Saturday, January 28, 2012

Great Pond Mountain Wildlands, Orland, Maine (1/24-1/25/2012)

Great Pond Mountain

Nothing beats stress quite like hiking. For me, the blast of fresh air, the smells and sights and sounds, the solitude... it is the best remedy from the everyday stresses. This week has been hard one for sure, thus it is time for an escape.

What better place for that escape than the 4,300-acre Great Pond Mountain Wildlands, located just a short drive away for me, in East Orland.

It was a Tuesday evening, and the sun was just setting. I was just arriving at the Hothole Valley South Gate. The forecast called for fairly mild temperatures that night, expected to be just below freezing. A perfect night to play with my new shelter system. I was looking forward to practicing setting it up by headlamp. Also, there was a bit of a drizzle, so I would also get some practice setting it up without wetting my gear in the bad weather. 

My plan was to hike a short distance in, setup camp, then spend the next day hiking. With my backpack on, and trekking poles in hand, I begin down Valley Road into the dark of the night. It didn't take long for the sounds of the road to be drowned out, and for me to be entirely engulfed in darkness. I used my headlamp to navigate down the wide dirt and gravel road. It was a very serine and peaceful walk in the night.

Arriving where I intended to camp, I unrolled my backpack and began dispersing my shelter system. What I used was a HMG Echo II Shelter. This is an extremely lightweight shelter, made from cuban fiber. It uses trekking poles for setting up, eliminating the need for any additional weight in tent poles. For me, I feel this shelter is ideal for my upcoming planned excursions. It is a balance between the best qualities of a tarp, and the best qualities of a tent. 

As I began setting up my shelter, the drizzle picks up, and becomes a light rain. I quickly got the tarp started, using trekking poles on each end, and staking out the tarp. I was able to then remove my remaining components from my pack from underneath the tarp. I feel I was pretty successful at getting camp set up without getting my gear wet. This is a critical skill if you plan on doing any serious backpacking in bad weather.

Laying in my sleeping bag that night, I was amazed at how warm it was for mid January. It was going to drop below freezing that night, but not until just before dawn. I fell peacefully asleep to the sound of rain on my tent.

I woke with a shiver. It was so mildly warm last night, that I fell asleep barely covered in my bag. Temperatures dropped significantly overnight. I needed to get out and pee anyways, so I figured I would walk around camp and warm up. 

Stepping out of my shelter, I noticed the tarp was covered in ice! I was very impressed how well my setup has survived these conditions. The inside was completely dry, the outside still tight as a drum. Very pleased that I can trust my home away from home.

As I walked around, my eyes laid on a beautiful sight; the sun had just started peeking over the ridge, and was lighting the peak of Great pond Mountain in bright gold light. It was an inspiring sight, and filled me with an optimistic energy.

I broke down camp, leaving not the slightest trace of my being there. I cooked some sweetened oats on my Jetboil stove, then continued on down Valley Road.

Shortly after departing camp, I came to a sight that made me chuckle. A former outhouse, apparently now claimed by the porcupines of the Wildlands!

I began down Hothole Brook Trail. This is a wide multi-use trail, just under a mile in length. I crossed Hothole Brook by way of a well-built bridge, and observe beaver huts to my right.

Hothole Brook

Hothole Brook Trail continues past some large boulders, one of which I found particularly interesting. It had a large tree growing from it's top! It was an amusing sight to me! The trail ends in a clearing, just below 1,020 ft. Great Pond Mountain.

The highlight of this trail was actually a short path that branches off of it. Bump Hill Path, a very enjoyable, albeit short, scramble up and around and over glacier-dropped boulders. It was a fun little loop, one which I highly recommend should you decide to visit the Wildlands (and indeed you should). The reward for climbing the hill was very nice. It afforded an excellent view of the surrounding mountains, and overlooked an interesting wetlands area. I intend on returning here in warmer months, and would not be surprised to spot some great wildlife. Here is a quick video I shot to give you a taste of the view from Bump Hill.

Heading back out the way I came, I crossed Valley Road, and headed through Red Pine Path. This short trail meanders from an old road onto a footpath, which took me by Cascade Brook and through nice forest. 

I then began heading East on Flag Hill Road. This starts out as a wide open roadway, affording nice views of surrounding ridges. It then narrows up a bit, and becomes a "Trail". The trail then becomes Flag Hill Path, which ascends a more difficult and steeper stretch to the summit of Flag Hill. 

