Maine Trip, August 1999
Jim and Amy Guilford
Part 1 of 2 (Baxter State Park)
We left in the morning, but we had to run some errands. We had difficulty finding humus, but eventually found some in Trader Joe's. We picked up some extra water bottles at EMS (which ended up being needed). As a result of these errands, we didn't leave until around 11:30.
We thought the traffic through NH and southern Maine was bad, but there were a lot more cars on the other side of the highway heading south. This was not a good sign, which we would experience first hand later. We stopped for lunch at a roadside BurgerKing for about a half hour and ended up getting into Millinocket at 6:00.
After checking into the B&B, we found that there was a Mass at the local Catholic church starting at 6:30, so we decided to go to it and not worry about it Sunday morning. The church looked to be only about ten years old or so, with lots of neat dark wood.
We then had to get a few more supplies. Before the trip, I had carefully renewed my antihistamine prescription so that I would have enough for the trip, and when we were packing that morning, I was careful to put them in plain sight so that I wouldn't forget them. As you may probably guess, they were still sitting there at home, in plain site, where I had left them. So I had to go to the local drug store and get some non-prescription ones.
Then it was time for dinner. We wandered around Millinocket a bit, and decided to try the Appalachian Cafe. This was presumably named as the Appalachian Trail (AT) stops in Baxter State Park at Katahdin.
We were not impressed with the cafe. Despite the non-smoking signs, there were several people smoking, and as it was small, the entire atmosphere was smoky.
The B&B itself was OK but rather plain. It was a typical house, nothing fancy. One good feature was that the back room that we were in had windows on both sides of it, so we got a good cross breeze. The down side was that we were only about two blocks from a huge paper mill. There wasn't a problem with smell (I guess we were not downwind), but all through the night there were sounds of trucks rumbling, beeping when they backed up, and trains. As a result, Amy did not sleep well that night.
The B&B advertised a hot tub, and it turns out that they had the exact same model (and year) as we did: a Hotsprings Sovereign.
The weather was supposed to be warm and unsettled that day, but then starting Monday it was supposed to cool off and be nice, so we set Monday as the day for the big hike. So Sunday was spent doing small things and getting our bearings (neither of us had ever been to Baxter).
There was rain in the morning, but then it was fine in the afternoon.
For breakfast, we had blueberry pancakes, bacon, a slice of melon, OJ and coffee. We talked with our hostess (Mary Lou) and her husband a bit. They are nice, simple folks. He has a variety of odd jobs. He collects and sells fiddlehead ferns and eels. They are also interested in selling the B&B. I don't blame them. The economic climate there is rather depressed and uncertain, and real-estate prices are dropping.
Our first stop was at the park visitor's center in Millinocket. There we saw a 12 minute movie (mostly a film of stills, though) and saw a large model of Katahdin. The Knife's Edge looked pretty hairy, although we convinced ourselves that the model must have the vertical scale enhanced for effect. After hiking it, however, I think the scale is correct or very nearly so.
The Knife's Edge is an "exposed" trail running on a very sharp ridge between Paloma and Baxter. On the north of the ridge, there is a steep to shear drop of about 1500 feet. At the Paloma side of the Knife's Edge, there is a notch which is considered the hardest part.
There is only one parking area that leads into the Knife's Edge region, and it only holds a limited number of cars. After it fills, they don't allow any more in. We were told that we would have to get there around 6am or risk not getting in that day. Bleahh!
After filling the gas tank, we drove up to Baxter (the south entrance). They have a visitor's center there, but it is even smaller than the one in Millinocket. At the toll booth, we found that for a day pass it was $8, or we could get a season pass for $25. We opted for the latter, as we were planning to be there for four days. I guess that most people don't use the season pass. Admission is free for Maine residents, and I guess most out-of-state people don't stay that long. We were only the 125th people this season to get a pass.
There is a park road that goes like a giant backwards "C" around the park. Coming in at the SE "corner", one could turn right to go up to the Roaring Brook campsite (the place where we would start the ascent). This, of course, was full when we entered. So we went along the bottom of the "C" to the Daicey Pond area. This is where the AT comes through.
Our initial quest was to get some waterfall pictures on the Nesowadnehunk Stream. Just up the AT from the pond were the Little and Big Niagara Falls. We signed in and hiked down the trail. Jim found that the best way to carry the equipment was with the camera bag over his shoulder and with the tripod strapped to the back of the day pack. It stuck up a bit, but that was probably the best we could do.
At Little Niagara, Jim took waterfall pictures, while Amy watched some Golden Crowned Kinglets, Yellow Rumped Warblers, and Chickadees.
Then we continued on to Big Niagara. Jim took some more pictures while Amy explored. Amy went to some rocks above the falls and noticed some interesting patterns in the water. She called to Jim to come up and see, and in doing so, he got his tripod stuck in the brush. As he cried out "helphelphelp..." Amy just stood there laughing too hard to help him. Eventually, she got him free and he took some more waterfall pictures. Amy spent the time studying some "tidal pools" (puddles in the rocks at the edge of the stream bed). She found an interesting 1-inch worm, a diving beetle (backswimmer), and mosquito larvae.
Unfortunately, the sun did not cooperate too much. While Jim was taking the pictures, the sun was mostly out, and Jim had to wait for clouds to come (or when there was no clouds nearby make due with the sun). Later in the day, after he had finished taking pictures, it clouded up more and was better for pictures. Oh well...
On the way back to the picnic area, we passed about 8 people hiking down the trail. One of them had a small child on his back with some kind of hood over the baby's head to keep the sun from baking the child.
The picnic area is at the lakeside, a couple hundred yards from the parking area. There are also some cabins there (it used to be an old hunting lodge), and canoe rentals. In the eves of the cabins, there were a load of barn swallows. There was even a nest with some baby swallows. I guess these swallows were either intrinsically more mellow than the tree swallows that we had back home, or maybe they were just more used to people. They were fun to watch (they seem such happy birds) and they didn't dive bomb us once.
