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Old 07-19-2014, 09:45 AM   #50
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Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 4,876
Re: On the Road Indefinitely: A Dirtbag Hiker in the USA

Katahdin: ďThe Greatest MountainĒ

It rained non-stop for two days and stayed cloudy for another. I was starting to think I might never see the sun again and be stuck with this farmerís tan forever. Finally, the clouds broke. It was time to climb Katahdin.

Katahdin, named by the Penobscot Indians, means ďthe greatest mountain.Ē Itís the highest peak in Maine, and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. There are a handful of ways to climb Katahdin, all varying in degree of difficulty. I chose to start at Roaring Brook, climb the Helon Taylor trail to Pamola Peak, and traverse the infamous Knife Edge to Baxter Peak, the highest peak on Katahdin. I would take the Saddle Trail and Chimney Pond Trail back down to Roaring Brook.

I signed in at the ranger station at 6:45am and was on my way up the Helon Taylor trail. This is one of the less common ways to the summit. It breaks the tree line faster and has way more exposure than the other approach trails. I think thatís why people steer clear of it. But Iím always a sucker for more exposure and unobstructed views. Thereís a good deal of climbing in the woods, and of course a good deal of climbing after the woods, but once you break the tree line this climb turns into a hamster wheel. You can see the summit from a long way out. You climb and climb and climb, but it never seems to get any closer. The views are excellent the whole way up, so I couldnít really complain. I made it to the summit of Pamola Peak, the end of the Helon Taylor trail, around 8:30.

Nothing beats a summit after a tough climb. Youíre dying for air, your heart is pounding, and youíre trudging along exhausted, making those last few steps. Youíre too tired to think, too tired to make any conscious observation. All there is when you see that view from the summit is natural reaction. There is no analysis. For that short moment youíre not really human, youíre just another sensory creature on this Earth. The voice in your head is silenced. You have no capacity to pass any judgment. Youíre just standing on top of a mountain taking it all in. Itís as if you were a mountain goat in the Rockies or a marmot in the Sierras, as if you were only organs, flesh, and bones, as if the apes never got stoned.

The ďtrailĒ from Pamola Peak to Baxter Peak is whatís known as the Knife Edge. Katahdin has claimed 19 lives since 1963, most of them due to bad weather, but every now and then someone falls from the Knife Edge. Itís just over a mile of nothing but up and down narrow, jagged rock. For as intimidating as it sounds, it was a hell of a lot of fun. It had views in every direction and the possibility of death with every step. About three quarters of the way across, I saw clouds rise from the ground below me. I had to race them to the summit if I wanted to get more good views. I didnít win. I made it to Baxter around 9:15 and the fun was over.

Clouds had moved in. They stayed off the ground a little and I was able to get some decent views and along the Saddle Trail. It reminded me of those bald ridges I hiked in the Whites, but it was a lot wider. Once the Saddle Trail connects with the Chimney Pond Trail youíre back in the woods all the way to Roaring Brook. I signed out at the ranger station at 11:45am. This hike was a lot less difficult than people let on, and a lot more fun. Katahdin isnít as mean as she looks.

Iím making my way back to DC now. Iím going to try to make some money for about a week and a half, then go to the beach with my family for a week. Iíll probably hit the road again shortly after that. Thereís a chance I do one more day hike before I make it to DC. My sister sent me this article with a bunch of super touristy hikes and I think she might be offended if I donít do any of them. It looks like thereís one in Connecticut right off I-95, so Iíll probably do that real quick and keep her happy. Till next time.
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