was predicted again for the most of the day.  It was cool and damp.  Not at all what we'd hoped for.

No one wanted to hike up a wet slide so the group opted to bag South Brother and Mt. Coe the back way, a total of 11.2 miles out and back. 

The route is as follows: Marston trail to the upper Mt. Coe trail junction and along the Mt. Coe trail to the summit of Mt. Coe (which includes an up and back to the South Brother summit via the South B. spur).

Still reeling from the yesterday's nasty hike, the last thing we wanted to do was go back up that wet Marston trail. 

We parked at the trailhead, eased out of the car and put our packs on (quite stiff - us and the packs!).  We stumbled onto the trail and managed put one foot in front of the other. 

That first mile was painful, but  - slowly - our legs loosened up and momentum took over. 

The first part of the hike was mundane, we'd just done this trail yesterday.  At the first Mt. Coe trail junction we gazed longingly at the right turn that would've brought us to the Mt. Coe slide - then obediently headed straight, back up to the upper Mt. Coe trail junction.

At the upper Mt. Coe trail junction we turned right. This part of the Mt. Coe trail is narrow and tree branches soaked us (seems to be a common theme this weekend). 

 Mt. Coe trail is closed in, wet branches drenching us.

For the most part the trail is mellow, descending as you leave the South Brother spur junction, and ascending as you approach Mt. Coe. 

As we reached the South Brother spur trail the rain intensified. We turned left and headed to the summit of South Brother.

Believe all the reports of "annoying" rock scrambles on the spur to the summit of South Brother  - and they're slippery in the rain, too.   A short haphazard stretch of boulders with deep holes between them add a level of excitement which would be most welcome in the good weather, treacherous and not so fun in the rain. (BTW, give yourself one hour to do the up and back - the small distance is misleading).

A steady sideways rain pelting our heads and filling our ears discouraged any relaxing on the summit. We took just a few photos and returned to the Mt. Coe trail. 

Rich at the top of South Brother. 

From here, the Mt. Coe trail widens up in open woods. We met several hikers who'd braved the slide, reporting running water and slick rock - which validated our decision to take the back way in.

As we headed to the summit of Mt. Coe (my grand finale), the rain stopped and the air warmed.  The group relished in the bright, and set their sites on our next summit. 

Heading toward Mt. Coe on a sweet trail.
Eventually we popped out of the tall trees and into the scrub. The trail becomes a narrow goat path along a steep cliff (for just a short time) before turning up those last several hundred feet to the summit. 

Out of the trees and heading up that little path to Mt. Coe.
My friends saluted my accomplishment as the clouds moved on, giving us great (partial) views of Katahdin.

Note the clearing sky.

The hike back to the car didn't seem so long - maybe it was the feeling of accomplishment that goes with completing the list. 

Heading back. (Robin Plumley's photo)
Trail in the sunlight. (Robin Plumley's photo)
I think though that it was the sunshine and drying trail and general good spirits brought on by good weather.

Seahorse and witch slides can be seen through the trees.

Nice view down the Marston trail.(Robin Plumley's photo)
Robin, back at Teardrop Pond off of Marston trail.

I'm amazed we got it done this weekend given the spirit-crippling weather.  My friends weren't going to leave (or let me leave) Baxter Park without bagging those peaks. I am so grateful to them.

Monday, July 27, 2015

#98 Fort Mountain (and North Brother), July 24, 2015

#98 Fort Mountain (3,868') and North Brother (4,151') via Marston Trail and Bushwhack 7/24/15

Mileage: 10.4 (RT)

Elevation gain: 3,900'

Trailhead: Trail is at the Slide Dam parking area on Park Tote Road in Baxter State Park, Maine (entry fee $14). Parking area is on the right about 45 minutes from the Togue Pond Gatehouse (14 ish miles).  The small lot rarely fills up but may on weekends (so get to the gate early).

I'd hiked North Brother two years ago; it was my #67 of the New England Four Thousand Footers (see previous report). Looking back, I wish we'd done Fort on that day when the skies were clear, trail dry and temps warm.  

Hiked with Rich, Ken, Jill, Ed, Amy, Robin, and Deb on this very rainy day.  

Months of planning went into this trip; I wanted to finish up my New England Hundred Highest list and my last three are in Baxter State Park. The plan was to bag Fort Mountain one day, South Brother and Mt. Coe the next.

No amount of planning will guarantee good weather.  Still, I was certain we'd get some sunshine and warmth for the days our two hikes were planned. 

It was not to be.  

The weather report for the first day called for occasional showers, cloudy with the possibility of an afternoon thunderstorm.  Not the best weather but we could tolerate "occasional" showers.

