A Weekend in Maine's Baxter State Park

August 25th, 2010

I have a blog now. This website comes with that functionality, but I'm generally pretty bad at keeping things like this up-to-date. However, since I had a sort-of interesting weekend last weekend, I'll give this a shot.

Michelle and I drove up to Maine with the goal of climbing Maine's highest peak: Mount Katahdin. Katahdin is 5,268 ft high, is the northern terminus of the Appalacian Trail, and is located in the beautiful Baxter State Park, northern Maine.

Below: Mount Katahdin. This shot was taken from the plateau at Roaring Brook campground - about halfway up the mountain:

Highslide JS Top: on the way up Katahdin's peak via Cathedral Trail.
Middle: Katahdin's Summit
Bottom: Looking down Saddle Trail

Although it is not particularly a goal of mine, Michelle's goal is to climb the highest peak in each state - and I get dragged along fairly regularly.  Michelle is a dedicated hiker and has done many more peaks than I, but I have come along for a few, including California, Connecticut, Massachusettes, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oaklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, and now Maine (I may have missed some). Personally, when it comes to outdoor recreation, I'm more of a paddler.  I prefer the water.

There's a difference between hikers and paddlers.  Hikers tend to be more goal-oriented.  They enjoy the challenge of a difficult summit.  They get high off the endorphins and the pain.  Canoeists tend to be a bit more pleasure-oriented.  Although as a canoeist I do enjoy the challenge of conquering a tricky rapid, or traversing a vast wilderness, I also enjoy the fact that you can fit about as much gear and food into your canoe as you could your car.  On a hiking trip, a night in the wilderness usually involves huddling, exhausted, around your lightweight camping stove boiling your package of dehydrated hikers gruel.  On a canoe trip, a night in the wilderness often involves grilled steaks, vegetables and cabernet around a roaring fire - possibly followed by desert and cognac.  I'll never forget the time we paddled the Allagash River (also in Northern Maine) and had to make a return trip during our portage just to get the case of wine.  Now that's living!

So, our hike up Katahdin involved going up Chimney Pond Trail to Saddle Trail, then an unintentional detour onto the steep and bouldery Cathedral Trail to the summit.  We considered descending on the famous Knife Edge Trail, but Michelle reconsidered after she got a chance to view it from the peak.  Katahdin's Knife Edge trail is about what it sounds like: a mile-long narrow (sometimes only 2 ft wide) ridgeline trail with severe, steep dropoffs on both sides.  Not for the faint of heart.  So we turned around and did the long, arduous slog down Saddle trail: a steep, 2000 foot descent to Roaring Brook on nothing but big boulders and loose rock.  Oh well, another peak checked off Michelle's list.

Rafting the Penobscot River

When planning this trip from home in New Jersey, I noticed that the nearby Penobscot River had a branch that featured class 5 whitewater!  Looks like there was something there for the paddler in me after all!  So immediately following our Katahdin summit push, I went about the business of locating a rafting company and found North Country Rivers.  I decided that if Michelle could drag my paddler ass up the mountain then it's fair to drag her hiker ass into the water.  We pulled up to the outfitter just as that day's rafters were watching a hilight video.  The video was enough to dissuade Michelle, but it had me hooked.  So I booked a trip for myself and wound up accompanying a thrill-seeking Canadian family of five down the Penobscot River.  The class 5 section was short but intense.  It didn't have quite the day-long non-stop punishment of rivers like West Virginia's Gauley, but I would say the trip is a must for any Northeastern whitewater enthusiast. I've paddled some whitewater, and Penobscot's Cribworks, Exterminator, and "Big A" rapids pretty much rival any class 5 I've met.

But let me get back to this notion of hiking and difficult goals.  Again, I think it's this notion of personal achievement that drives dedicated hikers.  A paddler will get down a river "come hell or high water", but a hiker resigns to humping their pack on their own two feet.  The achievement aspect of this is especially poignant on Katahdin.  As I've mentioned, Katahdin's summit serves as the Northern terminus of the Appalacian Trail - a 2000+ mile, 5 month oddessy through the woods that many attempt but few actually complete.  We had the privelege on our summit day to witness a set of AT thru-hikers finally achieve that difficult goal.  This group had no doubt been through much during their 5 months on the trail, and to watch them at the finish line was truly inspiring.

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