Mt Katahdin Gone Awry - part 2

Continued from Part 1

Part 2

It was sunrise when we turned onto the long narrow dirt road that would take us 16 miles deep into the Katahdin region and to the heart of Baxter State Park. We saw many white tailed deer on the drive back. Thick forests of hemlock, pine, spruce, maple, birch, ash and northern red oak surrounded us as we went further in.

We reached the parking area and quickly unpacked, rechecked our gear and loaded everything into our packs for the long ascent. Actually I was the only one with a full pack. Everyone else had small waist packs that could barely fit two water bottles and some food. Because we were deep in the forest we could not see the mountain and would not be able to see it for a number of miles. The car was locked and packs were mounted. Mac, Jenny, Libby and me hit the trail.

I think it was about three miles to up to the Great Basin where Chimney Pond sits and the grand view of the entire mountain cirque opened up. Along the gorgeous trail there is an incredible high country lake to cool off in if you wished. Of course Jenny was a water person and so stripped down and jumped in. That was some cold water, if anyone was getting in, she was. Both dolphin and whale medicine resided in her.

Once we reached Chimney Pond, just past the ranger station cabin, we all sat on the smooth granite rocks around its edge and filled up all our water because there would not be any once we started our ascent of the mountain. The sun was bright and the day warm; ravens circled high above croaking and dancing in the invisible realm of air. We could not have asked for better weather, but it could easily change in a heartbeat later on as the air currents rose into the high atmosphere and bring us wicked storms.

After a nice rest and time to admire the mountain and all the beautiful life forms that called the region home, we mounted up and began heading south to the Dudley Trail which would bring us steeply up to Pamola Peak over severely rocky terrain made of giant granite boulders. So far everything was going smoothly ,but that would change.

Like I said, I had the only pack. I carried my water bottles, food, water purification, a heavy weight shirt, my long duster coat and other odds and ends of mountain hiking items. Since it was a nice temperature I wore sunglasses, a short sleeved shirt, cargo pants and knee high moccasins.

Mac and Jenny took off up the trail and I held back with Libby who was not as in good a shape as the rest of us. I did not mind since I was in no hurry. We had plenty of daylight to make the peaks and return.

We broke tree line shortly after a very steep and boulder filled walk/scramble. After we entered the barren side of Pamola, we had to carefully navigate the massive boulders that seemed to be perched miraculously straight up above and all around us. Leaping over hungry gaps between the rocks, we slowly moved closer to the peak above. As I was helping Libby across a deep gash between two particularly large boulders, a younger girl caught up to us. She was a trail patrol assistant for the summer employed by Baxter State Park. Carla was her name and she decided to tag along with us a bit.

After walking and talking a short while, I was quite surprised to find out Carla was a college student from Indiana who had never climbed a mountain before Katahdin, and only climbed Katahdin once. Watching me leap from boulder to boulder with a pack and helping Libby along the way, Carla had figured I had climbed the mountain many times before. She was just as surprised to find out that it was my first time on Katahdin as I was to find out she had never climbed anything and the Park sent her up here on her own to patrol. After explaining how many mountains I had climbed she came to understand why I was so comfortable and seemingly acclimated to the terrain, especially wearing moccasins.

The higher we went the better the views became. No wind and perfect weather conditions, which is a rare thing for Katahdin, just filled my heart with life. After a solid boulder trek from Chimney Pond of around a mile and a half, we reached the extremely rocky summit of Pamola. So far we had covered about 5 miles from the parking area and all was going well. Everyone was in great spirits and the mountain also seemed in a good mood.

Mac and Jenny were waiting at the top and taking in the incredible 360° view when we arrived. Carla thanked me for my company and conversation and kept going on her patrol. Libby took a seat and I wandered around a short while making sure to really absorb the full experience. Nothing but mountains and sky to the north and west, vast forest landscape and the far off town of Millinocket to the south and forested rolling hills as far as the eye could see to the east. Lakes glistened in the east and south like giant mirrors reflecting the summer sun. Thin cirrus clouds looked like frail white feathers many thousands of feet above. Just perfect. I thought about my wife and son back on the lake so far away and how they were doing on the beautiful day. I took a moment to connect with them and send them my thoughts.

Soon we were all settled in spaces between rocks eating lunch, conversing and just taking it all in. Shortly, we would head west along the infamous “knife edge ridge” that connected Pamola Peak and Baxter Peak. At first the knife edge ridge descended a bit before steadily climbing upward to the taller Baxter Peak. It would take us just over a mile traversing the ridge to get to Baxter and many areas of the knife’s edge were not more than two or three feet wide with solid cliff faces dropping away on either side. That was why it is called the “knife edge ridge”, it is literally like walking the edge of a rocky knife with nothing but air beside you and a long fall to the valley below.

It seemed that Mac was doing just fine as he was in great shape like myself. He had been traveling the world and going on expeditions for many years so I was not concerned about him. Jenny had never been up a mountain, but she was young and in decent shape as far as strength and endurance since she was a swimmer. She loved to swim, which is why half way up the original trail she stripped down and jumped in a freezing cold lake just because it was there. She was a bit nervous about the upcoming ridge though since it was all completely new. Libby was not in the best shape, but she was my age and had amazing determination. Her knees were a bit fatigued from the walk and climb so far but she was as stubborn as a mule in a blizzard. I suggested she head back to Chimney Pond while we finished the cirque but she would not have it.

We all discussed the impending knife edge ridge and how everyone was feeling and everything seemed to check out. It was decided, we would go for it. I knew Jenny would be moving slower traversing the ridge than she was climbing Pamola but would be going faster than Libby so Mac agreed to stay with Jenny and I agreed to pace with Libby. We packed up our remaining food and water and headed west to the start op the ridge and what was to come.



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Nord Wolf
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