If only!  The group wound up trudging the 10+ miles over North Brother to the summit of Fort Mountain (and back) in unrelenting rain.  

We started on the Marston trail around 7:30 (flat at first but it steepens quickly, there are several small water crossings).  We got to the Mt. Coe trail junction in good time. That's when the rain started... and never really ended.  

We were constantly adjusting our packs and clothing to protect them from the wet. It was hopeless.  We'd put our rain pants on too late in the game and struggled with clingy shorts/pants, and soaking wet socks.  

Part of the Marston trail has been rerouted and by the time we got to this area it was muddy and slick.  Bog bridges were very slippery. 

We reached the second Mt. Coe trail junction (the trail intersects twice), turned left and started up a path that can only be described as a waterway.  

The upper portion of Marston trail was a roaring brook!

This sucks, I was thinking  - and dreaded the thought of climbing up to the summit of North Brother in the drenching rain only to hop over and head down the other side, through thick vegetation, and THEN back up to another summit.  And THEN down and up and down again on the return.  In the rain. With wet boots. In cold wet clothing and no good weather in sight. 

I started feeling bad for my friends for making the effort to hike with me on such an awful day. Why did I choose this weekend?! Where were those trip planning good weather fairies?

The rocks just below the North Brother summit were slippery and water was dripping and spraying everywhere.  We lurched ourselves up and over as we headed to the summit sign.  

On the North Brother summit. (Ed Koman's photo)

Amy on North Brother. (Amy Lowe's photo)

We didn't stay long on top of North Brother; we had other business. Facing the summit sign and looking left beyond it we could see a line of cairns down the other side, marking the way to the path to Fort Mountain.

Summit of Fort Mountain (that little bump on the left).

We dropped down over the other side and followed the cairns to the scrubby vegetation (bushes and short trees) that awaited us. We would descend about 500' off of North Brother (which we will need to ascend on the way back, oy).

One of the cairns pointing the way to Fort.
Climbing down to the scrub. (Ed Koman's photo)

The herdpath is easy to see, though it's thick with branches and stumps that hit your face and legs and try to trip you.  And, it's wet, very wet much of the time, though we didn't notice since we were already soaked to the max from the rain.  This .8 mile long section will take you over an hour to do - each way.  Build in time for this. 

If you follow the most prominent path (look at your feet often) and keep your eye on the summit of Fort Mountain you should have a "spruce trap-free, blowdown-free" journey.  

On our way through the thick vegetation.

For the most part the herd path is predictable and you may see a shock of tape or two flagging a turn or funny spot where you'll need to search around for the continuance of the path (or maybe not, tape is often removed - don't count on it). 

There is a spot where the path goes left (seemingly away from your goal) with a less prominent but discernible path heading straight. Thanks to Mattshikes' report, we knew to ignore the straight path and head left.  It swings back around toward the Fort summit soon after.

I was glad when we hit the col and started the climb to Fort Mountain. There are a few snarky rocks just below the summit but soon we were up and on top just in time for the clouds to break and sun to come out. We had lunch and dried out our clothing (or tried to at least). The wind was calm and bugs out but overall the area is quite pleasant.

Fort Mountain's summit is a series of bumps and we made sure we visited the two leftest bumps (the ones either side of where the herd path ends) to be certain we actually tagged the summit. The AMC Four Thousand Footer Committee HH packet describes the summit as "the one on the left end of the ridge as you are looking at it from North Brother." Good enough for us (the other right side bumps will look higher but the left ones are where you want to be).

Poking around on the summit.

Clouds rolled in again (dark, scary gray ones) and we were reminded of the "chance of thunderstorms" in the forecast. This was no place to be in a storm so we scurried back down the scratchy path toward North Brother.  

Heading back to North B. (Ed Koman's photo)

We took our time on the mossy rock. Thankfully the thunderstorm never appeared.  Amy and Deb took the lead and eventually we were back at the upper Mt. Coe trail junction, but not without some serious maneuvering around that roaring stream that was the upper Marston trail. 

Very wet friends back from Fort (still smiling, though).

We'd all fallen more than once on this trip because it was wet and slick, and our time in the scrub scratched and bruised legs and arms. We got back to our cars - cold and beaten up - around 6 pm, having spent about ten hours struggling in the rain.

When I think of the quiet determination my fellow hikers possessed on this rough, taxing day, I am awestruck.  Being wet for ten hours is unpleasant, uncomfortable and not the experience we'd hoped for. Still, sometimes you don't have to do it well, you just have to do it!  We dried off, went to dinner and set our sites on the next hike, assuming the rain would clear up by nightfall and we could head up the Mt. Coe slide to my #s 99 and 100. 

We were in for another unexpected adventure. Here's that report!