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New Hampshire, United States
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Monday, January 23, 2012

# 49 Mt. Katahdin (5267'), Maine, August 2006

#49 Mt. Katahdin, ME via Hunt Trail (AT). (State High Point #1)   August, 2006. 

Mileage: 10.4 miles RT

Elevation gain:  4,198'

Trailhead:  Baxter State Park, Millinocket,Maine. Katahdin Stream Campground.

Lesson learned:  From this day forward hiking would be my inspiration, my recreation, and my passion.

I hiked the Hunt Trail with the "Mountain Mommas" – Eileen, Charlotte, Marie, Pam and me; and their "crew" - Art, Norm, David and Rich.  Norm, our hiking "Crew Guru," named us the Mountain Mommas (I would have spelled it "Mamas" or called us the "Back Country Babes" or something less maternal but so be it).  It turns out it was a good name for us and we still wear the distinction proudly. 

The process of planning, doing and celebrating this hike provided hours of enjoyment, and brought nine friends to a common place and unique experience. 

We started planning the August hike in February. Charlotte had always wanted to climb Mt. Katahdin and finding other friends to accompany her was easy.  In March we reserved a house near Baxter Park for four days and then waited for the better weather to start our training.

At first, Rich was not interested in going. Hiking was just not his thing and there had been previous hikes where it was quite clear he was not having fun.  When it was decided that the men (crew) would accompany the Mommas, I begged Rich to go. 

The summer's training hikes prepared us for the rock scrambling on Hunt spur and the long arduous day we would both endure and enjoy.  The last hike before our Maine trip was the Baldfaces, a fine choice given its steep rocky "bald" face! Rich and Charlotte were unavailable for the Baldface hike, missing the final piece of our training.

The day of the Katahdin hike we got to the park around 6 a.m.  Parking is extremely limited at Baxter Park. This is a huge consideration when making plans.  Since our hike, the park has implemented an online reservation system which guarantees a parking space but be aware that Maine residents have preference and June through August weekends most likely will be booked.

The hike began at on the Hunt trail (northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail).  It was a perfect day with a few cloud wisps here and there.  Since this was late August, many AT through-hikers came up from behind (you could smell them coming). We applauded all of them; it was a fantastic sight!

Things were going so well up to tree line. We were all pumped; this was going to be a great day!

Then we reached the area known as the Boulder Wall. 

We were face to face with huge boulders directly above us, with rods and posts embedded in the rock as hand and foot holds. And white blazes - right there ahead and above us.  We gasped.

Rich decided to turn back. He saw the steep rock scramble and metal bars and realized he would not be fun to be around if he continued.  I offered to accompany him down the trail.  As much as that sounds like a thoughtful thing for me to do, the thought of scrambling up this huge wall - exposed and edgy (literally!) scared the hell out of me.  Rich insisted that I go on without him, stating that we could stay in touch by radio.  I did continue on.

As Rich headed back to the trailhead, the rest of us spent the next hours hand over hand climbing, ducking around, and squeezing through as we got over the spur.  There were a few times that I simply could not get up and over or around without being talked through it.  I have Art to thank for helping me through those harrowing moments.

Eventually we came to the tablelands, a flat, expansive area where we could see Baxter Peak, the summit. We could see people on the summit milling around.  I reached it at about .  Soon the others came, with Pam and Charlotte reaching the summit around 2:30.  

This was the hardest hike I have done to date.

The mood up by the sign and the 13' cairn was celebratory (Katahdin is exactly 13' short of one mile in elevation).  Through-hikers, finally done with the the 2,184 mile trek, fell to their knees, wept and yelped.  The ranger, in keeping with the wilderness spirit of Baxter Park, would not allow radios or cell phones used, and scolded visitors for not using their "inside voices."

Thunder storms were predicted and that had been a concern but they were apparently bothering another region so we enjoyed perfect views. Since the day was waning, we wasted no time heading down.


Mountain Mommas

I wound up hiking most of the way down with Marie and David.  David and I picked up our pace as the daylight diminished, hoping to be at the parking lot before sunset. We didn't make it and wound up hiking in the dark. We got down past sunset, and Rich met us on the trail with a headlamp. He had been in contact with us by radio the entire trip.

About 25 minutes after we had arrived, Pam and Charlotte completed their hike, happy but more than a little tired.
Pam and Charlotte - victorious!

This hike was clearly the most challenging thing I have ever done and once completed, all the Mommas celebrated for about six months (a good way to wile away the winter!).  Rich was disappointed that he was unable to finish but something in him changed on that day as he was hiking back down alone.  He found he loved the woods and the camaraderie of other hikers.  He would go on to finish his NH 4ks in the coming years, and is looking forward to summitting Baxter Peak in the summer of 2012.