Friday, August 12, 2016

24 hours in Baxter

The signs are there if you pay attention.


In college, trips to Maine meant trips to LL Bean.  Then it was trips to Ogunquit.  Acadia was next.  Now it is 5hr drives to Baxter.  And yes, this time it was a spur of the moment trip up.  But it was so worth it.  I would not have forgiven myself if I stayed home.  The weather was perfect, there was a space in the Roaring Brook bunkhouse.  So I packed up and got ready to make the drive up.  I even filled my water bladder so I would not have do it in the morning.  Maybe the third time would be a charm.  I knew some friends who were going up too, would I see them?  So after realizing that getting gas at the Bangor Mall exit was a bad idea (hint, take 95 South for one mile and turn around), I drove the loneliest 50 miles ever.  I have no idea whether a Sasquatch would jump out at me or run me off the road.  The speed limit is 75, so anything is possible.


And yes, they remembered me.  Kinda nice.  But they are all nice up in Maine.  Must be in the water or something.  And another nice surprise, I had the bunkhouse to myself.  Nice, but I do not know how to use the gas lamps.  That’s OK, I have headlamps.  The wind made it kinda creepy at night.  It was hard to sleep as it was.  There is a reason that air mattress is 8 bucks at Walmart.  And it is too  big for the space.  It worked OK.   I got some sleep listening to the Catholic radio station.  My antenna broke, so choices were limited.  I was hoping for a French lesson.  And the weather band helped me learn more than I ever wanted to know about the weather trends in the area.

So I mosey myself to get ready.  I was up at 4:40, but I took forever to get ready.  And I prehydrated, that might have slowed me down. So, I get on the trail and join the Chimney Pond Trail Conga Line.  No lie, 20 of us started together.  There are several options from Roaring Brook.  Helon Taylor for Pamola and Knife Edge to Baxter (Katadhin), Saddle and Cathedral from Chimney Pond to Katahdin.  I took a few bypasses to Hamlin Ridge, skipping Chimney Pond.  I almost got here last month before my toes spasmed.  I used my Oboz this time, so my feet were happy.  Took some great pics at the view and noticed the swampy area was completely dry.  I got my feet wet there last month.  And people, for the love of God, pack out your damn TP.  Finally made it to the bypass, complete with a beaver dam.  Dam beavers. It was messy, but doable.  Then blueberries..  Oh the blueberries.  Easily spent a good half hour eating blueberries.  On to Hamlin Ridge, a few steep pitches and you are above treeline.  And the fun begins.  

Those fluffy clouds tried to beat me up.


Damn beavers.

Going up to Hamlin is much like Lafayette.  You think you are there and NOPE.  You see the top, but it seems to get further every step.  It’s one of those rocky trails with a scramble or two for fun.  I budgeted 2 hours for the 1.1 mile to the summit.  I did not take into account the wind.  MAN OH MAN, the wind.  I met a friend who turned around because of the gusts.  Some reached 60 or more IMHO.  I thought it would slow down, and it did for a while.  But they came back with a vengeance, and sometimes no warning.  You have 5 minutes of nothing and the BLAM, you are blown into a boulder.  Step, step, step, hunker down.  Step, hide behind cairn.  I was terrified a few times, but did not want to go back down that ridge.  I wanted to be on top and go back to safety.  I had met a nice older couple from VT on the way up.  We kept a pretty similar pace, but they were smart and took more breaks.  I kept thinking that if they keep going, I should too.  So I did.  Hiking in Baxter is hard enough, but the wind made me slower and more careful.  It took forever, and the time kept flying, as did stuff off my pack.  But I finally made it.  Over 3 hours, but I made it.  I got on my knees, said a Hail Mary and Our Father, and took it all in.


My kingdom.  Just had to say that.

I was so happy not to do Knife Edge.
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?

Are we there yet now?
Soapbox:  I was so happy I was not on the Knife Edge.  I mean, I have no desire to do it and after this, I feel like I had the life changing experience people say I am missing.  It’s a choice.  If you want to, do it.  If not, don’t.  But don't tell people they are missing something.  They have their reasons.  Show some respect.  Would you tell someone with a peanut allergy that they are missing out on peanut butter?  Let people hike their own hike.  Some people have a more adventurous manner, some don’t and just want a smaller, just as liberating challenge.  We are all different.  I don’t put down people who do Everest or climb rockfaces.  Why put down someone who does not want to do that?

