I know, this is a waterski blog, but tf you have received your most recent copy of Waterski Magazine, on page 10 (bottom right) you will see me at the summit of Mt. Katahdin reading the last issue of 2012. I thought you might like to hear the short story version of my adventure and first ever climb up a real mountain in the middle of the Maine wilderness and my return home. Maybe there will even be a few waterski lessons along the way.
So the story begins when last year, fellow Bellalago Boy and Adventurer extraordinaire, Jason invited my wife and I to join he and his wife on a new adventure of sorts - climbing a mountain (and not the figurative kind). Without really knowing what I was getting myself into, I said, "Sure, sign me up! What mountain?"
Now it turns out there is a whole sub-culture of hikers never before known to me called "High Pointers". These are people who have identified the highest point in each of the 50 states and try to climb them (or drive up to them as in the case of vertically challenged areas like Ohio) as they have opportunity. The chosen peak of our adventure was the highest point in the state of Maine, Mt. Katahdin, in Baxter State park, which is a mile high (5,267 feet).
The history of the park is quite extraordinary itself, the land having been purchased through private funds and donated back to the state over the course of 33 years by a man name Percival Baxter; who, being the former Governor of the state and had failed at trying to secure the land through legislation while in office.
So in late Septempber 2012, the four of us started this adventure by flying from Cleveland into Portland on a Thursday evening. We picked up our rental SUV, drove around town a bit and found a place eat...who knows where or what it was, but the food was good. I've been to Portland before (having vacationed in Maine twice before) and it's a cool place to hang out. Then we drove about a little over 3.5 hours north into the heart of Maine to a town called Millnocket which was just east of Baxter State Park.
We arrived and checked into our little hotel just before midnight. The next morning, Friday, we left around 5 a.m. for the 45 minute drive to Baxter. Before leaving, we were strongly cautioned by a friendly local to be very careful while driving to the park because it was very dark and had an abundance of animals and logging trucks. This gave the wives the heebee jeebee's, but Jason and I shrugged it off. After all, who didn't want to see a moose...or Bigfoot.
We made it to the park gate without issue, but the Maine wilderness runs deep and it took nearly 25 minutes just to drive from the park gate to the base of the mountain where we would begin our hike. At this point Jason started complaining that he was missing his Starbucks - I had my doubts about his ability to make it to the summit. The temperature was 33* in the parking lot as we left at 7:30.
We were cool for the first 45 min of our journey, but we quickly warmed with the exercise and shed our outer layers. We walked in pairs and actually separated for a short period of time. We soon learned that our path really was not so much a trail as a dry creek bed, full of stones that were uneven in their size and placement.
We took frequent breaks in the first hour as we gained our rhythm by adjusting the weight in our packs and to the footing below. Somehow I ended up carrying everthing in my wife's pack except her water. I'm sure she would have been happy for me to carry that too, but it was in a bladder inside her pack and mine was at capacity.
We took in the beauty of our surroundings; the morning light, the dense forest with autumn's first color and meditating to small stream's pulse parallel to our path. Our first destination was 3.3 miles to the base of Katahdin called Chimney Pond. The journey up was slow, steady and without much physical stress. It took us just over 3 hours. We passed the perfectly still water of Lower Basin Pond and had a few other hikers pass us going up and down.
Once at Chimney Pond, we rested and ate a quick meal at the shelter that sat in a small meadow. The temperature was a comfortable 62* and we were in shorts. There were other structures - outhouses and camp shelters - and a collection of other hikers there on their own route and schedule to the summit. We took a short walk to check in at the Ranger Station and let the Ranger know our route, the number in our party and our available equipment. He was mostly concerned that we had flashlights and additional layers of clothes for the summit. You know the old Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared".
We discussed the various routes available to us - Saddle, Cathedral and Knife's Edge. After some discussion, we decided to take Saddle on the way up, and if we had time and energy, we would take Knife's Edge on the way down - which I was really excited about.
Saddle Trail began the more difficult part our journey as rocks turned into boulders, inclines turned into verticals and exertion became fatigue. There were points where we needed to scramble - using all four limbs to pull ourselves up the boulder, but we did not encounter anything too technical.
We also encountered the most amount of change on this part of the trail. The temperature dropped, the forest yielded to brush and then to grass, the wind increased and a thick blanket of clouds began to pile up. The rocks beneath us also changed in the last few hundreded feet of our climb. Gone were the large immovable boulders that gave security to each of one our steps, and in their place were smaller football sized stones that were pink in color and loose under our feet. Once we reached the top of Saddle Slide, we took another rest and began to layer on extra clothing. Turning to our right we could see another trail lead to other peaks and adventures and to our left we could see the final mile to the summit.
The summit at Katahdin was quite amazing. I can remeber telling Jason in the last half mile of our ascent that I had never experienced anything like this before. It truly was a foreign landscape. What's weird is that you can drive through Nebraska and get to a higher altitude than what we were; yet, here we were above the tree line, the wind wipping in our faces, the tempreture back down to 30* and the mystery of creation laid before us.
We took an exended break at the summit by finding some rocks that sheltered us from the wind. We ate lunch, took pictures and just sat and enjoyed the view. It was funny to see little chipmunks and birds scurrying around such an inhospital place, but I'm sure hikers leave plenty for them to fill their tiny tummies. Our sunlight was quickly fading so made the decision to go after about 45 minutes so as to avoid finishing in the dark.
Our plan was to up the level of our adventure even futher by climbing down a trail known as The Knife's Edge. I would encourage you to check it out on Youtube. There are sections of the trail that are only 20 feet wide. Jason and his wife took the lead along Knife's Edge, and alas, only made it a few hundred yards. My poor wife, already fatigued from the climb up and now chilled from the winds didn't want to cross this way. We had to turn around and go back the way we came. I was bummed, but there really wasn't a decision to be made, if someone is not comfortable it's just not wise to push through.
Our adventure didn't end here of course. The climb down had it's whole separate drama and story. We stayed at the most amazing bed and breakfast along on the shores of a lake (5 of them actually). We drove to Machias, the wild blueberry capital of the world. Took a spooky midnight walk across a land bridge at low tide in the fog to Ingalls Island. And finally a drive back down Higway 1 to Portland along the coast through Belfast, Camden and Rockland as we watched the autumn leaves change by the hour.
What does have to do with skiing? I don't know. Maybe making new friends like Jason and Rachael though skiing opens up other adventures we never expect.