We hiked down to the cars, dropped off the camera gear, go the lunch stuff, and hiked back up to the picnic area. Amy was planning to have PB+J, while Jim had a can of Deviled Ham. At the picnic table, Jim discovered that the can did *not* have a pop-top. So muttering and grumbling, Jim had to hike back down to the cars, get a stoopid can opener, and then hike back. *Finally*, Jim could have lunch.
There were tons of red squirrels running around, and one kept scolding us loudly, apparently for our not feeding it. The canoes were only $1/hour, so we almost went canoeing, but we wanted to make sure we didn't get too much sun before the big hikes, so we left.
On the way out, we decided to check out some falls on the Penobscot. This is a much larger river that they do a lot of rafting on. The problem with finding the falls there is that for most of the (long) road, the river is not quite in sight, and there are no signs. We passed by one pull off and looked promising, so we turned around and parked, then we hiked down this little track to the river. Jim wasn't sure how the falls would be, so he decided to just enjoy the falls and leave the camera there. Of course, after going down to the river and wandering about a little, he decided that he needed some pictures, so he had to walk back up to the car and return with the camera and tripod. As one might expect on a river of this size, the Nesowdnehunk falls were fairly low, only about three feet high or so, but there was a lot of water flowing over them.
It was getting late, and the falls were not that impressive, so we decided to bag any other Penobscot falls and to drive back to town. We wandered around a bit and decided to eat at the River Driver's Restaurant. This ended up being a very nice, reasonably fancy place a few miles out of town. This suited Amy's theory that one should have a good meal before the big hike, in preparation, and since we would probably be too tired the next day. Jim was more inclined to wait until afterwards for the "celebration meal".
For the record, Amy had a smoked salmon pasta, while Jim had roast pork loin. They had some very nice salads and bread. Amy had some iced coffee, which was supposed to be decaf, but it was unclear whether it was or not. Since the big hike was tomorrow, we didn't order any wine.
Back at the B&B we packed for the big hike and took some showers. We would be getting up at 4:30 the next morning, and we didn't want to take the time to shower then.
The shower was in a stall, not a tub, and Jim screwed up. He left the bottom of the shower curtain sticking out a little from the base of the stall and flooded the bathroom. We had two sopping bath mats (actually one bath mat and one piece of carpet remnant). We ended up putting the resin chair inside the shower stall so that we could drape them over it and let them drain into the stall as they dried.
Here are some of Jim's thoughts as he contemplated the big hike:
To bed at 9:30 and up at 4:30. The numbers aren't too bad, but I'm not looking forward to it. I'm getting worried about the Knife's Edge. There is a terrible notch at the start. I can't help thinking about the summit of Everest and the Hillary Step (of course with no fixed ropes). That is the image that I have.
I'm also thinking of Mt Pugh. Not a good sign. Still, the hike [on Rainier] after Pugh went fine. At least this is a one way trip (over the Knife's Edge). There is another way down.
I just hope that I don't psych myself out. I can be my own worth enemy. I thought it would be cake, but I've heard some very bad things about it. Sounds almost like Angel's Landing in Zion, but rougher and with no rails.
The Baxter mountains, particularly around Katahdin remind me more than any other mountains in the East of the Cascades. So do the streams and waterfalls.
Particularly for Jim, the day started out really, really badly. He slept fine until midnight, but then he kept worrying about the hike and tossed and turned the rest of the night. When 4:30 came, he was almost glad to be able to get out of bed, seeing as it wasn't doing him much good lying in it. He was reminded of spending a night at Camp Muir on the ascent of Rainier, where he "slept" between 6 and midnight before summit climb. The guide said that he didn't expect us to really sleep, but that just lying down would rest our bodies.
The plan was to ascend the Keep Ridge of Paloma (Helon Taylor Trail). This is an exposed ridge on the east side of Paloma, with a good deal of it above tree line. Once at the top (4902 feet), we could decide whether to try the Knife's Edge or not. If we were brave enough, we would continue along the Knife's Edge to the summit of Katahdin, and then descend by the Saddle Trail. If we chickened out, we could descent Paloma by the Dudley Trail. Both of these trails would dump us out at the Chimney Pond camp site in the Great Basin. Then we would return to the Roaring Brook parking area by the Chimney Pond trail. We estimated the total hiking time at around 13 hours.
Thoughts of the plan tormented Jim all night. He wanted both to have an attempt on the Knife's Edge but also to reach the summit of Katahdin. The problem was that if we went up Paloma, it gave us a shot at both. But if we chickened out, then there wouldn't be enough time (or energy) to descend to Chimney Pond and then try for the summit along an alternate route. There would always be a possibility to try for the summit on a subsequent day, but we would probably be too hurting to try again in the next day or two.
So the question sort of came down to how likely Jim was to cross the Knife's Edge, particularly the notch at the start. This is 100 foot notch, with the trail dropping vertically at the bottom. Jim wondered if he should even risk the Knife's Edge. If he did and chickened out, he would miss both the Knife's Edge *and* Katahdin. On the other hand, if he tried a "safer" route, he would be guaranteed to get to the summit of Katahdin, but he would also be guaranteed to miss the Knife's Edge. These thoughts churned in his mind all night as he tossed and turned. He never seriously considered skipping Paloma, but it was a very tempting thought.
Meanwhile Amy was fighting her own demons. She wasn't as concerned with the heights as Jim (Jim is notoriously afraid of heights). Her concern was more with whether she would be able to get to the top at all, or whether she would give out partway up.
We talked briefly about the possibility that if she gave out, maybe Jim could continue alone, but that didn't seem that wondrous. In hindsight, that would never have worked.
They suggest at least two quarts of water per person for the ascent. Amy tends to go through a lot of water, so we took extra. Amy ended up taking three quarts and Jim about four and a half. Boy did that weigh a lot! Amy thought that the water the previous day had tasted rather of chlorine, so we filled the water bottles the previous night and left the tops off to see if they would air out. We didn't think there was a noticeable difference.
