Moving Out, Again !

The following article was just published in the Oct. 2012 issue of the Communiqué, the newspaper of the National Association of School Psychologists. Online access is limited to members, so I have listed the full article here.

I failed math but excel at backpacking.

Uncle Tom minus 33 pounds

While sitting in a presentation at the National Association of School Psychologists Annual Convention in Philadelphia last week, I learned that the foundation skills needed for student mathematics proficiency are “conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, strategic competence, adaptive reasoning, and productive disposition”. Hold on there!  Those skills that are critical to long-distance backpacking, not math!
I have been an active communicant of the “Church of Two Heels” since 2007, when I completed my 2,160 mile thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, where I acquired my alter of Uncle Tom. Since “A Trail of a Lifetime: Getting a Midlife Jump-Start From the AT” was published in Volume 36, #8 of the NASP Communiqué, I have been back at it again.
In 2010 I spent 5 months completing another continuous hike, this time over the Pacific Crest Trail, where I left the Mexican border in April and walked some 2,650 miles thru California, Oregon, and Washington, eventually reaching Canada in mid-September just before the early snows. Luck, my own “productive disposition”, and“Polish Power”, got me there.
In August, I spent another month thru-hiking the 272 mile Long Trail in Vermont, where I dealt with the devastation of Hurricane Irene before I was able to again reach Canada.
Why would someone subject themselves to such madness?
I treasure the stripped-down experience of walking north, where I trade in my school psychology routines for unexpected adventures. In thru-hiking speak, I do enjoy my periodic lapses into the “hiker-trash” lifestyle.  Long-distance backpacking embraces the best that America has to offer: freedom, initiative, creative planning, challenge, and total immersion in the healing powers of the natural world for vastly extended periods of time.
Walking forward happens within a framework of much simpler goals, framed by more expansive views (“ I have to get way up on that ridge today, then see where I might end up tonight”.). So much happens in a day when you wake up with the first light and move though the woods, desert, or fields and come across animals, insects, plant life, as well as others who are also moving about the countryside.
Long-distance backpacking demands a conceptual understanding of an array of survival skills. Life on the trail is easy when it’s pleasant and sunny out, but what about when things get downright dangerous? In the desert, it can range from a broiling 110 degrees to below freezing on the same day. How do you stay warm and what is more important not skid off a 13,000 foot ridge while walking over 400 hundred miles of continuous snow and ice in the High Sierra? How do you even find a trail when it is buried under 20 feet of snow, where you might be post-holing to your mustache in the melting afternoon footpath? How about avoiding hypothermia when you are walking in the Northern Cascades of Washington and it’s 40 degrees out, on the fifth day of continuous chilling rain, with a sodden taco of a sleeping bag to look forward to?
There is often no time in a thru-hike to adopt a reasonable, sloping learning curve.  Procedural fluency is essential, so that daily tasks are completed promptly. Walking on unknown paths is a primal, universal experience that ties the ordinary adventurer to Odysseus, Daniel Boone, Shackleton, and other explorers who inspire us to go places. I consider myself fortunate to be on the short list of individuals who seek encounters with nature on a twenty-four hour-a-day, all-day, months-at-a-time period. Cooking meals, setting up a tent, avoiding bears, getting out of bed, and walking all day, day after day, is only possible when these actions are competed efficiently so that the 24 hours that are allotted each day are not squandered.
I learned to deal with adversity thru adaptive reasoning to move ahead, even if it sometimes meant walking in circles or even backwards. I strive to reduce the time I spend in tension, indecision, and even pain, all of which sap energy and diminish one’s capacity to fully embrace the astounding panoramic beauty that one meets with on these National Scenic Trails.
Here’s an example of an adaptive skill, termed the “Daily Inventory of Pain”, which has yet to appear on the VIneland-II, that I learned from “The Burglar”, my Canadian hiking pal. Backpackers generally wake up either at first light or even just before sunrise, climb out of their sleeping bags, unzip the mosquito netting on their tents, and eventually right themselves to standing. Every long distance hiker engages in some degree, conscious or not, of becoming aware of body pain centers. For me it was generally a some combination of sore lower left back, forefoot numbness, fissured heels, tenderness or actual sprain of one or both ankles, tender shins, inflammation of one or both shoulders, a dull head, thirst, digestive distress, chapped lips, minor lacerations, sore or cracked fingers, and downright fatigue. The Daily Inventory of Pain would be a conscious accounting of the cumulative effects of all these sensations, which may be unconsciously endorsed on a Likert Scale, and assigned a General Suffering Quotient which might be framed in the following manner: “I feel like crap.  I am not going to be able to hike 30 miles over what’s coming, I‘ll cut it to 20, and pray for that.”  I might add that it would be an additional advantage to foster some measure of a “productive disposition” at this later stage of a thru-hike.
