If there’s a better way to celebrate the start of the hiking season other than taking an overnight backpacking trip, I haven’t found it.
Sure, a day hike is fun and rewarding in its own way. Any hike is a great hike. But to really kick off the summer right, it’s tough to beat strapping on the backpack and hiking to a remote site for the night. That was my thinking anyway, when I set out for Martin Ponds in Baxter State Park this past Tuesday.
I’d never been to the newest gift to the park; a 4,119 acre parcel that includes Martin Ponds and Katahdin Lake. Since it was donated in 2006, the park has built new trails and lean-tos for overnights. I booked the lean-to at West Martin Pond in May and set out Tuesday afternoon for just one night. Looking back on it now, I wish I had reserved more nights.
The 2.3 mile hike to the ponds on the Katahdin Lake Trail from Avalanche Field went by with very little effort. The terrain was gentle with only the most gradual of climbs to negotiate. The trail as far as the intersection to Martin Ponds actually follows an old lumbering road. I made it to the lean-to, which accommodates six, in about 45 minutes.
Once I arrived, I busied myself unloading the overnight gear, then walked down to the shore of the pond where a canoe was stored on a rack. I didn’t want to exert the effort to paddle, so I stood on the end of the dock and took in the phenomenal view of Katahdin, which was clearly reflected in the flat surface of the pond. That’s when I noticed the bugs.
I expected the bugs to be bad. Whenever you head into the Maine forest in June, biting insects are a factor. I’ve never let black flies ruin my good time, however, and this trip I was prepared with repellent, no-see-um head net and mesh bug jacket. I put all three on and hung out at the lean-to while watching three pairs of ducks play chase around the pond. They were too far away to identify, even with my pocket scope.
A trail crew came by on the main trail 100 feet from the lean-to. They too were all suited up in bug-proof clothing and head nets. They were clipping young trees back from the sides of the trail and were working so fast I barely got a chance to talk with them for long.
Other than those people, I didn’t see anyone else. After they left, I set up the bug bivy, a basic covering that gives relief from the little beasties. The bivy is just big enough to sleep in without any room for any equipment, which is just fine with me. The equipment can fend for itself.
I brought a fly rod and some flies with the intention of casting for a few trout. I rigged it up and made a few casts from the dock, again because paddling just seemed like so much work. But I never got a bite, so I decided it was nap time.
After about 40 minutes of catching some Z’s, I set about making supper; a lovely meal of teriyaki-flavored noodles embellished with pepper sauce. Afterwards, I made a fire in the fire ring to see if that would drive the bugs back. It did and I enjoyed the evening relatively bug-free.
Sometime after dark I turned in and fell asleep to the sound of tree frogs and bullfrogs singing and croaking to the night. Those were the only sounds I heard. No engines, no traffic, no man-made noise of any type at all.
The night was cool, and in the morning the still, flat pond was enveloped in early morning mist. The ducks were still floating around acting like ducks and a beaver joined them in doing whatever beavers do in ponds.
Oatmeal and strong coffee provided the morning fuel. Afterward I strolled down to the dock and once again took in the view of Katahdin. The last of the snow still clung to the Saddle Trail.
It was time to go. I gathered my gear and packed, taking a moment to look around the site to see if I missed anything, then hoisted my pack for the easy walk out.
A Martin Ponds lean-to would be a great site for a beginning backpacker. It could also be a great destination for a small family group, since the lean-to sleeps six. Whoever stays there is sure to reap the rewards of spending an overnight out of a backpack. Martin Ponds is just the place.
For more info on the Katahdin Lake area contact Baxter State Park at 723-5140 or on the Web at www.baxterstateparkauthority.com.