It was better that I dreamed of.  And yes, still windy.  It seemed more windy.  Right in my face too. And I had to ask, "is this all you got?" Apparently not  The couple from VT made it up too.  We took pictures of it all.  There was another group, but I think they might have turned around.  Lots of people were going down the ridge. We made our way down to the Saddle on the Tablelands.  AH, the tablelands.  I remember them being a nice flat and level dirt path to a steep pitch and Katahdin.  I do not remember boulder fields.  I hate boulder fields.  I made it, but still, the hate lives on.  Now the top of the Saddle is a slide.  I hate slides, but I was not going back down that ridge.  The Saddle is protected from the wind, but it is steep, gravelly, and loose scree.  The first half mile was trying not to slide to my death and the navigating some large rocks.  FUN, not.  A mile in Baxter is honestly 3 miles in the real world. I was not the only person struggling, many were.  It is steep and unstable in some parts.  Of course, there were people on a mission to get past the slow people.  I lost track of the VT couple which  was sad.  I always meet great people hiking, and I was only halfway down the Saddle.  

Time for a new sign.
One more gust and this would have been x-rated.

Big K.

WOAH, that is a long way down.
As I prayed (yes, I did a lot of praying going down the Saddle.  Some of those prayers may have been laced with ungodly words) and picked my way down, I stopped to let another hiker through and to my absolute shock, it was Roberta.  OMG, no way.  I knew she going to be at Chimney Pond and I planned to leave a note for her.  This was just amazing, we could never have planned this.  We made plans to have dinner at Chimney Pond.  I continued down but that last half mile is rocky and still steep.  Sigh.  Met the cute ranger for Chimney Pond on the way down too.  I finally made it.  I figured I would use the privy before trying to find Roberta, who I was sure was asleep by then.  First was occupied so went to the other one.  It was a double stall.  Peed like a racehorse on diuretics.  There is no privacy above treeline.  You either hold it or hope you have enough time to take a quick pee and that the wind does not blow it back on you.  Of course, I had to take pictures of the signs in the privy.  And I kept thinking that the person next to me must think I am a nut.  So I leave, as does the person next to me.  And yes, it was Roberta.  Seriously, you cannot make this stuff up.  Yup.  I am sure we ruined someone’s quiet wilderness experience, but hey, we were enjoying life.  

Photo by Roberta.  We both had no clue what was about to happen.

Photo by Roberta.   I gotta get of those tripod thingies.
So we had a nice dinner by the unreal Chimney Pond.  I love Carter Notch, but this was just otherworldly.  It was as if we were no longer in Maine.  She did Knife Edge.  Yes, with those winds.  If there is anyone I believed could do it, it is Roberta.  Nice calm yoga teacher by day, badass hiker outside the studio.  We had a grand time, enjoying every moment and the strange coincidence that we met where we did.  Yeah, I was not going to get back until dark, but really would you pass up dinner with a friend in such a beautiful place?  We’ve been friends on FB for a while and how funny that we meet on a trail in the middle of Maine Wilderness.  It was like we were too schoolgirls who met after 30 years.  And thanks to her, I realized bunchberries can give you a nice boost and that I need to hydrate more.  The bunkhouse was full, but I had my winter bivy and was tempted to stay the night, but I knew I had to go.  So we said goodbye and the people at the campground were probably rejoicing that one of those loud ladies left.

Roberta and I enjoying life thanks to her photo skills.
Going back, I realized how dry things have gotten.  I believe this is the third worst drought, at least in MA.  There were bridges over dry stream beds.  There was not much mud the whole trip.  It was getting dark and I heard all sorts of noises.  The only animal I saw was a deer in the trail.  She moved aside so I could pass.  Things were beginning to hurt.  I took some Vit. I at Chimney Pond, but my feet did not care.  And I had to pee again.  So I make my way back, pee, and get ready to go home.  It was 8:30 and there were still some cars in the day use lot.  Why I took my phone off airplane mode, I do not know why, but I did find that there are a few places on the Tote Road what get text service.  Even for 3G.  Oh the Tote Road at night.  My poor car must hate me when I say we are going to Baxter.  Oh well, she is a tank.  

I decided just to drive home because I wanted to save some money and I had things to do.  I didn’t do them because my body took a whole two days to punish me.  The only tough part is the 75mph zone with the speeding trucks and shadows that look like moose.  I was on a hiker high, so no drowsiness.  I did take a nap, but I was fine for the drive.  Except the peeing.  I do not take hydration lightly.  Everything was just fine until I hit the MA line.  The bathrooms are closed at night and no portable toilets.  And ONE lane to 495.  Oh and no one told the speeding trucks.  It was interesting, but I watched from the rest area trying to find a place to pee that is acceptable to civilization.  No such luck.  So I get into the traffic and speed home.  Let me tell you, commuters can fly at 5am.  Luckily I missed the usual tie ups and made it home just after 6, as my neighbors were going to work.  Breakfast and sleep.

