Balancing carefully on slippery rocks, I slowly made my way across Doubletop Brook. The rushing water was shallow and not necessarily a danger, but if at all possible, I avoid hiking in soggy boots.
So I hopped from rock to rock, keeping my stance as wide as possible, my center of gravity low. And, with a few final flails of my arms for balance, I was safely standing on the opposite bank, where a steep climb through the forest awaited.
My hiking companions, Jim and Gail, had warned me that the trail would be more challenging after the brook, which was 1.2 miles into our trek. So I took a deep, fortifying breath and secured my camera at my side, then followed Jim up the dramatic slope.
“It’s just as I remembered,” Jim said as I huffed and puffed behind.
I’d hiked Doubletop Mountain before, too, but the details had somehow escaped my memory. The hike had simply melded with the many other hikes I’d enjoyed in the park.
Each summer my family camps in Baxter State Park for at least one weekend, and during those days — weather permitting — I usually select one challenging hike to complete. For years, that hike was Katahdin. But as I returned to the park, year after year, I became curious about some of the other large mountains within its borders.
Baxter is a vast and mountainous place, with numerous peaks that offer breaktaking views. There’s South Turner, Sentinel, Coe, OJI and the Owl. Side by side stand South Brother and North Brother. And in the north half of the park, the multi-peaked Traveler Range offers a challenging trek that some consider as arduous as scaling Katahdin.
Then there are smaller mountains such as Horse and Trout Brook, not to mention the many lowland hikes to waterfalls and remote ponds. With 215 miles of well-maintained backcountry hiking trails, there is much to explore in Baxter State Park. I still haven’t done it all.
My most recent selection, Doubletop Mountain, was partially due to the nearness of our camping location: Nesowadnehunk Field. Located near the base of the mountain, the campground features a large beautiful field that almost always has snowshoe hares hopping about. And according to a park ranger, a bobcat had been sighted just prior to our arrival in late July. I imagine that had something to do with the abundance of bouncing, long-eared snacks in the area.
With two sharp peaks just 0.2-mile apart, Doubletop Mountain is aptly named. It has one of the most distinctive profiles in the park, its symmetrical shape like a tapering cone. To me, it looks like a volcano from afar, the peaks forming the edges of a crater at the center. But I’ve been to the top, and believe me, there’s no pit of lava waiting to swallow up unsuspecting hikers.
While all mountains have a way of beckoning hikers, Doubletop seems to have a special magnetism. I think it has something to do with its especially steep looking slopes. They beg the question: how does one climb all the way to the top? Well, there are two ways.
We started our hike from Nesowadnehunk Field. The other option is to start from Kidney Pond, on the other side of the mountain. In between the two trailheads, an 8-mile trail travels up and over the mountain, hitting both peaks.
Our hike began with about a mile of fairly even, easy hiking through a mostly deciduous forest. It was a great opportunity to warm up our muscles. Along the way, we admired the ghostly white stalks and pink flowers of ghost pipes, which are absent of the green pigment chlorophyll. Instead these strange flowers sap nutrients from tree roots.
Gail pointed out the differences between Solomon’s seal and false Solomon’s seal, both common along the trail. Both leafy understory plants are laden with berries. I’ve since read that the red berries that hang below the leaves of Solomon’s seal are especially toxic to people.
We also noticed bluebead, a plant with large dark blue berries atop tall stalks. And we saw plenty of trillium plants, though their flowers had long passed. A number of mushrooms also caught my eye, though I found the most interesting varieties farther up the mountain, in the mossy evergreen forest just below the summit.
While the trail beyond Doubletop Brook was especially steep, it quickly became more manageable. The overall climb was more gradual than I expected. In fact, there was a nice, long, even stretch just before the summit.
One thing that some people may consider to be a downside of Doubletop is the fact that you don’t enjoy much for views until you reach the very top. Then the views are truly breathtaking. Both peaks offer open views of the park.
We reached the North Peak first. At 3,488 feet above sea level, it is the mountain’s summit. There we sat on a hump of bare bedrock and ate sandwiches (salami, cheese and mustard for me) while enjoying an open view of North Brother, South Brother, Mount OJI and the West Peak. Just beyond those closer mountains peaked the impressive ridgeline of Katahdin, with the dome of the Owl just in front.
I was determined to hike to the South Peak, considering it was just 0.2-mile away. Gail and Jim opted to stay behind and soak up the sun as I trotted across the dipping ridgeline to the 360-degree view at the South Peak. Along the way I came across a plaque to Keppele Hall, whose ashes were scattered from the top of the mountain by his wife at sunset in August of 1926.
“Love only is eternal,” the plaque reads.
As I looked out over Baxter State Park, I couldn’t think of a more beautiful final resting place.