I walked into the clearing expecting to see a cabin. It was gone.
Sept. 13, 2012, I was half way to the summit of Big Spencer Mountain in the Moosehead Lake Region.
I remember the cabin well because, though rundown, the building had been picturesque. A peaked roof and sides of cedar shingles painted red, the paint faded and peeling. Yellow trim. Broken windows. Broken door lying on the creaky porch. Across the clearing stood a matching wood shed.
Three years ago, I walked up to that cabin and wandered inside, stepping over the broken door. Upon entering, I was startled by a fury creature (I’m not sure what) that skittered across the floor and hid under a cabinet. The front room was a kitchen, complete with a wood stove and sink. An empty egg carton on the floor had been gnawed on by some animal. On the small kitchen table, a book
had been signed by the many hikers who’d climbed the 3,230-foot mountain. Names and dates also marked the cabin walls. In the back room, a mattress was shredded to pieces by animals looking for nesting materials.
I didn’t touch anything. I don’t know why. I didn’t even sign the book. I just read some names and messages, looked and left.
I climbed the final mile of trail to the mountain summit and clambered up on the wooden platform (that I now know is a helipad).The I headed to the fire tower and climbed a slender metal ladder to the floor of a roofed lookout. The door to the top was locked, so I just stood at the top of the ladder and took in the view of the Moosehead Lake Region.
Thunder grumbled in the distance, so I quickly headed back down the mountain.
That was three years ago.
Back to Sept. 3, 2012. The cabin was gone, but evidence of its existence remained — a patch of charred wood, ashes and cement blocks. The woodshed had also been demolished.
I sat on a rock and soaked in the late summer sun before continuing on the trail, one mile up to the summit of the mountain.
This time, a stream had turned into a pond and the trail made a detour. Beaver had built a dam that summer, I learned from two men who were working at the summit of the mountain on a communications building.
The summit had also changed. The fire tower was partially destroyed. The square lookout platform at the top was gone, though the base and small metal ladder remained. The helipad remained the same as before, as well. This time, I had no reason to climb the ladder. The view was just as breathtaking from below.
But just past the fire tower and small communications building, much had changed.
A forest fire in early August had wiped out about 2 acres of old black spruce forest.
A construction crew had been on-site when the fire broke out, and they wisely retreated from the dangerous situation while forest rangers battled the fire by dropping hundreds of gallons of water by helicopter. On Sept. 13, 2012, the fire had long been extinguished. I saw a forest of blackened tree stumps surrounding abandoned tents, machinery, tools and supplies remained at the construction area.
I didn’t linger long to take in the ugly sight — and I hope that construction will resume and the camp will be picked up soon. Instead, I walked back to the partial fire tower. From there, you can’t see the damage, just a beautiful view of surrounding mountains, lakes and ponds. I sat on the helipad, ate my sandwich and reflected on how quickly things can change, even in spots that seem so remote, so untouchable.
While Big Spencer Mountain is open for hiking, Maine Forest Service District Manager Bruce Reed asks hikers not to tamper with the construction site or the burnt, which may be dangerous to walk in. While much of the equipment is ruined by the fire or foraging animals, it is also off limits to hikers. Leave everything as it is and hopefully it will be picked up soon. Reed also asks that hikers be careful around the wooden helipad near the summit by listening for approaching helicopters, which might be trying to land.
According to the BDN story published on Aug. 5, Forest Ranger Jon Blackstone said the fire began around noon on Saturday, Aug. 4, when a construction crew was on-site building a communications site that will be used to extend digital communications for border patrol agents as well as other federal and state agency officers. Blackstone said it’s likely something related to the construction work caused the fire, but the cause hasn’t been determined yet.
If interested in hiking Big Spencer Mountain and to see a video of the hike shot on Sept. 13, 2012, visit the “1-minute hike: Big Spencer Mountain” blog post.