May 23, 2018
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Maine adventurist completes ultimate hiking project

By Aislinn Sarnacki, BDN Staff


The pickup rumbled as Carey Kish turned off Route 9 and onto a gravel road walled by birch and maple trees. The drizzle became steady rain, streaming down the windshield, as he drove deeper into the Amherst Mountains Community Forest, where trails thread through nearly 5,000 acres of forest, wetlands and remote ponds.

“We’re so lucky here in Maine, with all that we have to do,” said Kish. “There’s so much here. If you’re going to live in Maine, you’ve got to love the outdoors.”

Kish was just a teen when he first erected his tent beside Partridge Pond in Amherst in the 1970s. At the time, there were no trails in the area. He and his friends bushwhacked through the mossy forest to reach the lilypad-speckled pond.

He couldn’t have known then that his future would revolve around just that — wilderness adventure — and that he would one day edit and expand one of Maine’s top resources for hikers, the 10th edition of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s “Maine Mountain Guide,” released in April.

A lot has changed for Kish and the forests of Amherst since the 1970s.

Fresh out of Bangor High School in 1977, Kish left society behind to walk the 2,184-mile Appalachian Trail. He then earned a bachelor’s degree in forestry and a master’s degree in business from the University of Maine in Orono, before deciding to build a career as a freelance writer. Hundreds of his outdoor stories and photographs have been published in newspapers, magazines and online sites.

Over the years, Kish has delved into ice climbing, white water rafting, canoeing, kayaking mountain biking and skiing. In 1984, he became a registered Maine guide, and in 1989, he founded the Maine Outdoor Adventure Club for people to share mountain experiences.

In 2010, in recognition of his talent as an outdoor writer, AMC offered him the ideal project — to edit and update their extensive guidebook on Maine’s mountains.

AMC, founded in Boston by Edward Pickering and 33 other outdoor enthusiasts in 1876, has grown to about 100,000 members, including 450 staff members and 16,000 volunteers who maintain more than 1,500 miles of trails and lead outdoor programming from Washington, D.C. to Maine.

Since the first AMC “Maine Mountain Guide” was published more than 50 years ago, it has been a resource for people exploring the Maine wilderness. Over the years, the book has grown to cover the state’s increasing number of mountain trails. The 10th edition, at 402 pages, is the biggest “Maine Mountain Guide” yet.

“Once I started pulling it all apart, I realized it was going to be a much bigger project to put it all back together,” said Kish, who had about a year to complete the project.

Fortunately, he wasn’t alone in his efforts. As the deadline drew near, several hikers — from helpful strangers to his wife, Fran Leyman — explored trails for him while he was stuck at home editing and writing. In addition, he received important information from a wide variety of clubs, organizations, government bodies and individuals involved in Maine’s hiking community.

“There were people who just came to me and volunteered to help,” Kish said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”

The 10th edition of the guide features 200 new trails, expanded coverage of Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park and five new in-text maps. Kish started off the book by writing sections on trip planning and safety and added helpful appendices in the back of the book that include online resources.

“We added a little something to every section, and the big one is Acadia and those trails,” Kish said. “I don’t think they planned on having a 400-page book originally, but it turned out that way.”

Kish tried to include every mountain trail he could find in the state, at times stretching the definition of “mountain.”

“In just the past few years, there’s been an explosion of conservation,” said Kish. “Even since the book has been out, I’ve counted half a dozen new trails that need to be added to the next edition.”

“It really was a lot of fun, to first do a project for AMC and also to spend so much time on a topic I love,” he said. “It was a lot of work, but I’d do it again — I will do it again.”

Deep in the woods of Amherst, Kish left his pickup truck in a small gravel parking lot and headed for one of the new trails he included in the “Maine Mountain Guide” — the trail to the summit of Bald Bluff Mountain in Amherst. The 1,011-foot mountain just barely made it into the 10th edition of the guide, since the preserve surrounding the trail was so recently established.

The Amherst Mountains Community Forest was created in 2009, when the land was purchased by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. Kish no longer needs to bushwhack through the forest to reach his treasured Partridge Pond or the nearby summit of Bald Bluff Mountain because today he can follow clearly blazed trails. And rain or shine, Kish will continue to explore new trails as they pop up around the state.

“It was impossible this time around, but next time around, I hope to hike every trail in the book,” he said.

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