The Others

For the past 36 years I’ve been walking up the driveway to get the Bangor Daily News that gets delivered to me sometime around 5:30 each morning.  Today, like no other day, a majestic bald eagle greeted me-  circling not 50 feet above my head as I reached into the newspaper box up on the road.
I don’t work on my birthday anymore, and try to let the day unfold a bit before I go hiking.  It’s a tradition that I have started in 2008, on the one year anniversary of starting out walking from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Maine.  I know that the new year is something that is thought to start on January 1, but for me it starts on my birthday, just a few days after the Spring equinox.  The light is brightening now, the days most years are warmer already. It’s time to walk again.
I wanted to backpack at least half the day today, but sometimes we have to improvise.  Improvisation is one of my major lessons this year. The Improv Wisdom book is a big help these days.
Yes, it’s just as good as it ever was- the hiking today. Maybe not as long a walk than I first wanted, but it’s what worked out. I loved the feeling of stretching out my legs, kicking forward, and leaning toward the horizon a bit- saw no one.
The trail ahead is slippery

The trail ahead is slippery

What a privilege it is to have the miles of trails and warm shelter to myself right now. The sun is setting, skies are clear and it’s definitely back into the 20′s tonight.
Just as I was walking, someone sings  “Sorrows are flowing downstream down the mountain”on the iPhone that I’m listening to . I was in the process of taking this photograph at that exact moment- I’m not kidding.

Flowing but mostly frozen

I just set up final details to do a 100 mile hike down on the Appalachian Trail in May to hike into Trail Days. I’ll be in Tennessee,  North Carolina and into Virginia ! I hope hike a few of those miles with Duff, who is setting out on a thru-hike of the AT this season. Plus Guthook will be breezing through at autobahn level mileages as he storms through Virginia as a total act of devotion to updating his ever popular AT Hiker app. Bob Peoples is helping me with logistics, and I’ll be sure to stay at his place- Kincora- the best hostel of the whole AT.

I am hoping see Crazy Horse down there. When he had the Captain America Corvette he was easy to track down. Now his car is nothing flashy.

It’s not that big a bunch that hikes a lot. These people tend to get to events like Trail Days  and AYZPCTKO ( PCT kickoff).   I will likely spot a few folks that I have not thought about in years but, when I do run into them, I’ll be filled with excitement instantly due to some deep connection we made between each other while out there with The Others. That’s who I belong to- the ragtag bunch of backpackers who do not have upward mobility anywhere even close to their home screens.  These noble folks are the masters of forward mobility.

I started hiking north on the AT on my birthday in 2007.  One thing I really enjoy right now is reading my original Trailjournal from that long hike.  I start reading about today on today, just 7 years later.  And over the next few weeks, I wake up and re-read that day’s journal, reliving the past, refreshing my outlook for the coming season.  No thru hikes for me this year, but I am excited about my progress in completing Cary Kish’s “1000 miles of hiking in Maine in one year” challenge.   I put in six more miles today.



Donn Fendler film getting closer to becoming a reality — Bangor Daily News

CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine, By Alex Barber — Just like the lost boy atop Mount Katahdin in 1939, two filmmakers are in the midst of a long journey with an uncertain outcome. Waterville, ME native Ryan Cook hopes his project turns out with a happy ending, just like the person whose story he’s telling — Donn Fendler.

On July 17, 1939, 12-year-old Fendler was separated from his family and became lost on Mount Katahdin. He emerged from the woods nine days later after the search for him had made headlines across the country.

via Donn Fendler film getting closer to becoming a reality — Mid-Maine — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine.

<–check out the full story, with video trailer.

It’s 2013: The Continental Divide Trail beckons!

Artwork by Michelle Ray

Artwork by Michelle Ray

Today, it’s officially 2013 and time to take action toward my latest big-deal adventure: backpacking the Continental Divide Trail ( CDT). I’ve got 3 months and 15 days to pull things together. I already have my plane tickets. I had air miles accumulating from my credit card for the past 5 years so the flight from Portland, ME to El Paso, TX cost me just $10 as did the trip back to Portland from Bozeman, MT on October 1.

In the past 6 years I have completed three thru-hikes: the Appalachian Trail in 2007, the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010, and Vermont’s Long Trail in 2011. Readers can access my daily Trailjournals from these journeys on, or click the hot links on the right side of my blog to get there.

