Henry wasn't crazy about the hike up North Brother. We followed the Marston Trail, which climbs 3200 feet from Nesowadnehunk Stream to North Brother's rocky summit. Most of the hike is in the woods with only occasional views. A fourteen year old needs more stimulation than that. The loudly tumbling stream, the bleached gray snags and dri-ki in the remote pond, the bone white granite draped with moss, the crushed orange granite sand paving the trail on the high plateau, the clear spring water rushing down the trail, the rustling leaves in a stand of birch: No. Henry wanted wide, expansive views. He wanted every climb to be The Traveler. Don't get me wrong. He kept up with me and never complained, but his heart just wasn't in it until we climbed above the trees. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Other than Katahdin, North Brother is the highest of the mountains that ring The Klondike. It's a near perfect cone with corduroy sides—the slopes of North and South Brother have alternating bands of dark green spruce and brown. It has something to do with the underlying geology.
Marston Trail includes three separate climbs. The first gets your blood flowing and heart pounding. A small stream chatters away, mostly hidden by thick underbrush as you climb out of the Nesowadnehunk Valley.
Up on the plateau, the trail climbs gently to a small pond tucked into a cirque. Water runs loudly down the bare granite walls. Even after an almost snow-free winter, there's water everywhere on this hike.
After hiking around the pond, the trail switchbacks up to the shoulder of the cirque wall, beginning the second climb. This section of new trail—the original trail had no switchbacks—features white granite steps and waterbars. Damp aromatic air hangs beneath the thick evergreens. Even on a hot day, it was refreshingly cool.
The trail climbs near the edge of the cirque wall with occasional views south and west. Here the trail is dusty and dry. The spruce a scraggly. It isn't refreshingly cool. The climb goes and goes. Before the trail turns away from the precipice, there's a small overlook. Really, it's just a pale, irregular boulder perched near the brink.
The second climb is followed by another relatively flat section through tall, straight spruce. The trail is rocks and crushed granite—rough orange sand that crunches with every step. Through the trees you get occasional views of North Brother's crenelated summit.
Past the north end of the Mount Coe Trail, the Marston Trail descends slightly into a swale. Spring water runs down the trail. As you begin to climb, the trail gets wetter, a stream really. And deeply eroded—in places the trail is six feet beneath the forest floor. And overgrown. As the trail steepens it becomes dry and less eroded, the rough spruce boughs reaching across the trail from each side. You force your way higher.
And then the trees fall away. The ground is large rocks and boulders. A dense evergreen mat covers everything. And the view is spectacular. Just as the Chimney Pond ranger promised Henry and I three years ago, it's the best view in Baxter. Maybe anywhere.
Lately, I have come to realize that views of Katahdin are more beautiful, more sublime, than the view from Katahdin. And besides, Henry and I had this view all to ourselves. Henry wasn't ready to admit North Brother was better than The Traveler, but he had no trouble soaking in the view for half an hour.