Finding Our Way at Back Pond Reserve Mondate

One of my favorite winter hikes upon property owned by the Greater Lovell Land Trust is at Back Pond Reserve in Stoneham. And so this morning I convinced my guy that it was the perfect trail for us to explore.

b1-the mountain trailhead

We parked on the Five Kezar Ponds Road near the trailhead for Ron’s Loop and then walked back to The Mountain Trail to begin our ascent. The reserve is a 259-acre property, with all but ten acres located on the north side of the road. The other ten south of the road will remain forever wild. Those latter ten acres were purchased in 1980 by twelve families who owned properties on Back Pond. Eighteen years later, they deeded the land to the GLLT. And then the Five Kezar Ponds Watershed Association generously helped the GLLT acquire the 249-acre piece through two purchases made in 2006 and 2010.

b2-poles at kiosk

At The Mountain Trail kiosk, plenty of information is available, including trail maps and walking sticks. The latter brought a smile to my face for it spoke to the continued generosity of those who know and love this land best.

b3-oak and beech leaves

Given the recent rain that drained our snow pack significantly and was then followed by another blast of arctic air, the trail was well packed. We could tell that a few others had traveled this way either with snowshoes or without–such were the impressions left behind. And within some of those impressions, beech and oak leaves gathered–speaking to the forest we were passing through.

b5-big toothed aspen

Not to be left out was the occasional big-toothed aspen leaf.

b6-beech leaf and husk

But really, it was the beech that we saw most often.

b6a-beech husks litter

And scattered everywhere–beech husks empty of seeds indicating it had been a mast crop year for this species. How viable the seeds were will remain to be seen.

b11-beech sap

In old wounds on several of the beech trees, amber sap had flowed and reminded me that not all sap comes from maples.

b9-trail conditions varied

Where the sun had reached the trail, conditions varied.


As the lay of the land began to get steeper, my guy decided to don his micro-spikes. One of the thoughtful efforts found periodically along the way–benches provided in the name of Ron Gestwicki who had longed served as president of the Five Kezars Watershed Association. A perfect place to rest, take in the surrounding beauty, or slip on micro-spikes.


I wore mine from the get-go and have found them the easier way to travel the past two days. It’s kind of like adding chains to the tires of a plow truck. With the spikes digging in, though I had a pole attached to our backpack I didn’t need to use it.

b10-trail makrers

The Mountain Trail is blazed with blue dots and someone used ingenuity to attach a fallen sign to a twig.

b12-turn onto old jeep road

It didn’t take long to reach the old jeep road that led to the summit. We made the left hand turn, but had a mind to go off trail for a bit.

b13-bear tree

Our first turn was to the left for we knew that bear trees stood tall there–at least for now because some looked like they were in rough shape given the beech scale disease that affected them.

b14-sidetracked to right

And then we headed off to the right, bushwhacking our way to a bit of a ledge where we hoped to find signs of a bobcat. I’m forever hopeful, but once again we came up empty handed. Previously, we had seen tracks and scat crossing the trail in numerous places, so we probably weren’t too far off with our speculation.

b15-ledge view

What we did find, a first view of the ponds below . . .

b16-trailing arbutus

and a certain sign of spring recently exposed in the form of trailing arbutus.

b17-back on trail

Finally, we headed back to the main trail and continued to climb toward the summit.

b18-porky prints

Though in general, tracking conditions weren’t great, we did find one expected customer–porcupine. It seems any time we travel this trail we find porcupine evidence.

b20-5 Kezars 1

At last, we reached lunch rock, where the view stretched from a few of the ponds across to Shawnee Peak Ski Area at Pleasant Mountain.

b22-Kearsarge and beyond

The Presidentials came into sight.

b23-Mount Washington in mix

And, of course, Mount Washington, which also displayed less of a snowpack.

b25-orange trail

From the summit, rather than hike back down the same trail, we turned to the backside and followed the orange connecting trail.

b26-swampy area

It’s fun for the community switches from hemlocks, pines and spruces to a small boggy area that offered a challenging crossing and finally back to beech and oak.

b27-beech sap again

And among those beech trees, another that had fallen and leaked sap from its butt end, plus . . .

b28-bear trees

more bear trees.

b29-brook crossing

On the downslope, we heard water running and wondered what our first brook crossing would be like. In the past, we either used a rickety old bridge, or tried not to use it.

b31-old bridge

Today, my guy went across first, and found pieces of the old bridge buried in snow. We knew we were better off without it.

b30-ice and water

I, of course, needed to stop and admire the flowing water and ice.

b32-more ice

Again and again.

b33-orange lichen

Much to our surprise, we found one more cool feature of this trail–the rare orange paintitous (is that a word?) crustose lichen. 🙂

b35-turning onto Ron's Loop

Not far from the rare find, we turned left and then right as we crossed the bridge and found ourselves on Ron’s Loop.

b36-brook and wetland

Below the bridge, the wetland bespoke more of the melt down efforts. In the past, we’ve found plenty of otter prints and slides in this area. But today, it was difficult to distinguish anything.

b37-ruffed grouse scat

We did, however, find a pile of ruffed grouse scat!

b39-H is for Hemlock

And proof that H is for Hemlock. (And Hayes)

b40-new bridge

Finally, we reached the second bridge that took us back across the brook. The bridge was built this past summer by the GLLT interns and Back Pond Reserve stewards. We truly appreciated it for many a times during the winter, the crossing had been to wide and we’d gotten wet.

b41-which way should we go?

