CuppaTea met us at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy HQ and off we went. CuppaTea is really sweet and I am so glad to have met her. We stopped in my home town of North Billerica, Massachusetts on the way to Maine, staying at the home of some dear friends.We stayed for two days and got the chance to rest and recuperate – taking my friend Brita up on her request that we “consume mass quantities!” while visiting their home.
Yesterday was a wash, literally. Horizontal rain and atrocious winds prevented us from hiking in Baxter. But by mid-afternoon, it was clear enough for a short hike to stretch our legs and get our Katahdin hiking permits from Ranger Dave.
We summited Katahdin today. My alarm went off pre-dawn at 4:55, signalling the beginning of a long day of arduous hiking. CuppaTea & Stryder were both up and at-em by quarter past five and we were on the road to Baxter State Park by half past.
When we arrived at the gate, Stryder and I bought CuppaTea a season pass to Baxter State Park so she could continue to come in and out of the park without needing to pay the $14 each time (it paid for itself in just 2.5 visits). She dropped us at Roaring Stream Ranger Station and then made her own way to Katahdin Stream Ranger Station, where she was planning to hike and where we’d meet her later in the day.
Stryder and I began our ascent of Katahdin on the Helon Taylor Trail at about 7:30. We chose this trail for two reasons. One, we didn’t want to hike up the Appalachian Trail, only to backtrack back down again. We liked the idea of using an approach trail to the summit and then beginning our southbound journey on the AT from where it starts with fresh eyes, just like Springer Mountain in Georgia. Two, we wanted to do the Knife’s Edge Trail. This is one of America’s more dangerous hiking trails, connecting Katahdin’s Pamola Peak to Baxter Peak, the highest point of Mount Katahdin and the AT’s official northern terminus. It’s just over a mile long, with sharp, steep cliffs on both sides. Some of the trail runs over rocky edges only three feet wide. But it wasn’t the danger that drew us, it was the challenge and the promise of gorgeous views.
The elevation climb began right away. We hiked over rocks and roots at first, then over boulders. Eventually we had to stow our trekking poles as the trail provided us with hand over head climbs. We paused for a brief break about two miles in at Bear Brook to refill our water bottles and to eat some snacks. The water tasted delicious and crisp. Maine water has been the best we’ve found on the trail thus far.
From there, the climb only became steeper still, causing me to lose my footing at one point. I took a slight slide down a boulder, a small cut on my hand as my reward. We slowed down. Still, we reached timberline at about 9:15, stopping to enjoy some marvelous views.
Once out of the fir and aspen forest, temperatures began to drop quickly and the wind picked up significantly. Hiking suddenly turned into rock climbing, only without the gear! (It’s okay, we didn’t really need climbing gear, it was minimal technical climbing.) Before long, we reached the summit of Pamola Peak (4402′). That was about 10:30. It was enveloped by thick clouds. We kept looking at the Knife’s Edge, hoping for the skies to clear enough for nice views. To that end, we took a long lunch.
There were a few other folks atop Pamola, so we chatted with them and watched as these hikers slowly trickled off Pamola and out onto the Knife’s Edge. About 11:30, we decided it was our turn. At points it was barely three feet wide. We saw steep falls on both sides of us. I have to admit, it was a bit terrifying. It took us an hour and fifteen minutes to hike that 1.1 mile stretch. At 12:45, we arrived at Baxter Peak (5267′), the summit of Mount Katahdin. We were here, the place where so many northbound thru-hikers end their months long journeys. But for us, the second half was just beginning.
From end to end, our approach trail was 4.3 miles. Once at the sign, we took our obligatory photos and then ducked down a ledge to just rest for a while. Stryder ate a woopie pie and had a Coca-Cola. I ate a huge block of Maine fudge. Around 14:00, we began our descent, beginning our southbound journey back to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
The Tableland was gorgeous, providing a grand view of the mountains surrounding us. But after a mile, we began a rock scramble and then a boulder down-climb. Gosh, it was back-breaking and knee-breaking. We finally reached timberline at about 16:30, stopping for a snack and one final view of the valleys now that we were out of the cloud cover.
Our pace quickened as we got lower in elevation, arriving at Katahdin Falls about 17:00 and eventually exiting the woods at 17:30. We were greeting by CuppaTea, who gave us huge hugs and congrats. From there, we were off to dinner. Now showered, it’s time for bed. I may sleep in for several hours tomorrow.
If you’d like to help me with staying on trail, a typical resupply costs me about $50.00. You can make a contribution to my trail fund via http://www.paypal.me/trekreef. Any amount is gratefully appreciated.