On May 30, 2015, we hiked Mount Katahdin.
Nicholas had been stalking trail reports to find out the opening of the Knife Edge trail. For all of May it was closed due to snow. That was the whole point of hiking Katahdin for us. It was the Knife Edge we sought. Nicholas was persistent and had talked to rangers who had told him it’d be open on Saturday, May 30th.
We left on a Friday after work, hoping to make it to Baxter to camp for the night. But Massachusetts’ traffic had other plans for us. No, we did not make it to Baxter in time, leaving us with one option, Walmart. We located a Walmart (the only one was an hour away from Baxter) to get shuteye in the car. The worst. All the other campgrounds were closed, but there was always trusty, trashy Walmart. Nicholas reassured me that we could camp at Walmart because they have agreed, countrywide, to let RV-ers, and van vagabonds alike, sleep in their lots. About 20 minutes into our uncomfortable slumber, we see a light flashing through our windows and hear a tapping on the glass. We roll down the window to a police officer shining a light into the car.
The exchange between the officer and Nicholas was pleasant. Nicholas explained how we wanted to camp at Baxter but it got too late. The officer understood, but told us that there was another parking lot closer to the park that we could stay at, and he’d let the other units know he approved it. We thanked him and drove another 40 minutes to an Ace Hardware store and slept.
At six a.m. we organized our gear into our packs. That’s when I realized something was missing, my boots! I experienced a flashback remembering how I had put them down on the dining room table. Damn it. We had driven seven hours to the middle-of-nowhere Maine and I had no boots, just water shoes.
We pushed on as I accepted that I was going to climb Katahdin in water shoes. We stopped at the general store to pick up trail snacks when I wandered to the back and found a whole wall of shoes! I bought sneakers and felt ready to climb.
We entered the park, greeted by a ranger who informed us the Knife Edge trail opened today; he also warned us there were snow patches and we might want to stay clear. We were hungry for the Edge; snow wasn’t going to deter us.
We hiked up the Helon Taylor trail for 3.2 miles before coming to the summit of Pamola Peak, 4,902′, which was also the start of the Knife Edge trail. At this peak we started to notice the wind, as it almost ripped Nicholas’s beanie off his head! In the roaring gusts we pushed on, up, up, up the exposed ridge to Chimney Peak – deemed the most challenging section of the Knife Edge. Although this trail is only a 1.1-mile stretch, it is challenging. The terrain was equivalent to doing endless hurdles made of sharp granite. At some points the width of the trail was a mere three feet wide, with daunting drop offs on both sides. To add to the intensity of this hiking experience, there was the wind.
The wind seems harmless most of the time, an invisible force that often offers relief on a hot day, but there’s another side to the wind, and it’s a scary. The gusts were walloping, invisible hands, pushing us off balance. There’s no scarier place to feel off balance than on a three-foot-wide path with nowhere to go but down serrated, granite, death slopes. I remember the wind rumbling and then blasting me as I was hurdling over a rock. My body shaking under its force. Wow, I thought, that was terrifying. I then went as fast as I could because I was scared more blasts would pummel me in precarious positions. Nicholas and I made our way across the ridge into a large cloud, this was when the wisps cleared that we saw the famous Katahdin summit sign. I had frequently seen pictures of AT thru-hikers posing on top, trekking poles extended out in victorious bliss. And although our summit was not a fraction as cool as those thru-hikers, we were proud of our ascent and snapped a picture. Hello, 5,267 feet!
This is where I’m supposed to tell you we went back across the Knife Edge trail and down Helon Taylor to our car, but this is not the case. The wind was frightening, and we wanted to avoid it at all costs. We decided to go down the AT’s Hunt Trail, a 5.2-mile descent. The catch, though, was having to hitch back to our car, which was 40 minutes on the other side of the park. Luckily, two fellow hikers graciously gave us a ride.
We stayed the night at Baxter, which proved to be a very soggy ending to our trip. Torrential downpours led a river straight through our REI Half Dome tent. I pleaded with Nicholas to move the tent because I was lying in a gully of water, but he was like a gleaming white whale, beached and unable to move. He responded with grunts, so I slept on rain soaked bedding for the night.