Have you ever thought about taking up hiking as a way to see more of nature, learn what your physical and mental limitations are, or even just to experience the emotions a wooded trail can bring?
Recently, four of us made our way to Baxter State Park to hike the Hunt Trail, also known as the last, or first leg, of the 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail, depending if you’re north or south bound. I had a parking pass and wanted to use it, so I invited three friends along for the adventure. I knew the mountain had changed me, but little did I know how the challenge was going to affect my friends.
Now, if you’ve followed my journals over the past year, you know that I attempted Katahdin last August and had to turn around due to the weather conditions. Then, two weeks later I made it to the summit, but under dark cloud cover and periods of rain. I vowed to go back and hoped to see the view.
Well, I think the weather Gods were looking out for me this time, because the views from treeline to the Tableland were spectacular, and we even got a nice view from Baxter Peak of Knife Edge and the valley below with Chimney Pond in the center.
The day started out cloudy with a bit of fog as we made our way from Millinocket to the park about 6:30 that morning, but by the time we got to Katahdin Stream Campground the fog and clouds were lifting and provided us with a sneak peak of the great mountain beyond the trees.
As quickly as it appeared, the clouds came back over and blocked it from our view. No matter, because we were headed into the tree-covered trail for the next 90 minutes before reaching treeline and wouldn’t see anything anyway.
We all agreed that we would pound out the first couple miles so we could get the easiest part of the trail out of the way before the heat of the day began to settle in. It was great pacing ourselves very quickly through the trees, hearing the squirrels and chipmunks scatter as they attempted to hide from us.
A quick stop at Katahdin Stream Falls to snap a photo and dunk our bandanas in the chilling water and we were off again. It was a fantastic morning to log some miles along the wooded trail, up the granite steps and deeper into the historic woods of Baxter State Park.
After all, we were following the same path of pioneers such as Henry David Thoreau, Myron Avery and Percival Baxter, just to name a few; along with thousands of hikers who have completed the Appalachian Trail over the years, including my friend, Bill Irwin and his seeing eye dog, Orient.
Reaching the treeline, I was ecstatic to see the giant boulders jutting up against the blue sky bearing the 3×5 white markers of the AT, but as I looked back at Sheila, Carrie and Jennie-Mae, their expressions were priceless. Carrie stated that hers was an expression of amazement and fear.
We entered into the boulder field and began our real climb up the side of the mountain. Iron handholds were drilled into a few high ledges, while maintenance crews strategically placed smaller slabs of granite as steps for other sections.
It was through this mile-plus section that my friends found their fear of heights and falling to come to the front of their minds and moved through it. It was not easy, sometimes crawling on all fours to get to a safe place in the middle of the boulder, but they all dug deep and made their way.
Making it to the Tableland, everyone was ecstatic to see the vast landscape that surrounded us. It was heavenly to see the various plant life that thrives up there on such an extreme plateau. We could see in the far distance the figures standing around the famous sign on Baxter Peak. Carrie took the lead and was off.
With the hardest section behind us, for now, we focused on the exhilarating feeling of accomplishment. With the sun to our backs, we smiled and walked on by Thoreau Spring and rock-hopped to the bottom of the slight incline to get to the peak. Up and over the last few boulders and we all made it.
What a feeling! It’s absolutely exhilarating to stand at the Katahdin sign and soak in how far you’ve come either on this hike or to make this hike a reality, or maybe you’re battling something different in life and the hike helped change your attitude. The mountains certainly do change your perspective.
We enjoyed our lunch at the top, sang happy birthday to Frog Caller, a woman hiking for her 75th birthday. We joined others in the singing of Amazing Grace after I had my photo taken while wearing my Blind Courage shirt in honor of my friend Bill, and we took our customary summit marker foot photo, after which Jennie-Mae gave the marker a big smooch of gratitude.
It was another amazing day for mind, body and spirit atop Katahdin.
Later, Carrie was named The Conqueror for overcoming some extreme fear she worked through, and Sheila, always seeking more mountains to climb was named Summit Seeker. Jennie-Mae already had her trail name of PB Love, while I’m still toying with mine, but for now it’s Whispering Warrior.
I urge you to get out and enjoy a bit of nature therapy. You don’t have to hike the tallest mountains or cover 12 miles in a day to feel the benefit. Find a nice tree to sit under and bask in the cooling shade it offers, breathe in the relaxing aroma of the leaves, bark or the grass beneath your feet. Whatever you decide to do, enjoy the moment, because time sure does have a way of moving too quickly. Here’s to your health!