“Mount Katahdin is one of the most notable landmarks in the Northeast. As the centerpiece of Baxter State Park, the tallest mountain in Maine (reaching 5,269 feet in elevation), and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail (A.T.), Mt. Katahdin attracts thousands of eager hikers each year. However, those who choose to summit Mt. Katahdin must use caution: it’s widely known as one of the most difficult peaks along the A.T.
Mt. Katahdin’s deeply rich history begins with the Penobscot Indians. The Penobscots, noting the incredible altitude of the mountain, named it “Katahdin,” which translates to “The Greatest Mountain.” For the Penobscot Tribe, Katahdin represents the beginning of life, a place of birth and spiritual enlightenment. While the Penobscots made their living in the surrounding regions of the mountain, often hunting and fishing in harmony with the seasons, they cautioned against climbing to the summit. They believed that an evil spirit called Pamola resided there.” Read more about the history of Mount Katahdin here.
And now for my story.....
Many years ago, a large group of us planned a trip to Baxter State Park in the late summer. Staying at the group campsite in the vicinity of Kidney Pond would allow everyone to choose their own adventure within the park, some of us aiming at climbing Katahdin.
My friend Brenda and I decided to drive up together, which was an adventure in and of itself. We met up with our friends Anne and Kevin en route to grab some lunch, then continued on our way, following them up the Turnpike until the directions I printed out instructed otherwise. This was prior to smartphones and when I had grabbed the directions via Google maps, I failed to plot the quickest route. So, rather than continue to follow our friends, we got off an exit much earlier than we should have. We would still get there (eventually), but it would take us an hour longer. As we neared the park, we somehow missed the entrance and drove further down a logging road. Fortunately, we spotted a car coming in the other direction, so Brenda (who was driving at the time), stopped my car in the middle of the road and flagged them down. While she was speaking with them, I realized a logging truck was barreling down the road behind us, so I had to jump out of the passenger door and scramble around the car so I could get it out of the way in time. If you’ve ever witnessed a logging truck on backroads, you understand the sketchiness of the situation!
With a solid grasp of where we went wrong, we were soon back on our way in the right direction and arrived at camp. Since we were going to be there for a few nights, we opted to use Brenda’s tent, also known as the “tent mahal” due to its enormous size. Once up and moved in, we began helping other friends set up their tents as they arrived. We then spent the evening catching up with one another in the great outdoors. With no ambient light around for miles, we could see the Milky Way with the naked eye, which was absolutely amazing. We were also treated to viewing the sky with a telescope thanks to our astronomer friend, Todd.
After a fun night, we awoke to a beautiful, but humid, August morning. Knowing I was to hike Katahdin the following day, I opted to explore the Kidney Pond area with a smaller group. Cari, Jay, Todd and I packed up and set out on foot from Foster Field, stopping to take in the view of Mount O.J.I. from the bridge over Nesowadnehunk Stream before arriving at a hiking trail. We ambled through the woods enjoying the sights and sounds then ended our hike at Kidney Pond. From there we caught a stunning view of Mount Katahdin, its mighty form reflecting in the stillness of the pond as clouds swept by the peaks. We stood in silence for a little while, taking in the magnificent scenery. I could see why the Penobscot tribe both revered and feared this magnificent mountain.
With that stunning view in our memory, we headed back to camp for some relaxation and good conversation, as well as some moose hunting antics at dusk. Alas, no moose were seen, much to Anne’s disappointment. Checking the weather later that evening, we discovered that a storm with predicted heavy rain was to join us in the middle of the night. Knowing that and that the “tent mahal” was not entirely waterproof, Brenda and I set about draping the structure with tarps loaned from friends in the hopes that we would not get drenched when trying to sleep. Alas, our efforts were thwarted as I was awoken to what sounded like thousands of tiny pebbles pelting our tent. Nope, that was the rain. I sat up and scanned around with my flashlight, seeing where the water was starting to collect in various puddles on the floor of the tent. Brenda and I shifted our mats and sleeping bags and managed to stay dry despite the storm wreaking havoc above.
With little sleep and the rain still coming down hard at 6am the next morning, I already knew that I would not be hiking Katahdin that day. With that in mind, I snuggled back down into my sleeping bag and tried to sleep a little longer. A couple hours later, it seemed the rain was letting up and should stop altogether by late morning. It didn’t matter though - above tree line could be especially dangerous if too wet and it would be too late to start the hike at this point. A plan B was quickly agreed upon and we packed up and set out to hike the Owl instead. A shorter peak and easier to bug out if the weather turned poor again was the safer option. We started up the Appalachian Trail then veered off to the left and descended up one of the most steep and rugged trails I’ve ever hiked. The day was still worth it as we were rewarded with views of Katahdin directly across from us as well as 360-degree views of Baxter State Park. Storm clouds whizzed by us the entire day, making for a very dramatic sky and confirming that we had made the right decision. Even though no more rain fell on us, it was easy to see that it could have changed at any moment.
Muddy and sweaty from our hiking adventure, some of us stopped at Kidney Pond to clean ourselves off in the cool water. When we were knee deep, I noticed these strange dark things swimming toward us. Never seeing these before, I had no idea that they were leeches and didn’t think anything of it. Only one of them was quick enough to hitch a ride, and boy did it make my friend Lia scream when she found it on her while drying off! The thought still makes me shudder.
Years later the memories from this trip still make me smile. Good friends, being in one of the more remote parts of Maine, and hiking in an absolutely beautiful spot make me feel grateful for the experience. It also makes me realize that I’ve let too many years slip by without going back to knock hiking Katahdin off my bucket list! If you like this artwork, you can purchase prints in my online shop.
- Dedicated to Anne, Brenda, Cari, Jodie, Kirsten, Lia, Sarah, Kevin, Michael, Ron, and Todd