June 27, 2014 Katahdin, Maine
So I arrived home exhausted late in the afternoon of June 21 after the climbs of Mounts Hood and Ranier. I had just enough time to pick up my daughter (who was home from college) for dinner, do some laundry, pack and head to the east coast for a couple days of consulting work on Cape Cod via a red eye flight to Boston. I needed these consulting days as I could barely walk after so much climbing in my heavy mountaineering boots. After the consulting gig I drove all the way from Cape Cod to Millinocket, ME. It was the 26th of June. Millinocket is a small, north woods Maine town in the middle of a beautiful forest abounding with lakes, wildlife, and natural beauty. Katahdin (some call it Mount Katahdin, but the name Katahdin means "Greatest Mountain" so there is really no need to call it Mount Katahdin - the locals just say Katahdin - say it like this "Kuh Tah Din" with the accent on the second syllable - before I heard a local say it I had it all wrong!) is no easy hike. There are many ways to the top (in fact, Katahdin is the terminus of the Appalachian Trail, so, you could take the Appalacian Trail all the way to the top if you have a few months to kill and some serious stamina) but I had heard scare stories about traversing the Knife Edge and wanted the challenge. I chose the Helon Taylor trail to the summit ridge (Pamola Peak) and then walked the entire knife edge to the actual summit. It was an exhausting climb (and I chose the wrong shoes - I wore some light weight tennis shoe type hiking shoes - the rocks brutalized my feet - take some sturdy soles when you go!) - it is a very rugged mountain with some significant rock scrambling to get to the top. Once you reach the top (in my case Pamola Peak) you then have over another mile over the rocky ridge to the actual summit. The knife edge is up here and it is fantastic with sheer drops on the sides and some tricky rock hopping and scrambling in places. It is beautiful here and the views amazing. Again I found myself with a cool group of fellow climbers. Four Canadians who had also driven down that morning and were checking the Helon Taylor trail off of their list as they had summited via the other routes on previous trips. They were great company and struggled right alongside me with the rocks and, in particular, one area where there summit ridge drops down sharply into a small shoulder before going sharply back up. This area is more of a rock climb than a scramble (technically a small Class 4, possibly a high Class 3, scramble) and you can get into pretty exposed situations here with long drop offs on either side. The Knife Edge itself was not particularly challenging but it was long and a little tedious due to the length. I can see how it would be scary in bad weather (there are signs warning climbers not to attempt it if the weather is not good) but on a bright, nearly windless day it was not scary at all. It was, however, a long long haul over rocks that wrecked my feet. Finally at the summit we spent some time taking pictures of each other before I set about taking my summit photos. The views at the summit are fantastic, but, there are some equally amazing views from the trail and, especially the Knife Edge. Given how bad my feet hurt I chose a different route down via The Saddle. This was less steep and much better than trying to walk along the knife edge again, but it was also very rocky and my poor feet were screaming bloody murder the entire way. I worked my way down several miles (over 3) to within a mile of the parking area where I met a momma Moose with two calves. She backed me right off the trail giving me the "stay away from my babies eye" the entire way (meaning I got to backtrack a couple hundred yards – on my exhausted feet this was not the most fun part of the trip) before she finally meandered off in to the woods and I went back down the trial. People have asked if I got pictures of the moose family. I did not. I came around a corner of the trail and we were eye to eye (albeit about fifty feet apart). I was too busy backing up and getting out of her way to get any decent photos. When I arrived back at my rental car I was again very tired (as well as pretty trail worn). I decided I needed to refuel before heading off to my next high point so I stopped in at a center there and had a fantastic lunch at River Drivers Restaurant around 2pm. I got to chat with some locals and enjoyed great food while I let my feet recover for a moment (River Drivers is part of the New England Outdoor Center - you gotta go if you get the chance!) I loved Millinocket and met some great people there from the staff at River Drivers, the restaurant the night I arrived, and the hotel manager at the Pamola Motor Lodge who gave me great advice for the mountain and offered me her trail map saying "just drop it back off when you're done". I also got to try my first Lobster Roll (say "Lobstah Roe" if you wanna get close to saying it properly) in Maine. I felt this was a requirement as there were signs advertising the best lobster rolls in the state on most blocks with restaurants or cafes. If you haven't had it, it tastes almost identical to what I would imagine crab salad tastes like on a big, fluffy bun. I loved this mountain and can not wait until I get the chance to go back and explore some of the other routes to the top!
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