Cognitive flexibility and shifting mindset allow the thru-hiker to reap benefits from the unexpected “open doors” that present themselves at intervals during a hike. It’s has been said that the weight of an individual hiker’s pack reflects their personal fears.  I used to be a hiker who was locked into over preparation due to expecting a cascade of worst case scenarios, but have relaxed a great deal in my fretting about what could go wrong.  See that bunch of local campers off the trail over there who might be having a good time? I used to put my head down and avoid them. I now walk over to them, smile, and ask, “Hey, what’s up, what’s going on?” When people learn that you have just spent several months walking thousands of miles from Mexico, most instantly warm up, and often become a welcoming committee. Good things can happen. I have reaped many a hamburger, hot dog, cold drink, and more from these encounters.
There are two major approaches to dealing with a long distance backpacking trip.  The “be prepared” school of thought is exemplified by hikers like Terrapin Flyer and Granite, whom I consider paragons of executive functioning. They possessed the energy and forethought to cook, dehydrate, and pack 30 boxes of nutritious food for 175 days of walking, that were shipped to themselves along the Pacific Crest Trail.   While I wouldn’t go so far to consider it strategic incompetence, a differing approach is one taken by Richard Wizard, who shuns mailing himself food and supplies, and instead prefers the challenge of making do with what he can sift thru along the way. His choice is one that requires cognitive flexibility, making do with what he can find in gas stations and out of the way, understocked convenience stores. One of Wizard’s most creative food adaptations was first observed along the western edge of the Mojave Desert, where he transferred canned chili to a used paper coffee cup that placed on the outside mesh pocket of his backpack where the sun’s intensity cooked his meals to perfection. No water to wash out the cup?  No big deal, that sun will fry those germs!
Hiking is a hardware and software reset that restores my health and vitality.  Most of America is on some sort of weight loss program, with over 50% of Americans now considered obese or overweight..Losing weight is easy if you backpack enough.  A thru-hiker program is unique in that weight continues to drop despite consumption of vast volumes of food, up to some 6,000 calories a day. I have lost as little as 17 and as many as 33 pounds on my long hikes. I can remember times when I have felt like a superhuman, throwing down marathon length distances on a daily basis for weeks at a time. It just doesn’t seem like it could happen, but it does.
When we were in northern California and General Lee told Axilla, Wizard and I that we would not complete our hike unless we increased our daily average to 25 miles a day. I was crushed. I never conceived that I would eventually backpack thirty plus and more miles a day, on repeated days. It happened.  Lee and I even teamed up around Mt. Hood to walk 41miles in one 24 hour period.
Lessons learned on the trail extend to life off the beaten path.  Sayings that may ring hollow chime brilliant when you are walking all day long.  “Momentum helps”, “Just get moving”, “Stop and smell the roses”, “Share”, “Hike your own hike”, “Early to bed and early to rise”- the list is endless.  All of these aphorisms have deeper truths that reveal themselves with increased visibility under travel conditions. Every one of them also applies when off the trail.
People make the trail. I started the Appalachian Trail alone, on my birthday, on March 27. That night, at a campsite, I met several other hikers who eventually became my best friends. We reached the terminus of the AT on the Mt. Katahdin summit together on September 16, 2007.  Three years later, General Lee, Richard Wizard, and I walked together to complete the 2,760 mile PCT.  General Lee and I thru-hiked Vermont’s Long Trail this past August. My deepest memories are replays of scenes where there are other people present. My favorite AT photo is a blurry one taken into the setting sun in Virginia, with two men and a dog hiking in formation up a lushly planted hill. MeGaTex is what we  call ourselves, and we are planning another big one for 2013.  My conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, strategic competence, adaptive reasoning, and productive disposition will accompany me, along with my iPod and a bottle of Advil.
I continue to blog about the outdoors on .
Uncle Tom’s complete daily PCT Trail Journal can be accessed on the web at .