On March 27, 2007 on my first day on the AT I met General Lee and then encountered Richard Wizard a couple of weeks later. We and several others held up as a “AT family” that eventually reached Katahdin together. We’ve forged life-long bonds and we reunited to complete the PCT in 2010, and in Lee’s case, the Long Trail as well. Lee is from Georgia, and Wizard from Texas. On the trail, we’re known as MeGaTex, and all three of us are on “ the bus” for this one, plus other people that I’ll introduce you to in the weeks ahead.

I started a blog in 2008, after I enjoyed writing about the daily adventures on the AT. Between my trail journals and my WordPress blog site I have racked up over a half million “hits” from readers. I’ve been rewarded many fold for my time spent whacking away at these keyboards, sending out my thoughts from the house or in the tent. The kickbacks just keep on coming. So, just to be perfectly clear- I’ll take any and all the help I can get.

So far, I’ve spent close to $500 on maps about this “King of Trails”, which is of undetermined length, ranging somewhere between 2,700 and 3,100 miles. It’s undetermined because it is not like the AT or the PCT, or the LT. It’s undetermined because the trail is only 70% complete, and 58% complete in the most northern state of Montana. You get choices to go high, go low, go over mountains, or walk riverbeds, or walk roads. The one defining characteristic about the CDT that makes it especially challenging is the tendency for hikers to lose the trail. It’s unmarked and unsigned, for sections as long as a couple of hundreds of miles. Depending on the depth of winter snows, the trail generally gets buried in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Right from the start, you get to choose three starting points along the Mexico/ New Mexico border. I’ve been spending the last month familiarizing myself with the New Mexico maps, and still am not sure I understand where the trail goes. For example, I have the latest 2009 edition of the New Mexico Delorme Atlas and Gazatteer where I believe there have been major changes from the Acoma Indian Reservation below the town of Grants all the way up to the Colorado border, and that’s 1/3 of the CDT in Mexico. I’m concerned about the fact that New Mexico is mostly a barren desert and that natural water sources are as much as 150 miles apart.
I plan to update my official Trailjournal at least once weekly as April approaches.

Saddle Trail: Katahdin, Maine

Photo by Aislinn Sarnacki. The group of 10 teenagers participating in the 2012 Maine Youth Wilderness Leadership Program hikes up Saddle Trail to the summit of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park on Aug. 10, 2012.

Today’s Bangor Daily News has a good reference to what is probably the easiest trail up from Chimney Pond to Baxter Peak- relatively easy. I like the inclusion of the video. This youth group was hiking at a good clip, and the fact that it was hailing, and socked in with clouds on top, indicates that hiking is often undertaken in less than picture-post-card conditions.

I have two reservations for Baxter State park coming up. In a month, I’ll be camping at Chimney Pond for two nights, where our Gang of Four hopes to make it to the top. It’s likely that we’ll take the Saddle Trail up or down.

1-minute hike: Saddle Trail, Mount Katahdin, Maine – Act Out with Aislinn – BDN Maine Blogs.

Richard Wizard on “What Have I Learned from Hiking?”

Hiking has taught me many different things; none were formulated by lesson plans or by cramming for tests. Hiking did not teach me empirical knowledge more than it taught me a state of mind.

As a young boy, my backyard was an undeveloped endless tract of rolling Texas Hill Country in West Austin. The Austin Chalk comes to the surface there and is milky white as it outcroppings are exposed by the thin soil. Water quickly cuts the chalk limestone into fantastic shapes, creek beds with deep pools bounded by cliffs, natural amphitheaters and the ever present chalk. Miles of deer trails under the cedar breaks were the hiking trails. In the shade of the cottonwoods and sprawling live oak limbs I hiked the creek beds as far as I could go, grabbing crawdads and having them grab me when I was too slow or unsure in my movements. I was a troubled youth: I wouldn’t wear shoes, I was in constant trouble for coming home late after dinner, clothes I wore were often returned in tatters, and falls from crumbing rocks or slipping out of the trees that we climbed left behind broken bones and scars.

Still Breaking the Rules

I enthusiastically pushed the boundaries of my world as far as I could, remembering every tree, each rock, where all the forts were and which creeks always held water in their tinajas in the Texas summers. I was proud that nobody knew those woods as well as I did. Hiking taught me all this.

In middle and high school my dad would take me and my buddies to State Parks like Enchanted Rock and Pedernales. We would walk in, set up tents, eat freeze-dried backpacking food, sleep on huge camping air mattresses, in the wildest wilderness imaginable to us. During the day my dad would relax in the tent while we boys took off to destinations unknown. Unlike our mutual friends, none of us were in Boys Scouts and it was great. No merit badges for knives, we just brought our own, to flick open and shove into the dirt around creek beds. No knots to learn, we just jury-rigged our own sorry slings to haul stuff into the crowns of Live Oaks. We were our own masters to learn about smoking grapevine, with nobody to tell us that rocks were too high or too dangerous to climb. If we fell off, we fell off. That was it. Hiking taught me this too.

