Friday, June 6, 2008

Mt Katahdin

In 2006 we had the opportunity to hike the last 5 miles of the 2,175 miles of Appalachian Trail. I wanted to include that story to make this AT journey complete. I don’t know if I said previously, but I also am a “high pointer”. On my list of things to do is go to the highest point in each state (with the exception of McKinley). Mt. Katahdin is the highest point in Maine.

The gem of Baxter State Park in central Maine is Mt. Katahdin. We were camped several miles from the park. We had to get there early so we were up at 5 AM and in the truck by 5:30. Made a quick stop at McDonalds to pick up breakfast and ate as we made the hour drive to Katahdin Stream Campground and the trailhead. We were proud to be on the trail at 7:15 AM.

All our vigor and enthusiasm vanished when we got to treeline and the first rock to step onto was over my head. We sat down and debated what to do, finally deciding to turn back. Another hiker came along and I watched him negotiate the rock. I could do that. It was easy. All I had to do was reach up as far as I could over the top of the rock and pull myself up on my stomach until I could reach the rung with my foot. I did it.
Following the scouts up the mountain.

The next few climbs were no so bad. We went higher and higher. Then we came to a place that wasn’t as steep but it had no noticeable hand or toe holds. I tried several times but couldn’t get up. Again we sat down to debate what to do. Along came the boy scouts. Seventeen of them. They sent one man up to hold onto a tree and pull the other sixteen up. They offered to pull us up so away we went. From then on we didn’t get too far away from Troop #1. We even started counting off when they did their head counts.
Still following those white blazes.

The next big hurtle came at Hunt Ridge. After a very short flat spot the trail seemed to go straight up to heaven. This rock scramble over 0.6 mile took approximately 2 hours. We stuck close to the boy scouts. We, as well as some of them, were having trouble with the steep climb and sheer drop off on both sides. It was somehow comforting to see these boys, at an age that is generally fearless, show some caution and due respect for the mountain. The trail seemed not to exist, only blazes on the rock. We made our way the best we could with eyes on the rocks never, ever looking down the sides. Finally, we crawled up onto the Tableland, a relatively flat plateau with a view of the summit 1.5 miles away.

Achieved the summit at 2:45. After we made our pictures and rested for a half hour or so, we headed down. I thought going up was bad. It couldn’t compare with the sheer panic I felt going down. I couldn’t see the blazes on the rocks quiet so well and therefore couldn’t plot my course as easily. It was also easier to let my eyes drift to the vast emptiness to either side giving me moments of terror. I had to close my eyes and force myself to breath.
On the summit

We left the summit before the scouts, but they quickly caught up and passed us. Probably glad to be rid of two old fogies who had no business on such a climb. At least I hadn’t run into the arms of the scout master crying uncontrollably like one of the kids did. Anyway, I was afraid to crawl down backwards only feeling for a toe hold, so I sat on my butt and scooted down the rock holding on for dear life with my hands. Finally, the tree line and ground to stand on.

We emerged from the woods into the parking lot at Katahdin Stream campground with flashlights in hand at 9:00 PM. My High Points Guidebook lists Katahdin as a “Class 2, strenuous” hike by the Yosemite rating system. Only seven other state high points, including McKinley, are rated more difficult. They may not be in my future.

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