It was the day before the much anticipated all-day hike up and down Mount Katahdin, the tallest mountain in Maine located in Baxter State Park. I had looked forward to this hike for most of the summer, and my nerves were swirling back and forth between nervousness and excitement. Climbing Mount Katahdin is quite a feat: the trails we took covered about 13 miles of grueling, steep terrain. To prepare for this adventure we feasted on spaghetti and all the fixings the night before, an overload of carbs we would use as energy the next day. Our hiking group of 12 all packed bags and prepared supplies for the day ahead, and went to bed early as we needed to leave the campground at 5 a.m. the next morning. I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag next to my little sister, dozing and deliberating over the venture ahead.
Before I even knew I had fallen asleep, it was 4:30 a.m. and time to get up. I quietly got dressed, ate a quick breakfast, and piled into a truck for the ride into Baxter State Park. Once there, we waited in line with several other eager hikers until 6:00 a.m. when a ranger opened the gate and started checking people in. We parked the trucks in the all day parking lot, pulled on our backpacks, and started walking. The first leg of the journey brought us 3.3 miles up to Chimney Pond at the base of Mount Katahdin (pictured below). The pond is crystal clear and ice cold, fed by runoff from the mountain and small streams. We filled up our water bags and continued on, but not before a quick rain shower that held us up for about an hour while we took cover under a wall-less gazebo.
After our hold up, we started out on the hardest part of the journey: actually climbing the mountain. We took the Cathedral Trail, a steep, rugged trail that takes the hiker 1.7 miles up and over three large rock buttresses. Most of the trail is above tree line, or the level where trees are able to grow, and is extremely intimidating just to look up at. The trail itself is a series of blue markings on boulders, and is nearly straight up. I found that the key to conquering the Cathedral Trail was by focusing on the move you had to make at any given time, working your way up by one boulder or rock instead of focusing on the staggering height of it altogether. Come to think of it, focusing on one move at a time is a great way to deal with life in general when times get a little overwhelming.
When we finally reached the top of the Cathedral Trail, we had to clamber across loose rocks for a stretch until we finally got back on a dirt path. The trail took us to the peak of the mountain, a total elevation gain of roughly a mile. Unfortunately, there wasn't much of a view on this particular trip because the clouds and fog were thick at the very top, but the feeling of accomplishment made the journey worthwhile in itself. It felt amazing to finally sit down and eat the lunch we'd packed, and know that you were mentally and physically strong enough to make it all the way to the summit. Our group hung out on the top of the mountain for a while, resting and refueling. A large black raven perched near us on a boulder, and was very interested in my Cheez-Its. Every now and then the raven would open its huge wings and take off, soaring just overhead and around the cliffs on either side of the mountain. With the thick white fog, the drop off cliffs that made the summit, and the soaring raven the scene felt ominously poetic, like the mountain was reminding us just what a force it really was.
After a good rest, we headed back down the mountain via the Saddle Trail. Before reaching the trailhead we clambered back over the loose rocks and over an area known as the Tablelands, a flat, grassy area where wild caribou once roamed free. We reached the trailhead and started the very steep descent down the side of the mountain, the part that I found most intimidating of the whole hike. Looking down from the trailhead, it looks as if the path leads literally straight down. Just as I had to for the Cathedral Trail, I took the Saddle Trail bit by bit, until gradually the terrain started to level out. Descending took a toll on my, and other group members', knees and it was relieving to hit "flat" ground. We hiked back to Chimney Pond, rested and waited for our group to reconnect before beginning the final trek from Chimney Pond to the parking lot.
Pictured above is the Tablelands, headed toward the beginning of the Saddle Trail on the left.
After the 3.3 mile hike following Roaring Brook back to the parking lot, our journey was finally over. We had done it. We climbed the tallest mountain in Maine in a little over 11 hours, and had a blast doing it. We gorged ourselves with Mexican food when we arrived back at the campsite, another reward to ourselves for the task we had just completed. It was my second time climbing this beautiful, impressive mountain and I look forward to the challenge again in the future. Until next time, Katahdin!