Baxter State Park Backpacking Trip, August 2022

Brad Achorn

2022-08-30 - last updated 2022-09-02 (changelog)

We left home at about 2:45 on Thursday the 25th, arrived at the gate at about 7:00, spent the first night at a drive-to campground called Trout Brook Farm, then hiked about 3 miles to a backwoods camp site on Long Pond called Long Pond Outlet and spent two nights there, hiking back to the car Sunday afternoon.

The first priority on this trip was to spend time with Fiona swimming and canoeing, but I also brought my fishing rod and some tackle just in case. I also wanted to use my phone as little as possible which would be pretty easy in the park since there’s no cell reception anywhere near it, but I also decided to navigate by paper map (and memory) as much possible, and did not take pictures of everything.

The Five Ponds trail is a loop, and the plan was to go the short way, counter-clockwise, to get to the site on Friday and the longer way to check out the other ponds on the way home.

Map of the area of Baxter State Park we visited

The night at the campground was fine, though not very interesting other than the great view of the night sky with absolutely no light pollution. I live in an area where light pollution isn’t that bad but the stars and the Milky Way were still almost breathtaking the first time I looked up, after my eyes had adjusted to the dark, when I wasn’t thinking about looking at the stars, and there they were.

Hiking in

The weather forecast had predicted rain after 2:00pm Friday so we were prepared for it, and boy was I glad we were when it turned out to rain all day Friday instead. So we had to pack up and hike all three miles in the rain. Fiona sure was a trooper. At the camp site we set up a tarp quickly for some cover from the rain while we set up the tent and got unpacked.

Even in bad weather the campsite was absolutely beautiful with Long Pond right there, and Long Pond is surrounded on three sides by Trout Brook Mountain, Horse Mountain, and Billfish Mountain. There is one other campsite on this lake, and we could see tents at it when we arrived, but we never saw any sign of people and they left early Saturday. Another guy fished late in the evening, then left early the next morning. So for the vast majority of the time on that lake we had it all to ourselves. The whole weekend, including the hikes in/out, we only saw three people (one guy and a father/son pair) close enough to talk to, and didn’t talk to them for more than a minute each.

Here’s a picture of the site after the weather got better:

The tent on the right, tarp on the left

The tarp is in a slightly weird spot and at a somewhat awkward height and angle because I just wanted a quick place to get us and our gear out of the rain while we were unpacking and setting up, and this angle also blocked some of the wind. I don’t always bring the tarp backpacking but I sure was glad to have it this time. We took it down right after taking this picture so we could use the fire pit later.

This was our view from the tent also after the weather got better, Long Pond with part of Billfish Mountain raising to the right:

The lake seen through some trees

Swimming

Even while it was still raining lightly in the late afternoon Fiona couldn’t resist a quick swim:

Stepping into the water

That’s Horse Mountain shrouded by fog in the background.

Swimming near weeds

Unfortunately the swim got cut short by a close call with a very large leech, so we knew we’d have to find a better swimming spot later. Eventually she decided she wanted to swim around the deep water, so she tried jumping out of the canoe. We found a spot where it was deep near shore so I could tie up the canoe with the 50 feet of paracord I had, this way if we accidentally flipped it we could swim the short distance to shore and haul the boat in with the rope. We did this on both Saturday and Sunday when the weather was nicer. This was fun but getting back in was hard, so she enjoyed a lot of swimming around between jumps. At one point I think she was in the water for 25 minutes without using the canoe - though I was always within 20 feet of course! Oh and we never did capsize the boat, though it was kinda close the first time she climbed back in, but we got better at it each time.

First canoe paddle

But the other thing we could do that Friday evening was go get the canoe we rented. For $8/day you get the key at the gate and they are chained to trees on the northern shore. This was Fiona’s first experience canoeing, and she took to it quickly and said she loved it. She already liked kayaking so that wasn’t a big surprise but still gratifying.

The weather that evening had lightened a little, but the clouds and the mist did make for some very cool pictures:

Fiona paddling in the bow seat

Fiona in the bow seat taking a break from paddling to look at the fog around the mountain

The mountain mostly shrouded by fog that Fiona is pausing to take in is Trout Brook Mountain. Something about this picture gets to me, it is my favorite that I have taken in a long time.

Here’s Fiona taking her first solo paddle the next day:

Fiona paddling away alone

Fiona paddling back

Fiona maneuvering the canoe close to shore

Fiona maneuvering the canoe close to shore different angle

Fiona paddling away again

She doesn’t have the stamina yet to go far but enjoyed paddling around our little area. The nice thing about this small lake is that I can see the whole thing from camp anyway.

Here are a couple more pictures of us paddling in better weather, with Trout Brook Mountain fully visible now:

Fiona in the bow seat paddling in better weather

Fiona in the bow seat padding in better weather, different part of stroke

RiDUCKulous race

One funny thing that happened during a paddle Saturday was an encounter with a group of ducks. I think they are Common Merganser, a mother with three nearly full-grown adults ducklings. Whenever we got close (not that we were chasing them, but it’s not a big lake) they’d suddenly start quacking like crazy, and take off swimming faster than most people can sprint on land - so fast it looked like they were planing and everything! As they did it their bodies wobbled from side to side (I assume with every paddle of their opposite foot), and that combined with the splashing and the noise was hilarious. It sort of looked like they were racing one another so we took to calling it the Riduckulous Race.

Ducks racing away

Ducks racing away, further away

High Pond

Another cool thing about this location is that there is another lake very close by - literally only 100 feet to the north is High Pond. The Five Ponds Trail goes right between them, and the canoes are stored between them, so it’s easy to drag a canoe over to check out High Pond! Well, I say easy, but you do have to drag the thing up and down a steep hill in between, but it’s worth it - it’s a lot smaller than Long Pond but it was really fun to go from one lake to another like that.