-Tom has been the Maine Delegate to NASP, and is past President of the Maine Association of School Psychology.

Big Hike on Bigelow Range

After I reached the top of Mt. Redington, I took another night at the Stratton Motel, where I enjoyed a long hot soak in the bath tub immediately after I got in the room.  I had a few choices as to where I’d hike next, and narrowed it down to heading over to Saddleback or exploring the Bigelow range.
I’m really enjoying going through the newly revised Maine Mountain Guide, which also happens to have a nice topo map of the Bigelow Range, where you can knock off two more of the Maine “official “ 4,000 Footers with Bigelow West ( 4,145’) and Avery (4,080’) Peaks .

Strava record of the hike

It took a full day of fairly steady moving.
I left the car at the parking area on the nicely graded Stratton Brook Pond Road at 8:30 AM and made it back at exactly 4:00 PM.  I did a loop, going up via the unrelenting Firewarden’s Trail which started at 1700’ and took me 2,300 feet up to Avery. There was water flowing everywhere, but thankfully I didn’t have to feet my feet wet in crossing the outlet at Stratton Brook Pond at the start.

Warren going over outlet from Stratton Brook Pond

I passed two parties of hikers on the way up but another day hiker caught me at the intersection of the AT, where I got screwed up following a blue blaze up a rock face. We hit it off and hiked together for the rest of the day.  His name was Warren, lived in Weld, and was retired from AT & T and was ticking off his own Maine 4,000 footer list.   Warren is another avid hiker who only does day hikes.  He is not interested in camping or backpacking, which surprises me.
I was disappointed to see that the wooden top and roof to the fire tower on Avery had been burned down.
I had last tried to get up Bigelow in 2011 via the FW trail  with Tenzing and Auntie Mame, but we only made it to the tent platforms just before the AT when we ran out of time.

Colors coming

The foliage is still only 30% of peak, with the rich red and orange colors just coming in around the edges of ponds and swamps.
We took mandatory summit photos from the top of Avery, and then headed along the ridge over to West Peak and over the top of the South Horn ( 3,805’) where we descended the nice stone stairs down to the Horns Pond lean-tos and tent sites, where the caretaker was away for the day.

Looking back over to West peak from South Horn

I am still impressed that this camping area is still free.  What a contrast to the money-pit AMC world of the Whites in New Hampshire!  I’m sending the Maine Appalachain Trail Club another $25 for their efforts.

World class eye candy

Warren and I  descended the 2.5 mile Horns Pond Trail  back to the intersection with the Firewarden’s trail and then walked out the way we came in, completing the 13 mile loop trip in about 6 hours of moving time.
On the way out I spotted a new blue sign that indicated a mountain bike path  along the north side of the Stratton Brook Trail.  That’s something I have to check out.
A day hike over the Bigelow Range is admittedly an undertaking that is best left to a hiker who has the skills and energy to put in a serious day of exertion.  It is classified as a “Serious Hike” of 9 hours and 30 minutes, “not counting snack or lunch stops, scenery appreciation , or rest breaks” in the Maine Mountain Guide.
I think I did very well up there today, and headed back home to rest up, before the next adventure.
For a detailed read of how to break this same hike up and use three days with two nights of camping, see the following entries from a 2008 backpacking trip  that Auntie Mame and I enjoyed that September.

Bushwhacking Mt. Redington, or How I Learned to Love My GPS

I have never had a backpacking day like this one.
It involved GPS skills and bushwhacking my way through the thick of the Maine mountain forest. I’m short on both proficiencies.
After breakfast at the Laughing Moose I gave another another hiker, Trainwreck, a ride down to the Caribou Pond Road, where we drove to the end, and encountered the blocked bridge. I had no problem dealing with the gravel road, and any car could make it down to the end of the line, as long as you can dodge one scary pointed rock and one gaping hole.