Later on in college the same group of friends and I started planning our own adventures. We set our sights high, on lofty ambitions toward the North West. We started learning how to mountaineer by reading books and practicing with our new ice axes. We figured out what to do if members of a party fall into a crevasse, how to set up a Z-pulley, how to put on crampons for glacier travel and what the proper following distance and slack should be for glacier travel when roped up. Then we bought plane tickets and climbed pinnacles of rock and ice. Hiking taught me this.

I had first learned of the Appalachian Trail in my living room from a TV, of all things. Dad and I were watching PBS and they ran a special about the Appalachian Trail. That was it, I was hooked. Age 9. After graduating college and years of longing, waiting, and planning I quit my job, determined to hike the Appalachian Trail. I had felt drawn to the power of Mount Katahdin for all those years, with a burning in my gut that I could not then, and nor can now rationally explain. Now this would be hiking! In Georgia, two close friends and I entered the green tunnel. When we emerged from that green tunnel in Maine I had lost one friend, derailed by money issues, but I had gained many more friendships than I bargained for. It was one of the best times in my life despite losing a serious girlfriend, while on the hike. I saw everything that you would expect to see on the trail and our group eagerly sought out each new experience. I took in as much as I possibly could.

Sometimes survival = motel

My old and new friends inspired me, taught me things and surprised me; I learned from new experiences, but ultimately it was the hiking that taught me.

Recently I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with some of the same friends from the AT. My brother came along to see what long distance hiking was about. The Pacific Crest with its mighty shining mountains, the cold snow melt rivers, and heat wave over trackless desert. True wilderness it was, from the black twisted lava flows of Northern California and Oregon to the dense rainforest and glacier-clad peaks of Washington state. The Pacific Crest Trail had nowhere near the power that the Appalachian Trail holds in me, but I did it anyway. It was one of the best times I have ever experienced. Risk coupled with reward. The end lesson from the PCT was that hiking’s end result is not quantifiable. I don’t have to walk 2,800 miles to feel accomplished. When I walk downtown to revel in drinks and debauchery, I am hiking to get there. When I walk up the street I am hiking. Every day I hike to and from my car. It is the act of walking – hiking, the same processes are still at work. Hiking continues to teach.

Now what did hiking actually teach me? It showed me about life and it showed me life as it exists on Earth. It taught me, most importantly, to be happy. Happy with yourself, the knowledge of who you are, what makes you tick. Being happy with where you are at any given minute, even if you might be standing short of where you want to be. Hiking taught me the art of reflecting, introspecting, where life scenarios are played out before your bored imagination while walking, the wild improbable daydreaming dreams. You are trapped with yourself with no way out. To be comfortable in your own skin is paramount to the level of happiness one can achieve. Know thy self, and not the shallow surface because that will quickly be stripped bare, but the deeper knowledge of that self.

I have learned patience – not with people I dislike, or work scenarios that I wish would go away – but with life, with the pace of walking, the pace of a snail. Patience is a virtue that was taught to me by life spent in the outdoors. Calmness comes hand in hand with patience, and peace, an inner peace.

I observe the landscape before me and see its past and future; its current state of health. I have not studied forestry or geology in a classroom, but I have studied and kept my eyes open in the outdoor classroom. I have not heard, but I have listened, to people that know about a wide variety of subjects and kept my mind open to learning at all times. I experienced an intimate relationship, forged by geography and the time spent in its clutches.
When I am not using my MP3 player I listen to the forest and hear the sounds of the trees flexing their boughs, the birds in the air calling shrill tunes to each other. I feel and taste the movement of air. I smell the damp forest floor leaf litter, the ozone before the impending storm.

Hiking has taught me about diet and how my body works when pushed and how my body pushes back.

Learning about nutrition

Hiking has taught me about pace, cadence, and the sounds of my own body enveloped in the outside world, to tune myself down so I am able to listen.

Hiking has taught me about suffering through the art and science of deprivation. It is the learned ability to swallow hardships coupled with grueling schedules and learning to enjoy it. While experiencing physical and mental exhaustion, and uncertainty for the future I figure out how to overcome and subdue any given situation. I find myself making the best out of a bad situations without complaining about it.