After completing the loop, we once again gave thanks for all those who had preserved the land and created the trails so that the mammals that call this place home and folks like us could journey there.

With ease we thoroughly enjoyed this Mondate as we found our way at Back Pond Reserve.





Community-centered Mondate

While it wasn’t the first Mondate I wrote about, one of our early Mondates in the past year occurred at the Greater Lovell Land Trust property we headed to today–Back Pond Reserve in North Waterford/Stoneham.

m-eagle 1

On our way we were forced to stop by Bear Pond for a regal sight.


And another regal sight along the trail–I’ve given thanks to Ron before and I know I’ll thank him again (RIP Ron) for his foresight in encouraging the greater community to protect the water quality of the Five Kezar ponds by purchasing and placing “The Mountain” area in conservation easement.

m-climbing view

As we climbed through the beech/oak forest, I paused to take a photo. Lo and behold, my camera didn’t work. I was certain I’d charged the battery, but it wouldn’t click. I tried a back-up battery to no avail. Frustration set in, but my guy reminded me that I could always take photos with my phone. I’m not one-hundred percent convinced that I’ve mastered phone photos, but decided it was better than nothing. This meant, however, less time focusing on photos and more time focusing on us. And that got me thinking about time. We were on a bit of a time crunch today, but the more important thing was that we were spending our time together doing what we love doing–hiking and being in each other’s presence. We spend so much time worrying about all that needs to be done and making money to do those things. But really, in the end will that matter? I don’t think so. I think it will be far more important that we learn to appreciate what is around us and figure out how to share that wealth with others. It won’t always have a monetary value attached because as they (whoever they are) say, “Money isn’t everything.” Is money anything? It certainly doesn’t grow on these trees. Or does it?

m-community changes trail conditions

Though there was snow underfoot for most of the beech/oak community as we climbed, under the hemlocks it was a different story.

m-bare summit

And when we reached the summit of The Mountain Trail, nothing but bare ground due to its southwest orientation.

m-summit phone

We sat on a rock and enjoyed the sun while absorbing the view below and beyond. With the  phone I captured the moment.


And then I pulled out my camera again. Determination is the name of my game. Turns out I’d been wearing mittens as we began and my big muffs must have hit the wrong setting–creating a 10-second time lapse. Had we wanted to pose for a photo we would have been all set but that’s not our style. Hardly a selfie in our photo album. It is curious to notice the difference in color and wider range of the phone photo. But I prefer my Canon.

m-trailing arbutus

Near the summit, trailing arbutus announced its future plans.

m-connector trail

While trail maps show The Mountain Trail and Ron’s Loop, we long ago learned by chance that the two are connected via a trail down the backside. Today we reminisced about the first time we ever traveled this route and how we struggled to find our way. Though it still has its share of obstacles, it’s now much more obvious.

m-no snow under hemlock

The community changed from evergreens to hardwoods with occasional evergreens. And with that, the snow conditions also changed. We paused below this hemlock to admire the subtle transition.


And we recalled our delightful experience of observing a hare in this very spot almost a year ago.

m-snowshoe hare scat

Today only tracks and scat alerted us that hares live in the neighborhood.

m-bobcat 1

Hare tracks weren’t the only ones we saw. All along the trail, though not quite as clear, we recognized that a bobcat had made a pass.

m-first bear tree

We also recognize dmarks we’ve previously admired on some old beech trees.

m-bear claw marks.jpg

I could almost feel the claw grasping the bark–both front and hind visible here. But there’s so much more going on with this tree. It hosts a community of visitors from big black bears to minute beech scales that cause the bark to develop cankers around its invasion. And in between–other insects and woodpeckers.

m-bear tree variety of life

It’s a tree of life even as it reaches toward death. Eventually it will fall and we will no longer celebrate its bear claw marks, but as it decays, it will leave a legacy on which these woods depend. The cycle of life. The work within the community.


Another beech down the trail displayed its form of the same gift.

m-broken bridge crossing

We reached the first of the crossings–this one still on the connector trail that once served as a snowmobile trail. For as long as we’ve traveled this way the bridge we were about to cross has been broken.

m-new bear tree

Though conditions were good, with my camera working again, my journey slowed. My guy accused me of searching for bear trees. And he was right. And I was further rewarded. I found one neither of us recalled seeing before.

m-new bear 2

m-new bear 1a

One foot atop another. Upward mobility in search of sustenance.

m-beech nut 2

It’s here for the taking.

m-yellow birch scales and seeds

At last, we found our way onto Ron’s Loop, where we turned right at the bridge and continued on. The community changed and here we found the fleur de lis and winged seeds of yellow birches settling onto their community of choice–moss upon a boulder.

m-fungi community

Creating a dense bouquet is the violet-toothed polypore community– a reminder that there’s beauty in age.

m-lonely pine

And beauty in singleness.

m-deer browse 2

We’re in the neighborhood where deer browse red maples.

m-raccoon prints

And raccoons venture forth on semi-warm winter nights.

m-raccoon diagonal

We rejoiced in recognizing the alternate-angled pattern of the trail they leave behind.

m-birch polypores

There were always surprises. Birch polypores decorated this paper birch that masked its condition with a healthy appearance.