View of Branch Lake and beyond from Flag Hill summit

At 925 ft. tall, Flag Hill's rock face summit allows you some absolutely astounding views of the surrounding area. In the distance, you can see places such as Acadia National Park, and Camden Hills. I could spend a day here to just relax and think, and would be perfectly content.

View from Flag Hill

I had hoped to continue from Flag Hill deeper into the Wildlands, and planned to spend another night out there. However, I utilized the cell signal from atop this mountain to check the weather forecast. To my dismay, the original reports of another mild night had changed, and I was instead looking at significantly colder temperatures ahead. I was ill prepared for such temperatures, having packed only what I needed for the original, much warmer, forecast. So I pulled out my map and decided on another route that would make the most out of my day, but lead me back to the South Gate. 

Before leaving Flag Hill, I shot another video to share with you, of the views from this summit. It isn't stunning in quality, but if the videos prove to be a nice touch, then I promise to improve on them in the future!

I headed back down and out via Flag Hill Trail, then cut across onto East Ridge Path. After crossing Hemlock Brook,this path brought me through dense hardwood forest, gradually climbing atop Oak Hill. After crossing exposed rock summit, the path opens up to offer splendid views of the Wildlands and beyond.

The trail then descended steeply down the west side of Oak Hill. It emptied out on Hillside Trail. this section of Hillside was a wide trail offering open views of Great Pond Mountain. 

I thought to myself at this point about how much I enjoyed the diversity of the trails here. You can string together several short trails, some are narrow, rocky scrambles up hills or through thick woods; Others are wide and gently rolling, but offer open viewing. It makes for an interesting experience, and you could compose a variety of different trips through these well thought networks of trails and paths.

I hopped off of Hillside, cutting across on the entirety of the 1.2 mile Esker Path. Esker has proven to be one of my favorite trails in the area. 

Esker Path

Esker Path is a classic New England trail. It is rocky, wooded, and diverse. It takes you through different types of forest, winding up and down, over root and rock, crossing several streams. It crosses a wetland area, requiring you to balance on carefully placed log foot bridges. This pleasant trail just plain feels good to hike. It was a great note to end my trip on.

Ice adds some challenge to areas of Esker Path

Esker ends on Valley Road, a short distance from South Gate, where I am parked. The sun was setting, the chill was beginning to set in, reality of normal life was beginning to return once again. But I now feel very rejuvenated. 

Great Pond Mountain Wildlands offers its visitors a variety of experiences. One could enjoy a few miles of easy walking, or put in some longer, harder miles that are very rewarding, or even spend a night or two for an all-encompassing experience.

I am already planning my return to this great place. The beauty and solitude it offered me proved addicting. I look forward to coming back and bagging Flying Moose Mountain, which is described as a "strenuous" climb. I enjoy a challenge! I also must summit Great Pond Mountain itself. I guess my one complaint is that there currently isn't a way to string in that summit from the Hothole Valley area. Instead, I must make a separate trip to Dead River Gate to gain access. A small price to pay, I am sure, but it would be nice to reach that area by foot from within the rest of the trail system.

The outdoors has it's affect on me, and that affect is among the best. I am drawn to the wilderness, whether it be the views, the education, or the challenges, I will never tire of the adventures afforded by our remaining remote areas. I am greatly satisfied by the opportunity to explore the Wildlands, and yet at the same time I am invigorated and am ready for more adventure!

I look forward to writing of my next Outdoor Wanderings. Thank you for taking the time to read along. I leave you with one last view from within this wonderful place. 

For more information on Great Pond Mountain Wildlands, including a very well written map and trail guide, please visit

Camping overnight in the Wildlands requires permission. For more information, visit the site or email your questions to

The folks I spoke with were very helpful and friendly. Their work here is greatly appreciated!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hiking In The Southwest

