December 09, 2019
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1-minute hike: Mount OJI in Baxter State Park

Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN

Difficulty: Strenuous. The hike is about 8 miles round trip and includes a few steep, tricky areas near the top where you have to climb hand-over-foot around and over boulders. However most of the hike is gradual climbing because the trail switchbacks up the mountain.

How to get there: Travel on I-95 to Exit 244, then turn west on Route 157 and drive into Millinocket. At the three-way intersection after the second traffic light in downtown Millinocket, bear right, following signs directing to Baxter State Park. At the next “Y” intersection, bear left, staying on the main road. Drive 16 miles and you’ll reach the south entrance to Baxter State Park, Togue Pond Gatehouse. After registering, take a left onto Park Tote Road and drive 11.8 miles and the Mount OJI Trailhead and parking area for it will be on your right just before Foster Field Campground.

Information: Rising 3,434 feet above sea level, Mount OJI is one of the many mountains in Baxter State Park and features an 8-mile hike with breathtaking views from its ridge.

The mountain got its name from three rock slides on its southwestern slope that used to resemble the letters “O” “J” and “I,” according to the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. However, a major storm in 1932 prompted the slides to shift, distorting the letters. And in 1954, a fourth slide came down.

The trail up OJI starts near Foster Field Campground and travels through the forest through several watery areas. Narrow bog bridges help hikers over the muddiest areas. However these bridges can be quite slippery, especially after rain. Exercise caution.

After passing a small wetland, the trail continues through the forest and travels very gradually uphill as it approaches the base of the mountain. Along the way, there are some extremely rocky sections, as well as some smooth, sandy sections. A variety of plants and fungi keep this part of the hike interesting and beautiful.

Eventually, the trail climbs to drier land and strikes through a beautiful mature beech stand before reaching the outwash of a rockslide, which looks like a miniature gorge. The trail travels right through the center, with the forest floor rising up on both sides.

Soon after, the trail diverges from its original path. The old Mount OJI Trail used to continue up the rockslide, traveling up some very steep rock faces that require hand-over-foot climbing. But in 2014, this section of the trail was relocated. The new trail leaves the slide and switchbacks through a forested part of the slope, which makes the hike safer, less technical and a notably longer.

Navigating a beautiful forest that becomes increasingly dense, the new trail forms a giant zig-zag as it switchbacks up the steep southwestern side of the mountain. About 2.7 mile into the hike, a 0.2-mile side trail leads to an overlook at West Peak, which is 2,502 feet above sea level. And beyond that, about 3.5 miles from the trailhead, the trail reaches Old Jay Eye, a rock formation on the northwest end of the mountain’s ridge.

At Old Jay Eye Rock, you’ll enjoy some of the best views of the hike, with Mount Coe and South Brother Mountain rearing up to the north and the distinctive profile of Doubletop Mountain to the west. A tiny loop hike travels around Old Jay Eye Rock to a point where you can climb up on top of the rock formation, but that path travels close to a steep drop-off and is not for those who are scared of heights.

From there, the trail continues 0.5 mile across the mountain’s scenic ridge to the wooded summit, which is marked with a sign but provides no actual views. Along the way, the trail passes over several open areas that provide stunning 360-degree views of the region. Out and back, the hike is 8.4 miles total, counting the 0.4-mile hike to West Peak and back.

This is quite a difference from the old trail, which reached the summit at 2.9 miles and ended at Old Jay Eye Rock at 3.4 mile (using the same 0.5-mile trail across the ridge). Therefore, the out and back hike of the mountain used to be about 6.8 miles, but it was so steep on the slide that it discouraged many hikers.

A tiny loop hike travels around Old Jay Eye Rock to a point where you can climb up on top of the formation, but it’s not for those scared of heights.

The new trail is well marked with blue blazes, and like the old trail, it connects to a loop hike of Mount Coe, South Brother and North Brother to the north. A 0.7-mile connector trail spans from Mount OJI’s summit to this loop hike, which is about 9 miles if you visit all three peaks.

Day use of Baxter State Park for Maine residents is free, while using campsites requires prior registration and a small fee. Dogs are not permitted in the park. For more information, visit baxterstateparkauthority.com or call 207-723-5140.

Personal note: I woke in the pitch dark to rain hammering on the canvas overhead. Snug in my sleeping bag, I hoped that the downpour would taper off by morning. It was my family’s annual trip to Baxter State Park, and a handful of our group had planned to hike Mount OJI despite the gloomy forecast.

Campers were unzipping tents to visit the outhouse when I next opened my eyes. The rain had slowed to a drizzle, coffee was brewing and bagels were being passed around. It was time to get ready for the day.

Our hiking group, which we split into two and adopted a buddy system so those groups could break apart more on the way up as people hiked at different paces. I’m the third from the left. My mom is second to the left. My husband Derek is fourth from the left.

I’d hiked Mount OJI before, back in June of 2013, when white lady’s-slippers and violets were in bloom beside the trail. But since then, the trail had been improved and a large portion of it had been relocated. I was eager to note the changes.

Since 19 people from our campground signed up for the hike, we split into groups of two (Baxter’s hiking group limit is 12), and we adopted a buddy system. My buddy, of course, was my husband, Derek, who helps me with filming and photography.

Derek

We had to move slowly at the beginning of the hike because much of the trail was narrow bog bridges, which were extremely slippery after the rain. A few of us — including myself — slid into the mud, but no one got hurt.

The first half of the hike was fairly flat with tricky footing, and along the way, we enjoyed lush moss, beds of ferns and a wide variety of mushrooms, including red-orange lobster mushrooms, yellow coral mushrooms and giant white mushrooms that I can’t positively identify. Also, about halfway up the mountain, we came across an abundance of Indian pipe, an unusual plant that is often mistaken as a mushroom because it’s completely white. Also known as ghost plant, it doesn’t contain chlorophyll (which makes plants green and generates energy from sunlight). Instead, it’s parasitic, drawing energy from certain fungi.

Indian pipe

Throughout the hike, those in our group who had hiked the old Mount OJI Trail remarked several times that they preferred the new trail. However, I’ve also read comments online from people who are disappointed with the new trail because it doesn’t traverse the rock slide. So to each their own. I enjoyed both trails for different reasons. While scrambling up the rock slide was fun for me back in 2013, I imagine it would have been very difficult with the rock slick after the rain. And the new trail traveled through such a beautiful forest that I really can’t complain. The switchbacking also made the new trail much more gradual, which is easier on the body and less dangerous to descend.

There are still some cool rocky areas near the top of the new trail, including this spot you have to squeeze through (there is a trail around the side if you prefer).

The clouds were lifting and shifting throughout the morning, offering us pockets of sunlight and glimpses of blue sky. By the time we reached Old Jay Eye Rock, we could see nearby Mount Coe and South Brother Mountain, and way down below, Nesowadnehunk Stream wound through the forest to feed into the park’s many ponds. Bracing ourselves against the fierce wind, we picked our way along the ridge to the official summit sign, then retraced our steps down the mountain. Our day ended with a cold bath at a swimming spot known as The Ledges on Nesowadnehunk Stream, followed by a hot camp-cooked meal that included garlic potatoes, grilled vegetables, a cold cucumber and tomato salad and a choice of steak, marinated chicken or pork tenderloin. After the long hike, I tried all of the above, polished off with a s’more.



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