Hiking teaches me about exploration of the unknown. I know where the final destination is, yet the experiences along the way are what I look forward to. It is as close, in this day and age, as one can get to pure exploration; as if we crossed the plains in 1849, as if we were with Lewis and Clark, as if we moved with Cook and Sir Frances Drake, adapting to the ever shifting dilemmas of foot travel. Things don’t always go as planned and I practice the ability to change fluidly within the situation at hand without losing my mind. To embrace the unknown, while knowing that it will all end up taking care of itself is my lifelong lesson.

The Wizard traversing Goat Rocks in Washington

Hiking has taught two most important things, while living on and off the trail: how to enjoy the now and how to be happy.
(by Louis LeSassier)

“What I learned from hiking ?” from Joe Niemczura

A truly enjoyable and very informative read from my friend Joe. I truly appreciate the time he spent on this entry. Please take advantage of the numerous hotlinked references.

What Have I learned from hiking 
 by Joe Niemczura, RN, MS

The guy who played accordion for my old polka band, Tom Jamrog, is also a long distance hiker and backpacker. He blogs about his trips, and has a vigorous writing style. He recently posed a question on his blog; “what have you learned from Hiking?” and I decided to answer.

Troop 4 Marlboro, Algonquin Council B.S.A., Camp Resolute

I have been a hiker and backpacker all my life, ever since Boy Scouts. Growing up, my mom generally refused to let us ever play inside the house, even in winter. “So what if it’s cold, put on some mittens and your winter boots and go outside and play!” and I vividly recall games the neighborhood boys would play in the woods around our house or on the nearby golf course. Usually some variation of Capture The Flag.

As a youthful prank, my friend Kenny Paul and I once threw some firecrackers at the house of a neighbor boy. (Yes, it was us – the Statute of Limitations has run out, and besides, I think I was eleven years old.) The boy’s mom called the police. Ken was the star of the crosscountry team, and when the cruiser pulled up with blue lights blinking, I was surprised that I could keep up with him. Two cruisers spent some time in our neighborhood while Kenny and I spent the next three hours eluding them in an apple orchard. hmmmmm……. Later this inspired me to join the cross country team. I ran the the half mile in spring track. (2:14 was my personal best, if you really must know).

Kenny recently retired from his position as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, and he still is a runner. My older brother finally rediscovered his whereabouts after thirty years. Ken was also an excellent baseball pitcher. Once while on a training run though the neighborhood, a dog came out to chase. Kenny picked up a rock and beaned the dog from fifty feet away, knocking it unconscious. What coordination. I laughed when he told me his USMC specialty was artillery. He spent his adult life throwing stuff at people…..

Misery in the Great Outdoors

Camping with the Boy Scouts included a lot of miserable experiences amidst the fun. I never cooked for myself at home before going camping and trying it there. Baking my first potato in a campfire was half-burnt/half-raw, for example, and one memorable hike during a winter weekend, our patrol ploughed our way through thighdeep snow for three miles on a hike to nowhere. Ultimately I got Eagle Scout. why? mainly because my older brother had done it, and I looked up to him ( still do!).

Other experiences

To answer the specific question, It’s hard for me to separate hiking from Boy Scouts, in terms of what I learned. Don’t disrespect the Boy Scouts – I have some philosophical differences with their current leadership, over the ir policy toward gay persons and atheists (each of which are just fine with me) but overall the Boy Scouts fill an important need. Paul Theroux summed it up for me when he described his experience with the Boy Scouts.

Taking a side trail

During the time I was in Maine I did all the outdoorsy stuff – cross country ski, canoe ( the Allagash and Upper West Branch of the Penobscot) , hike, telemark, etc. I climbed Mt Washington and Katahdin in wintertime more than once…. but by comparison, the last few years in Hawaii I went through a period of not doing nearly much adventure-type stuff in the outdoors. Oh well, yeah, I was spending every summer time in rural Nepal teaching with Christian Medical Missionaries and taking day hikes, doing the Asian Travel thing (no, I did not climb Everest at any time…….that’s the usual Nepal question I get from fellow backpackers…) and here in Hawaii I was going to the beach (Sandy’s) and day hiking… but .. it wasn’t the Real Thing. And the weather here is so nice that it’s missing an element …….