Other than the water, Amy was packing a raincoat, sweatshirt, extra pants and socks, pemmican, 2 PB+J sandwiches, an apple, sun and bug goop, map, guide book, sneakers (in case the boots hurt her feet), and a fleece vest. Jim wore his fancy hiking pants (whose legs can be zipped off to make shorts) and brought a sweatshirt, raincoat, spare socks, a couple of sandwiches, and his red fleece jacket.
To return to our chronology, Jim got up and found his stomach was trashed (presumably from the worry). He had diarrhea and chased to the toilet several times over breakfast (which our host provided but didn't cook due to the early hour). Jim had to force down a yogurt and he had to really work to force down a banana, but that was all that he could stomach. He brought the bagel with cream cheese with him to eat on the trail. He couldn't touch the cereal or the chocolate glazed donuts he had gotten especially for the hike. One of his main thoughts (other than feeling really ill) was what he was going to do when he was halfway up the trail and had a diarrhea attack. He also found himself very cold. He first put on a sweatshirt, but then he later replaced that with his red fleece jacket. He was cold, tired, ill, and basically miserable. If it were not for Amy, we probably would never have left that morning.
On the trip up to the park, Jim was secretly hoping that the parking lot would be full and that we would have to cancel the hike. He was also doing lots of praying, mostly for the strength and courage to go ahead with what was to come. When we arrived at the parking entrance at 6:00, though, there were still plenty of spaces.
The weather ended up being almost ideal. It was pretty sunny to start with, although by midmorning it started to cloud up, and by the afternoon, it was totally overcast. It was reasonably cool without being cold. Had it been sunnier, it probably would have warmed up too much.
We got to the parking area around 6:20, made some pit stops and got organized. We signed in at the ranger station and then around 6:50 we actually started hiking. We brought a pair of telescoping snowshoe poles with the baskets removed (one each). These ended up being really nice for the ascent.
A very short way up the Chimney Pond Trail, the Helon Taylor trail splits off to the left. It starts very steeply--almost like climbing stairs. Jim found that the fleece jacket was too warm, but there wasn't enough room in his pack for it, so he strapped it onto the back (where the tripod had been the previous day).
The trail rising quickly, and then flattens out. It sort of meanders to the left and eventually reaches the bottom of the Keep Ridge. Then it just blasts straight up the ridge line.
We hiked (slowly) for about 30 minutes before a quick water and snack stop. This was where we got the first view of Katahdin through the trees. This was where the first group of people passed us. We then continued grinding uphill. We would occasionally pass people taking a break, then people would pass us, but for the most part we were hiking alone. Before we left the trees, we took a moment to put sun goop on.
At 9:00, we took a 20 minute break on a big rock. We estimated that we had about a 1000 foot gain from the start. There were good views to the east, north, and south. We had a good view of Hamlin Ridge on the other side of the Great Basin. At this point, Jim finally ate his bagel, and Amy had half of her sandwich. While we were doing this, two women stopped for a break, and we chatted for a while. In some ways, they seemed more similar to us than most of the hikers going by. One of them was bothered by heights, and they weren't sure that they would do the Knife's Edge either.
At this point, Amy felt that we had done well to do the climb (despite the ill-fated beginnings). Even if we didn't go any further, she was glad we had come and loved the views, the good trail, the wonderful clean cool mountain air, and the nice company (Jim).
Fortunately for Jim, his stomach was settling down. It turns out that he never had a "bathroom emergency" on the hike.
There were next to no bugs (no mosquitoes or flies), but there were these tiny bugs (maybe gnats?) that seemed to have a kamikaze streak. On several occasions, they would commit suicide by flying into Jim's eyes.
We continued on and eventually got above tree line. There were some ten-foot high boulders that we had to scramble/climb over (a foretaste of what was to come). Then the boulders became smaller and closer together. The hiking then became rock walking, making sure we didn't fall into the gaps between the rocks. Using rocks as stepping stones and looking for trail markings made for slower going. There was a large boulder partway up that served as an indicator of how much farther we needed to go to reach the summit of Paloma. We reached this boulder around 9:50. Here, we could see a little bit of the Knife's Edge and little people on the summit of Paloma.
The ridge was a "classic" ridge. It was almost like someone creased a piece of paper and we were hiking up the fold. The trail was fairly straight (although some portions were steeper and others less steep). The ridge was maybe 10-30 feet wide, and then it dropped off fairly flatly on either side. The steepest portion was just before the summit.
It was interesting to look across the valley at neighboring mountains, and using them to gauge how high we were and how much higher we had to go.
At a rest stop, Amy noticed that her sneakers were missing! Her sneakers had been at the top of her pack, so in order to get to the other stuff, she would typically remove her sneakers and then replace them afterwards. It appeared that at the "breakfast" stop (or maybe a later quick water stop) she had forgotten to replace her sneakers.
This brought back memories of a hike a few weeks earlier on Mt. Monadnock in NH. Amy had brought a face cloth to wipe away her sweat. Near the summit, Amy noticed that it was missing. Since Jim was better at up and down, he had dropped his pack and back tracked to look for it. Fortunately, he had found it only about 30 feet down the trail.
This looked like the same sort of situation. Jim wasn't too thrilled with going down and up the trail again (although at least this time it would be without carrying all of that water), but he also didn't want to write off the sneakers (at least not without some effort at looking for them). So he set off back down the trail. About 50 feet down the trail, Jim decided he had better check on things. So he yelled up to Amy to make sure that she didn't have the sneakers. Oops. She yelled back that she actually did have the sneakers, they had just been put back in the wrong compartment. Jim was glad that he had checked and not kept going down the trail.
We kept grinding up the ridge line. The trail looked sort of like a one-dimensional version of the rock-pile that is the top of Mt. Washington. There was one point where the trail narrows and the sides of the ridge drop away almost immediately. It wasn't bad, but Jim did notice a slightly increased level of anxiety at that point. There was an occasional breeze that Jim found somewhat chilly, so he put on Amy's fleece vest
Amy later wrote:
It was a push up to the summit [of Paloma], but I was elated to look back and see what we had climbed. We were *so* high up. Unbelievable. The view!