     Flipping through some pictures today, I came across some really nice images I took during the time I resided in Arizona. Arizona, and the Southwest in general, is very exciting to me. Having originally lived in New England, my time in Arizona felt very exotic.
     The land in the Southwest is very diverse. you have various desert scenarios it is so well known for, of course. But a short drive in almost any direction, and I could find myself in unique forest, atop tall mountains, and many more.
The sun rises over Superstition Mountains
     Beauty abound, the Southwest provided me with some incredible outdoor adventures over the years. An overnight in the Superstition Mountains still remains one of my favorite hiking experiences. Sedona area was beyond breathtaking. I had a great time tubing the Salt River. Hiking and fishing the Molgion Rim was a great experience. I enjoyed exploring unique landscapes, studying the amazing and abundant wildlife, and taking on the great challenges offered.
     After looking through some of these pictures, I was thinking I might do a few recaps of some past adventures on here. I have had some great experiences, and took some nice pictures. I think it would be nice for me to relive the experience by writing a little about some of them, and sharing my thoughts and some decent pictures. I think if I do this, I will keep them short and sweet, since some time has passed, I wouldn't want to miss any of the finer details.
Steep descent on Camelback Mountain
     Thinking and talking about the Southwest, and all the enjoyment the outdoors there brings me, has me doing more than just reliving past experiences. It has me very excited for the future. I am planning to return there to experience much more of what the region has to offer.
     While my Summer is already booked with a very exciting adventure, I hope in the not to distant future to engage in some great experiences out there. For one, I am planning to do an extended backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon. After a few visits there, I am convinced that I could make a truly epic trip through this beautiful natural wonder.
     Another example of something i would like to experience, is the newly completed Arizona Trail. This trail expands over the entire state of Arizona, and runs over 800 miles! This could be a future thru-hike for me. I would love the experience for sure, but it would be a challenge. I think water would be the biggest difficulty. We shall see, in time and planning.

     Thank you for reading along as I spill my thoughts about the great outdoors here on The Outdoor Wanderer. I can only hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy writing it!
     Until next time, Happy Trails!
Hiking in Sedona

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Odd Winter Weather

  So here I am, I have the next few days off, some new equipment to try, and an itch to head into the woods. If there is one thing Maine is not shy on, it's places to hike. I am trying to figure out an ideal place for an adventure for the next few days, that fit my current agenda.
     Normally at this time of year in Maine, I would require snowshoes and gear to take me down to sub-zero temps. But as I look out the window now, it looks like Spring is practically upon us. It's a wet one, but that is a fine trade-off for the absence of cold.
     I need to take advantage of this weather. I would love to just go out there now, and get an early start, but alas responsibilities require tending to. However I could utilize this eve, and take advantage of the next few days. Oh, the possibilities!
     Looking ahead at the forecast for the next few days, it does appear the temperature will drop a bit, but it shouldn't be real cold at all in the next few days. Also it appears there won't be much chance of precipitation. Sounds perfect to me.

     Well, the spirit that is Mother Nature has spoken, and has successfully convinced me that an escape into the wilderness is just what I need right now. I am still working on the details of exactly when and where, but I look forward to writing about my experience on here afterwords, and I hope you will care to read it.
     Happy trails and cheers to a good adventure!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fields Pond, Holden, ME

     Deciding to ring in 2012 with style, me and a few friends decide to take a stroll at Fields Pond on the second day of the new year. Starting late in the afternoon, we didn't have long to spend, but this simple Audubon area offers a leisurely walk through some very pretty woods.
     Fields Pond Audubon Center offers a variety of natural habitat, ranging from fields to forest to wetland. The sanctuary is 192 acres and offers meandering trails throughout. There is an impressive visitors center and volunteers provide family activities. This appears to be a great place to bring children.
     We start our short trek by taking Ravine Trail. This is a pleasant walk through forest, with a gentle slope, overlooking a nice brook at the bottom of the ravine. The temps were cold enough to freeze the water, despite the odd winter we have experiencing this year. usually by this time in the season I would be snowshoeing. Not this year, however.
     The trail eventually loops around, and we decide to take Brook Trail to our left. This trail has us cross a couple brooks and takes use through a less dense area of forest. At one point on this path, we spot a group of wild turkey.
     We eventually connect with and follow Lakeshore Trail, which brings us to an opening by the pond. With benches and nice view, this would be a great destination to break for lunch on a summer afternoon, and watch wildlife and enjoy a breeze.
     We spend some time enjoying the sunset, radiant with color over the frozen pond, before following Lakeshore Trail back out to the parking lot.
     Fields Pond is not a challenging area to hike by any means. What this place offers is a nice trek through pretty habitats on well maintained trails. It is a great place when you wish to take a peaceful stroll in the woods, and it seems to me to be an excellent opportunity for young children to experience and learn about the outdoors. Whatever your reason for visiting, this is a great resource and a privilege for anyone to enjoy, right in the backyard of Bangor, Maine.

to learn more about Fields Pond, visit:

Borestone Mountain, Elliotsville, ME

     Thanks for stopping by! I thought I would do a little recap here of a fun adventure I had following Christmas just a few weeks ago, and to share the wonderful photos taken by my friend Kimberly Hammill.
     Kimberly and I decided we should embark on a hike, and we had hoped to choose one that was challenging, offered great reward, yet was one we could do in a matter of a few hours. Borestone immediately came to mind.
     I had engaged in hiking up Borestone Mountain a few times before, and felt it was a perfect fit for what we were looking for. In the warmer months, this mountain proved to be a quick and steep ascent, and with it's bare summit and prime location, it affords breathtaking views. It also fit our limited schedule as well, because it is only a few miles from trailhead to summit.