Here’s a point on the trail where you can see both lakes at once:

View of both ponds at once

Here is the point on the trail where you cross the outlet that goes from High Pond to Long Pond, looking at High Pond with the camera only a few feed above it:

View of High Pond pond about level with it

And turning around here is the view of Long Pond, you can see the short stream and that Long Pond is 15-20 feet lower elevation. I assume this is where High Pond gets its name, it is quite a bit higher than Long Pond considering how close it is!

View of outlet from High Pond down to Long Pong

One interesting thing we saw late in the afternoon shortly before the sun started setting, on both ponds but these pictures are on High Pond, was the waterbugs going crazy. I think they are the same waterbugs that are there all day but they suddenly start motoring around like jet skis! At first it’s just one or two and they really stand out because of the ripples they make, but eventually there are hundreds of them doing this.

Waterbugs on High Pond

At one point on High Pond we saw splashing on the other end as something went crazy in the water, breaching the surface and diving back so fast we saw nothing more than a blur and a splash, then doing it again 10 feet away a couple seconds later, maybe 10 times. It looked almost like a miniature version of a movie shark attack, but eventually we figured out it was a Loon! I assume it was chasing prey, and while I’ve seen lots of Loons diving under after something before I’ve never seen any sign of them until they come up later. This lake has a pair of Loons living on it though we only saw one at this time, we’ve seen them flying around visiting the other ponds, including Long Pond, throughout the weekend.

Fishing

As I mentioned earlier this trip was primarily about swimming and canoeing, but I did bring fishing gear so I could take advantage of what opportunities I got. Late Friday evening Fiona wanted some time out of the rain/mist/fog, and Saturday afternoon she wanted a break from the sun, so I got some fishing in then but didn’t catch anything. I had covered pretty much the whole lake, plus I got a few casts in on High Pond when I went over with Fiona, though not really enough to learn much there.

However, Sunday morning I decided to get up early (for me) and after an hour, just before the sun got too high to really call it “morning” any more, I realized that there was one cove I had missed (shown on the map below). It looks like it’s probably shallow from a distance, but up close is obviously deep in the middle. More importantly, there was tons of fish feeding on the waterbugs! Every 30 seconds or so I could see some activity. This cove was also cool because with no wind I could sit right in the middle of it and reach the whole cove with a decent cast. But the majority of the activity was on the southern edge of the deep part, probably because that was shady, so that’s where I concentrated and in fewer than 10 casts I landed a 14" native brook trout! Man was it a fighter - after flipping it into the boat it almost flopped right back out twice and if the hook hadn’t still been in it’s mouth I think it would have made it. According to what I’ve read this is about as big as they get in this lake, and was a bucket list catch for me!

Not only was the fish a bucket list catch but the whole morning almost perfectly fit something I’ve always wanted to accomplish - catch some native brookie and immediately cook it/them over the fire for breakfast, ignoring whatever it was that I packed. And that’s exactly what I did! Though I didn’t expect to catch anything on this trip, I am always an optimist so I had packed some clarified butter and salt to cook it with. The only thing I could improve upon is my technique over a fire - it’s not something I do enough to be great at, and it probably would have helped to have brought a better pan. This fish was also big enough to filet, which I didn’t do to save some time but I might if I got to do it over. Despite all that, I’d take this meal over any restaurant salmon any day.

This morning, combined with how much fun Fiona had swimming and experiencing canoeing for the first time, make this easily of my favorite hiking or fishing or camping trips ever.

Me holding brook trout horizontally

Me holding brook trout vertically

It may look like I am holding the fish in a way that might hurt it but don’t worry - it’s dead. I already humanely dispatched it before taking these pictures.

However, you’ll have to ignore both my horrible photography and sartorial choices here. I hate taking selfies but was alone and wanted a picture of this fish. I also literally got out of bed right into the canoe without changing, and that night it had been cold (48) so I had just thrown on whatever extra layers I had without thinking about a photo shoot later. Also the life jacket is part of renting the canoe, I definitely did not pick that sun-faded tan/purple color combo.

My lack of selfie-skills also means that this is the only picture I have that shows the color on this fish. Here it is cleaned and ready to cook. The gallon-sized Ziploc it is on also helps show the size:

Fish cleaned and ready to cook

Map of long pond indicating fish location in far eastern cove

Map of long pond depths

Leaving

Here are a couple final pictures from Saturday of the serene lake taken from camp. Note that the trees are not turning yet but the angle of the sun makes them look a different color on camera though they are green in person.

Reflection on calm lake with canoe in foreground

Reflection on calm lake with canoe in foreground wider angle

Here is the site, all cleaned up before we left. It is amazing to think all that stuff we had here fits in two backpacks that we can comfortably carry for miles!

Camp site cleaned up before we left

The hike back was relatively uneventful with much better weather. We missed the turnout to see Round Pond up close but decided it wasn’t worth backtracking for so only saw it from a distance. We stopped at the unoccupied Billfish Pond campsite for lunch, and decided that our campsite was definitely better, though Billfish Pond itself sure looks interesting! Littlefield Pond was a nice place to stop for a break, but not much to see here either.

Here’s Fiona posing under the roots of a fallen tree. They looked even bigger in person.

Fiona under the roots of a fallen tree

Couldn’t resist taking a picture with this lighting, just a few minutes from the car.

Fiona hiking through beautifully lit woods

Finally, on the way home, we get quite a few glances at Katahdin. On a whim while passing one lookout I took out my phone and snapped a dozen pictures without looking, this one came out pretty good. The window glass and the low late afternoon sun are going weird but cool things to the colors. Someday we’ll hike up Katahdin!

View of Katahdin from car on the way home