Passing it on

I always took my kids on outdoorsy adventures. Glad to have two daughters because then the pressure was off and I knew I would never have to be an adult scout leader. I was saved from having to spend any more weekends with bunches of eleven-year-old boys. (thank you God!) but taught both my girls all the skills anyway. Yes, both my kids learned to make a fire, paddle a canoe, predict the weather by looking at the clouds, and read a topo map. When they were six and eight, we took them on a week long canoe camping trip, retracing Thoreau’s path on the Upper West Branch of the Penobscot River in Maine. When the younger one announced her intention to do a through-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2010, I was reminded of long-ago solemn promise made at a campfire, that I would join her on that quest, should the day ever come.

My 2010 hike

When the summons to hike long-distance came, I was old. And fat. But this served as a personal challenge to get into enough shape to be a respectable hiking buddy. And that’s where the learning began again. In order to keep up with Whoopie Pie, I decided I would do my own solo hike for a few hundred miles and get in shape before hand. And besides, she didn’t want to do the whole thing with me, she was going to hike her own hike. So in May I started off in the hundred or so miles that traverse Massachusetts, averaging eight miles a day through the Berkshires. A few days to recuperate and restarted in Vermont, about two hundred miles through the Green Mountains and into New Hampshire, by this time averaging eleven miles a day. Another hundred through Shenandoah National Park, and finally co-hiked with Whoopie Pie. By the end of the summer I was not so fat; and I learned that I was not so old, either. I hiked 475 miles in that summer.


I think most writers focus on the physical challenge of doing this, but most of the highlights for me were a bit of the meditative variety, and a good hike serves as a daydream for a long time afterwards. A variety of mountaintops in seven states. Hearing loons on a pond on Vermont, for the first time in five years. The night at the Tom Leonard Lean-to listening to nesting hoot owls. Cleaning the dead leaves from a mountain spring, and the wonderment of finding a fist-sized jellylike clump of frog’s eggs. The evening Julie and lay in our bunks in a cabin in Vermont listening to the soft conversations of other hikers during six days of cold rain in the Green Mountains. The “problem bear” at Shenandoah when I was the only person in the lean-to that night. Having heatstroke on two occasions. The bedazzlement of thousands of butterflies, a cloud of butterflies, in a dewy meadow of wildflowers in Shenandoah National Park. Being sick with bronchitis and experiencing SVT overnight after taking cough medicine, wondering how I would get evacuated from such a remote place. Walking out on my own the next morning.

And of course – Smarts Mountain

The people who comprise the subculture of the Trail are always a highlight, and I learn a lot from them. One day’s hike sticks out. I got to the Fire Warden’s cabin at Smart’s Mountain New Hampshire at the end of a fourteen mile day, knowing for the last five miles that I needed to beat an oncoming thunderstorm. The approach from the south is very steep, with iron rungs forming a sort of ladder over the steepest sections. The rain pelted down, forming a waterfall on the trail as I ascended. At one point my heart sank when the clouds parted and I realized I was nowhere as close as I thought I was, darkness was approaching and I needed to skedaddle. Lightning was hitting less than a half mile away as I got above timberline, dashing the last half mile like a frenzied animal.

To get there I had elected to hop past the Trapper John leanto, but to my surprise I was passed from behind at the last minute by Roaring Lion and Snow White, two through-hikers who had hopped past two leantos, and come from six miles even further south than me that day. One other guy was already there. The cabin smelled of dead porcupine but the roof was intact. RL, SW, and I each got out of our clothes and did what all long distance hikers do – get into the dry sleeping bag, eat something, and regain some strength. As we lay there we agreed that the lightning was – exciting.

Everything I learned in Boy Scouts told me not to do what I just did.

Then we had dinner, and the usual bull session as we got to know each other. We shared that special comraderie of people who know that what they just did, (hiking uphill into a lightning storm,) was crazy; and yet, who know they are also in the company of others equally crazy.

Best summed in a saying

A friend is somebody who will bail you out of jail. A best friend is somebody who in handcuffed on the bench next to you saying “man, that was awesome”

Later that same summer, I did a 22 mile day in Shenandoah National Park. And a few other feats in which I picked them up and put them down. The highlight was to hold my own when I finally caught up with my old hiking buddy, Whoopie Pie.

From then on, for the rest of that summer, I knew: I can still push myself, further and harder than I thought.

And I have some best friends. On the Trail.

Whoopie Pie on “What Have I Learned From Hiking?”

Whoopie Pie is the trail name of area code 207 resident Amy Neinczura.  Amy thru hiked the AT southbound and has been writes frequently on her WordPress blog at  about how tough it is to walk the line with one foot still on the trail and the other feeling around for the correct path in the “shower world”, as we hikers term the 9-5 work-a-day-Janie world.

So give Amy a warm welcome.

