With day one successfully written in the history book of my epic memories, I was softly jarred awake by my alarm.
It was 4am: game time once again.
One thing seemed to be missing though: for days leading up to my Baxter State Park road trip the weather waxed and waned, clear skies with low wind to heavy precip with plenty of gusting winds.
Which would it be?
I sat motionless, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the fact I was awake once again, and in the darkness of a backwoods Maine morning – “hmmph, well that’s rad”, I thought as I reached for the french press to start my morning rituals; luckily for myself, it appeared that the weather folks were wrong once again (for now!) – the rain had held of so far and the cry of 10,000 peepers on the lake battled with the ominous sounding loon, both making their early morning presence known.
Still surprised by the rain not beating down on the fly of my tent as I thought it would be, the stove got fired up and coffee would soon be further brightening my day!
The previous evening had me on a mission to find drinking water – turns out I was not alone in this search: 3 other campers passed by, each stopping to ask about water in the park, I had unfortunately found none to tell them of. I would have been content using my MSR filter to strain out some potable lake water, but when could not get beyond the murky sludge along the shore I knew this disorganized summer camp must have something available to its patrons (..at least I hoped they would!).
Empty nalgene bottles filled my left hand and a single glass growler dangled from the other, I walked in circles trying to find a spigot to fill up at and continued to attract questioning glances from other campers (at least one fellow camper assumed I was toting around a 1/2 gallon glass jar of beer through the recreation area). Being left nearly ’empty-handed’ and refusing to not find water in this campground, I happily broke into their kitchen (okay, fair enough.. I merely walked right into the ’employee only’ area..) and stole some tap water that I hoped was not straight up pond water.
With coffee firing up on the stove and to my very pleasant surprise – a moon overhead, the camping gear swiftly began making its return back into my trunk from whence it came! I could sense the minutes ticking by as the morning grew closer and closer to 6am when the park gates were said to open for the day!
I could not believe my luck – there were indications of a purple and orange sherbet colored sunrise cast directly on the slopes of Katahdin, my lovely view as I fought the biting bugs and patiently waited for the gates to open. Other folks in line cooked breakfast on the trunk of their cars, some changed clothes, it was a regular boondocking Woodstock scene as we waited patiently for those green gates to let us go play!
Eagerly parked next to the only other car in the Abol day-lot, gear once again got jammed into my Salomon hydration vest, water flasks were filled, gaiters and Altra’s got laced up, and my watch got set to track those satellites in Trail Run mode.
Gently warming up and stretching the quads through the sleepy Abol campground, it sure seemed like a Sunday as other trekkers were already awake, packing their vacation homes into bundles of tent.
First mistake of the day came when I missed the cut-off for the actual Abol trail, but that’s okay because the 0.8 mile trek down to Abol falls was such an incredible piece of single track trail, still I had to turn back and return to the campground to catch my correct trail – which, in my defense, was basically camouflaged behind a lean-to, with signage down the trail beyond.
First ‘oh shit’ moment of the day occured about 1 1/4 miles into the Abol trail after departing the campground for the second time in the form of one super-sized thunder clap. I stopped briefly to collect a few thoughts.. the rain had not yet begun, so on I continued down the trail – I decided I would simply hike on until the rain came in.
It did not take long before there were several flashes, more booming and then came the rain drops. I pressed on into the storm. First, a father with three daughters passed by likely retreating to safety. In a matter of minutes several other trekkers had passed by, we were all going the opposite direction.
The rain intensified now into sheets blowing through the trees, the thunder remained steady which had me settled – when I became nervous I would return, defeatedly back to the trail head – for now though, I was okay.. simply exploring new trails, for the moment.
Peering up the switchbacks I could see a neon green pack cover, moving slowly despite still ascending, the hiker appeared determined. I set my short-term goal to just catching up and saying “hello!” to this other crazy trekker out in a thunderstorm on the shoulder of Katahdin.
Turns out this fellow with the green pack cover was named “Joe”.
Joe was section hiking the Appalachian Trail and trying to grow his ‘trail legs’ before he retired from a life of 9-5 jobs and adopted the trail-life full time. Today found Joe ascending up to the Thoreau Spring where our trail converges with the AT, if he felt the conditions were safe enough – he would ascend Baxter, and if not – well, he still had to reach the AT where he would descend west and cut down to Daicey Pond where his wife would be waiting for him.
His options proved limited, ascend that trail!
Offering his tarp to cover up, my new friend stopped to add a rain jacket to his layers, this would be the last time that I would see to Joe today – I proceeded out onto the rock slide where I climbed above the low-hanging rain clouds.
The thunder continued but now echoed in the far off southeastern distance! The torrent of rain drops now ceased. The mountainside was completely silent. Hand over hand, I slowly put this rock slide beneath me. I cannot say this rock slide scared me; I only remember being hyper-alert to my every movement, ensuring every footstep was meaningful and was 100% glued to the rock below – with every step I reminded myself that I was now alone up on the highest peak in Maine – on my own up here.
The images of warning signs posted up back on flat ground reminding hikers that self-rescue was a necessity began to float through my mind, all worries of my car, my bank account, my rent, everything that was not right here in front of me in this minute, on this mountain had slipped away and my mind elevated to the most “in the moment” state.
Hand over hand I climbed.