Parking area on Caribou Pond Road

From here, we road walked about a half-mile until we reached the crossroads with the AT, where The Wreck headed north and I kept up a good clip on the gently ascending, meandering gravel road. Before he took off, we took a short jaunt south on the AT to view the water level in the South Branch of the Carabassett River. Trainwreck’s north progress had been stopped here on Wednesday after 4″ of rain raised the river to the point where it was impassible. A plank that had been cabled to assist hikers get across was broken, and was still fluttering in the deep flow. Trainwreck verified that the water level had already dropped two feet.

AT crossing at the Carrabasset

It would be possible to get across right now, but you’d have to get your feet wet, and not be dismayed by the sound of roaring water flowing all around you. I proceeded to stroll down this road for about three more mile.

Before this trip, I put in two frustrating,struggling, but ultimately rewarding hours at home downloading a .gpx file that I then transferred to the eTrex30. THANK GOD I DID SO! To obtain this.gpx track, go to the website, and hit the onscreen link to get the file.

The purple line on the screen of my GPS started out exactly where we left the car. At around the three mile point and after the 7 mile marker that is signed on the road, veer right and continue through several intersections, most of which were marked in pink tape, wooden arrows, or combinations of both. Be sure to take the left side of the first intersection, the one that is marked as a “snowmobile trail”.  It is clearly the CVR.  Here’s the view as you are leaving the graveled road and entering a much less used double-rutted grassy path.

Redington in view from CVR

As you approach the view of Caribou Pond  on your left the following major intersection appears, where you take your first right.

Take right here.

You walk on a wide, open solid gravel road until you come to the next turn, a left, where this log points the way.  Go leftThe trail then finds another pink tape marking a more traditional path that goes all the way to the top, a cut-over clearing hacked out of the thick woods.

Mt. Redington summit

To the north turned the distant blades of the Kibby Mtn. wind farm, where a similar 30 windmill project failed to be approved here in 2007.
Now what? It’s only 11:30 AM. I could go back down the way I came or go to plan B.  I was up for some variety, so I decided to bushwhack my way from the top of Redington over to the summit of South Crocker, at 4,500′ another of the 14 “Maine 4,000 Footer” list. It was about a mile away, via trail, a straight line that could be negotiated by a compass bearing orienteering.  But I still had the purple line to assist me!  At that point I’d pick up the AT and follow it a couple of miles south back to the car.
How did it work out?
Mostly well.

I was in awe and in great appreciation for the miracle of the GPS’s purple line as it guided me through the game trails that I followed for more than a mile within 500 feet of descending and then reascending. At times I veered off the purple line on the GPS, which I held in my hand the whole time and checked nearly constantly.  I dealt with my digressions by heading either left or right until I found the correct track again.

There were times when the woods were so thick and intertwined I had to walk real low, like Groucho, and shuffle along the barely perceptible animal trails.  Once i had to crawl on my hands and knees. After reaching the low point in the col, a wide old road crossed my path, and the purple line had me turn left down that a few hundred feet until it directed me to take a sharp right and start uphill on a new set of not-quite-believable trails. A short while into the abrasion zone, I tore off most of one of my pack’s water bottle pockets, then the shoulder off my shirt. There was one place where three blowdowns were stacked on top of each other. I bloodied my knee getting over them. My GPS got ripped out of a different pocket , and thankfully if didn’t incur a cracked screen when it bounced off a rock on the ground.
Even with the Purple Line, I had a hard time figuring out what trail I came upon atop South Crocker. It looked like the AT but it wasn’t  My GPS didn’t have any of these trails on it. I just kept moving on the ridge until I encountered the summit sign, at the AT.  It was a tremendous relief to get there.

At this point I had two choices: continue walking 6.2 miles to reach the intersection of Rt. 27, where I’d have to walk 6 extra miles along the highway and then back down the Caribou Pond Road, or descend 2.1 miles on the AT south to CVR and walk a mere half mile back to the car.  The GPS track kept going north, so I shut the device off and enjoyed skirting the remains of the heavy rains , which left pools like this to deal with:

Half way down, I encountered three hikers from New York who told me they spent most of a very frustrating day wandering around lost between South Crocker and Mt. Redington. They had actually started up before me on the same path to the top that I did but took a wrong turn after only a half-mile or so after they passed the AT intersection. They had no GPS. I wished them luck with whatever horror-show they were about to encounter, as it was now 2 PM and they still thought they could figure out how to get over to Redington, bushwhacking from South Crocker like I just did.

