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CC’s Outdoor Journal; Respecting the mountain
MILLINOCKET- We have all heard the stories of the mystery of Katahdin and how many well-known authors, explorers and dreamers have heard the call of the mountain. Many people have lost their lives there and only the most prepared hikers should venture out onto its’ more than 75 miles of the most rugged terrain in our great state.
I was recently invited to join my friend Jackie Dupuis on her return trip to the mountain to close the door on a near death experience she had while swimming in Katahdin Stream just four years ago. She had been hiking with her friends Sue Lajoie, Mary Jane Dillingham and Laurieann Milligan.
Jackie’s plan called for the five of us to be on the trail soon after daybreak, but the universe had other plans for us that Monday morning. Getting on the trail a little after 7 a.m., we just missed the rain showers that came through and set out under an overcast sky. Once signed in, we set our destination for Baxter Peak via the 5.2-mile Hunt Trail (Appalachian Trail).
After making a stop at the steep slope near the stream where Jackie had suffered her life-changing emergency, it was time to move on up the trail, after all, we had set noon as our turnaround time to insure our safe return to the trailhead, just as the sign at the bottom had advised us to do.
Over the next mile we took pictures at the bridge that crosses Katahdin Stream, where some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen runs through. We got a small glimmer of a brightening sky and took a break at a small opening in the forest trail where we could see the fog resting on distant peaks.
We were hopeful that the sun would shine and we would have a view from the top of the 5,267-foot Katahdin summit at Baxter Peak.
After hiking through the forest, over some well-placed steps of stone, and around large boulders left behind by the ice age, we began to get socked in by the fog and heard distant rumbles of thunder.
As we emerged from the treeline and began to climb the steep, sometimes 90-degree walls of granite leading us toward Thoreau Spring, the Abol Trail connector, and The Gateway, it was never more evident of just how blessed Jackie had been when she suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm just a mile up the trail from Katahdin Stream Campground.
“I can’t imagine if it would have happened while we were up on these ledges,” stated Jackie, with tears welling.
“We would have never gotten you down off the mountain if it had happened up here,” stated Mary Jane, Jackie’s closest friend who had held her while Laurieann and Sue had run for help. Looking up through the trees, Mary Jane’s mind was yelling, “You can’t take her! Not here, not now!,” as they waited for help to arrive on that fateful day in 2009.
Looking back, Jackie remembered it being less than six months after surgery that she was already thinking and planning her return trip to Katahdin to finish what she started. But as time went by, the plan was pushed back until just last week, four years to the day of the incident.
With the weather eerily similar to August 26, 2009; the fog, wind and rain had closed in on us about two miles up the trail from Katahdin Stream Campground. We pushed a little harder, as we wanted to get as far as we could before our time was up.
Speaking for myself, it was both mentally and physically grueling, as I had never experienced a trail quite like this before. The added darkness of the fog made things worse, because the photographer in me wanted so badly to be snapping shots of the terrain and the scenery, but that was not the day. The shots I did get, could be easily mistaken for any ledge in Maine.
Along our journey up the mountain we connected with a young couple that we had met in the parking lot earlier that morning, Nick and Kelsey. They decided to tag along with us. Kelsey had later stated, “You girls really looked like you knew what you were doing, so we decided to stick with you.”
We were all happy to meet new friends, but we were especially happy when Nick’s size and strength came in handy to help us up the vertical ascents over 14-foot ledges and down over the same obstacles.
As our turnaround time approached, the sleet and wind began hitting us from all sides and the temperature dropped. We still had a little under two miles and 1200 feet in elevation to gain before we reached Baxter Peak, but without a view, didn’t really see sense in attempting it and being able to make a safe return to the trailhead.
After taking some fog-filled, sleet-blowing pictures at our turnaround spot, we began our descent.
At the time, I was thankful we were on our way down, as the fog and sleet were making me nervous for the walk back, but as we got closer to the trailhead, further away from the fog and intimidation of the weather and closer to the brighter, overcast sky, my heart was sinking.
I had not made it to the top. I didn’t have any amazing photographs of the expansive views even from the rocky ledges we were climbing. I had gone so far, had been so close, but would now have to figure out if what my heart desired would be strong enough to make me want to do the work all over again.
I can’t explain it, but when I say the mountain is calling my name, it truly is. I took Jackie and Mary Jane’s advice and respected the mountain and didn’t push to continue on through the weather. I bowed gracefully and declared Katahdin the winner. But, I am not one to allow a project to go unfinished.
Over the next few days I was an emotional wreck knowing that I had been so close, but now so far. Never believing in a “list” before, I now have one and Katahdin is at the top. No pun intended.
As for Jackie, she stated that she was able to gain closure from her last trip to the mountain and is at peace with Katahdin. She has vowed to spend the rest of her life exploring the great Baxter Park that it rests in.
“I know God has a reason for everything that happens to us,” stated Jackie. “I will continue to trust in Him.”