Then we reached the top. There are no words to describe the view to the west into the Great Basin and of the Knife's Edge and Katahdin. The view is even more striking because until the very end, it is blocked by Paloma, and then you get it all at once. Pictures do not do it justice.
Jim's reaction was "You have *got* to be kidding. There is no bleeping way that I'm getting to Katahdin!"
The Knife's Edge curves around to the left and then rises to Katahdin's summit. It looked like the ridge dropped off at maybe a 45 degree angle for a short distance, and then dropped almost vertically about 1500 feet to Chimney Pond. (We didn't realize until later, that the west side of Paloma was the same.) The Cathedral Trail (from Chimney Pond to Katahdin summit) sounded neat in the guide books, but it turns out that it is a ridge/buttress sticking out from the cliffs, and the "trail" seems more like steep rock climbing rather than hiking.
Jim was totally freaked out by the sight, and so he didn't note the time. He couldn't stand the thought of crossing the Knife's Edge, but he also couldn't stand the thought of giving up.
It was slightly breezier on the summit, so Jim replaced Amy's vest with his fleece jacket.
We met up again with the two women we talked with at our "breakfast stop". One of them was game to try the Knife's Edge, but the other wasn't keen on the idea. Apparently she had been rather bothered by the stretch of the ridge line that had only caused Jim a small amount of anxiety. They eventually decided not to do it, which in hindsight was probably the correct decision for them.
Meanwhile Amy was having her own concerns. She later wrote (bear in mind that the height of Paloma is 4902 feet, and Katahdin is 5271):
My first thought at seeing the Knife's Edge was "oh no!" I'm tired from getting to *this* point. Knife's Edge was much farther and up--a lot more up. There was *no* way I could go up and have enough energy to get down. This was serious up. Jim was getting nervous. At least one of the women was also afraid of heights and wobulated like Jim. I knew it would mean a lot to Jim to do it, and I remembered Jane [Amy's cousin] turned back because of her fear of heights. Competition set in. All of a sudden, I forgot how tired I was. I told Jim I wanted to climb. He said, "You're nuts! There is *no way* I'm doing that." The next 2-3 sets of people to reach our peak [from the Knife's Edge] were asked how it was. After the col [notch], it was fine, not too narrow. A lot of people were doing it. If they could do it, so could I. I'd be slow, but *we'd* do it. Jim would do "it" if I went.
[Ironically, we later learned that Jane had not turned back, and in fact had done the Knife's Edge twice.]
Part of Jim's problem was the memory of Pugh and the thought of hiking for about a mile with such steep cliffs right beside him. But the reports we heard were that the farther section wasn't bad--it was fairly wide (almost like the top of Paloma). The worst part is the notch, and that is the first part. It should steadily improve after that.
With Amy wanting to go and Jim not wanting to turn back without an attempt, Jim decided to make an attempt and to turn back when it got too bad. He figured that he couldn't live with himself if he turned back without even seeing the fearsome notch first hand.
What happened next was probably about the most stressful thing he's ever done. At various points over the next hour, his mouth became dry and he was reduced to a hoarse whisper. At the same time, he was *not* going to try to fiddle with a pack and water bottle. As we started down to the notch, Jim kept up a steady mumbled litany: "Oh shit. I can't do this. I can't do this. Oh shit..." His actions belied his words, however, and we proceeded down into the notch. Jim had shortened his pole and strapped it on the back of his pack (where his fleece jacket had been). He wore his fleece because he didn't want the added complexity of being cold halfway across, and he was fairly sure that he wouldn't want to start changing clothes halfway there.
The notch is more rounded at the top, but the bottom section is pretty vertical. The total depth is about 100 feet. This started as a rock scrabble and ended as a non-technical climb. Starting out is pretty scary because the further you go, the less and less rock you see as it drops steeper and steeper. You really get the feeling that you are going over the edge of the world.
Jim tried to look only at the immediately surrounding rock and not at the drops. Amy went first, with Jim (slowly) following. He however grew impatient with Amy's pace (he didn't like sitting on the rocks with nothing to do but contemplate air), so he passed Amy and went first. This ended up being a better order, as Jim tends to be better at rock scrabbling, and going first, he could help direct Amy's feet. Jim later wrote that the rock climbing was actually pretty easy, it was just difficult because of the exposure. If the same rocks were located on a plain, they would be nothing.
One problem with the notch is that you can't just look at the rock immediately in front of you. In trying to figure out where the "trail" went, and in trying to figure out what footholds were available, you had to look down. The saving grace was that the floor of the col was fairly flat and wide. It was fairly exposed, but if one slipped and fell going down, one probably wouldn't fall off of the col. Even better, looking down, one could focus one's attention on the floor of the col twenty feet below, not the pond 1500 feet below.
The rock at the top of the ridge is described an "fractured granite". This is ideal for climbing, as it is reasonably strong, and it offers many hand and foot holds.
We got to the floor of the col OK. Amy found that her pole was more of a liability than an asset, so her pole joined Jim's on the back of the pack. This was the most stable place for the next mile or so, so Amy suggested that we take a break and have lunch. Jim laughed in her face. He was much too stressed to want to stay there any longer than absolutely necessary.
Jim led the way up the Katahdin side of the notch. This was easier than going down, because it is easier to see hand and foot holds while going up. There was one step that was pretty large, with no good footholds. In trying to figure out how to get around it, Jim found his legs shaking with exhaustion (and stress). He ended up really reaching with his leg and semi-lunging. That resulted in a slight strain in one of his leg muscles, but that was the least of his problems. Our feeling is that the direction we were doing the Knife's Edge is the easier one. This is both because the notch comes first, but also because that step would be easier to go up than to go down.
After finishing the notch, the rest of the Knife's Edge lay before us. Jim's basic thought (between his praying and cursing) was "There is *no way* I'm doing that notch again, so I'd better keep going to Katahdin." The breeze was only occasional, and Jim got a bit warm at times, but he was certain that he didn't want to take off his jacket on the Edge. The sweat could be washed out later.
