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Sunday, July 4, 2010

when you get it all.

Sometimes it just happens.

You have a PERFECT day.

Mt. Katahdin is one of my favorite places on the earth. Its rugged beauty, remote locale, its gritty trails made for the brave, the fierce, and the fit make me revere it. In short, it is just a bad ass mountain.

Here is the group of girls ready to climb. From left to right: Amy (of the Burlington marathon), Emilie, Becca, birthday girl Christine, me and Sandi. Two with enormous fear of heights, one whose never climbed a mountain, lots of water, trail mix, wardrobe discussion and a little trash talk and we are ready to go.

We met up with some of Becca's friends to make a party of 11 (including a 10 year-old boy!) for hiking and off we set.

Within the first tenth of a mile, we meet a guy embarking on the Appalachian Trail, heading north to south, and getting ready to summit Katahdin to begin his journey. In other words, he has to hike 5.5 miles in before he can officially start. Right away Christine quips, "I want to do that. I think I will put hiking the AT on my bucket list. But wait, does that mean I would have to sleep outside?"

We decide instead to go back to our plan to hike the 100 mile wilderness (the most remote and toughest part of the AT, 100 mile corridor from Katahdin to Monson) in 2 or 3 summers (since it will probably be a 10 day adventure we need a little age on our kids). Did I mention that I LOVE that my friends hike mountains to celebrate their birthdays and that instead of getting together to go shopping we plan other outdoor adventures?

We headed up the Helon Taylor trail (pictured above) which went from light woods hiking to woods climbing to above tree line kind of straight up. We summited Pamola Peak and looked out over this:

That is Baxter Peak (the summit of Mt. Katahdin) in the distance. And the only way to get there? Why across the 1 mile Knife Edge trail along the spine of the mountain of course!

This is part of our party coming down the first decent.

There are parts of the trail, especially the first part in the direction we hiked, where it is hand over foot, stop and search for the next foot or hand hold. It's hard not to wonder, and in fact I did, How do they let people do this? How is this not roped off? And a less welcoming thought, how many people have actually died doing this?

And Christine, happy as ever the next peak over!
Looking down at Chimney Pond, that little puddle in the distance:
Sandi, Emilie and I ended up hiking the Knife Edge as a party of three. Emilie and I had had similar experiences the only other time we had hiked it (for me 8 or 9 years previously). We had been less fit, heavier and terrified. This was my favorite part of the whole day and certainly my most cherished moments spent between the three of us. We laughed, we joked, we appreciated the utter splendor.

Hiking across, trusting my feet, my balance, the strength in my arms to lift me up when my legs were too short to get foot holds, feeling exhilaration instead of terror- it was a pivotal life moment for me when I realized just what a different human being I am now. Instead of carrying 25 extra pounds on my body, I was carrying 25 pounds in a back pack for starters. I no longer needed Sandi to hoist me up from behind on the trickiest of rocks (trust me, it wasn't pretty, hands on bum giving a giant shove), I had all my own strength, no tears just big smiles.

Nothing like a little adrenaline hiking to show you what you've become.
Did I also mention that being 33 kicks the pants off of being 25?

Nearing Baxter Peak and looking back at Pamola from where we came:

Did I mention that it wasn't only high and steep but kind of freakishly dropped off too?

The cairn on Baxter peak.

The birthday girl, first hike ever, summits Mt. Katahdin, making the whole thing look easy.

I'm telling just doesn't get better than this. Or maybe it does. I would love to stand corrected.

All 11 made it, including the 10-year-old boy whose dad had to hold him back the entire day he was so speedy and sure footed. What a play ground for a boy!

Off the mountain and coming down into my most cherished place, Chimney Pond:

This place has always been special to Sandi and I from the first moment we saw it. When Ella was 10 months old we backpacked the 3.3 miles in (and her very willing family came with us) to do Ella's water blessing. We spent the night in a lean to with our little baby and blessed her life from this magical place. You can only take water out of Chimney Pond. You cannot put your body into it. It is a sacred spot to me, more holy than any church. Here I feel like I bow before the mountain in reverence and it fills my soul.

As Sandi said: How great a day to be swallowed up by a mountain.

I kept saying over and over all day that my contentment factor was super high. Here is the best photographic representation of that. Sitting back on sunny, windless part of Knife Edge enjoying a panoramic view and the company of two incredible women.
It had been 5 years since we had stood here. The enormous joy of this day was a promise that it would not be 5 more until we returned.

Nearing the end, my tired feet wanted for the car, my back longing to shed the pack, but my body was still wanting and able to go, my heart not wanting to leave this place. I felt like I might have to be dragged from Baxter.
I said to Sandi, "This was one of my favorite days of my life."
When we left the park, I thanked the park ranger for letting us hike "his" mountain. And then Sandi and I laughed as we drove away, because we know that it is actually our mountain.
The ride home, Sandi and I, just like it was when we started this journey together 10 years ago: music at full volume with singing to accompany, eating sandwiches, sucking the last of the Gatorade from my Camelbak bladder, feet in flip flops, 10 amazing miles up and around my favorite mountain, hands on each others bare scratched up legs and my heart was swollen with love and joy and appreciation.

4 comments: said...

yes, yes, yes. when do we go again?

Jeannine said...

LOVE this!!!!!

Christine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christine said...

I'm so glad you and Sandi made it for the hike and that it was such an incredible day for you. I can't wait to do it again and I can't wait to do the 100 Mile Wilderness Trail! In the meantime, I'll start planning outfits and learn to pitch a tent!

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