August 27, 2013

Hiking Maine's Tallest Peak

Hiking Maine's Tallest Peak: A Venture Up Katahdin and Across Knife's Edge

I pop the top on a PBR can as we unpack our sleeping bags, spreading them across the rough wooden floor of this Baxter Park lean-to. A big haul off an ice cold can gives me a bit more inspiration to unload gear and setup the propane stove for dinner.

Katahdin Stream rushes by, just beyond the visible tree line, providing relaxing white noise - and an easy spot to clean fry pans after dinner.

The afternoon hours we spent fly-fishing a local pond and tonight would be served to plan tomorrow's hike of Katahdin. All intentions were to cross famed Knife's Edge - a narrow ridge line between two of the parks highest peaks. At certain points (they say) you have a two foot path, both sides dropping a dramatic 2,000 ft. It's something I've wanted to do since I was a kid.

We rise with wide eyes and hit the trail at 5am. From Roaring Brook, we gain elevation over the next hour and a half before Chimney Pond enters into view.

  I've heard this ranger station is the most sought after position for a ranger on the entire East coast, if not all the country. Located in a serene basin, surrounded by granite walls, green trees and crystal clear water. Peacefulness.

Cathedral Trail, before long, has us scrambling on all fours, grasping for handholds. The instruction from our Maine Guide friend rings out from up the trail, "Three points of contact!". That's coaching I'd never been given before nor want to hear again. This isn't hiking. This is climbing. The beauty of the flat Maine countryside begins to ring out atop the trees. Blue ponds and far stretching forest for as far as the eye can see. Try to spot a house. You can't. This is nature.

It's about 10am and we're standing at the highest point in Maine. Mount Washington to the Southwest, Rangeley to the South; farmland, North; the Atlantic, East. However, we see none of that. We are standing IN the clouds. Thick fog rolled an hour ago. Visibility seems to be 30 feet, maybe. A quick snack and our boots aim for Knife's Edge.

The trail starts out wide. I wonder out loud, and to myself, why others make such a fuss over a 15 foot wide trail of granite boulders. This is easy. Raindrops begin falling from the gray mass of clouds and fog that surrounds us.

A clap of thunder rings out in the distance towards Millinocket. It's at this point in the hike the hood of my jacket begins flapping in the wind. 45MPH winds pick up and an uncomfortable feeling kicks in. It's now the trail thins out and I begin to realize the reason for its name. I swallow hard as I drop to all fours (for the second time today) with the full intention of not being blown off this mountain top.

The trail is the one rock's width wide, sharply dropping off on each side, and as we proceed, that one-rock path rises sharply to a new elevation before dropping dramatically, to only rise again. Fog blocks further vision. I holler ahead, asking if we should turn around. The answer isn't one I wanted. Apparently we've come too far to turn around.

Rain is pouring. We're soaked. It gets worse. Driving sleet and hail start flying into our faces. My heart sinks. The fog lifts slightly showing us the last portion of the trail - reminiscent of a movie where the actor flees out a hotel window and crosses a 6-inch ledge to the next window down. Our path is one half-foot, bodes pressed forward tightly, yet insecurely, against a wet granite wall. Howling wind and rain slapping our fogged sunglasses. A murderous 2,000 foot drop waits should our wringing wet hiking shoes slip on the slick rock. This is no longer fun.

Should conditions be different, perhaps sunny, this might be enjoyable, but right now my chest is thumping in my soaked-through rain jacket. Three points of contact... three points of contact... three points of contact is the phrase in my head. If even I could see how far I was going to drop (should I fall), it might make me feel better. The more I think that thought, I'm grateful for the fog. One hand in front of the other, one foot then another. It's 1PM, but feels like I'm already late for dinner.

Pushing your boundaries, making yourself feel just a bit uncomfortable, trying something new and doing something that scares you helps you become a different person and have a better understanding for what "hard" means. I was never so happy to set foot over the next peak, Pamola and start hopping the down the Helon Taylor Trail. Before I knew it I was back amongst the trees, dropping elevation. Knife's Edge is nothing but a memory... and a damn good story to tell. I'll probably never hike it again, but I can always snootily look down on those who've hiked it in optimal summer conditions with a one-up.