Amy's thoughts on the notch were:
Going over the edge at the beginning of the col definitely made me nervous and brought home that this was not going to be easy. Jim needed me to be not overly confident and I definitely wasn't. (Jim has said before that if someone was more afraid that he was, some of his fear went away so that he could help the other person.) I didn't try to psych myself up but kept focused on what we were doing (without getting panicky). It was all foot and handholds. I definitely needed Jim to help guide me. Jim needed me. By helping each other and going slowly, we got down the col. Now it's up. More unclear handholds and footholds. I kept using my knee and all the non-technical rock climbing skills I knew. We made it. Jim didn't want to wait; his nerves would get worse.
The next portion of the Knife's Edge is the "sharpest" section. It is all rock scrabbling--not too difficult by itself, but a lot more nerve-wracking with large cliffs nearby. Jim never looked, so he never knew whether the cliffs were immediately below him, or whether there was a bit of a slope and then the cliffs. It might have been better had he looked, but we'll never know.
Amy took the lead at this point. At some points, the trail would go along a ledge on one side of the ridge or the other, but at one point it goes right over the top of the ridge, down a short step. I think this is the point that the guide book talks about straddling the ridge, with one leg on either side.
Jim was not a happy camper. He kept repeating to himself, "I am never doing this again as long as I live." He thought it was a cross between Mt. Pugh and Angel's Landing. We passed people going the other way and asked them how much further to the summit. They replied that they had been going for an hour since the summit. Jim's reaction: "I'm going to die!" The thought of crawling along that ridge for over an hour (we were not going that fast) was horrifying, but he wasn't about to go back through the notch.
We went slowly. It was more ledge walks using handholds and boulder walking, not at all what I expected. I pictured a path, maybe with gravel. This wasn't it. It was difficult finding the easiest route. Jim just kept following. In places I was unsettled--one area was open (level) with no handholds but the footing was not flat. [One had to "walk" from rock to rock with nothing sticking up to hold on to. The footing was uncertain, and there were the ever-present cliffs to the side]. I ended up "4-wheeling" areas that at sea-level I would have glided over. I didn't want a mistake. [At this point, Amy is pretty tired.] Like the book said, there are three ways on the Knife's Edge, Forward, Backward, and Straight Down.
Fortunately, the quote of an hour to the summit was correct, but misleading. The Knife's Edge doesn't extend all of the way to Katahdin (although the cliffs do). Halfway there (near the South Peak), the trail broadens some, and the south side (away from the Great Basin) slope steeply but not too vertically. So the part that was *really* scary didn't last the whole way.
Jim described the second part as:
Reasonably broad, angles outward, then drops away. Eventually, I could look at the views and enjoy them. They would have bothered me normally, but not after what I'd been through. In the first part, very dry but didn't dare stop for water. Then hungry and tired.
Most places were wide: 10-15 feet or more. Some narrow. The footing is what kept one focused on just finding the next step. I didn't have time to be very afraid, but I was surprised at how unsettled I felt. Unless I was holding on to a large boulder, I was nervous. Near the top, it became a large boulder rock-hop. Heights and hopping, what fun! At least the view was great. Ask Jim. The three feet in front of him was just fine. By the peak, though, Jim kept saying "you would never have gotten me this close to the edge of a cliff before. Now it's nothing!" He was more nonchalant about the height than I was. We kept thanking the other for their support. I wouldn't have gone if Jim hadn't wanted to deal with his fear of heights (Pugh) and to find places for my hands and feet. Jim wouldn't have gone alone because he would have psyched himself out. We both felt relief and pride coupled/paired for our effort.
Being tired, Amy had more trouble on the final ascent of Katahdin, so Jim again took the lead. Praise be to God, we made the summit!
It was very interesting how we complimented each other, particularly on the Knife's Edge. Jim was more afraid of the heights, but he was also better at rock scrambling. In the second half, he "recovered" and actually enjoyed the views. Amy, however, was getting tired and hence more nervous about accidental falls.
The main lesson from the experience was that we both supported each other. Neither of us would have made it if it were not for the other. Jim needed Amy's support and encouragement (and her looking ahead to see where the trail went), while Amy needed Jim's help with footing on some of the steeper scrambles. Jim half jokingly phrased it, "if our marriage can survive this, it can survive anything."
Strangely enough, the mountain is fairly broad and flat on the other side (it is called the Tablelands). I think it is technically a plateau, that goes fairly flatly, then has steep drop-offs; but from the summit, the Tablelands seem the antithesis of the Great Basin.
We reached the summit at 2:45, where we stopped to rest, eat another sandwich, and enjoy the accomplishment. The wind picked up, so Jim wore his fleece jacket and was glad for it. Amy had gone through all three of her quarts of water, so we redistributed the water some. As they said on Mt. Rainier, "Now the optional part of the hike is over. You don't have to get to the summit. You *do* have to get down again." This thought didn't thrill Amy. She wrote:
Oh boy! We get to now go down. I'm tired, I'm drenched (although the gentle wind is helping me to dry off). Eight hours up, six more hours of light left. Amazingly, the opposite side of the peak saw small stones and easy walking. The two landscapes are like night and day.
To put it in perspective, we still had 5 1/2 miles to go and 3700 feet to lose. We left the summit at 3:15.
We were not nearly stupid enough to think of trying to go down the Cathedral trail. We were aiming for the easiest way down: the Saddle Trail. That drops us off at Chimney pond, and then it is a relatively normal hike out. The Saddle trail is called that because it goes up to a very broad saddle point in the Tableland, and then goes on up to the summit. For no good reason, Jim associated "Saddle trail" with horses. He was picturing a nice mellow trail that one could potentially ride horses up. How wrong he was! As a ranger we met put it, "The Saddle trail is the easiest way down, it is not an easy way down."
