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.
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.
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.
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.