I really enjoyed the rest of the descent.

On the AT between South Crocker and CVR

There were some great portions of stone work to be appreciated, and some rich episodes of vibrant foliage, even though I’d estimate there was only about 35% of peak color out there right now.

The advice on different reports about Redington were absolutely correct: you’d better have a GPS with you or go with someone who has been there before. I met three guys from New York today who will vouch for that!

Packed Up- Where To ?

I’ve just rolled into my room at the Stratton Motel- packed up and ready to go bright and early tomorrow.

20120919-211615.jpg I love this ramshackle place. It’s after the fishing, before the hunting, before the snowmobiling season- it’s hiker time. This time of year there are hikers filling it up. This place has a Hiker Hostel in the front, and five private rooms out back. The Appalachain trail crosses some 7 miles down the road.

I have one goal in mind for this trip- to hike up to the top of Mt. Redington, the last of the “4,000 footers” in Maine that I have to reach to complete that list. Redington also has the distinction of being one of two 4,000 foot peaks in New England without an official trail to the top. The AT skips over Redington, hitting Saddleback and the Horn then heading east to hit Sugarloaf before swinging back to the west to go over South Crocker.

This hike is not recommended without a GPS or an experienced friend who knows the way up. There are five different forks in the trail that must be navigated on the way to the summit.

I am not sure my Plymouth Voyager can handle the poorly maintained access roads, and if it can’t, I’ll walk 5 more miles.
I could also reach in as a detour on a S–>;;;;;N traverse of the AT from Route 4 to Route 27, or even backtrack
a mile from South Crocker and get it that way.

I’ve got three days of food in my pack. We’ll see what unfolds.
The unfolding began when I pulled out of Madison and saw the froth of a raging river racing beside the highway. I immediately registered gnawing dread in the pit of my stomach as all the water all the rest of the way to the motel was as high as you can imagine before it starts flooding.

So my original plan of hiking the AT from Route 4 to Route 27 is scratched due to the impassible crossing of the Carabassett River. Sue, the owner here, verified that she had just tried to drop off hikers at that point and after they heard the roar of the river, and then walked over to see it, they walked right back to the SUV and said, “Let’s get out of here.”
So, I’ll try hitting Mt. Redington from this opposite side tomorrow.

Katahdin- Day 3/3

Our third day in Baxter greeted us with yet another sunny, clear, warm morning as we headed back down the 3.3 mile Chimney Pond Trail to conclude our adventure.   
Tenzing composed this panoramic photo of Basin Pond.

Basin Pond Panorama- photos by John Clark

Soon after, we encountered a relatively long wooden bridge that was in the process of being replaced with new timber.
Uncle Tom heading out
The trail is more heavily maintained that others in the park, as it is one of the few that is set up for snowmobile use by the ranger who lives at Chimney Pond in the winter season.
One of the many highlights of the return hike was the initial sighting 3 young women on the trail hiking toward us: two in bright aqua, one in bright yellow cotton full-length dresses which were perfectly pressed and immaculately clean; all with white bonnets.   They were the first of 51 members of two Amish communities from Smyrna and Unity, Maine whom we passed on our way out.   Shortly thereafter we passed three eager young Amish boys, one of whom was wearing a black teddy bear back pack who seemed amused when I told him I hoped he didn’t run onto a nearsighted Momma bear!   
Another group was composed of an older woman resting with three very young children: a 6 year old girl in traditional dress excepting her crocs, and two boys about 4 years old, one of whom was now hiking in his socks because his shoes hurt his feet.  
Two elders had told us that their plan for day was for the women and children to hike into Chimney Pond and enjoy the views while the men ascend the Armadillo route to the Knife Edge.
Armadillo- from BSP website
According to the Baxter website the Armadillo is a long, very exposed buttress climb. The Armadillo has been compared to routes in the Tetons.  Depending on how one climbs it, the difficulty can range from 5.7 to a fairly sustained 5.8. I located this very cool 5 minute Youtube clip of the waterfall approach to the Armadillo.

