Whether tromping up 2,200 feet over two miles on Peak-of-the-Ridge’s loose talus, or tiptoeing across Little Knife Edge, you need a weekend pack that holds everything without swinging around like an empty horse trailer on a light truck. Gregory’s climbing-inspired Serrac 45 holds enough gear for a couple of nights, has an ergonomic hipbelt for all-day comfort, and its light-but-stiff suspension keeps the weight evenly distributed. A top-to-bottom zipper offers easy access to all your gear, and compression straps secure large and small loads alike to enhance stability even more. $160; 3 lbs. 6 oz.; gregorypacks.com
Virgin Red Spruce
Apart from Katahdin, the park’s only stand of virgin red spruce is on Traveler. See it at the end of a three-mile (one-way) trek on the Pogy Notch and Howe Brook Trails. The route follows a stream so clear it seems invisible, and leads to a 20-foot cascade (pictured) at mile two. At the head of these waters grows a stand of red spruce dating back more than 275 years. These are the sole survivors of logging and fires that deforested this region in the 19th and 20th centuries.
At 3,541 feet, Traveler Mountain doesn’t even rank in the top 20 highest peaks in Maine. But it leads another category, albeit obscure: It’s the highest volcanic peak in New England. About 400 million years ago, Traveler blew its cone in an eruption comparable to Mt. St. Helens in 1980. The remnant hulk, clearly visible due east of South Branch Mountain at mile 12.4, is still enormous—enough so that trappers on the East Branch Penobscot River thought the distant mountain was moving with them, hence the name Traveler Mountain. The peak’s rocky ridge wasn’t revealed until 1902, when the Great Wassataquoik Fire consumed much of what would become Baxter State Park—even the topsoil.