Day One and HalfThe plan was to meet in Boston around 6 at night and hopefully leave shortly thereafter and then take the long 5-6 hour drive up to Millinocket. However, as we all know plans rarely if ever come to fortune like that; we ended up leaving Melrose after waiting for everyone to pack up at around 8 at night. After that the miles went on and on until we got up to Maine and then it seemed as if we left the mountains and entered into snow machining land with a bunch of pine trees and no hills whatsoever. The long drive ended with us getting lost in Millinocket and eventually finding the way with help from back home. After we packed up and fixed the sleds in the parking lot we started hiking at around 5am and the long haul began.
The first few miles went very slowly, the sleds just kept on tipping over and we had to readjust them every single time they did tip over. After countless readjustments the sun broke and we started over the 2-mile long esker with our first views of Katahdin to the right of us. After that the only other landmark and noticeable thing along the trail was a mile marker that said 6.8 miles. Those next 6.8 miles were the killer and we ended up going around 1 mile per hour with no views of our objective and no landmarks to see how far we had made it.
The sign at Roaring Brook was one of the most beautiful sights of the day, as I strolled in with Paul my pace quickened and I smiled for the first time in 6.8 miles. Once we got all checked in with the rangers and chose our lean-to the fun began with the nighttime ritual of boiling water, eating, and getting ready for bed. Once the sun went down we were knocked out, we slept like babies all night long until Paul woke up in the middle of the night yelling that there was a moose in the lean-to. After much deliberation we realized that it was just Reggie and a duffle bag making the midnight stroll behind us. When we all settled down the cold night, -15* F, was made even colder when our water bottles cooled down.
Day 2After about 15 hours of sleeping and periodically waking up and wishing we weren’t in this cold place we decided that breakfast and packing was in order. This process went very slowly, however once the sleds and our stomachs were all packed up we began the haul up to Chimney Pond, which is only about 3 miles so after our 12mile day that didn’t seem like it should take too long. This was a grievous error, the trail from Abol Bridge to Roaring Brook is relatively flat, however from Roaring Brook to Chimney Pond the trail is nothing but up. This is where you can really feel the 100 lb sled dragging you back down the trail and all the way back to Boston. Once the views came in and we realized what a treat we were in for, our energies soared and we made quick time of the remaining hike.
When we all made it up to Chimney Pond the rest of the day was spent making camp and the lean-to as comfortable as possible since if all went well we would be staying there for another 4 days. Once the snow walls went up and we ate dinner we went to go warm up and talk to the Ranger in his cabin. We talked and made conversation until all our boots were dry and we were toasty and then it was back out into the cold and blustery real world. All we could do for the rest of the night was boil water for our sleeping bags and then lie in bed and wait for sleep to come.
Day 3The plan this day was basically to poke around, dig snow pits and try to figure out what the snow conditions were. The first snow pit we dug showed that the avalanche danger was pretty high and all the subsequent ones showed the same exact thing. After this our hopes of doing some of the longer gullies were hampered since all of them either cross or climb huge snowfields that were more than ready to avalanche all their contents onto our heads.
Once we concluded this Aiello and I decided to climb the Mini Pinnacle on the Pamola Ice cliffs and see how the ice was and if it was very brittle or not. The first and harder pitch went to Aiello and he slayed the cow very nicely and got done with the business very quickly. The belay after this pitch was crazy with huge parasols overhanging almost 5 feet all over the place right over the belay. The next pitch was very cool but it ended way too quickly into an easy snow gully, once at the top I slung a frozen boulder and started the shouting match to tell Aiello he was on belay. All the while the ranger was laughing at us at his cabin because he could here both of us clear as day while neither me nor Aiello could hear each other at all. Once Aiello started moving he didn’t stop and it seemed like he seconded the pitch light years ahead of the time that I did it in, I guess I should work on my leading head. The descent from the climb was not hard to follow; we found the Dudley trail quickly and made it down to the lean-to with time to spare before dark.
The night went much like the same as every other night, we spent hours boiling water, making adjustments to camp, and talking to the ranger, and then lying awake in our sleeping bags listening to the wind.
