Hiking Isle Au Haut

Yesterday we took the mailboat out to Isle au Haut for some hiking. We disembarked at Duck Harbor at the southwest corner of the island, which is largely unspoiled forest and hiking trails, with a handful of camping sites available. Although I have been on the mailboat multiple times, this was the first time I had actually set foot on the island, and I was eager to see what it was like.

It turns out that Isle au Haut is like most of coastal Maine—only more so. There was lots of rugged and dramatic scenery, sheer cliffs, pine trees and ferns, and plenty of granite. There are lots of different hiking options, too, from simple trails with only small elevation changes to much more difficult hiking that requires you to clamber up rock faces. I enjoyed the view, in the photo above, looking south from a promontory a few hundred feet above the ocean, and the inky black pool of water, shown below, that was perfectly reflective and framed by rock outcroppings.

By the time we reached Squeaker Cove, shown below, we realized that our visit to Isle au Haut would not only feature memorable vistas, but also an unprecedented swarm of biting black flies. According to the park rangers, the flies had just appeared the day before, and no doubt the swarm would be gone a day or two later. But the flies were there yesterday, in force and ready to chomp, descending on everything that moved and giving vicious bites if you didn’t swat them away in time. There were so many flies that the legs and backs of fellow hikers would be virtually carpeted in flies. The little bloodthirsty bastards were easy to kill, in their singleminded zeal for a meal, but for every one that got swatted another ten were circling and ready to land.

Eventually the pesky flies became so annoying and unpleasant that they drove even the most ardent hikers back to the mailboat dock, where the breeze off the ocean kept the fly swarms to a minimum. As we waited for the mailboat to arrive we swapped fly tales with other hikers and sympathized with the dogs that had suffered mightily from fly bites. And as we waited even the boat dock offered some pretty views, like the one below.

I’d like to go back to Isle au Haut to do more hiking and exploring—but before I do I’m going to call the Duck Harbor ranger station for a fly report.

On A Clear Day

I’m always astonished at how far you can see on the clear days in Stonington. On the last part of my morning walk I climb Pink Street, which winds ever upward, cross School Street by the old schoolhouse that is now a community center, and then jog over to the aptly named Highland Avenue. That street bends in the direction of the harbor and, after you pass a few homes, stacks of lobster traps, and piles of lobster buoys, you suddenly emerge into the open, far above the harbor and the houses on Main Street below, and are rewarded for your climb up Pink Street with the sweeping vista shown above.

Standing at that point and trying to take it all in, you feel like you can see for miles—and you can. Isle au haut, the island with the notch in it in the background, is about 6 miles away from this point. And all of the islands and boats in the foreground are so distinct you can see individual people moving on the boats and individual trees on the islands rustling in the breeze.

It’s as if you’ve never really seen something clearly before. On clear days like this one I always wear sunglasses because everything is so breathtakingly bright.

In The Midst Of The Mist

IMG_20150824_080751

We took the mailboat run out to Isle au Haut yesterday.  After we started the trip a dense fogbank rolled in, moving toward us like a living creature and then finally enveloping our small craft in its damp, blank embrace on our return journey.  It was like being in a dream, with small islands silently sliding in and out of the thick mist and bobbing lobster buoys adding the only dabs of color to the monochromatic scenes.