Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Beginning of Hike


Mount Katahdin: The Northern Terminus of The           Appalachian Trail (Part I)

The Appalachian Trail is approximately  2,100 miles long along the eastern portion of the United States.  Depending on which direction one starts, the trail either begins or ends in the state of Maine. At an elevation of 5,268 feet above sea level, Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin is the highest mountain point in Maine.  The climb to the top is 4,200 feet in 5 miles with most of the trail above the treeline. The mountain is one of the main attractions in Baxter State Park, a private/public park in Maine.

                     Elevation Map of the Trail

Mount Katahdin is a massive gray granite monolith, formed from a central Maine forest surrounded by many lakes. The native Americans called the mountain "Kette-Adene," the greatest mountain, and worshiped it.  Thousands of years ago the continental glacier planed off the top of the mountain leaving the flat table lands rising to the south, now called the "table lands." The vegetation on top of the mountain was formed by glaciers, and above the 3,000 feet elevation the vegetation is like that in the Canadian tundra, in Greenland, and northern Labrador.

In 1846 Henry David Thoreau ascended to the table lands where he found deep thick clouds and other objects that obscured his view. The weather on top can change at a moment's notice, and high winds may reach 50 miles per hour, therefore, hiking to the top is discouraged.  The 5.2 mile trip to the top takes approximately 5 hours, and the return trip will take about the same time. Every hiker must register at the beginning of the hike and sign in at the finish.  Everyone must carry a flash light in case they return after dark.  

My Adventure

My son-in-law and I started our adventure in late August with a flight to Bangor, Maine by way of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  We rented a car and drove 72 miles to Millinocket, Maine,  followed another 8 miles to Baxter State Park and again an 8 mile drive to Katahdin Stream Camp Grounds.   We rented a lean-to, a four person three-sided building, for two nights.

The first day was rainy with 50 plus mile an hour winds on top of Katahdin Mountain.  We opted to postpone our hike to the top and instead hiked the Appalachian Trail around the camp.   The second day the rain stopped, and the winds dropped to 40 miles per hour.  The weather on top of the mountain is very unpredictable, and one can never be sure if the mountain can be climbed on any particular day.  I had talked with many people who had been very disappointed that they could not complete their hike as planned due to extreme winds, poor visibility and slippery conditions.  The day we hiked the mountain it was 75 degrees, and sunny with winds around 30 to 40 MPH.   The story of our hike will be divided into three blogs. The first blog will cover the hike from the camp site to the treeline.   The second from the treeline to the Table Lands, and the third from the table lands to the top of the mountain.

Katahdin Stream Campsite to the Treeline

The Appalachian Trail led past our lean-to, and we thought that was a sign this trip was going to be an easy hike.  We said our prayers and asked God to help us with a safe and secure hike.  The path was sandy and several feet wide. After signing the journal at the trail head we turned our head lamps on and began the hike at 6:30 AM.  In order to hike this trail one must sign in and carry a head lamp.  The park rangers advised us that the round trip hike may take from 10 to 12 hours.   We planned to finish the hike around 4 PM; followed by a drive back to Bangor and the flight back home. Often times plans do not go as expected.

The trail was covered with several inches of fine sand.   Great forces of wind, flowing water, freezing and thawing, and rocks sliding over one another cause erosion to occur and sand to be formed.  Walking was easy and good to the knees, but that did not last long. The sandy trail gave rise to cobble-sized rock and then to small boulders. The trees were small in diameter and consisted mostly of aspen and birch. It appeared that most of this area had been logged probably before the land was donated as a park.  We saw evidence of this driving from Ban
gor to Millinocket when we passed a huge lumber mill the size of a small city.  The hike was approximately 5.2 miles to the top and another 5.2 miles in return.  There are less steep trails to the top on the back side of Katahdin Mountain, but they are not part of the Appalachian Trail.   The trail climbs 5,000 feet in elevation in 5 miles.  The tree line ends after traveling 1 mile, and at this point there are no water and bathroom facilities.  The park advises all hikers to carry 3 to 4 liters of water. There is a large area near the top called the Table Lands that is an environmentally protected area, and cannot walk out of the 1 foot wide trail range.

The following video documents the beginning of our hike.  It is almost dark, and you can hear the Katahdin Stream as it flows beside the trail for the first mile of the hike.


Psalm 17:5 (NIV) - My steps have held to your paths;
                           my feet have not stumbled.