Saturday, June 4, 2011

Acadia National Park - Day 2

Great Pond
After getting off to a pretty late start, we packed up our bags and cars and headed to the Western Mountains for a hike.  We decided to take the Great Pond Trail to start because it was a moderate level hike but didn't seem to change in altitude that much.  When we reached the site we were greeted by Great Pond itself and I was reminded of how beautiful Maine is.  The pond was also a reservoir so the water was clear and the fog had lifted so we finally had a shot of the landscape.  After a group picture we set off on the trail.

Wooden staircase
The hike was a little more strenuous than we had anticipated, and when we came to the next checkpoint we were faced with either continuing to hike around the lake or head towards the mountains.  The mountains were only .4 mi so we decided to take the challenge and pick the more strenuous route.  About .1 of this .4 mi piece of the hike was a giant staircase, and when I was standing at the bottom I had no idea how I was going to drag my legs up those logs.  My quads were heavy and my ankles were sore.  I may be running 4 mi a couple of days per week but hiking is a completely different beast.  You're walking on uneven ground, which takes a huge toll on your ankles, which in turn effects the stability of your legs overall.  The rest of the muscles (your calves and hamstrings) have to compensate for your ankles, and they get worn out quickly.  And when you're climbing hundreds of feet uphill, your quads, glutes, and lower back are getting an intense workout.  But, like running, when you finish your run, or in this case reach the top of that staircase, you have such an overwhelming sense of accomplishment that you want to just keep going.

Scrambling up rocks and tree roots
So when we reached the second checkpoint, we decided that we were going to go all of the way to Bernard Mountain, the highest mountain in the Western Mountains, even after being exhausted from our over 3 mi hike.  The plan was to hike to Bernard Mountain (1071' above sea level), then hike back down to our current checkpoint, and then back down Great Notch Trail and to the parking lot.

For the first part of the hike, we were able to follow dirt and even gravel trails.  When we started our hike to Bernard Mountain, the trail stopped abruptly at a huge tree with roots growing through rocks.  This was the way up.  The rest of the trail was very similar to this, with us scrambling up rocks and tree roots.  It was a ton of fun because it reminded me of rock climbing, but the roots and rocks were very wet and slippery.  Needless to say, I ended the day with a couple of bruises on my shins and some soreness in my ankles.  We stopped at an overlook, Knight Nubble (who/what is a nubble?), and then reached the top of the mountain where we made PB&J sandwiches and enjoyed the view (or at least what we could see over the trees and through the fog).  Like after finishing a run, I was overwhelmed by a sense of accomplishment over reaching the top of the mountain.  We scrambled back down the way we came and hiked back down to the cars.  After stopping for another view of the lake and to replenish our energy stores with cheese balls, we headed back to the camp to make dinner.

From the top of Bernard Mountain

We hiked along the pond up Great Pond Trail and went down
Great Notch Trail. We hiked over to Knight Nubble
and Bernard Mountain, then hiked back down to
Great Notch Trail and off the map to the right back
to the parking lot, about 6.5 mi in all.

A friend had brought his dutch oven to make chili with cornbread baked on top, and I don't think my patience has ever been tested as much as it was that night.  The chili took about an hour and a half to make (and this was after we got the charcoals burning in the charcoal chimney).  Every time we lifted the lid of the pot to see how the meat was browning or the vegetables were cooking, we were greeted by this  amazing aroma and I could barely hold myself back from grabbing the cast iron pot and running off into the woods with it.  We then mixed the cornbread in a large plastic bag and piped it on top of the simmering chili (obviously my favorite part).  The hardest part was waiting for the cornbread to bake.  We put coals on the lid of the dutch oven and waited, and waited, and waited.  And even when we thought the cornbread was ready by using a toothpick test, when we cut into it we realized the underside was still raw.  So we waited and waited and waited again.  But it was worth it.  This recipe can certainly be used at home, but the cornbread would have to be baked separately.  It is a great treat while camping, but I would suggest preparing it about 3 hours before you want to actually eat it...

Dutch Oven Chili with Cornbread
Recipe adapted by Pat M.
Serves about 10 people

2 lb ground meat, chopped
1 lg. onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 green pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 packets of chili seasoning
2 (32 oz) cans of chili beans
1 (16 oz) can diced tomatoes
2 (32 oz) can tomato puree (we added these cans one at a time.  If the chili was still too thick, we added some of the second can until it was the consistency we preferred.  You could also use beer or water).
2 boxes of cornbread mix (we used Jiffy) and all of the ingredients listed to make the cornbread.

Brown the meat in the Dutch oven and fry the onions in a skillet until they are clear.  Add the onions to the meat.  Add the peppers and the garlic and let the chili simmer until the peppers are brown (about 15 to 20 minutes).  Add the diced tomato, tomato puree, chili beans, and chili seasoning.  Let the chili simmer for an additional 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

During this time, mix the cornbread and the required ingredients in a gallon sized ziplock bag.  Knead the dough with your fingers and when the ingredients are thoroughly mixed, cut off one of the bottom corners of the bag to create a piping bag.  Pipe the cornbread batter on top of the chili in a spiral and then fill in any open spaces with left over batter.  Place the lid back on the dutch oven and cover the lid with coals.  Check the cornbread every 5 minutes, you will know it is ready when the top of the cornbread is slightly browned and cracked.  Be sure to stick a knife through the cornbread and make sure it comes out clean before serving.  Dig in and enjoy :)

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