Hiking down the broad slope of the Tableland, we could clearly see the sharp edge where the plateau ended and the cliffs (and steep slopes) dropped away. The trouble was that we couldn't see any mellow trail entering the saddle. The only thing that broke the edge looked like the top end of an avalanche gully. A hiker we met said that the only hard part of the Saddle Trail is the first few hundred feet, which is a big slide. Jim thought that he meant a large inclined rocky ledge, similar to what one finds on Mt. Monadnock. What we found that he meant was a rock slide.
The trail pretty much literally goes along a flat level stretch of the plateau, then drops over the edge not quite vertically. The rock slide is not entirely stable, and the trail stays pretty much on the left edge (as you go down) to avoid the most unstable stuff. It reminded us quite a bit of Vesper, when we were "bushwhacking" up the scree slope having missed the trail. Off the summit, Jim warmed up and again removed the fleece jacket.
Going down the slide was slow, particularly as one had to avoid dropping rocks on the person below. It would be easy to slip/skid/loose balance; particularly when one is tired. We didn't want to rush, but we found ourselves getting *really tired* of climbing over rocks. We yearned for a normal, flat trail. Unfortunately, after the steep upper end of the slide, the trail still continues down over rocks pretty much all of the way to the bottom. Jim was so tired that he went within a foot of a bunch of bees without batting an eye. Half of it was that he didn't notice more than one of them; but the other half was that he was just too tired to bother spazzing out.
We reached the base of the slide at 4:50, crossed a small stream at 5:05, but we didn't get to the camping area until 5:40. It was time for our last major stop, and time for Amy to run off to find a desperately needed toilet. We then ate the last of our sandwiches, while sitting on a log on the side of Chimney Pond, facing the Great Basin. The view of the peaks and cliffs was simply amazing, and pictures do not do it justice. It looks much more like the Cascades than the typical mountains out here in the East.
There were a horde of red squirrels scurrying all around us, being inquisitive and probably hoping for some food. Halfway through eating, we heard a crashing through the brush behind us. Our first thought was "that's too big to be a squirrel." Jim figured that it must be a camper coming to the pond. But it wasn't. Amy put it best. She cried out, "It's a moose! .... It's a f***ing Moose!" The moose walked past us (about 10 feet away), walked into pond, turned and walked in front of us, and just stood there drinking. We had heard stories of what happens to people who mess with moose, so we were paranoid lest we disturb it. After a whispered discussion, we decided to just grab out stuff (with no sudden moves) and to vacate the area. Jim did grab one picture first. We heard later that the moose is a normal visitor to the campsite, and it is probably quite used to people. But at the time, it was a neat but disturbing sight.
At this point reality again overtook Jim's optimism. Unencumbered by the thought process, he figured that the hike out from the pond should be fairly level and easy. A quick check of the map showed that there was still about 3 1/2 miles to go *and* another 2000 feet to drop. The saving grace was that there were no more steep sections, it was a more gradual dropping of elevation. We left at 6:10, wondering how long the daylight would last. We had a pair of flashlights, but we didn't want to have to use them. On the other hand, we were on the east of the mountain, so the sun would drop below the peak long before sunset.
At this point, we were certainly not in our top form: sore and tired. On the first wooden bridge Amy had a muscle spasm in her left knee. She found that as long as she didn't put pressure on it while bent, it was OK. It was difficult to remember this as the trail was strewn with large rocks. The trail wasn't steep and did require any rock scrambles, but it never seemed to stop. There were occasional planks and bridges to cross boggy areas or streams.
Halfway back, we were startled by another large animal off the side of the trail. We hoped it wasn't another moose, but it turned out to be a large buck with fuzzy antlers. It looked straight at us and snorted. We weren't sure if it was a challenge or a warning. We were ready to run as it appeared ready to charge us, but then it bolted. This got our adrenaline going as it seemed to start off towards us, but it actually angled past us and crashed off into the bushes. Jim was getting weirded out thinking "the heights didn't get us, so now its the animal's turn."
The trail flattened out but remained littered everywhere with large rocks. At the very end, it turned into the wide, flat, smooth trail that many trails seem to have at their beginning. We don't know why that is. Maybe it is to lure unsuspecting hikers out of their cars with the promise of a gentle walk?
We reached the ranger's cabin at 8:15 and signed out. I think we were about the last to make it out. It was just getting dark: we had made it just barely without lights. We each had a rootbeer that we had stashed in the car for our return. Out of the 8 1/2 quarts we had started with, we had used 7 of them; so it seems that didn't over-plan our water by too much.
The bottoms of our ski poles took rather a beating from the rocks. The bottom inch or so was pretty much devoid of paint, and the next six inches or more was pretty scratched up. There was also a small bend in the bottom of Amy's pole where it had stuck in some rocks and bent.
Amy wore only a tee-shirt for the whole hike. Other than food, water, and the map book, she didn't use anything else she had packed. Jim, of course, had made copious use of his fleece jacket, and some use of Amy's fleece vest.
Jim drove out while Amy warned to watch the sides of the road for moose. Jim told her to watch for the moose instead, and if he heard her call out, he would stop. We got within sight of the toll booth at the entrance to the park uneventfully. Jim was noticing how clearly the headlights bounced back from the red reflectors on the booth when Amy cried out "Moose!!!". Jim jumped on the brakes, brought the car to a halt, and killed the high beams. We then watched the moose cross the road and disappear into the bushes. At this point, Jim began to take thoughts of moose watching more seriously. We got to the paved part of the road and just after the last speed bump near the Girl Scout camp we both spotted a dark shape ahead off the side of the road. This time, it wasn't a moose. It was a black bear that we watched cross the road. By this point, Jim was sure that mother nature was out to get him. We had a long drive back and we had no idea how many more animal encounters we would get.
The road was deserted, so Jim ended up driving about half speed in the middle of the road. But there were no more encounters.
We got back to the B&B around 9:00 where we found our hostess waiting to see if we got back safely. Neither of us wanted dinner, so we just showered and went to bed.
Amy took the most damage from the hike. She had neglected to put sunscreen on her face (she didn't want it running into her eyes), and despite the overcast, she burned her face. She also had received a blister on her left outside foot, but that wasn't much of a problem. It had apparently already popped and it didn't hurt. But she did take some aspirin and applied a cool washcloth to her face to deal with the sunburn.