Day 4Today was summit day so we got an alpine start around 7am ate, packed, and regretted not being in the bunkhouse doing all of this. Once we started moving though everyone warmed up except for me and my feet, this is what I get for buying the cheap Mad Rock mountaineering boots. The Dudley trail went relatively quickly and soon we found ourselves standing atop Pamola Peak looking very tentatively at our objective, the Knifes Edge. Throughout this whole trip I kept getting amazed at how beautiful and big the Katahdin massif is but the view of the knifes edge blew my mind open on what the mountains of the east coast look like, a ridge that’s five feet wide with a 1000 foot vertical drop on one side and then on the other side snow slopes that slid down at 45* for 2,000 feet.
The first obstacle and the crux of the route was the chimney, where you have to down climb into the Chimney and then climb 60ft up the opposite side. It is not technically challenging at all it’s the exposure that gets you, however all of our team made it up without too much whining. The next mile was the most amazing hiking experience I have ever had, the sun broke out exactly when we were done with the chimney and it hit perfectly on half the ridge and then got swallowed up by the South Basin. All along the ridge the wind was not bad, maybe 20-30mph, but once we reached the tablelands up top the wind ramped up and I found myself getting knocked over by the wind. Having been in a lot of high wind in the Whites I know that It takes around 60-70 mph for me to get knocked over so the wind got really strong for the final ridgeline up to summit of Katahdin Peak. At the summit we celebrated all of 5 minutes sheltered behind the huge cairn, I didn’t even pull out the camera for summit shots it was so cold.
We planned on taking the saddle trail down but as we started down we realized that the saddle trail was encased in a whiteout. Considering that we had to find the correct chute in order to descend we decided that the cathedral trail would be a better bet since we could see the line of cairns going down the mountain. We all quickly realized that every trail on Katahdin is just a bit more technical than anything in the White Mountains a sliding fall at any place on the Cathedral trail would result in a one way trip down the mountain with many obstacles to dodge while you were sliding at top speeds down the slick snowpack. Once we reached the Cathedrals all of the hard work was done and we could see the end in sight, but just couldn’t find the trail to connect the dots. After following Nick’s tracks in what seemed like the most indirect route for about half an hour we reached chimney pond and were greeted by the ranger, who invited us in later after we had dinner.
After dinner we went to go warm up and talk to the Ranger about what we planned to do the next day. Having just gotten off the mountain we were not too enthusiastic about going back up one of the major gullies the next day so we decided to stay below treeline for the day and do some recon and backcountry skiing.
Day 5Reggie and I decided that todays rest day should be spent trying to get some turns in and we heard from the ranger that the brook that comes out of the Saddle Trail is a great backcountry skiing run and best of all it ends with a two minute hike back to Chimney Pond. While I have skied before it was only a couple days here and there I am a snowboarder at heart so doing backcountry skiing is something that I had never done. The set ups that I was riding, borrowed them form Paul, were the type of bindings that you put mountaineering boots on and I didn’t know how much different the two boot types are. The whole run, which was really fun, consisted of me just survival skiing since I could not lean back on the mountaineering boots and I didn’t have any ankle support whatsoever.
After getting back to camp and meeting up with Nick and Paul we decided that the forecasted -20* that night was a little bit too cold for us so we decided to hike down to Roaring Brook, spend the night there and then hike out to Abol Bridge the next day.
Time to Get Off of the MountainThe last day of hiking out to Abol Bridge went very very smoothly, with the sleds dialed in and our pace quick we hiked around 2-3 miles per hour. Sad but elated we made our way along the roads stopping every now and again to lighten the loads by eating everything. We only passed one group who was taking advantage of the long weekend, a group with the Dartmouth outing club with everyone of them smiling still. We all said to ourselves after meeting them that their smiles would end pretty soon when they realized how far they had to go still, We met them at 1 o’clock right along the esker with still 7-8 miles to go till Roaring Brook. After that the time went relatively quickly and we made it to the cars around 3 and then devoured three large pizzas at a restaurant in Millinocket before the long drive home to Boston.
Things Learned-stay in the Bunkhouse, getting up in the morning would be much less of a pain and also the nights wont be as bad
-hang up your food, I got 10 bagels stolen from me the first night at Chimney pond from the elusive Pine Martens
-bring double boots so you can dry out the liners in your sleeping bag at night
-Skiing in is only faster than snowshoes if you know how to skin properly
-Bring down booties for the nights while you are in camp
-Don't expect to be able to climb any gullies while you are there, just go with the flow of the conditions you are presented with