     We arrived at the trailhead, and began down past the gate. Just past the gate, you have your choice of paths. You can either choose to continue forward down the Access Road, which is just a wide dirt road leading directly to the visitor center by Sunrise Pond, and the Summit Trailhead. Or you can opt to take the more primitive Base Trail, a .8 mile trail which brings you steeply through mature forest. In all subsequent visits I had chosen to take Base Trail, and this time was no different. Or, at least, it began so.
     We hadn't made it very far on Base Trail before realizing it was going to be far more difficult than we had anticipated. We enjoyed making the attempt, aside from a few falls. The loose snow gave way to ice, and our boots just simply did not grip it well.
     We pushed a ways, but after slipping a few more times, I stated that this was going to be too difficult without spikes, which we did not bring. So we decided to bail on the Base Trail attempt, and head back for the easier Access Road. My fear was that the Summit Trail could prove to be just as icy, or possibly even worse, given the steep grade. Worse case, we would get nice views from the base of the mountain, and of the alpine ponds, so all would not be lost.

       So on we went, down the much easier Access Road. The scene was beautiful, white with snow, watching red squirrels dance about the tree branches.
     A little beyond the halfway point, there is a short trail to the right that takes you to a nice overlook. This trail is accessible from both the Access Road and Base Trail. It's nice, because not even a mile in and you already have your breath taken away by the view. We stopped and enjoyed the overlook, which offers an expansive picturesque view of Greenwood Pond.
Greenwood Pond

       We had continued down the Access Road, passing bathrooms on our right. The restrooms are closed this time of year, but offer a nice luxury for hikers in warm seasons. A little further, and you come to pass a visitor center, also closed for winter.
     Shortly, We had come to Sunrise pond, and an exquisite view of Borestone Mountain. It has a formidable appearance, despite it being relatively small compared to many of the area mountains. The exposed rocky summit gives it a more hardcore alpine image. That same exposed summit affords incredible views of the surrounding mountains. I just hope we can make it!
Borestone Mountain
     The Summit Trail begins by wrapping around the pond, and has you balancing on logs and boards over a few small streams.
     Once around the pond, the trail begins a steep climb up through dense spruce forest. While fairly steep, the trail proved passable despite the ice. This has been made possible by the addition of stone steps in some areas, thanks to the Maine Conservation Corps. Numbering 130 in total, the steps provide us with ample footing to make it quite a ways up the mountain before coming across more challenging areas.
     Once we had arrived to a point where teases of views began appearing, the trail became significantly more difficult, due to the snow and ice. We had encountered a few hurdles, steep areas of trail that had become a sheet of ice, offering little grasp. It was doable, and I encouraged my friend to continue as well. She is not as experienced a climber as I, so this challenge was foreign to her. So I would go first, showing her how I did each part, and she followed, sometimes reluctantly, but we  pulled through, and were always glad we did.

     We were almost to the top, just shy of summit, and the views were already absolutely incredible. The challenges to reach the top increased as well, however.
     After passing another steep, icy climb, one that tested our limits, we came to what appeared to be a last final test. The hardest of all, however. To reach the very top, there was this short gap, followed by slanted rock. The slanted rock, of course, was all ice. It would be a long drop should I fail.
     I stood there, contemplating a possible route. I had decided on the best way, however it would be a risk. I also could not see a way back down that wouldn't prove ugly. I turned to my friend, and told her this was as far as we are going. We looked around at the awesome views, and we were okay with that decision.

     All in all, it was a great and exciting climb for a modest mountain. The winter conditions added to the challenge, and even caused us to fall short of the summit. It would have been safer had we brought spikes, though that last challenge just under the actual summit would probably feel safe only with an ice axe as well!        

     I will have to return here again someday in the near future, because for a few hours of hiking, you get great mountain views and plenty of enjoyment.

photos provided by permission by Kimberly Hammill.
to learn more about Borestone Mountain, visit:
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