Katahdin Woods & Waters / by Greg Westrich

Saturday I hiked in the new Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument. I drove the four miles from Matagamon south to the end of the road. Okay, so the road actually keeps going all the way to the south entrance, but it's blocked because all the bridges are gone. The area is criss-crossed with old logging roads that are open to hiking and mountain biking. In winter, you can ski in from Matagamon or Bowlin Camps.


I hiked more than 12 miles in a loop with jaunts out to ponds and waterfalls. Along the East Branch I followed the International Appalachian Trail. The IAT begins in the monument near Katahdin Lake and winds all the way through New Brunswick and Quebec to the tip of the Gaspe Peninsula. It then jumps to Newfoundland and Iceland and Scotland. Which seems like a stretch until you realize that the coast of Maine and Atlantic Canada are geologically part of Europe. Like Iceland, they were ripped off Europe when North America and Europe separated several hundred million years ago.


From the trailhead, I followed the overgrown road south. There were lots of moose scat and spoor as well as coyote sign. I didn't see any evidence of other hikers. I had planned to follow the road to the new trail to The Lookout—a rocky knoll that straddled the monument's boundary with Baxter State Park. Even though its only about 1800 feet high, The Lookout offers fine views of Wasataquoik Valley and the mountains of Baxter. It turns out it was farther than I reckoned, so I turned east on a cross trail and headed for the East Branch.


A short side trail lead to Messer Pond. I sat on the shore beneath a white pine and ate my lunch while a pair of loons fished in the pond. Between dives they occasionally called to one another. Their plaintive wails drifting across the water and into the surrounding evergreen forest.


I continued east to the K Comp Road—a short cut to the Bowlin Camps. I followed it to Pond Pitch Trail. I turned right and followed new blazes (there really wasn't a trail) to Little Messer Pond. From its south shore, I had a fine view of The Traveler.


I turned around and followed the trail across K Comp Road and all the way to the IAT along the East Branch. The trail ended at Pond Pitch. On Maine rivers, a pitch is a waterfall that's too large to navigate in a canoe or batteau. A falls, counter-intuitively, is whitewater that is navigable. The East Branch between Grand Lake Matagamon and the south entrance to KW&WNM is a series of pitches and falls separated by pond-like deadwaters. It's a beautiful and remote stretch of river.


I followed the river north to Haskell Pond Pitch. The pitch is actually an S-shaped section of river with two distinct waterfalls—the upper being the higher. Between the falls, a fifteen feet tall mass of conglomerate sits right in the middle of the river. Upstream, across the deadwater, I could see Bald Mountain and The Traveler.

From Haskell Rock Pitch, I followed the IAT past a shelter, a hut (a beautiful cabin along the river that's open to the public), and a side trail to Stair Falls. I'd canoed the falls twice, so I skipped that trail and hiked my tired feet back to the trailhead.