In the continuing series of “What Have I Learned From Hiking?”— Here’s Whoopie pie!

“if you keep going, you will get there.  if you stop, you won’t.”  i repeated this over and over again to myself on my solo southbound thru-hike of the AT, especially on the last 700 miles of the trail, when all i wanted to do was stop.  my trail love who promised to go to springer with me changed his mind around daleville, virginia. suddenly i was hiking alone again, as i had started in maine, only this time i was in the part of the trail that i knew the least about and feared the most, the south.  as an early southbounder, i did not have the comfort of a bubble with me, a bubble ahead of me, and a bubble behind me like northbounders do.  i truly felt the weight of the pack on my shoulders, weight that refused to give up but felt little enthusiasm to continue.  i would learn the difficulty of hiking, and existing, without a community.

in daleville, i bought pepper spray, perhaps as a symbolic gesture to soothe my fear.  a family friend and former thru-hiker who lived in roanoake suggested that i buy the trail maps in addition to the data book that i was using, so that i could triangulate camping spots furthest from roads, from civilization, the least accessible to weirdos.  i learned to spot the trail bums, the “hikers” clad in jeans listening to their radios and eating out of cans at shelters, and i take off as quickly as i dropped my pack to read the register.

it turned out that i did not need the pepper spray.  most section hikers, day hikers, and townspeople who picked me up hitch-hiking would exclaim, in the most incredulous tone imaginable, “you are hiking ALONE!?”  day hikers would give me every apple and granola bar they had packed, as if i did not have a pack full of instant mashed potatoes, dried cranberries, and cheap sugar cookies from food lion.  on the virginia creeper trail, i met a church group who promised to pray for me.  in the day prior, i met another hiker who offered to let me shower, eat, and spend the night when i reached big balds.  he was one of three strangers-turned-friends who put me up during my thru-hike.  i will always remember stopping at the parking lot at carver’s gap in the roans and having a man say in the most darling tennessee accent, “would you like some home-made tennessee molasses?”  somewhere around the smokeys, i was offered shots of home-made moonshine, and hated the medical predicament that stopped me from saying yes.

i met all of those people, and experienced that generosity, on good days.  i spent much of my last 700 miles in tears, and i did not have a community of people to cheer me up.  i wanted to physically challenge myself, but i made the challenge harder than it needed to be.  i did indeed make it to springer.  i would not realize until the following year how much more pleasant the AT could be.

in the summer 2011, i returned to the AT northbound, only for my favorite section, New England.  i started at the ny/ct line, and headed north, intending to switch to the long trail.  soon i realized the joys of hiking within a community, a group of people excited to see me arrive at the shelter or campsite, people who suggested shelters or campsites or dartmouth frat houses where i was not initially planning on staying.  with trail friends, i had a reason to build campfires and stay up late, or at least hiker late.  i had swimming partners-in-crime, and inn-at-the-long-trail partners-in-crime, and work-for-stay partners-in-crime.  needless to say, when i reached the maine junction, i turned east towards home.

hiking alone southbound, many of my memories consisted of, “yep, i cried going up that mountain.  oh yeah, wesser bald, i cried that day.  the smokeys?  yep…”  it starts to sound a little PATHETIC, really.  yet northbound this past summer, i left a trail of laughter.  i would say my same line over and over again, “NO LAUGHING ON THE DOWNHILL!”  then i would promptly burst into laughter, and lose my footing.

nevermind my digressions.  my need for community, and my ability to benefit from it, is one of my most cherished trail lessons.  my trail lessons are so pervasive that they are strewn across my memory like a gear bomb that i trip over when i need to use the privy in the middle of the night.  no, not a gear bomb.  true confessions: because i am such a minimalist, i created very unimpressive gear bombs.  my trail lessons are stowed and neatly packed in the exact same spot of my mental backpack, just like my aqua mira and alcohol stove and hubba hp and other possessions.  that way, whenever i need to pull one of my trail lessons out of my pack for strength, i can efficiently find it.

Katahdin 2011

I hit the brakes and veered the Voyager around , heading back on Rt. 7.
“We’ve got to save that turtle,”  I told General Lee and Bill as we stopped in the lane and Lee got out and approached the painted turtle that was immobile in the center of the road.   I have seen too many dead crushed turtles at this time of year on the Maine roads, and this one made it easily to the other side of the road with the help of General Lee, who placed it on the gravel, safely off the path of oncoming tires.
So started our 24+ hour adventure up to and back from the top of Mt. Katahdin, in Maine’s Baxter State Park.
We were able to obtain a reserved parking spot at the lot in Roaring Brook campground, and although the weather was not predicted to be 100%, we hoped to have a day of it, a big day of hiking to the summit of Maine’s highest mountain.