It is most inspiring to experience this final uplifting record or human contact of communion with the ancient rocks. I imagine the spiritual community of Amish connecting in such a deep way on our final day. I joked with the two elders that I might well sign up. They welcomed me.

[Note: John Clark, AKA Tenzing contributed most of this entry]

Katahdin’s Knife Edge – Day 2/3

I had a poor night’s sleep in lean-to #5.  The wind was loud, and I was concerned that it would affect our plans.  #5 is rumored to have once encountered wind so ferocious that it once tipped over.  Tenzing took advantage of his own awakening, when he made a 1 AM foray back down to Chimney Pond where he watched the stars, saw a couple shooters, and took this picture of the moon over the ridge.

Moonrise over Ridge –
all photos by John Clark

At 8 AM we signed in with the Ranger and started our arduous ascent of the Cathedral Trail,  a 1-and-3/4 mile strenuous climb up to Baxter Peak ( 5,271’).  The trail ascents 2,300 feet in that distance , a ridiculously steep challenge, and the shortest way to the summit from this campground. I am not sure if there is anything in New England this steep. It’s not even a walk. Better described as a boulder scramble, working the top half of your body as much as your legs. It’s tough!

Uncle Tom negotiating the start of the Cathedral Trail

Once up on the heights, it was difficult for us to recognize where the First Cathedral ended and the Second began.

First Cathedral
I highly recommend wearing full-fingered gloves for this trail.  Tenzing bloodied both his thumbs that morning.

When I reached the top, I preceded six Appalachain Trail thru-hikers who were just arriving- running, and then kissing the iconic summit sign. One shirtless fellow was running BAREfoot to the finish. Baxter Peak is the northern terminus of the 2,200 mile AT.

Tenzing, Uncle Tom, Roy, and Mike Gundel
All four of us summited, and after our obligatory group photo, Tenzing, Mike and I decided to continue over the mile-long Knife Edge.  Roy wisely elected to head back down the Tableland and exit via the Saddle Trail.

The Knife Edge traverses the ridge between Baxter and Pamola Peaks. Katahdin has claimed 19 lives since 1963,  mostly from exposure in bad weather and falls from the Knife Edge. For about 3/10 of a mile the trail is  a mere 3 feet wide, with a 1,500 foot drop-off on either side. Rangers post announcements that the Knife Edge is closed during periods of high wind.  Last year, General Lee, Bill Gifford and I completed it while enshrouded in a cloud, rapidly moving to avoid the rain and thunder that arrived as we reached Pamola.
We took our time today, but moved steadily.

Uncle Tom and Mike traverse Knife Edge
  I do fine with this trail, except for the short drop while descending the cleft known as the Chimney.  One hiker I met told me it is a Class 4 section while headed in our direction, and I have read that hikers have turned back at this point rather than risk a fall. I do not understand why there are multiple steel aids on the rocks along the Hunt Trail ( AT) on the other side of the mountain, and not even one placed here.
I was in the lead today, so I had to get myself down myself.  First, I lowered my day pack to a ledge below me with the aid of my Leki pole, then tossed the poles to the floor of the Chimney. Then I remembered General Lee’s advice last year encouraging me to turn around, face the wall, search with my right hand for a lower hand hold, and then stretch my right leg  waaaay down until I felt it reach a blade of a rock that was the key to completing the move.  Who knows if I will ever pass this way again?  This was my fourth time on the Knife Edge.

The last uphill segment to Pamola
One more steep section to go-  It did not help to watch another hiker scale his way up there ahead of me, very exposed, and scary to me- I remember freaking out on the Cannon Mountain tramway ride as a kid.

