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!