It is going to take more than 40 minutes to get home.
Yes, that guy has a tent on top of his van.
When the signs are there, sometimes you just have to take the chance and do something awesome.  I did.  This was attempt 3 (first was no go with weather and leftover flu).  It was the charm in so many ways.  There were just so many wonderful things that happened on this trip, I lost count.  I could not have asked for a better trip.  If you listen and are open, life tells you have to do things that will make you happy.  It may be risky.  You may be living on ramen for weeks, but you have to take those chances.  They do not come around too often.

Friday, August 5, 2016

What doesn't Killington you

I like being flexible.  If I wake up and want to hike, I can.  Wake up early enough, I can go to Maine.  Take more time, VT or NH.  I can even do local hills and mountains.  I can change my mind on 128.  After a nasty experience with heat exhaustion and whatever knocked the crap out of me, I needed to hike.  I think I will have to boycott hiking in July.  It never ends well.  Was planning on Saddleback and Horn, but trouble sleeping and apparently snoring, I was too tired.  So why not shave an hour off and do Killington?  So that is what I did.  I even played tourist for a bit.  Great little trip for sure.

This is not my first rodeo with Killington.  I tried last year.  But didn't start until noon and it was 90.  This time i started at 1:30 and it was 80ish.  Big different, plus it got cooler at elevation.  That is key.  I also tried another trail which i liked better than the other one I used across from the Long Trail Inn.  OK, liked the bottom half, the steeper part not so much and it was humid to boot.  Took forever.  There were no landmarks so it seemed like it took forever because I had no gauge for time or distance.  And all the damn blazes.  So many blazes.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice trail, it just went on forever.  I mean, it really did.  And unlike AMC maps, there was no real accurate rendering of the trail so I had no idea how far I had not gone.  Sigh.

I did finally make it to the AT/LT.  No idea of which direction was which.  I met a sectioner who was headed to Gorham.  We had a nice chat.  I could hear the ruckus from the Cooper Lodge area. There was a group of kids, some thrus, some section hikers.  I sat in the Lodge for a bit, had some food.  I decided to leave my pack there.  It was only #15 at the lot, but I was tired.  So off I went to the summit.  Met a few more thrus and section hikers.  Some with packs, some like me, slackpacking.  And OH MAN, is that a steep ass climb.   Like WOW.  I looked up and got discouraged for a bit.  Few steps, rest.  Few more steps, rest.  Occasionally I looked behind and got the real inspiration I needed.  Just amazing.  But I kept going and going and going. And then…

It was more wonderful than I thought.  It was cloudy, but just amazing.  Better than Abraham, even if was not 360.  I could hear the last gondolas go down.  I missed the restaurant.  No flush toilet, cold running water, but that di not matter, I made it.  I spent some time taking selfies and just taking in the view.  I honestly did not want to leave.  But I knew I had to.  There were chipmunks around the lodge and I did not hang my food.  So, begrudgingly, I left.  Getting back down was not as bad as I thought it would be.  I chatted with the ladies of the tent platforms.  What a great group of women.  I even saw my first blue fuel canister.  They are like the unicorns of the fuel canister world and only work on one stove.  

Or ski trail maybe. Might go to resort.

I went back to the lodge, got my bag, and found a spot in the sun.  It was inhabited by men, um stinky men.  And it needed some love, a lot of love.  The women had it right an I would have done the same.  Found a spot and enjoyed my lunch for dinner.  Great antipasto of grilled veggies and cheese.  And I had a signal, so I texted a friend about plans for next week.  I tidied up, chatted some more with the ladies and gave away my espresso beans.  The trip down only took two hours and I was wall within the 5-6 hour time from the map suggested.  Not that I was keeping track, but people keep posting their fast times, so I am going to proudly post my slow ass times.  HA.  
And I made it down in two hours.  Thanks to a little James Taylor and Jamiroquai (yes, it is in the Google dictionary).  Some others too.  It really helped me keep my pace as I was beating the dark, which I did.    Yeah, I came off that trail like a boss.  There may have been some dancing.  I wanted to go home through MA and started that way.  I ended up in Rutland, which I am calling the home fo cheap gas.  Like 30 to 40 cents cheaper than just 3 miles away.  And Stewart’s.  Yes, Cappucinno milk, smoothies, Long Trail Ale.  Love that place.  However Google had other plans and took me right back to 4E and NH.  Oh well.  At least I knew where another bathroom was.

Yup 1.98 in VT.

I wanted to go back to ME today.  If for nothing else than to scout gas stations.  But part of that flexibility is deciding not to do anything after waking up.  I will go back, maybe Sunday.  There are more peaks there and the ride is WAY longer.  Twice in some cases.  But I will also be there next week for a few days.  I have time.  On my melt down on Tecumseh, I gave myself until March, and that is very doable.  I really want to do this.  I need this.  For me.  NOW if this heat would just go away… NOW.