Oh, Brother! What a Hike! - Mt. Coe, South and North Brother

Submitted by Pat

Mountains: Mt. Coe (3,795), South Brother (3,970), and North Brother (4,151)
Date: September 26, 2007
Time: 11 hours and 15 minutes
Weather: Mostly cloudy, some sun, occasional sprinkles, windy - 60's
Miles: 11
Elevation Gain: 4,087
Steps: 39,071
Trails: Marston Trail - Coe Slide Trail - Marston Trail

Picture Gallery

Short Video Clips
Coe hike, Nancy Exhausted
Coe Slide
Nancy is DUN

We roll out of bed - well, I jump out and Nancy rolls out - at 5 a.m. I hate alarms and when I know I have to get up, I just get up. I hate the feeing of staying in bed for a snooze and feeling myself falling asleep and having the alarm ring again. It's worse than just getting up. We arrive at the Baxter State Park South Gatehouse a little after 6 a.m. The sky holds a mixture of clouds and sun. The air is breezy and warm, temperatures in the mid-60's. This is the first time we have hiked two days in a row - well, two hard days in a row - and I'm one of those special, lucky people who suffers from delayed onset muscle soreness. Even when I'm fit. After a hard hike, I usually feel ok the next morning but by the afternoon, I am sore enough to limp. So slinging on my pack in the Marston trailhead parking lot on legs that are fatigued and after a poor night's sleep feels like a challenge.

I expect today to be a challenge since we have Mt. Coe, South Brother, North Brother, and Mt. Fort on our docket for the day. While tagging those mountains are goals, they aren't set in stone - all dependeds on weather and how hard we want to push. I'm not sure how we are going to feel after one mountain, let alone after two or three. One thing we are sure about wis that Thursday is going to be a rest day. No matter what. We are on vacation, after all.

We start out at 7 a.m.- the trail iss level and runs through a forest ripe with fall foliage. I find myself loving the texture and smell and look of the trail. The ground is often a mixture of broken pink and grey granite - small pieces packed together to make for firm footing. I am enthralled by the colors of the moss that border the trail, a mix of green and red that is so beautiful in the morning light. 1.3 miles later we turn right onto the Coe Slide Trail. This trail meanders up a ravine and we walk on the downward side of one side of the ravine looking up toward Mt O-J-I. As we come around a bend in the trail we are confronted by the Coe Slide on our left - large, smooth rock ledges that would be very hazardous in wet conditions. Luckily, it is only threatening rain and the cloud deck is high.

It is dark, cooler and windy as we look up the Coe Slide - it has a foreboding feel to it and I shiver in my shorts and shirt sleeves. As we start up, though, my muscles warm to the task. This slide is reminiscent of the Baldface slide, and the trail is blazed close to the left edge where we can find the occasional hand and foothold. At one point I am ahead of Nancy and offer her a hand up on a particularly high ledge. One, two, three and up she goes... right onto the scrape she had gotten after she fell while rollerblading last Saturday. Immediately bright beads of blood well and start to drip down her leg. That incident, coupled with fatigue, the steepness of the slide and Nancy hating to walk laterally on steep rock with no handholds make the slide a difficult challenge. Not one to be defeated, Nancy dries the blood and start up the slide, one trail marker at a time. No looking back down. Just moving upward, one step at a time.

Finally we come to the top of the slide and re-enter the scrub before coming out to the Mt Coe summit at 10 a.m. We take some pictures, sit down to rest and eat some peanuts. The sun comes out and we almost see the Katahdin range to the southeast. After resting for a bit we start down the narrow ridge toward South Brother. A misstep is a very bad idea - maybe even fatal - as the ridge face drops off sharply to our right. Ten minutes later finds us back in the forest and on our way to South Brother. We arrive at the intersection of the Coe Slide Trail and the spur to the summit of South Brother and I put on fresh socks. Much better. My feet are swimming in boots I hadn't worn for a while. We decide to take our cameras and leave our packs behind for the .3 mile trek to the summit. Wise decision as there is plenty of scrambling over boulders to reach the top at 11:45 a.m. We don't linger since we are hungry and the sky has clouded over again.

We eat lunch at the trail intersection and decide to make a decision about North Brother when we reach the Marston Trail intersection. Upon reaching the intersection, we decide to go for North Brother. I still feel pretty good, although I'm sure we have enough time to tack on Fort as well. We meet a couple of hikers who had separated and are descending North Brother. The male hiker says it is raining and windy at the summit of North Bro. We have already put on pack covers and rain gear several times during the day when it starts to sprinkle, but the rain never materializes and we soon take everything back off again. As we trudge up to the summit I feel myself running out of gas. It is windy on the top when we arrive at 1:50 p.m. I figure Fort is a mile away and adds an hour and a half to our return time. We have at least 4.5 miles back to the parking lot. We stand and look at Fort and the Katahdin massif for fifteen minutes thinking about our decision. Nancy says she is willing to give it a go if I really want to do it. That feels wrong - pushing feels wrong - Nancy is my hiking partner and we have never pushed ourselves just because the other one wanted to. We have always pushed because we both wanted to, equally and together. I don't care about reaching the summit of any mountain compared to how much I care about my hiking partner and our safety. So I say no - we should head back. It will give us a reason to return to Baxter one more time...

There is such a strong psychological difference between the way I feel when I am climbing up a mountain, when I am moving forward down a trail, pushing toward a summit, going somewhere, than when I am climbing down a mountain, retracing my steps or walking back to the trailhead. There is a sense of ending as soon as we step off the last summit and start down, even when the hike lasts another three hours. That psychological sense of going down, going back, retracing our steps, sometimes acts like a weight on my back and legs and feet. My feet start to feel sore, my back aches, and my legs lose their spring. That is what happened on this hike. We return to the intersection of the Marston and Coe Slide Trails and head down Marston. The trail is beautiful. I am tired and feel comfortable with the decision not to push on toward Fort. Nancy's feet are really hurting - she can't seem to tie her boots in such a way as to prevent her toes from slamming into the toe box. Her dogs are not only barking, they are howling.

Seeing the car is a welcome sight - the sun reflecting off the clouds is beautiful, a warm amber glow. It fels so good to take off our boots and just sit in the car, sipping cold drinks and relishing the last two days of hiking. What a great couple of days. We experience new physical challenges and make the right decision not to push ourselves to tag Fort. How lucky we are to have the time, the will and this incredible friendship to spur us on. Still thinking about Kilimanjaro in 2009.

57 out of 67 NE 4,000-Footers
64 out of 100 Highest