“Head up the road about four and a half miles and look for a small sign on a spruce tree that says BOC.  Turn left there and take that short-cut to the Painted Rock’” the clerk at the Abol Bridge store told us.  Such are the directions in upcountry Maine.

We were at the Togue pond (southern) gate of Baxter State park by 6:10 AM, where there was no line, and then easily negotiated the 10 miles or so over gravel road to Roaring Brook, but without seeing a moose.
After saddling up our packs, we headed up the 3.3 mile Chimney Pond Trail where we were eventually greeted by glimpses of the the massive 2,000 foot headwall on this side of Katahdin.

Headwall Obscured Above Chimney Pond

Unfortunately, we were beset by thick cloud cover, so our panorama was obscured by the weather, which would continue to affect us for the rest of the day.

After checking in at the ranger station, listening to her tell us where we could find the bail-out path on the way up, that it was NOT a good day to do the Knife Edge, and that there was 90% chance of thunderstorms and showers all day, we proceeded up the Cathedral Trail, at 1.6 miles the most direct and steepest way to get to the top from Chimney Pond.  As soon as we left, we hit rain on the hardest part of the trail.  No matter how miserable it would be, we were going to do it anyway.  Unfortunately it also required 2,353 vertical feet of elevation gain- a ridiculously huge challenge to get my 215 pounds up there.
But we did it- in the fog, over wet rocks, with the path plugged silly by a group of 15 or from a boy’s camp.  This was no place for hiking poles, which I stored in my pack, trading them for a pair of gloves.  The hike was so steep that it required several upper body moves where I had to grab tightly on some crevices above and trust my arms to  pull me up and over.
On the way up, near the top, sat a solo hiker on a rock pile, taking on a snack just before the turn toward the summit.  Turned out it was Laredo, who had also thru-hiked the AT in 2007.  I remember reading his shelter register entries, especially the funny song he wrote about the bemoaning Cove Mountain shelter. He finished a month before I did, and we experienced a grand reunion up there- high on the rocks, starting out at the mist. We now all hiked together all the way to to the summit, where there were already thirty people eating, yelling, running around, snapping pictures and talking on their cell phones.

Uncle Tom and General Lee

Of course, Lee and I had never abandoned our plan to hike the often treacherous and always fabled Knife Edge, so when the clouds started to break, we looked at each other and one of us said, “We’d better go. Now.”
Up, over, and out we went- into the cloud world of mist atop what has been described as a dinosaur’s back. I’d done this thing twice before and I didn’t think there was much work to it, but today it was formidable.  Most of the time, I was scanning the total rock world ahead, and trying to pick a footpath that would render me mostly vertical.  The surface of the rocks pitched this way and that, and the walk also went up and down, even some back and forth.

Bill Gifford working the Knife Edge

I dredged up from the memory bank an image of  one harrowing section- a bad drop near the end of the ridge, and it was still bad.
The thunder started up before we reached Pamola.  As we hit the peak, the rain started, lightly at first, but then more persistently, so we didn’t stop, but shot right over the summit and booked it down the other side, where we were still terrifyingly exposed.
I pulled my Lekis to full extension and got ready to focus. It was a long, tough  3.2 miles back to the car. The rain made the rocks treacherous and there was no way that either Lee, Bill, or I could not avoid sliding distances over some of the slippery steep ledges, but each time, we were upright when we hit the low points.  We all survived the steep unrelenting descent, but I did experience a significantly bloody knee, resulting from a leap off a tall ledge to the bottom, where I neglected to factor into the leap the horizontal distance from me to a neighboring ledge that I bashed against.
We made it to the car by 2:30 PM- a decent day of working the trails, for sure.  After we headed out of Medway and got onto I-95 the skies opened up, the wind increased, and it started to hail.   At times, most of the cars on the road were pulled off, due to the volume of water falling from the sky. It was the first time that I have been in a car where the hail was so big that I was worried about my windshield cracking.  The storm followed us all the way back to Waldo County.
We rolled into the driveway changed people.  All that we experienced fit into a window of opportunity that took just a few hours more than just 1 day.  This was the fifteenth time that I had walked to the summit of Mt. Katahdin, and I trust that the road ahead leads me back again sometime.  The turtle is back on trail.

Thoreau Slept Here!