After settling our heart rates on top of Pamola (4,919′), we descended the Dudley Trail back to Chimney Pond. No one talks much about this 1-and-1/4 mile trail, originally blazed in 1910 by Leroy Dudley. Now, we’re dropping the 2,000 feet we labored to gain.  I packed away my Leki poles, donned the gloves again, and shifted into survival mode.  Surviving the jumps, leg stretches, and lemon squeeze passages between the thousands of boulders on the way down was my goal.  A few times, the loose crumbled talus under foot caused skids that could have been disastrous.  This was total focus hiking.  I was out of water ( 2 quarts), and eventually gulped down a bracing half quart I collected from a dripping bare root coming out of a emerald patch of moss, close to the end.

Sometime, and somehow, we safely reached Chimney Pond in mid-afternoon, where we signed out with the ranger, and headed over to the 10- person Bunkhouse, and rendezvoused with Roy.  He saved us three lower bunks in one of the two sleeping areas.  The place had a few windows, but was very dark within.  Two gas lights were on the walls in the group room, and they were turned on well before it was dark out.
I loved my supper- a MRE ( military meal ready to eat).  That suspicious-looking Escalloped Potatoes and Ham, went down just fine with the addition of a tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce, crackers, jelly, fruit drink, applesauce, hot cocoa, and chocolate covered brownie.
Our bunkhouse mates were a young couple from Worcester, MA and three older guys from Dexter who were headed up the Saddle Trail tomorrow. The woman from Worcester had the most amazing MassHole accent I ever heard.  She was too freaked out to even complete that Saddle Trail up. I trust the Dexter trio will have better time of it tomorrow.

John Clark’s Knife Edge photo album here.

Katahdin- Day 1

“We are watching the cloud factory”,  I said to Clarkie, as we both stared along the highest ridge above the Great Basin, the most formidable glacial cirque in the Eastern US.

All photos by John Clark

It was past 7 PM, and the sun had already dropped below the silhouette of the Knife Edge two thousand feet above us.

Great Basin from Chimney Pond

Earlier, the ranger at the cabin tipped me off that ,”If you go down to Chimney Pond later on, there should be some alpen glow along the southern end of the Knife Edge.  The show starts about six-thirty.”
There were several campers siting nearby on rocks that were also tuned into the Cowboy TV channel, playing in panorama mode tonight.

We’re in the sorta-narrow lean-to #5, the four of us.

photo by J. Clark

Along with Clarkie and me, there is my brother Roy, and Mike, my friend from Rockland.  Mike and I canoed the whole of Maine’s Allagash Wilderness Waterway together a couple of years ago. On that trip, we were most fortunate not to have placed ourselves in some real big trouble, just big trouble.

Today we all met at one of the premiere breakfast and lunch spots in Maine- Dysart’s, who also let us park a couple of cars there for two nights. Very tasty, good service (mostly), pleasant happy people throughout the place. Roy had downloaded the illustrated breakfast menu and we ogled food porn on the drive up there.

Picture Rock, Katahdin in background

Just after we passed Picture Rock, we reached Baxter Park and our final driving destination at Roaring Brook Campground. We chose to take Mike’s Forerunner into the Togue Pond gate,to avoid the $14 entrance fee for non-residents.
The day’s hike was the 3.3 miles to Chimney Pond- one of the two walk-in campgrounds here.
We will always remember this trip if for nothing more than the fact that it occurred within the most perfect weather conditions imaginable in the Northern woodland forests. It  summer-like here in mid-September, with zero humidity, and 50 degree temps at night.
Today’s first mile went quickly. The middle mile took so long, and the last mile was not much better. The path here is ancient and so well-traveled that it sometimes cuts eight feet across and six feet down below the floor of the woods.

Uncle Tom on Chimney Pond Trail

There are tens of thousands of worn glacial rocks strewn along the base of that groove and it’s an ankle twister all the way.
It’s so quiet here, dark now at 7:48 PM.  Our food bags are hung from the group cable system here, which appears to me too low to do any good.  I can reach any one  of the bags by just stretching an arm up. These bears must be short guys.
Tomorrow, we plan to scale the highest mountain top in Maine, and maybe the Knife Edge.  Adventures await us !
Roy and I have been together up there several times. It will be a first for Clarkie, and this one is unchecked so far on Mike’s personal Bucket List.

Clarkie copied this picture (Courtesy , James W. Sewall Company, Old Town, ME) from a display at the service area off the Maine Turnpike in Gardiner, ME.   The Knife Edge, from Pamola to South Peak is outlined on the left side.  It is the first photo in Katahdin, by John Neff.


