Memories of Katahdin ’97

July 29, 1997

Up at 4:15 A.M.,
beating the
5:00 A.M. alarm,
out by 5:00
and on the road
to Baxter State Park.

A morning dove
rises from the road
into our outer mirror–
(cracked, now)
bounces off,
and lies still
by the roadside
as we continue on,
saddened but helpless
to change
a second of disaster
for this creature
of God.

Arriving at the
Baxter entrance gate–
20 cars ahead,
and 25 behind
a half-hour later,
when the gate
is opened
at 6:00 A.M.

Dust, dust, dust!
As we drive,
eight miles
on unpaved road
to Roaring Brook
the beginning point
for a long, long day.

6:40 A.M. as we sign in,
and the ranger says
they’ve closed off
the front gate
to any more
potential hikers–
a full house
on Katahdin

On the trail
to Chimney Pond–
Daniel with
the heavy pack,
“how much further?”
Me with the light one,
plus canteen and camera,
enjoying the trail
anticipating eagerly
what lies ahead,
full of joy.

Other hikers pass,
we pass them back,
back and forth,
until we arrive
at Chimney Pond,
and the magnificent
Katahdin rock face
rising up from it,
snowbanks (in late July)
and all.

A rest,
a canteen refill,
and off we go
onto Cathedral Trail
(earlier I told
another hiker,
“it’s no big deal,”
remembering–I thought–
the experience
with Jane
of 20 years ago).

(with the light pack)
enjoying himself greatly
as we climb over,
around and on top of
Cathedral’s big boulders,
down below.

Then, stopping
every minute,
to catch our breath
and grab some energy
from somewhere
to continue
the increasingly harder
and harder
towards the
far-away top.

Legs aching
with every step;
sweating profusely
in the summertime heat
and direct sun;
gasping for breath
after 4-5 steps;
going off the trail,
and doubling back;
being passed by others–
boy scouts,
a barefoot hiker
with his
three companions,
a young teenager
who has left
father and brother
and catching up again
with the scouts
as they take
long rests
long periods
of exertion–
it’s good
and strengthening
to climb
with others.

Over to the right
is the top of
Saddle Trail,
and the ridge
above it,
five years earlier,
Wayne, Wendell, Dan W.
and I
were almost hit
by lightning
while (ignorantly)
standing tall
next to
the biggest
we could find
as a thunderstorm
passed us by,
and over.

the top,
the ridge!
And over, easily,
to Baxter Peak.

To rest,
to eat,
for the formal picture
by the
top-of-the-mountain sign,
taken by
a just-met

(On a climb
like this one,
we’re all
brothers and sisters
in effort and will,
for one day
joined together
in a common cause.)

Little chipmunks
over the rocks,
looking for sustenance
dropped by
lunching climbers–
what a place to live!

Off we go,
across the boulders,
legs renewed
(for now),
so much easier
going across
and not up–
arriving at the
beginning point
of the Knife’s Edge.

Daniel leads on,
a fearless trooper,
like an
experienced climber,
from one side
to the other,
with nary a slip,
even when
the trail
is one foot wide,
with rockface
on the right
and sharp drop-off
to the left
(“you need to lean
to the right,”
Daniel correctly says)
or when
the uplifting rock
juts up,
two feet wide,
and drops on either side,
or climbing down,
and climbing up,
the final,
steepest climbs
on “the Edge,”
as we arrive,
at Pamola Peak,
tired, but
prepared and glad
to be heading down–
3.2 miles back
to Roaring Brook.

The Climb Down!

Short of water,
almost out,
certainly dehydrated,
partially at least.

Hitting knees
against protuding rocks,
myself twice,
Daniel once
(that I know of),
battle scars
of the
Katahdin experience.

Falling forward–
landing on
hands and knees,
and getting up
and moving on
(when will it end!)

legs like rubber,
sore and aching,
(I see beautiful
mountain flowers
of yellow and purple–
I pass them by
and mention them not
to loving son)–
When will this ordeal end?

Waiting halfway
(or was it less?)
for barefoot hiker
and three companions
we’ve seen before
and hear coming
behind us–
maybe they have some water!

As they emerge
through the trees
and we ask,
the mid-20s-year-older
“We’ve been dry
since Baxter Peak,”
with a look of pain
as he brings
the bad news.

Nothing to do
but continue downwards!
following behind,
and then ahead
of the four companions,
and then four others
from the
boy scout group.

Arriving at
a dried-up,
perpendicular to
the trail.
We look “upstream”
and see a pool of

We drink up,
and 1/4 fill
the canteen,
all that we can
get in.

the life-giving fluid
over his face
as the party of eight
arrive to join us
and join in
on the
of life’s necessity,
today’s miracle.

It can’t be much longer!
as we start in,

My right knee
hurts, not aches,
an old basketball injury,
flaring up
after 9 miles
and 9 hours
of trauma.

Daniel continues
talking to himself,
complaining about
what can’t be affected,
muttering about
that has
lengthened the trail
to punish us
(for what?).

The roaring
of Roaring Brook
grows louder
as we maneuver
past, over, around
boulders, rocks, trees and roots
over and over and over again.

Louder and louder until,
the stream is in view!
and with it a sign:
.1 mile to the end!

We fill our
drink fully,
and walk the
remaining tenth–
well (considering all),
and ready to begin
the journey home
to Brooklyn
and our normal life.