Tuesday, September 16, 2014

9-7-14 Mt. Katahdin

I have to say it 's been years and years since I was last in Millinocket--maybe 55 years have passed, or close, and it hasn't changed a lot. The Great Northern Paper mill has closed and the town is a bit rundown, but it has potential certainly due to all the recreational close by and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail (AT). For me, as a young teen, it was the jumping off place to the Maine wilderness and, even with the mill, it held a feeling of romance. This trip I was traveling with my daughter, Liz, who's working trail crew at Acadia National Park this summer. We'd driven 8 hours to visit her boyfriend who heads up a Maine Conservation Corps trail crews on Katahdin. He came out of the woods to meet us in Millinocket.

Arriving in Millinocket, Liz and I had driven less than two blocks when we saw these two gents who looked a lot like nattily dressed AT Thru Hikers. They had finished the trail on Friday and were getting ready to head home to Germany. They live in the Schwarzwald region along the Austrian border and said the most memorable event of their trip was arriving at Galehead Hut on South Twin (in New Hampshire) in a heavy rain, drenched to the bone--everything they owned soaked. The recounted how great the Galehead Hut crew was, warmly welcoming them and helping them dry their gear. They only thing lacking was beer, they laughed.

Early morning shot of Katahdin from the dirt road to Roaring Brook Campground and trail head.

Chimney Pond with Baxter Peak, the highest point of Katahdin, in the center. The Cathedral Trail goes up the ridge on the right, curving in an arc, to the summit. We stayed inside the park at a Maine Conservation Corp facility which made it possible to get on the trail early. Katahdin is beautiful. This glacial cirque is similar to Tuckerman Ravine, Huntington Ravine and, in some ways, like King Ravine of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire. The plants and animals are conspicuously similar to the alpine plants of Mt. Washington and the entire alpine zone of the Presidential Range, as well.

The Cathedral with Baxter Peak in the center background.

The Cathedral Trail starts at the Ranger's Cabin on the northeast shore of Chimney Pond. It climbs gently to the base of the Cathedral before dropping you off here at the bottom of this steep boulder field. The route through the boulder field is well marked but the climbing, in places was more of a rock climb, a 5.2. There are three people in the photograph to aid in getting an idea of scale.

Looking down towards the boulder field and Chimney Pond I was reminded of the last blog entry and my hike up the King Ravine Trail on Mt. Adams in July. There are a number of similarities between the two glacial cirques including the steepness of the walls. In King Ravine the boulder field in the lower section of the bowl is referred to as a Rock Glacier (see article for an explanation) and here on Katahdin it is a boulder field made up of very large and some not so large boulders that came off of The Cathedral and, probably, the upper walls of Katahdin, but that is a presumption on my part.

As we came to the top of the Cathedral Mt. Pamola and Knife Edge came into view. Pamola is in the center with the Keep Ridge sloping to the left. The Helon Taylor Trail lies along that ridge and was the route of one of the original trails on the east side of Katahdin and called the Keep Trail. The famous Knife Edge is to the right.

I camped at Chimney Pond with some friends for several days in 1959. I was 15, or about, and Katahdin was dreamy to us as we explored the trails and ridges. It seemed so wild compared to any other place we had hiked. I remember coming down the Cathedral Trail late one afternoon from the summit plateau chased by a thunderstorm and dancing down the tops of the boulders, from rock to rock, unperturbed. On this trip I felt shaky at the thought of having to go down that route.

Looking east through the eastern terminus of the glacial cirque. The Appalachian Mountain Club had a guest lodge on Katahdin Lake from 1877 until the early 1900s. The club cut several trails from the lodge to surrounding peaks. In the 1920s thru the 1950s they ran trips for climbers and a number of the AMC's best rock climbers like Marjorie Hurd, Miriam and Robert Underhill, John Post, and others laid out a number of routes on the south wall of the Great Basin including the Chimney, itself.

A better view of the Knife Edge and The Chimney which is the gully running straight down from the right of Pamola. It was compelling to stop and scrutinize the shape and topography of the south wall which would have its equivalent in Tuckerman Ravine in Boott Spur.

From the second Cathedral looking northwest at Hamlin Ridge where the Hamlin Ridge Trail connects Chimney Pond with the summit and the summit plateau. It is perhaps the easiest of the east side trails. Between the Hamlin and Cathedral trails is the Saddle Trail which is a safer way down than Cathedral particularly in a storm. Ranges advise hikers to go up Cathedral and come down the Dudley Trail in making the loop. Another loop is to go up Cathedral, across the Knife Edge to Pamola and then down the Helon Taylor Trail back down to Roaring Brook.

Looking east.

A little after noon we were faced with a decision whether to continue as the wind on the summit was increasing steadily making the Knife Edge a concern. Several of our party decided to go back down. One was okay with finishing the loop and was able to convince a second to go on as well for increased safety.  Hikers were beginning to descend by us as we ate lunch saying how cold and windy it was above. I dd not want to go down the way we came up and pictured a long afternoon of it. But, after a few moments of being queasy we found the descent to be a lark with the same ease and enticement of the descent all those decades ago.

 I made it to the bottom of the boulder field without even stumbling once and after removing wind breakers, readjusting our packs and munching some lunch near Chimney Pond in preparation for the gentler descent I tripped and fell with the above results. First aid was applied and we were off again.

Basin Pond looking due West up towards Hamlin Ridge. One of the reasons I came to Katahdin, besides spending time with Liz, was to do some botanizing with Dewey's trail crew, who, as they were in the woods all day wanted to know about the names of plants and, particularly, the medicinals and the edibles. Most of the crew was from the western states and they were unfamiliar with eastern plants. There are only one or two species of alpines found on Katahdin that don't grow in the Alpine Zone of the Presidentials, and vice versa. One thing that distinguishes northern Maine is the vast amount of eastern Cedar, and the extensive cedar swamps.
It was great to be on Katahdin again after all this time. It brought back a lot of memories, and that wonderful feeling of wildness that is preserved here. The State of Maine has put in place regulations designed to sustain the wild state of the Katahdin region similar to the management of the Adirondacks in New York. Sitting at Basin Pond watching the clouds and the sun on the pond and listening to the sound of waves lapping on the shore you were surrounded by wilderness, but there was something unseen, too, that I couldn't name but could easily feel and that's one of the primary reasons we are so attracted to wilderness. It felt wonderful. The medicinal for stress.
Liz and "Dewey" (Christopher) contemplating a swim after the hike.  They have been working on trail crew out West in the National Parks, mainly King Canyon, and came east for a a change

Liz at 25.