The other "casualty" was our wedding rings. In hindsight, we should have either removed them, or put a band-aid or tape over them. They got rather gouged up crossing the Knife's Edge. Somehow, when one is standing on a half-inch tip of rock, hanging on to some other small chunks of rock, while looking for a new foothold, one isn't too concerned with keeping one's ring from scraping against the rock.
Amy's summary was "What a day!" Jim's was "we had our cake and ate it too" (We did both the Knife's Edge and reached the summit.)
Final notes: The jacket strapped to the back of the pack worked out well. It stayed on well and didn't get in the way. The poles were useful at places, but while they might make it easier on going down the rocks, they might also slow one down.
We also figured that we should leave the B&B windows open all day/evening to cool the place out, but then close them at bedtime to keep the noise down. We did that and slept better that night (of course, after the hike, we might have slept through anything.)
We were both a bit stiff and sore the next day. Jim wrote:
Funny how the mind works. Today the Knife's Edge does not seem that bad. But at the time, I swore multiple times that I would never do this again as long as I lived.
We planned on a mellow day to recover from the hike. After a breakfast of French Toast, we went over to Kidney Pond (next to Daicey Pond) to do some canoeing. As before there were some really nifty barn swallows zooming around. They were neat to watch. On the lake we saw a family of Loons, which are protected, so we didn't want to disturb them. The chicks are just brown and their heads don't stick out much, so they basically look like brown rocks.
We spent two quiet, peaceful hours basically doing a lap of the lake staying relatively near the shore (we paddled a short way down a slow moving stream). Our goal was to observe nature. Along the way, we saw sandpipers, belted king fishers, a bittern, pied billed grebes, merganser, and of course, the loons. In the little stream we found a frog just sitting there with its eyes above water, and lots of frog's eggs. For $2 you couldn't beat the price.
It was really neat, peaceful, and quiet. A marked contrast from the previous day. It was something that we don't do often enough.
When we finished and were returning the paddles and life jackets we found that up in the corner of the roof of the library over the porch, there were a bunch of bats living. They were neat to watch because at least some of them were not sleeping.
We had lunch at the picnic area there, although we had to sit in the sun in the middle of the field. At least we got a good look at the swooping swallows.
Afterwards, we went to Katahdin Stream campground to hike up Hunt Trail (AT) to the Katahdin Falls (1.2 miles in). They said that the parking area for day use of the campground was full, so we cheated and parked in the Grassy Pond Trail parking area.
Just below the falls, the trail crosses the stream on a bridge. It looks like there was originally a suspension bridge or something, because there are two sets of rings set in the rocks on both sides. But the actual bridge, which is next to the non-existent one, is just two logs across the stream with logs across them to walk on. Just above it, there is a bit of a waterfall, so Jim stopped to take some pictures. He was using the tripod (of course), and the only decent place to get a picture was from the middle of the bridge. He writes:
The tripod was covering maybe about 2/3 of the width of the bridge on the side nearer the falls. At one point, I noticed a woman sort of waiting on the edge of the bridge, presumably waiting for me to finish so that she would not disturb me. I wasn't ready for a picture yet, so I stepped back from the camera and gestured that she should feel free to cross. Then an interesting thing happened. She walked up to where the tripod was, and then slowly and carefully stepped sort of around and sort of over the leg. I would guess that there was probably two feet of bridge between the tripod and the edge.
It seemed clear to me that she was rather nervous on the bridge, and the tripod was sort of forcing her closer to the edge than she cared to be. It struck me how different people can be. That bridge didn't bother me in the slightest. (In fact, I was almost worried that I would get so wrapped up in the photos that I would accidentally step off without realizing it.) But here was a person who this evidentially troubled. I then tried to put this image in the context of cliffs, where I would be as nervous as this person (if not more so), and trying to picture being as calm there as I was here.
After that, we hiked up fifty feet or so to the falls proper. They were rather pretty. The sun was cooperating, being behind a large cloud for a long time. As we walked back, Amy found one of her feet getting sore. When we got back to the cars, she found she had a whopper of a blister on the outside of her right foot. It was probably about a half inch wide, and inch and a half long, and protruded quite noticeably. So much for any extended hiking for a while.
We began driving home, and saw some hikers on the road that had passed us by the falls. We stopped and offered them a lift. It seems that they had hiked up to the summit that morning along the Abol Trail and had returned along the Hunt, so they had to hike up the road about two miles to get back to their car. The ride was quite appreciated.
We had thought that the trails from this side of the mountain were more gradual and mellow than the side we came up on, and they are, but only barely. Even on this side, the Tableland forms a plateau with steep sides. The Abol trail climbs up through a rock slide (like the Saddle Trail). We don't know as much about the Hunt, but it apparently has some pretty steep sections as well.
This time, when we returned to the B&B, we didn't have to dodge any critters. We asked our hostess for suggestions, then ate at the Penobscott Room at the Schoodic Inn (which ended up being within walking distance of the B&B). The food was pretty decent and quite affordable. Amy had a veggie calzone for $4.50. Jim had a ham and pineapple pizza. The total for dinner came to only $12.
We walked up and down the main street in Millinocket (not much). It was somewhat depressing because it seemed to be a town slowly dying. Amy's thought for the day was "The thrill of victory and the agony of my feet."
Jim decided to check out the hot tub. Amy declined because of her feet. He found the water OK, but slightly cool. He was guessing 98-99, and he found out later it was 99 degrees. The night was fairly cool (60's?), and after he got out and was putting the cover on, he started shaking violently. He ran upstairs to our room, ran in, and without pause went straight to the shower to warm up. Even after that, when he left the shower, he dried off and then jumped in bed under the comforter to shiver for a bit and warm up. Meanwhile, Amy caught up in the journal.
We didn't do too badly, but we both had slightly more sunburn than before.
