North Brother: Conquering the One That Got Away
Updated: Oct 12, 2019
Last time I was here in Baxter State Park I hiked Katahdin's Knife Edge and Hamlin Peak in less than optimal weather. The plan was to also hike North Brother, but unfortunately because of some unforeseen complications we were unable to get it done that weekend. So on Sunday I was back and ready for redemption.
As I drove the winding tote road to the trailhead, the sunrise stained the few wispy clouds above me a warm peachy pink. Mist danced atop the small ponds scattered throughout the south side of the park. The park was sleepy at 6:15 but I was not. I was excited and ready for the day. As I stepped out of the car my legs felt like lead, exhausted from the day before. With grad school kicking by butt and life just being extremely busy, I've been slacking when it comes to working out lately and it showed.
Luckily the trail was gentle and flat at the beginning through an open forest of birch and maple trees boasting colorful leaves. I loved listening to the rustling leaves and the smell of fall wafted in the air. I'm not talking about pumpkin spice or one of those perfumed fall candles, I'm talking about the aroma of leaves changing that you can only know if you've been hanging out in the forest lately.
There were a few minor water crossings that I hopped across fairly easily, but I automatically thought about how difficult it would be in the spring when the brook swells with snow melt. Two of the crossings looked a little tricky when I first approached them, but a quick survey up and down the banks yielded well placed rocks to hop across. I soon came across a beautiful pond sitting just below the Brothers. The wind was starting to pick up, blowing waves across the calm body of water.
As I continued along in the forest the grade started to increase until I was struggling to catch my breath. My legs still felt sluggish, but the warm up was starting to help even through the 50 degree weather. This was the first hike since April that I wore my midlayer fleece the whole time. As I climbed I was teased by stretches of short coniferous trees between the birch wood forest. I thought that I was gaining elevation more quickly than reality, but I persevered.
The wind gusted through the trees above me and I anticipated it was going to be a tough summit climb. Luckily Marston trail is mostly sheltered below the treeline, so there was only a short exposed stretch. I thought about all of the thru hikers conquering the final climb up Mt. Katahdin today and hoped they would be successful. Every route up the mountain is exposed for miles, so anyone summiting would be in for a tough climb.
When I got to the final leg of the trail to the summit I found myself hiking up a flowing riverbed. For most of the muddy or wet stretches before there were beautifully constructed bog bridges with a thin crusting of ice sitting on them. They were a bit slippery, but at least they kept my feet dry. Now there was no protection from the water dripping down the trail. Luckily my trail runners are waterproof, saving me from very wet, cold feet. This was my least favorite part of the hike by far because it was not only steep but slippery and unpleasant.
When I finally broke treeline I was relieved to be out of that mess, but blasted with powerful gusts of wind blowing back at me with every step. I stopped to put on my hard shell jacket, and it flew out of my hands. Luckily I reached out and grabbed it before it was carried down off the mountain. The stretch of trail above treeline was short, only maybe a quarter mile. I could see the summit sign standing above me, but it was a slow quarter mile. Freezing air was rushing at my face constantly, the cold nipping at my ears and cheeks. I was so focused on that summit sign that not even the wind was going to take my eyes off of the prize.
When I finally reached the summit I was literally blown away by the views. I had a direct look at Katahdin's Baxter peak to the east with views of Mt. Coe and Doubletop to the south and west. I felt myself sigh a breath of relief that I had finally conquered this remote gem. I had the summit all to myself, which happens very rarely in my hiking experiences, so it felt great to feel so independently accomplished. After all of the anticipation over the last few months it felt so good to finally reach this summit. I had been so stressed about trying to get here before Baxter State Park, so now that I had done it that anxiety just melted away. I let out a triumphant howl before scurrying back to the sheltered trees for the hike back to the car.
I thought about going around to South Brother and Mt. Coe before looping back to the car, but with the seven hour drive back to Boston I decided to opt for the more direct out and back hike instead. One day I'll come back to Baxter and do that loop along with Doubletop and the Traveler's Loop in the northern section of the park, but those were all hikes for another time. The hike back to the car was much of the same, and I only saw a handful of other people the whole day.
As I descended I realized how close I was to finishing my New England 67 4,000 footers. I now only have three peaks left, so hopefully I'll be able to finish in the next month or two. After my NH48 I promised myself that I wouldn't become obsessed with finishing another list, but here I was scrambling to fit them in before snowfall and road closures. That being said, every hike has still been rewarding and fun, although the long drives are a drag. I can't help it, I crave the sense of accomplishment that comes from reaching these goals I never would have imagined. Two years ago I couldn't drive, wear a backpack, or even walk my dog around the block because of my broken neck. Now I think back to that time and it feels like such a distant memory.
North Brother (4,151 ft) via. Marston Tr [8.73 mi, 3350 ft, 5:01].
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