August 20, 2013

Campfire Cooking // Storms Rolling In

The smart move before any camping trip should be tuning into a NOAA weather station for a hint at the weekend outlook. Unfortunately for my fiance, we took Friday off to head up near Rangeley only to setup camp to watch storm clouds move in. Miles from town is exactly where I like to be. Our remote campsite isn't within 20 miles of pavement. Exactly where she doesn't like to be when I turn on my weather scanner to hear that the threats of severe thunderstorms and dangerous hail are moving in to the area. I do my best to lie and say we're safe in our tent. It would also help if I'd remembered the tent stakes. 

The winds are picking up as 5PM rolls around, lifting corners of the tent (a very heavy 6 person tent). I strategically relocate the cooler, pack  basket, hiking bag and a heap of clothes into each of the tent's four corners. Safety. 

The dark clouds overtake the sky. Not allowing the storm to interupt our enjoyment, we overturn the picnic table and use it as a tie down point for our tarp - this campfire will not go out. 

A weekend's worth of firewood is brought to dry safety before the rain begins.

Dry campwood beats wet campwood ten times out of ten.

I'll blindly assume that other than a few claps of thunder overnight, and a constant downpour that there was no hail. I can say that with fairly decent certainty - I'm a heavy sleeper but my fiance is not. I woke up with her beside me, instead of curled up in the back of the Jeep. Success.

No morning at camp is complete without frying up a pound of bacon and then frying up a dozen eggs in the remaining grease. That's a breakfast that will stick with you all day.

Camp games. Ever heard of "Polish Horseshoes"? Technically you use poles. We don't have poles. We have campwood. Object of the game is to knock the bottle from atop the stick. It may or may not also involve consuming a few beverages. Find the rules, here.

Grasshopper duals. Slightly less interesting than Polish Horseshoes.

Attentive camper.

When you eat a pound of bacon and a dozen eggs for breakfast, you can safely skip lunch. Dinner is diced sausage, sweet potato and onions. Cook in foil over open flame for 40 minutes, turning regularly then drizze with BBQ sauce. 

Campwood tables. Campwood is very purposeful today.

Side dish.

August 13, 2013

Big Sky in Rangeley // To-Do List

Summer in Maine can be short. Flipping through a calendar, you’ll find every season is the same length, but in Maine the warm months seem to fly by. Snow usually lingers for 6 months, so we tend to celebrate summer pretty hard. What better way than hammering down on a Harley at 50MPH down a country road. Fresh mountain air surrounding you. Nothing separating you and Mother Nature. 

I bought my second bike this spring and have put on 5,000 miles exploring the coast of Maine to cruising over the mountains and around the lakes of Western Maine. Overnight road trips to national parks in New Hampshire – no destination seems to far away. Pack light and let the pipes roar down the road.

Set out for yourself down Route 17 to Rangeley. Stop at the Height of Land for a few photos with the family. Get out early enough to watch the sunrise and follow it up by hitting the famed  Gingerbread House for breakfast in Oquossoc (right at the end of Route 17). Even take the afternoon for a seaplane or helicopter ride at Acadian Seaplanes. There is always a host of activities apart from fishing and camping. 

Here are a few photos from one of my favorite places in Maine, Rangeley. Nothing speaks to picturesque Maine like the rolling hills, beautiful lakes and bright blue skies quite the same. I call it Big Sky Country simply as the sky-scape always seems to be so dynamic.

August 6, 2013

Hand Over the Waders

It can be difficult this time of year to find productive trout and salmon fishing - with a spin or fly setup. We try our luck anyway. Any day waist deep in the river beats being waist deep in office paperwork. The Penobscot River is famed for gorgeous landlocked salmon and perfect native brook trout. Spring and fall typically are the best seasons to experience success. As the summer rolls on, it can be tough, particularly for me as a novice fly fisherman to bring much to the surface (at least that's what I continue telling myself). The excitement is always in the journey itself and being able to become more proficient in reading the water, casting and tying knots. A morning rain shower cleared, giving us time to enjoy the view and sounds of nature outside Baxter State Park. Today, I hand over my waders so someone else can give it a chance. This offers me a chance to grab a cold drink from the cooler take in the view. Success isn't always about how many fish you catch or catching the biggest fish - so says the guy walking back to camp empty handed...