Jim slept a lot better that night than the previously. He wasn't sure if it was luck, the fact that he didn't eat just before going to bed, or whether it was more room from Amy. The bed was only a full/double, but Amy had thought it was a queen, like we have at home. So she was occupying as much space as she usually did, and Jim had been squished towards one side. The previous night, that had been straightened out, and so Jim had more space.
Jim was thinking that the park seemed more like a National Park than a State Park. We wondered why it had never become a National Park, but then after looking at Acadia and other parks, maybe it is a good thing that it is a state park.
This was to be our last day in the park, so we decided to head up to the north side. The weather was overcast with occasional showers.
Amy didn't bother showering, because she figured that she would get grungy enough hiking that there was no point. For breakfast, we had scrambled eggs, biscuits with sausage gravy, and of course coffee and OJ. This was interesting as it was a breakfast that we never make for ourselves.
There was a young couple who was also staying there. The previous day they had done the Cathedral Trail to the summit of Katahdin, but I don't think they did the Knife's Edge. Strangely enough, they left without saying goodbye *and* without eating the breakfast that our hostess had made for them. This was rather peculiar we thought, but Amy and I ended up getting more OJ as a result.
You can drive around the park loop road up to the north side, but that is supposed to be about a 3 1/2 hour trip. So we drove around outside the park. Even so, it took us about and hour and a half.
We stopped near the summit of a small hill east of the park to get a view of Katahdin, but it was too cloudy to get a good look. We also stopped near Patten and took a picture from the NE, but it wasn't that great of view either.
Just outside of the park (which is more the middle of nowhere than the south side) we passed an interesting looking museum. I think it was about lumbering. That would have been a decent place to go if it were raining, but while we got rain driving north, it pretty much had petered out by the time we got to the park.
Our destination was Lower South Branch Pond, where we planned to do some canoeing and hiking. This time, to be different, we would canoe to the far side of the lake, and then hike from there. That only shaves off about 3/4 mile (one way), so the savings is not wondrous; but it was different and the canoeing is easier than hiking. It seems silly to pay for a canoe while one is hiking, but at $1/hour, it was no big deal.
At the South Branch Pond campground, we first had lunch. Unfortunately, we had forgotten to bring the chicken spread, so while Amy had a PB+J sandwich, Jim had to make due with just a jelly sandwich.
We also saw a "display" of a lawn mower that had died horribly (with a RIP sign). It looks like it threw a rod or something. There was a big hole in the side.
We loaded up our packs, rented the canoe, and set off. The lake is much deeper than Kidney Pond, and there was a bit of a wind blowing, so the water was a bit rougher. We had a headwind, so we canoed over to the left side of the lake, and then followed the shore down to the far end of the lake. After a little sight-seeing, then landed and tipped the canoe upside down (in case it rained while we were hiking).
We then started hiking up the Howe Brook Trail. At the start, things didn't look too promising. Despite the recent rain, the brook was dry. There was the classic stream bed full of rounded rocks, but no water. We continued hiking, though, and before long we found water. We guessed that it was eventually disappearing underground. The water was very clear and cold.
This trail was rather different from the ones in the south. The trees were smaller and more open. Lots of light reached the forest floor. This trail was more like the trails we're used to in NH.
Near the bottom there are a couple of small falls and sluices. Further up the trail, it turns into a "typical stream". Near the top (maybe 1 1/2 to 2 hours in), we heard some voices. I thought that we would pass some hikers coming back at any point, but they never materialized. When we got a bit further up, we found that there was a large waterfall, and that the other hikers were wandering around there. It was their voices that we heard. Amy also found a neat garter snake.
The other people took a few pictures of us (with our camera) and then headed back. They said that there was a herd path to the top of the falls, but that the top was fairly unimpressive. We climbed to the top anyways to see for ourselves.
Jim decided that there were some decent picture opportunities, so he went back down to return with the camera equipment. Just then, it started sprinkling. It got steadily worse, so Jim decided it was not a good time for pictures, and we both dug out our rain gear. Then it started pouring.
It's funny how you can take different points of view under different circumstances. Back home, we would be hiding at home, or running through the rain to get into the car without getting too wet. However, where we were at the top of the trail, it was clear that we were not getting out of the rain any time soon, so there was no point in even trying. We might as well just hike back out and ignore the rain. We did try to hurry a bit, because Amy was concerned that if her socks got wet, her blister would be that much worse.
Halfway back, the rain petered out again. When we got to the "sluices" near the bottom, Amy decided to go for a dip (we had brought our bathing suits). While she did so, Jim took more pictures of the falls/rapids. Amy had to enter the water quickly as it was very cold, but she found that it was nice once she got used to it. Jim, of course, felt that it was much too cold to go swimming.
Amy found a small cave/grotto on the other side of the pool next to a small waterfall and swam over to it. Then she went down to a pool a bit further down where the rocks were not as slippery.
Eventually, Jim took off his boots (he was wearing shorts), and did a little wading. Unfortunately, the bottom was rocky, so Jim couldn't walk around a lot. Mental note: next time bring tevas for such occasions.
Given the downpour that we had had, we were glad to have turned the canoe upside down.
On the canoeing back, the wind had died down, so the lake was pretty calm, almost glassy. It was pretty quiet and peaceful. The bottom angled out from the shore, and then dropped steeply off. On the part we could see, there were plenty of dead, white trees lying on the bottom. They looked almost like bleached bones in a graveyard, with us gliding silently overhead. It was rather ghostly.
We also saw plenty of fresh-water mussels.
Overall, we found the mosquitoes a bit worse than in the southern section (maybe because it was wetter there, or because of the overnight rain), but not too bad at all. The total time for the hike was about 4 1/2 hours.
The main casualty from the hike was the guidebook that we had borrowed from our hostess. It is a very good book that goes into great detail on each hike. Unfortunately as the pack got soaked from the rain, so did the book. We were horrified, but at that point, there was nothing much we could do.
Since we were sort of 1/2 hour into the park, we debated whether we should drive back outside the park or check out the park loop road. Eventually, we decided to go back the way we had come.
Back at the B&B, we again had dinner in the Penobscott room, although this time we walked down to it.