The weather continued to just float on by, right around my feet – skirting through the surrounding valleys as I reached the top of the slide and back onto flat land.
Glancing toward the west, searching for the Brothers from yesterday’s adventure – I may have shed a tear.. it may have been rain water from my soaked hair, but there is a high probability that I may have actually shed a tear – what I saw in the sky was blue!
From left to right my eyes scanned the now mostly flat horizon from 4,600ft. What an absolutely stunning landscape laid out before me – directly northeast was my path, but beyond all of that I found a certain A-frame.. this was the summit of Baxter – the very northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail!
I could not waste any more time – I ran along this martian terrain, bouncing off the tops of rocks, splashing through the mineralized red puddles; next stop the 5268′ summit that I searched for in so many of my childhood dreams.
My watch his 9am as I stood atop Baxter Peak and Katahdin, the highest location in the state of Maine. I had done it!
The rain continued to hold off as I snapped photos of the bronze-colored USGS survey marker, the distant ‘Knife Edge’ trail, and beyond the valley to Hamlin peak. Time to pack up and move on.
That’s when the loudest, ear drum shattering thunderclap I had ever experienced rang out just above my head, somewhere within the clouds which layered just feet above my head. I jumped, hair on my neck stood straight – I figured this was mother natures cue to stop dicking around on her mountain top and move along. I was lucky today.
A full on sprint began as I turned away from the summit rocks, descending toward The Saddle about a mile away – it seemed that I encountered every type of rock on earth here, the most brutal being the section of red softball-shaped rock-balls that seemed to disintegrate underfoot – I more-or-less skied through these over-sized ball bearings.
From The Saddle around mile 6.5 I motored through the next mile, gradually ascending over wet rocks, new puddles of red mud, and soon disappeared into a scrubby alpine forest where all branches had it out for any open eyes.
Minutes later, heading down the Hamlin Peak spur trail and over a 1/4 mile sea of jagged rocks – I stood at the cairn marking the high point of this landmass. It was still early enough in the morning to roam around, take in some sights and walk over toward the trails drop-off point before making my return to New Hampshire.
The high point of Katahdin where I had stood only thirty minutes earlier was now shrouded in cloud cover. My timing could not have been any better!
The rain again picked up, which was my cue to move along and keep warm. Upon returning to the col of The Saddle, I glanced back to where I had just stood – another high point in which I once stood now tucked deeply into a cloud layer. For what I was dealt, this climb could not have gone any better.
Finger joints grew stiff as I made my way back up those red softball-like rocks from earlier, searching for the cut-off and fearing with every fiber in my body that I had missed it completely – I totally did not want to ascend Katahdin once again in this weather, but at least the thunder and lightening had not yet returned!
Now my trek was completely in a cloud, vision limited to maybe 25 feet in any direction as I found the cut-off trail and took off, sloshing through every puddle. There was no time to turn the Katahdin trails into an obstacle course and hop rocks to avoid the freshly re-hydrated muddy puddles, fingers continued to grow stiff in the chilly alpine air as the rain beat down in soaking sheets.
So relieved to finally see signage! Finally, back at the Thoreau Spring junction – I looked around but found myself still shrouded in dense cloud, nothing else to do now but continue back where I had ascended earlier this morning: back down the Abol Slide!
This was even more of an upper body ordeal now that the rocks had been soaked, puddles had formed and one could even see where thousands of mini-streams had pushed aside sand particles, rushing off the cliffside in the dumping rain as I was on the other side of the mountain only minutes earlier.
It was nice to be back on familiar turf, making good time again running the switchbacks.
I snickered to myself at the sight of flat-bottomed Converse All-Stars and said a warm “good morning!” to three dudes making their way up the hillside, I wished them a very nice day and good hike!
Five hours and fifteen minutes after I had departed the day-lot, I was able to put a check mark next to my name at the trail register. I was back. I was safe. I had done it. Nearly thirty years of dreaming of this moment and I finally defied my fears to stand among on the summit rocks of Katahdin.
Super pumped that my weekend in Baxter State Park had worked out; I had all the gear that I needed to run, hike, camp, explore and be safe here in the park, but most importantly of all – I had a lovely lady and two pupper-dogs to get home to nearly 350mi away.
These runs, climbs, treks, and crazy getaways are the moments I can remind myself of everytime that I get bummed out – what an absolute joy I have turned my life into, one decision at a time, one foot step at a time. Heck – two years ago, I never could have imagined that I could feel so good to do what I truly enjoy.
Of course – thanks to Ciara for encouraging me to be a kick-ass human being, pushing the limits of what I was confined to yesterday, stepping out on that ledge to see what else I can accomplish today.
Thanks to you for following along my epic journey through this life!!
Got a question or just want to tell me how silly I was to keep climbing Katahdin in a thunderstorm? Hit me up with a comment below or follow along daily on Instagram!
Where will life take us next?
Just be sure to enjoy the ride!!
Overall stats for the day:
Recorded with COROS Pace
- 5hr 29minutes
- 5,833′ elevation gain
- Baxter Peak, 5268′
- Hamlin Peak, 4756′
Favorite Gear of the Day!
While it’s a marvel of technology to have maps on our phones, what happens in the winter when our batteries get zapped?
Paper maps to the rescue!
My go to for any trails – National Geographic maps are not only water-proof but also tear resistant for getting stuffed back into your pack and being open and folded back up for many years to come.