EXTRA BONUS! Clarkie’s Day 1 photo album is here,  – a visual history of our first day on Katahdin.

Darn Tough= darn good

I purchased a pair of these socks for $16 in Manchester Center, Vermont in 2007 and used them for the last several hundred miles of that hike to Katahdin. Then they lasted the whole
2,670 miles of my 2012 PCT hike, where they developed a couple small holes around the heels.
Darn Tough boasts a lifetime guarantee, so I went to their web site, and sent them to the owner’s address ( I did wash them twice).
Two weeks later, I received a UPS box with this EXACT duplicate ( color, model, and size) pair of socks.
I’m saving them for my upcoming attempt at thru hiking the 3,000 mile Continental Divide Trail.
I’ve tried numerous brands of these merino wool type socks and Darn Tough have made it to the top of the list.

Top 5 Maine hikes

From the View From the Top list, forwarded by Clarkie:
Tomcat’s top 5 Maine hikes.

1. Katahdin Loop from Roaring Brook-over Knife Edge-down Hamlin Ridge

Knife Edge Ahead

The Knife Edge goes without saying. Long periods of alpine scenery unlike anything else in the east with very few people taking the Hamlin Ridge. 11-13 miles depending on route to beginning of Knife Edge

2. Acadia Traverse Starting with a Precipice climb over Dorr, Cadillac, Pemetic, Bubbles, Penobscot, Sargent, Bald, Gilmore, and Parkman. Exact route can vary slightly. Views of the ocean from every peak imbedded in the mountains of Acadia. They aren’t that tall but after this 14+ miles you will ache like most 14 milers anywhere else in NE. The continuous up and down is worse than any 4000 footer. Go after September and have most areas to yourself, even crowded Cadillac.

3. Traveler Loop 11+ miles of alpine scenery and awesome views to Katahdin. Best of all hardly anyone uses this lonely loop in the northern end of Baxter. If you never been, forget about 4000 footers for a day and visit this gem. You won’t be let down on a Prominence 50 Peak that seldom goes below treeline for the duration.

4. Bigelow Range Climb AT or Horn’s Pond Trail and hit four peaks including West and Avery’s Alpine summits. Descend Fire Warden’s Trail for a roughly 14 mile loop with several overnight options. Grey jays enjoy the peaks. In winter see snowy Mt Washington and Katahdin in opposite directions from the two higher peaks. Can get crowded but it is a beauty.

5. Grafton Loop Trail A nearly 40 mile backpacking loop with numerous gorgeous vistas. Puzzle Mtn, Lightning Ledge, and best of all Baldpate on the east. Old Speck’s tower takes in awesome views expecially a unique look into Mahoosic Notch and into the Presis. Sunday River White Cap is a quiet hidden alpine peak with great views. Numerous campsites make for many options overnighting. Best of all, there isn’t much traffic apart from the section coinciding with the AT.
Do you agree ?

I haven’t done #2 but sure want to give it a shot.

The reason the Knife Edge picture is the only one posted, is that I’ll be up on there this Thurs.

Stay Tuned!

Middle-Age Fitness wards off impending feebleness?

 The Benefits of Middle-Age Fitness – <-click here for full NYT article.

My wife sometimes teases me about my walks, hikes, paleo wheelbarrow workouts, jumping sessions, visits to the gym, and even an occasional run ( OK, just once in the past 10 years).

I quip back with, ” You never know when you have to be ready!”

Ready for what?

How about next week’s planned  hike up to the summit of Katahdin, which will be #16 for me, if the weather is right, and if I make it.

Or the grueling ascent last night of some 800 vertical feet in a mile to get to the top of the mountain bike trails on Ragged Mountain?  The Bubbas are going to be there and I have a new strategy worked up- starting the climb 15 minutes early, so that I may make it up there around the same time as those young guys.

I got an email invite last night to head up to the top of Bald Mountain this afternoon.  I’m going.

So do read this article. It’s encouraging.

But,  am dismayed that when the article refers to middle-agers, they mention  folks in their 40’s and 50’s.

So what am I ?  Or you ?