“Thoreau camped right here on Sept. 6, 1846”, I told Bill and General Lee, as we settled into site #19 at the Abol Bridge Campground . Unfortunately, Thoreau was unable to adapt his usual technique of taking a compass bearing on summit and and follow that bearing to the peak, which would have led him to the South Peak, as you can’t see Baxter Peak from this site. Even after two days of struggling through the underbrush, he gave up. Writing in The Maine Woods, Thoreau glimpsed an aspect of nature that changed his views on the outdoors as a pastoral , transcendent glade, ” Nature was here something savage and awful, though beautiful.  There was felt the presence of a force not bound to be kind to man.”  It would be 7 more years before Thoreau was to return to Maine, but never again to Katahdin.   We were to learn the true meaning of those words in the next 24 hours.

To our left is Thoreau Bridge, located were Abol and Katahdin Streams flow into the West Branch of the Penobscot River. We went up and hung out on the bridge, sharing it with the numerous fully loaded logging trucks  that work this area night and day.

Lee, Bill, and the Big Wheel

To our right loomed the massif of Katahdin,  at least that’s where I remembered it to be, but the thick cloud cover that shrouded the mountain sometime obscured it completely this evening.

Katahdin obscurafied

The three of us had a parking spot the next day at Roaring Brook campground inside Baxter State Park.  I have stayed at this campground a few times before and like its proximity to the store right by the entrance on the Golden Road.
The way the parking lot reservations work at Baxter is that you can reserve on-line or by calling in, but you have to be through the gate at 7:05 AM.  If not, they cancel your reservations, and offer up your parking spot to someone else.
We had picked up BBQ chicken and some picnic items at the Hannaford’s in Millinocket on the way in and with the pile of dry firewood I brought from home, had a settled evening.

Chillin' at site #19

But rain started falling, lightly at first, and I was pleased that we had the Caravan to retreat to when it started to wet me up. Inside the van, we were treated to a spectacular light show, with lightening charging through the cloud layer to render the scene in a way that few people are able to experience.
We decided to get up around 5:30 AM and head out, just in case there was a line at the gate.

Why Do People Fly in Seaplanes?

Reader of this blog might remember that I’m a fan of using floatplanes to get onto backpacking Appalachian Trail entry points points within  Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness.  If not, here’s the original blog entry entry about my last flight with Katahdin Air.

Check out this message , that was sent to me today,  from
Jim Strang | PO Box 171 Golden Rd, Ambajejus Lake | Millinocket, Me 04462              1-866-FLY-MAINE

“During an interview with a Maine Tourism agency rep I was asked the question, ‘why do people fly in seaplanes?’ I was taken off my feet with that one. After 30 years of bombing around the state in one I thought I may have missed something. That is, perhaps the obvious has been hiding on me. You know,  like a moose hiding behind a dandelion.

Now that I have collected my wits this is what I wish I had told him:  “Maine is by far the biggest of the New England States. Heck, just our northern forest alone is eleven times bigger than the whole state of Rode Island. Yes, Maine is pretty big but seaplanes go fast. Most of the state is remote. Seaplanes land in remote areas. Maine’s roads are crooked. Seaplanes go in a straight line…most of the time. Maine roads are hazardous. To my knowledge a seaplane has never hit a logging truck or a moose. Maine has very few airline serviced airports. Seaplanes connect them all with direct flights to anywhere in the state. (just as an aside, Our soul mates at Penobscot Island Air connect the airlines with the rest of Maine’s 36+ small airports). Seaplanes can drop you right at your destination for fishing, canoeing, hiking, for Sporting Camps, remote cabins, and woodsy corporate functions. Try calling Net Jets with that request. Seaplanes fly safely at altitudes that turn Maine into a menagerie of wonder. Only seaplanes can utilize Maine’s 3000 most interesting landing strips.  The saying “you can’t get there from here” does not apply to seaplanes.”

“So what are you thinking mister? Remote states need remote friendly transportation. Do you  think you are going to get to Baker Lake @ ice-out using high speed rail?”

Of course I did not tell him that. Instead I gave him a typical brain dead Maine response, “Ahhh, I dunno.” So much for winning The Apprentice.

To change gears here, we will be emailing our annual wildlife events calender in a few weeks. It lists the dates for natural events in the Northern forest like fly hatches, seasonal moose habits etc. If you have anything you might like to add to the calender (like the matting dates of the balled headed long fanged woods mouse)  just email me with it and I will include it in the calender.

Remember, woods vacations keep you healthy, happy and tuned in to Maine’s great outdoors.”