For several years, my son, Adam, and I have enjoyed fall surf and turf trips. We combine lake or pond sea kayaking with mountain hiking while camping in remote areas.
The outings reflect the transition of our outdoor activities due to the change in seasons. Our paddling adventures are winding down, while fall mountaineering is beginning.
Overnight fall trips have a lot of appeal for us. The autumnal colors are often spectacular, black flies and mosquitoes are almost non-existent and competition for campsites is minimal. And, there are few things more aesthetically pleasing than relaxing around a warm campfire in a wilderness setting on a cool, dark evening.
Our latest surf and turf trips were based on Moosehead Lake and Attean Pond. But I recently completed one with friends beginning on Donnell Pond. The expansive Donnell Pond Public Lands offer another stimulating opportunity to mingle kayaking and hiking — Tunk Lake and East Peak of Black Mountain.
That was our choice this year.
Adam and I began the expedition at a boat landing on the northern terminus of Tunk Lake on a beautiful, sunny late October day. The landing is on Route 182 approximately 10 miles east of Franklin.
The vibrant colors of the foliage were dazzling when we departed kayaking south on Tunk Lake. We paddled into a gentle headwind with a continuous view of the barren summit of East Peak to our west as we traversed to the southern end of the lake.
Finding a suitable campsite was our first objective. There are three choices in the southern sector of the lake: Thumb, Partridge and Hurricane Hole.
Access to Thumb was difficult. Partridge lacked available firewood. But Hurricane Hole, closest to our mountain destination, was just right.
Once settled in at Hurricane Hole, we paddled to a rudimentary landing in the extreme southwestern corner of the lake. After changing into hiking clothes, we walked along old camp roads toward East Peak.
The confusing roads did not reconcile with the Donnell Pond Public Lands map. Following a lengthy misguided detour, we finally located Big Chief Trailhead, the start of the southern approach to the summit of East Peak.
By the time we found the elusive trail, darkness loomed; too late to begin a climb. We postponed the trek until the following morning.
Camping on the lake that evening met my definition of perfection. We enjoyed a spectacular sunset followed by clear starry skies and a brilliant crescent moon. A substantial campfire kept us warm until we retired.
We awoke to gray skies and patchy fog. The surrounding peaks were enveloped in clouds and fog. An ascent without views seemed likely.
Breaking camp, we kayaked to the nearby landing. This time, there were no delays in locating Big Chief Trailhead.
Our climb began in a mixed conifer and hardwood forest. Following a moderately steep ascent, we emerged onto a succession of gentle-sloping partially exposed ledges.
The fog lifted and we benefited from outstanding views for the remainder of the trek.
After descending deep into a wet densely wooded col, we scaled precipitous ledges to the summit. A party of three arrived from the opposite direction shortly after.
They were the only hikers or paddlers we encountered during the entire outing.
Thanks to the clear skies, the summit area offered fabulous views of the surrounding mountains and lakes.
The majestic peaks of Mount Desert Island could be seen in the distance.
At one of several overlooks, we peered down into the southern end of Tunk Lake where Hurricane Hole is located.
Despite a chilly southwest wind, we lingered to embrace the wonderful panoramic vistas before returning to our kayaks.
A strong tailwind resulted in an entertaining paddle back to the Route 182 boat landing. The powerful blow propelled us rapidly north toward our objective.
Approaching the landing, we navigated through increasingly large waves, some with whitecaps. Our attempts to surf the waves in heavily laden vessels were futile.
The invigorating finale of our trip was the perfect culmination of an outstanding two-day outdoor adventure.