Thursday, February 10, 2011

Katahdin Calling

Since the last time I stood on top of Mount Katahdin in winter, I've wanted to return and this past week I did. My good friend Todd and I made the journey, his fifth, my second foray into Baxter's Winter Wonderland. Despite not having made it to the summit this time around, for me, it was simply amazing! It's something that not a lot of people see, even in the other seasons of a year, or even in a lifetime.

Fortunately, I've been on the top of that peak many times and surely would have been again if things had gone according to our plan, but part of the mystery surrounding this mountain is not knowing what will happen until you get right up in there.  It's easy to sit on the couch, plan a trip, talk with your climbing partner about the ice climbs you aspire to do, plan the itinerary, but the Mountain has plans for you and it's not what you planned. In the picture above is the "plum line" of The Cilley Barber route, an incredible ice and snow climb that we had hoped to get up, but another party on route one day, followed by a huge snow dump the next, kept us from achieving that goal. As I often tell myself, that climb will always be there and someday I'll return and quite possibly it will go into my log book. 

The logistics of getting yourself in and out of such remote Maine wilderness are not as simple as some might think. Firstly, one must ski or hike sixteen miles (one way) to Chimney Pond, while pulling a sled or carrying on your back (least desirable method) all of your food, camping and climbing gear that you'll need for the length of your stay.  For most, with the exception of the very hardy, this is a two day minimum approach. The first day is a thirteen mile ski to Roaring Brook campground, where you take shelter in the wood heated bunkhouse.  After ten hours on the trail and all those miles, you're damn happy you paid a few bucks more for the bunkhouse and didn't choose to just sleep in a frigid Lean-to. 

The monkey that was attached to my hips, I estimate 90 pounds! Silly, just silly.

Day two is a nice "stroll" up the Chimney Pond trail 3.3 miles.  The weight of our sleds really hit home (for me anyway) and the hike was tough, at least for the first mile and a half.  You see, Todd befriended Ranger Mike who was grooming the snowmobile trail up and down the mountain, so on his way out he was coming down with a few propane tanks.  He said to Todd, "Do you think we can get both of those sleds in this one"? Of course Todd was exceptionally quick to say "We'll make em' fit"!  So Ranger Mike went down to the pond, turned around and came back up to us, we loaded our gear in his sled and he cruised them nearly right up to the bunkhouse for us. We pretty much flew up the final mile and a half in forty minutes, which was significantly faster than the first 1.5 miles. Plus the steepest part of the trail was right after he took our sleds up, so that was a nice treat. I did not feel an ounce of guilt weighing me down either!

Todd hiking across the Basin Pond with the North Basin and Taber Wall in the background.

Sled Free!

Part of the reason we hauled so much weight was because we wanted to eat well.  Talk about a menu!  Day one breakfast, a healthy dose of greasy spoon in Millinocket, ME. Appropriately at The Appalachian Trail Cafe!  Eggs and home fries, pancakes, a BIG breakfast which undoubtedly was burned off a few miles down the trail.  For lunches everyday, we planned "trail foods" which for me, consists of Powerbar Gels, Cliff Bars, Poptarts and a healthy granola mix along with plenty of chocolate.  So on to dinner! Todd brewed up beforehand at home, then froze, a killer Tortellini Soup.  Lots of veggies, a tomato/veggie broth base, and some spicy Italian sausage.  After ten hours on the trail, with your heals ripped and torn with blisters, this was quite comforting!  Day two breakfast, coffee, eggs and pancakes, with a nice side of yogurt (partially frozen) and blueberries, yup, you read that right!  Day two dinner was Clam Chowder, Bountiful Bread and Crab Cakes.  What a meal! That was damn good and could very well be one of the best meals I've ever had in the back country. Tuesday's breaky, including coffee, was plain old oatmeal dressed up with fresh blueberries and almonds, quite good!  Dinner, a fancy Asian stir fry with plenty of traditional stir fry veggies and chicken added for protein. Wednesday's breakfast, yup oatmeal again (yum!). Dinner was another classic, Steak Fajitas with cheese, slices of avocado and a side of salsa. Thursday, you know the drill, breakfast, eggs and pancakes and dinner another round of stir fry.  For me, upon reflection, suffering all those miles with all that weight was worth it.  We ate like kings!

Todd's Tortellini Soup hit the spot! Photo - Todd Ringelberg

Since we were some what "grounded" due to the big snow storm on Wednesday, we went for a short but sweet hike to the base of the First Cathedral, a couple of miles round trip.  We started up the snow slope hoping to get to the top, but part of the trail is avalanche prone and so we played it safe and didn't climb too high. Arriving back at the Cabin, we decided to put party a bit and put the finishing touches on the stairs we dug to go down to the wood shed. It was basically just a snowy ramp so we tried to give back to our fellow humanoids making their access easier. We also stacked wood in the cabin for the next set of campers and split a bunch of pieces too! 

We were set to climb down low on the Pamola Ice Cliffs on Thursday, but when we got out and had a look at the climb we planned, even that had some pretty good avalanche potential at the top. Although it would have been small in size, anything that would have come off certainly could have spelled disaster for the leader or second.  So we played it safe and hit the trail down to the Roaring Brook Bunkhouse so that our trip out on Friday would be that much shorter. 

 Todd at the base of the first Catherdal.

A few photos from the rest of our trip, one I plan on doing again next year and maybe then we'll get that plum line on Cilley Barber?  We made the ski out from Roaring Brook to my car in 7 hours, much faster than the ski in since it was mostly down hill and our sleds were slightly lighter. I think I can speak for Todd as well as myself here and say, we learned a lot on this trip, we made good, safe, self informed decisions and this can only help us in the future while playing in the Mountains.

 The Armadillo from the basin snow slopes, quite a view of this rock feature.

Todd at the base of Waterfall Gully, post first pitch climb.

Storm God Pamola showed up at The Katahdin Lake Trailhead on our ski out.  He was big!

Climbing skins on for the ski up Windy Pitch on the Roaring Brook rd.

Parting shot, The classic view of Katahdin from the Roaring Brook rd.

Thanks for reading! Cheers!