Katahdin – We’ll Be Back

On Wednesday, March 7th, our Katahdin group was hauling sleds retreating from the Roaring Brook campsite in Baxter State Park toward Abol Bridge campground parking lot. The sky looked like a blue bird; the temperature was cold, -10 F perhaps; the air was crispy and our cheeks were rosy due to the chill. There was no wind; it was as quiet as if we could trace every step the red squirrels put on the snow; however, my heart was stormy, “this could have been our summit day! How come we had to encounter over 35 mph gusts and below -35 F of temperature due to wind chill effect?” I kept looking at the peak on our way down, “Katahdin, you awed me the other day, and why do you look so inviting now?”

After a long, uneventful drive home, I’ve been putting a lot of thoughts toward this trip. I understand a mountaineer must have more turn backs than summits over her whole career, but I couldn’t get rid of the slight disappointment – the fact deviated too much from the ideal situation I was hoping for in which each of our group members had a chance to push their limits and taste the sweetness of the summit after hard work. I started to analyze every other possible scenario and finally drew this conclusion: although the outcome didn’t fulfill my ideal expectation, experiencing harsh conditions and having to make a tough decision to abandon the summit attempt catalyzed the integration and growth of our group. And this can be difficult to accomplish if we were in perfect conditions and everybody made their way to the summit without sweat.

I also earned valuable experiences, especially in leadership. The trip was by far the longest and the most difficult trip I have ever led. Besides heavy trip planning, I took a weekend-long Avalanche Level I course from Chauvin Guides in Feb to boost my confidence in case we had to take the two avalanche prone trails to/from the peak. This is also the first wilderness trip I led for friends, and the closeness and relaxation due to friendship ironically added complexity to the trip. Before the trip, it happened that we had more last-minute gear issues to deal with; during the trip, nobody ever hesitated to speak up therefore I was swamped by opinions which I had to listen to carefully, digest thoroughly and respond to rationally. I learned a great deal just by being there and trying to do my best and I improved on both the hard and soft skills of leadership.

What I would like to include in the final trip journal includes The Plan, The Reality, and The Experience. The Plan simply describes the proposed itinerary for each day, and comparing it with The Reality, you will discover that in winter time a plan is just a starting point and things hardly go according to the plan. I will write about “The Experience” in another blog entry, in which I will record novice experience, memorable events, and some important decision making moments from my point of view.

The Plan

Friday, March 2. Three cars depart from Philadelphia area for Millinocket, Maine. A car has to detour in order to retrieve rental gear in North Conway, New Hampshire.

Saturday, March 3. The group parks the cars at Abol Campground parking lot and starts a 12-mile sled-haul to Roaring Brook campsite. At mile 4, the group passes Togue Pond Gate and makes a sharp left turn and continues onto Roaring Brook Road.

Sunday, March 4. The group keeps hauling sleds on the 3.3-mile long Chimney Pond Trail and reaches Chimney Pond campsite, which is the base camp.

Monday, March 5. Depending on the conditions, the group would attempt to summit the Baxter Peak (5267 feet) through Saddle Trail (avalanche prone), Cathedral Trail (avalanche prone), or Dudley Trail (steep) combined with Knife Edge (very exposed).

Tuesday, March 6. A reserved window day in case the group encounters bad conditions on March 5.

Wednesday, March 7. The group retreats from Chimney Pond campsite and hauls sleds all the way back to the parking lot. The group stays for the night in Millinocket, Maine and drives back the next morning.


Other than the links I provided in Katahdin – High Point of Maine,
SummitPost.org also has a great page about Katahdin.

The Reality

The trip co-leader John Wargo wrote a very detailed trip report, tracking every single movement of the group during the trip; therefore I’m not going to duplicate the work here. In summary, on Friday March 2, we encountered a bad storm. We had to drive in heavy rain south of New Hampshire/Maine and after that in heavy snow on barely plowed roads. For safety reasons, we had to break the driving into two days which postponed our itinerary for one day and took away our window day.

We arrived at Chimney Pond campsite on Monday March 5 and stayed in a lean-to of which the opening was covered by tarps; it was cold, the wind was blowing and the weather forecast for the next two days was not promising. During our sleep hours, the temperature continued dropping and the wind became more merciless and it pushed the avalanche risk higher. At about 5 am on Wednesday morning when we woke up, the conditions were brutal: -35 F or below due to wind chill effect and over 35 mph gusts. The conditions were classified as yellow/red by the park rangers, and climbing above the treeline was absolutely not recommended. We had to abandon our climbing plans.

The Experience section will appear as another blog entry.

1 thought on “Katahdin – We’ll Be Back”

  1. The Reality can be harsh, but also rewarding. You turned back, but only after giving it your best. That is just one more beneficial experience. Far better than canceling a trip due to dire weather predictions, only to see that the weather would have been fine after all…

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