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August 27, 2009
Down East Maine is different from New Hampshire, and real Down East, north of Bar Harbor, is an altogether different kettle of fish. Most climbers I know who go to Maine only go as far as Bar Harbor or Baxter and that's about it. My wife grew up in middle Maine near Eastport, and we've visited there for a week or two every summer for many years. New Hampshire is a bit different from Massachusetts, but real Down East Maine is quite different from New Hampshire.
Where I'm talking about is around 2 1/4 hours north of Bangor. I used to say my wife came from "northern Maine". When I said something about that recently father in-law corrected me, stating that Eastport, which is definitely Down East, is considered Southern Maine by real Mainers! Northern Maine is up at the tip of the state in Fort Kent, another 5+ hour drive. A quick look at a Maine map and you get the picture. Maine is big, and once you get above Eastport there isn't a whole lot up there.
When I first visited their house, accommodations were spartan at best. There was no running water, normal toilet or shower. Drinking water was from the town spring down the road a few miles. Bathing was done in water hauled from the river next to the house and heated on a wood stove. There was no refrigeration and all the cooking was on the wood stove. Over the years things have improved and there is even a neighboring house for guests that has all the basic accouterments, including a washing machine! When we're not visiting it gets rented weekly and monthly.
In altitude the area is rather low. The highest point for about 40 miles is 200' above sea level. Almost anywhere you go in the woods it's very swampy. There are also tons of lakes. Check out the Maine Gazateer sometime and you will see so many lakes that many aren't even named. It's also pretty obvious that the land has been clearcut multiple times. There are very few tall trees, most are evergreen, and they are very close together making bushwhacking very difficult.
From a climbing perspective there isn't a lot around Pembroke. There is Clifton of course, but that's a bit more than an hour and half south. I've looked for climbing in the Pembroke/Eastport area every time we've come up, and other than the quarry in Eastport and various outcrops right on the coast I haven't found anything. I've ridden my bike up and down the back roads many times and never spotted a hint of a ledge. However on an afternoon ride on this trip I was coming back from a very nice ride to Calais when I spotted a bit of ledge through a small clearing off Station Road. I'd ridden this road over the years, but never spotted it.
I stopped at a house about 100 yards down the road and asked the young woman sitting on the porch if she knew what it was. She said that she didn't and her father who was working in the yard didn't either. Hard to figure... They did point out that there was an old logging road and ATV trail nearby that probably went in the right direction. I couldn't ride it on my road bike, so I planned on coming back to hike up there the next day.
I roused my son Lewis and his friend Riley the next morning and we drove over to the logging road. There was the usual gate across it, so I parked the van and we hiked up the road. It went in the right general direction and was obviously travelled by ATV's so it was really easy going. There were these cool game trails going off the road and you could see where moose and other animals had gone. The more you looked, the more you saw. The road forked and we hiked the one that went right climbing a bit and eventually turning left, in the right direction. It went through some wet areas, but nothing we couldn't get around. After about 20 minutes the road ended in a clearing. I couldn't see the cliff, but I felt as if it was just over to our left a few hundred yards. A very overgrown trail continued uphill in the right direction through some slash and thick bushes. We weren't wearing the right clothes for a serious bushwhack, so we turned around. We tried the other fork but it also ended in a clearing. However this time I could see the cliff 300-400 yards away uphill. Again there looked as if there was a very old trail that headed uphill in that direction, but it was filled with slash and briars. Not something I wanted to drag a couple of 9 year olds through. [SIGH] Well now I know where it is and next year I'll be prepared. Maybe I'll even bring a rope and some minimal gear.
When I first visited the area I felt kind of intimidated. The people were different and I was always worried how they would react to these down-staters, especially us from New Hampshire. But I really shouldn't have. Everyone I've met over he years have been nice to me. I no longer worry about riding my bike 25 miles out in the countryside by myself and I always wave at the folks in pickup trucks as they go by, and usually they wave back at me. I rarely see other riders, and have never seen anyone on a road bike in lycra. That said this week I was on Rt 191 getting close to Rt 9 and Calais when I saw a rider coming toward me. This is pretty well out in the country, so it was unlikely to be a kid on his mountain bike. As they got closer I realized it was someone on a road bike with panniers and a sleeping bag rolled up and strapped on the back. I slowed down and waved hello as I went by and called to ask if they were headed to Eastport, a logical destination about 35 miles away on the coast. They waved back and as they passed replied; "Noooo, Florida!" All I could in response do was to wave again and give a big thumbs up. I figure that's about a month's ride from there, and while not quite like hiking the Appalachian Trail, it certainly is a big journey.
I'd love to be able to spend more time up there because I've really grown to appreciate the country and people. Unfortunately my son's school starts this year before Labor Day and I have work to do on my own house before the winter comes, as it inevitably will. But we'll be back next year for sure. And if you get the opportunity to head up that way I strongly recommend it. Just don't count on being able to do any climbing, at least in that area.
Poking through some old newspapers at my in-laws this week I came across a Bangor Daily News from August 12th. They had an editorial about the state of New Hampshire charging the Eagle Scout $25,000 for his rescue this past spring. Apparently this issue has also come up in Maine recently. As they pointed out it "brings up important questions about all emergency services, and who should pay for them." Historically the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife have occasionally sent bills to people rescued who have been rescued in "situations that suggested poor judgement." Since there are no legal standards as to what constituted such behavior, none have been paid. The editorial suggests that using the same logic someone rescued from a fire caused by smoking in bed, an accident caused by a driver distracted by texting or using a cell phone, or a boater who capsizes they boat while not wearing a flotation device might all qualify. They conclude; "Sorting negligence from just plain bad luck is difficult, which could be why emergency services have long been considered a common good, paid for by all through their taxes. Search-and-rescue operations are a public service and should be paid for by the general public, as are fire and pilice protection."
All are points well worth considering... Where do you draw the line?
The weather has moderated a bit and along with that the bugs have abated somewhat as well. With any luck this will continue until we get the crisp fall nights that spell an end to the mosquito population for the season. Keep your fingers crossed...
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The White Mountain Report
North Conway, New Hampshire
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