Tuesday, August 15, 2006

We Drove our Bed to the Gate
This summer has been a series of ups and downs - mostly on the weekends. A string of fantastic weather has given us opportunity to enjoy numerous mountain hikes. Without a doubt, our journey into Maine and hike up spectacular Mt. Katahdin has outclassed our other hikes we have done in the East.

The plan began as one of those spur of the moment ideas that you spring upon your wife about midweek. The weather report for the weekend looked good and no commitments stood in our way. Mrs. Rants, who likes to plan out things in advance, peppered me with a barrage of questions - testing to see whether I had thought this through.
Where are we going to sleep?
What are we going to do about food?
What will we do with our cat for the weekend?

I didn't blame her. The logistics of getting to Mt Katahdin (4 hour drive) and dealing with the entrance and use restrictions of Baxter State Park (which protects Mt. Katahdin and environs) necessitate proper advance planning. I have course made no advance reservations at an area campground or lodging facility. I did however remember (from having been in that area roughly 5 years beforehand) a certain sandlot that was off to the side of the approach road (which lead into the park) that was near some power lines. My plan, which I promptly spelled out, was to leave straight after work on Friday, get to the nondescript and anonymous sandlot (at around 10 or 11PM) having just driven 250 miles, and pitch the tent next to the car. Sounded good to me!

The other thing to ensure was early entry into Baxter State Park. The Park's use restrictions keep visitors from crowding the popular trailheads. Katahdin's most popular trails emanate outward from Roaring Brook campground. The Park puts a cap on the number of cars that can park at this site to 45. So the visitor has to get to Park very early (in fact before the Park opens at 5AM) if they wish to assure themselves a launching off from this trailhead.

Well, all went according to plan. We got to Baxter State Park at the figured hour and found the sandlot. It was pretty late and both of us weren't very motivated to set up the tent. So instead we rolled out our camping mattresses, reclined the seats, and used the mats to make our bed in the car. It seemed pretty comfortable, so why not? It was certainly strange to be there having driven so long without too much of an idea what we would find when we'd arrive. Forget the usual preparations when camping. Just sleep in the car and go. Needless to say, it was fitful sleep. I suppose around 4AM I heard cars whizzing by on the approach road. These were people getting ahead of us! I'd have to say the cool thing about sleeping in the car is you don't have to pack up anything. You just bring the seat back up, fire up the ignition and go!

I was surprised to find that I was the eleventh car in line when I showed up at the entrance gate at 4AM. Baxter State Park attracts the intrepid and the sleepless. Some people were in sleeping bags next to their cars. One guy already had his coffee and his newspaper (the nearest convenience store is 30 miles back). I did feel relieved knowing our position in line. This seemed to guarantee that we'd have a spot at Roaring Brook. Indeed, this was the case by the time the gates opened and admissions paid. Sweet! We had done it.

Well, to be honest we hadn't done anything. All to show for our efforts so far to this point was a parking spot. The real stuff was to come. The hike began with our ascent up the Helon Taylor Trail. The trail wasn't too difficult to this point. The view from here revealed how Katahdin rises fast from the flat country that surrounds the mountain. Our vantage point from the trail kept most of the mountain hidden from us - that is until we crested the Katahdin summit of Pamola and got our first glimpse of The Knife Edge, with its sharp cliffs and 2000 foot drops into a glacial basin.

We slowly made our way across the Knife Edge; Mrs. Rants leading the way while I took pictures of what we just crab walked across - constantly peering down into the basin and the ramparts of rock that surrounded it. Finally, Katahdin and the summit of Baxter Peak! A view of to the West revealed the alpine slopes of Katahdin leading off to the Brothers and in the middle, the high altitude plateau of The Klondike - a thick maze of stunted spruce and marsh. The wide view, just under the cloud cap above revealed a great wooded and mountainous panorama like something you would be more apt to see in Scotland rather than New England. We descended down from Baxter Peak and continued to descend into the basin leading us eventually to the gem of Chimney Pond nestled up against high walls.

What a stunning and fantastic place! Perhaps the best hike I have ever been on. I knew Katahdin was a special mountain but I did not expect to see such drama (even after hiking NH's Presidentials). I was running on adrenaline all day - never really feeling any effects from the little sleep that I had. Indeed, even after having hiked all day, I was jazzed up enough to drive the 4 hours straight back to NH. It was no big deal. I was so glad that everything fell into place and that we got such a great hike out of it. Seeing all that I saw there, the Park beckons for more exploration. No doubt we will be back to tackle again this special place.


At 11:25 AM, Blogger gagknee said...

Wow. Simply amazing.

At 10:55 PM, Blogger Lnotes said...

I don't know what is more awesome - the spectacular photos or the mere fact that you guys did it! I am in awe of you both. I would have been freaking out up there!


Post a Comment

<< Home