Sunday May 30, 2010
The summit of Mt. Katahdin is 5.2-miles North from the Katahdin Streams Campground up the Hunt Trail. Maybe it was nerves, the oppressive heat or the relentless mosquitos but I had a difficult time sleeping. And, Maxwell and I disagreed on the particulars of the sleeping arrangments of the sleeping bag. He and I jockeyed for space off and on searching for a happy medium.
Everyone was awake at 6 a.m. and we were at the trail head at 6:30 a.m. and hiking. Amy, aka Whoopie Pie, was off and running and son out of sight in the first mile. About two miles later Mary disappeared on ahead. They were both seasoned hikers and had done various trails up Katahdin several times. I took my time. There was no sense in exhausting myself trying to go at someone else’s pace. I was not there hiking to keep abreast with others, solitude was my purpose.
The Hunt Trail was pleasant and woodsy to start, following and winding left to right, along the Katahdin Stream. The incline steepened rather sharply around 1500-ft and the tall trees gave way to shorter denser pines. Around 3500-ft, the pines disappeared and the view of the sky opened, the trail turned into ledge and boulders. This is known as ‘The Gateway’, a narrow rocky trail that drops off on either side. The sudden gusting winds that day added to the challenge.
I reached a 40-ft section, which felt more like mountaineering than hiking, with rebar and giant boulders forming 5-ft and higher cliffs. I picked up Maxwell, about 7-8 times but his diminutive frame and endless energy was well-suited to this terrain. We are passed by several hikers. They were all quite pleasant and greeted Maxwell enthusiastically.
Once, beyond the boulders and rebar, we reached a plateau rock field that seemed to stretch as far as my eyes could see. Growing here and there in the ‘valleys’ formed by the rocks littering the ground were low-growing shrubs, a half-inch tall and decorated with small white flowers. Piled rocks, about waist-high mark the path ahead Eventually, stakes and white string contain your footing to a narrow 2-ft wide rock and sand path.
Not far into this section I meet Whoopie Pie and her mother, Mary on their way back down. They have already reached the summit and had lunch. Amy’s face is flush with excitement. She tells me she is going to head onwards to the Abol Bridge Campground, 8-miles just beyond the southern boundary of Baxter State Park, and tent there this evening. She’s twenty-four years old. Whoopie Pie had been in training for 6-months in preparation for the hike. And she was under a self-imposed deadline, to reach Hanover, NH by July fourth. There was going to be a pie-eating contest that she wanted to participate in there.
Ah, to be twenty-four again! Only if I could knowing what I know now. She and Mary told me that I could stay another night at the lean-to. It had already been paid for. Mary thought she might stay one more night if there was nothing available at the Abol Campground. Whoopie Pie was already past us and on her way.
Maxwell and I continued on and reached the summit. There were two signs, one was embedded in the face of a rock and the other, a free-standing sign. One tells of the donation of the land to create this wilderness park. The other proclaims the summit, the point that is the highest peak of the mountain. Maxwell and I sat, took in the view, found a spot out of the direct wind and eat our lunch. At 5250-ft and on that clear day, there was a perfect view, 360-degrees around us, of everything. We gazed out over the Klondike. We watched the clouds passing just overhead, so close it felt as if they could be touched with an outstretched hand. I asked a young man to take a picture of Maxwell and I next to the standing sign before we head back down the Hunt Trail.
The hike up had taken the better part of the day and it was early afternoon when we put away the remnants of our lunch. We crossed the rocky field and passed others heading to whence we came. When we reach the boulders and rebar, poor Maxwell gave me a frightened look. He had quite willingly let me take the lead and following, he had carefully navigated the same route I had taken along the trail. At that section though, he balked. I took off my daypack, borrowed from the Ranger’s Station and zipped him in. Only his neck and head were sticking out of the opening in the top. He did not move. He did not struggle. He did not whine or cry.
I turned around and began climbing down through that steep tricky section. Maxwell was so quiet, I dare say ‘happy’, that once past that, I momentarily forgot he was still in the pack. I popped him out not long after to walk behind me the rest of the trail down.
We walked through the dense pine and reached the wooded forest. We pause a moment to again look at Thoreau Spring. We do not linger. Later along the trail we take a break on a cliff to view the waterfall edge next to it, then looked down to the pool below. Two men appeared, having climbed up a narrow path leading down to the pool below. We stood and spoke for a while. They had met Amy on he way down and asked me if I was a ‘thru-hiker’ as well. I answer, “Yes, but I’m not hiking for speed or glory. I’m hiking for…”
The man nodded and finished my sentence, “For philosophy.” We exchanged a few other pleasantries and headed our separate directions.
Maxwell and I reached the lean-to around 4:30 p.m. Whoopie Pie and her pack are long gone. Mary is packing up her gear to head to Abol Bridge to meet her there. I had weighed my pack in at the Ranger’s Station yesterday, 55-lbs. Mary agreed to take some ‘dead weight’ off my hands and deliver it to a friend who lives in Thetford, VT near Norwich. Mary headed as soon as I gave her the garbage bag of items. There was no second-guessing to be had. I took my lightened pack to the Ranger’s Station…42-lbs…without water.
Distance: 10.4 miles
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