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!

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