Despite my caution, we made several successful brook crossings.

m-my guy's prints

And I followed my guy to the end of the Earth–well, at least to the end of the trail–though I suspect he knows I’d follow him anywhere. He’s a good guy. Actually, he’s a great guy.


We paused at the kiosk to check the map. Imagination is a necessity–no kidding. For this moment you must connect the summit of The Mountain Trail to the far end of Ron’s Loop–thus re-creating the connector trail between the two.

m-5 kezar ponds road

Suddenly we are back on 5 Kezar Ponds Road headed toward our truck.

m-hornets nest

And here we found remnants of another community that is integral in the overall system of life.

As we drove home, we paused again by Bear Pond and the bald eagle didn’t let us down. Though the ice fishermen and women weren’t about today, it knew this community to be prime hunting grounds.

As for us, our hike was quick today because we had our own community efforts to join–he had a Lions Club meeting and I had a Maine Master Naturalist board meeting. We do our best to provide support in any way we can. It’s important to us to be community-centered–even on a Mondate. And by the way–the Lions are always looking for contributions to support their eye-sight programs; and the Maine Master Naturalist Program is still accepting applications for its Tier One course being offered from May-Sept this year in Bridgton, Farmington and Mount Desert Island.




Three-Season Mondate at Back Pond Reserve

OK, so it wasn’t three seasons all packed into one Monday date, but walking up the   Mountain Trail at GLLT’s Back Pond Reserve in Stoneham today brought back memories of previous visits by my guy and me.


The woods are awash in golden-green yellows right now, especially where the trees include beech, big-tooth aspen and striped maple.

a dose of red

Climbing higher, variations of red join the carpet display.

summit 3 of 5 Kezars

We were surprised by how quickly we reached the summit, which is what got us recalling previous visits.  Today, the water of three of the Five Kezars sparkled while Pleasant Mountain stood watch in the background.

summit, summersummit, winter

As I looked through my photo files, I realized we have never hiked this trail in the spring. In the summer there are wildflowers to make us pause, and winter finds us exploring mammal activity–thus our treks are slower.

summit, Mt Washington

Today’s view included snow on Mount Washington, the grayish-white mountain located between the pines.

Ganong chocolates

As we enjoyed the view, we topped off our PB&J sandwiches with the last couple of truffles we had purchased at Ganong Chocolatier in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, earlier this month.

water bottle 2

And water, of course.

which way do we go?

Instead of letting the arrows confuse us, we turned 180˚ and followed the connector trail between the Mountain and Ron’s Loop. It’s not on the map yet and still needs some work, but it’s full of surprises–only a few of which I’ll share right now.

winter, connecting trail

We’ve always enjoyed this trail and today realized that though it’s much easier to follow than it was a few years ago, many trees have blown down along the way.

numerous trees 2

They’re easy enough to climb over. If you go, do know that there are two or three mucky spots along this trail as well, but again, easy to get around.

lone red pine, connecting trailred pine, winter

This lone red pine always makes us wonder. Perhaps it found its way here via a seed on a skidder?

winter bobcat prints

Today we found moose tracks, plus red fox and coyote scat. If there was bobcat scat, it was obscured by the leaf litter, but we know they frequent this area.

winter, snowshoe hare

We also know the bobcat’s favorite meal lives here–we saw this guy in early March and of course, always see his prints on winter treks.

artist's conkcrowded parchment, connecting trail

Lion's Mane past peak

A couple of fun finds along the way–artist’s conk, crowded parchment and an old lion’s mane.

the bridge on Ron's Loop

winter, the bridge at Ron's Loop

The bridge on Ron’s Loop is all decked out with autumn colors–a contrast to its winter coat.

honoring Ron

We’re forever thankful to Ron for his leadership and foresight,

bench on Ron's Loop

even when we can’t see the plaque that honors him.

Kendra and Jewell

We met no other people on the trail today, but one of my fondest memories dates back two years when one of GLLT’s interns, Kendra, offered her arm to Jewell for a safe journey. Once upon a time, Jewell was Kendra’s Sunday School teacher and on this summer day, Kendra was Jewell’s guide.

water bottle by Ron's Loop

As we walked into the parking area of Ron’s Loop, we noticed that someone had left behind a water bottle. If it’s yours, it’s still there.   wasp nest Ron's Loop

Each time we visit, we take a moment to check out the wasp nest at the kiosk.

Ron's Loop kiosk, Jan 2015

We can’t remember when we first noticed it, but it’s been there for a while.

coffee sign

One last thing to note before we walked back to the Mountain trailhead where our truck was parked–Magnolia coffee. Wish I’d ordered more than one this past year. Dark roast.

One Mondate–three seasons. And now the quest is to turn it into a four-season destination. Stay tuned.