Madelyn Given finishes her hike of the Appalachian Trail!

Baxter State Park: Appalachian Trail Part 2

To my surprise, the park ranger at Katahdin was expecting me. Crank, Boss, and Spammy had told her to watch for Madelyn from Maine: she would be coming soon. Two weeks earlier, near Bethel, Maine, I met two day hikers who were friends of this ranger and apparently told her to look for an AT hiker, Madelyn from Maine. They had given me a bag of great snacks to keep me going that day. The word spreads quickly on the AT Trail!

There is a neat system for northbound thru-hikers when you check in at Katahdin Stream Campground. You leave your heavy pack and you pick up a light day pack to use for the difficult last day of hiking. There is a small campsite reserved for AT thru-hikers, out of sight at Katahdin Stream, and I spent the night there. That evening a young couple arrived and we all shared the last night talking about our experiences. The next morning I left alone while the others were sleeping. I went to the ranger station, signed in the log book—August 7th, 2009 for the AT Trail—and donned the borrowed light day pack. Without my heavy pack, I made good time. I headed up the Hunt Trail on that clear sunny morning, knowing that my husband would be driving most of that day to pick up my heavy pack at one end of the park, then drive to the other side to meet me and welcome me home.

The trail follows Katahdin Stream for a while, crosses over a bridge, and heads straight up to the caves and then the boulders on the Hunt Spur. I did well until I got to the boulders: I couldn’t find any white blazes, and it was very difficult to climb up this granite face of mass boulders. After finally finding a few handholds, I maneuvered my way past this place, and then it was manageable and leveled out to the Tableland. The views in all directions were spectacular that morning, as 2.4 miles are above tree line. The tableland is a true plateau; at a junction is Thoreau Springs at 4, 636 feet. It is named for Henry David Thoreau, who climbed this mountain in 1846. He loved to hike in Maine, and wrote extensively about his experiences in the Maine wilderness.

The elevation gain from Katahdin Stream Campground to Baxter Peak is 4,188’, making it a difficult 8-9 hours of hiking. I reached Baxter Peak, top of Katahdin, at 10 am. There was no one there for a while and I wanted a photo or two of this great finish of my 4 months of hiking. Several small groups arrived, and someone graciously volunteered to take my picture, which you can see at the top of this blog post. It was one of the mildest, clearest days I ever experienced at the top. Later, coming down Saddle Trail, I encountered a thunder storm, but since I was off the massive tableland and below tree line, I was not threatened from exposure.

When I got close to Roaring Brook, I met up with friends who came to congratulate me. Then my husband had brought a cooler of food! I was ready to hit the road for a long ride home, and I wondered if home would seem strange to me. For me, I am glad that climbing Katahdin came last on the AT Trail. It is such an awesome, grand mountain that it is a perfect place to complete the Appalachian Mountain Trail, and I had walked home to Maine.

(posted October 6, 2015)

Friends through-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Madelyn Given among them (in middle).

Baxter State Park: Appalachian Trail Part 1

The last time I hiked Katahdin was a few years ago, at the end of my trek on the Appalachian Trail, as a northbound-through hiker from Springer, Georgia. It was also my greatest feeling of success when I climbed to the peak of Katahdin that beautiful August morning.

The first time I went into Baxter State Park, many years ago, our family was day hiking on the Daicey Pond Trail with my college roommate and her group of hikers. Coming along the trail at a good clip was a young couple, thin as two rails, with layers of dirt on them, passing us like we were standing still. My roommate called to them, “Are you through hikers?” They turned around, smiled, and hollered back, “Yes,” and continued on down the trail.

That was the first time I had ever seen Appalachian Trail (AT) through-hikers. I was so thrilled with their accomplishments that the memory stayed with me another 35 or more years, until I had an awakening one night in November of 2008. That awakening was so unusual and real that the next morning, I knew I was going to do the AT.

I knew no one personally who had accomplished this feat, but from November to March of 2009, I prepared in earnest. On March 27th I set out and hiked every day from dawn to dusk from Springer, Georgia, through 14 states, heading straight to Maine, to finish at the top of Katahdin. By the time I reached Maine I had lost 50 pounds, had hiked through a two-day blizzard with snow sometimes up to my hips, rain for days on end, and had many adventures with wild animals, too.

I had three AT friends I had met in Virginia and Pennsylvania: Crank, Spammy, and Boss. The photo at the top of this blog post is of Crank, Spammy, me and two other thru-hikers at Bigalow Mountain lean-to in July; Boss is taking the photo. We had spent much time together and we were hoping to finish together at the top of Katahdin. They had bought plane tickets to fly home after completing Katahdin, but as they hiked closer to the AT finish, they realized they had miscalculated the time it would take to get there. They had to do one all-night hike to make their flight home. At this point I decided that was not for me, and we said our farewells after the Bigalow Range.

The last time I was in real civilization before entering Baxter State Park was in the tiny town of Monson, Maine. I stayed overnight at Shaw’s Boarding House, enjoyed a big meal, and bought supplies to last me for six days. Even though I was hiking alone, and I would be entering the 100 Mile Wilderness at dawn, I was confident I would complete the trail.

I hiked alone, rarely meeting up with anyone. I was ahead of most of the northbound hikers that season. I encountered rain, a muddy trail with roots to fall over, and a bunch of mountains to climb. I had to cross streams, several gorges, and a wide river. I crossed one rushing gorge by holding on to a cable over my head, but as I inched across, one foot got caught under a rock. My arms were tired from holding onto the cable, I had a heavy pack, and the water was frigidly cold, but I had to do something. I let go with one hand, took my trekking pole and wedged it under the rock, and pried the rock far enough to get my foot dislodged. I made it to shore and collapsed. I was trembling, but I couldn’t stop for long, as I had to move to warm up again.

I camped out by a lake one night, a swamp another night, and set up my tent in a lean-to, as I was the only person there. The last night I set my tent up in the middle of the trail, since there wasn’t a soul anywhere nearby, and there was no other dry place to set it. In the middle of the night, a moose walked by my tent. I was too tired to even move inside the tent. It stopped, sniffed, and lumbered off down the trail.

When I came out of the 100 Mile Forest I crossed the Abol Bridge. It had taken me only four days. I had hiked 2,153 miles and now I had less than 20 to go. There was a campground where I stayed the night before entering Baxter State Park. I was on cloud nine with happiness that it would soon be over, yet thrilled that I had experienced the adventure of a lifetime.

I had cleaned myself up at the campsite, got up before dawn as usual, and walked into the woods following the white 3”by 6” blazes. I was ready for an easy day through the Park to Katahdin Steam Campground. I had hiked less than a mile when I fell off a slippery log and landed in muck, becoming completely soaked from my neck down. I was so mad that I had finally gotten cleaned up that morning, only to spend another day totally covered in muck!

I met up with some day hikers near Daicey Pond, and they were awestruck to meet up with a through-hiker coming from Georgia. The older man in the group had fallen and was bleeding from his scalp. The family was more interested in me than taking care of the elderly grandfather with blood running down his face. I saw one person had a bandana around her neck. I suggested they tie that around his head, which they did. The idea had not seemed to occur to them. I took a minute to talk with them and wish them a pleasant walk, and then I checked in with the ranger at Katahdin Stream Campground.

(posted September 29, 2015)

Moose on Mount Katahdin in Maine. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Adventures on Katahdin: Part 2

Every time I went to Baxter State Park, we hiked one good hike either to Katahdin, Russell Pond, or other long trails. One time my daughter, son-in-law, husband, and I went to Russell Pond for a couple of days. Our loads got shifted and the food bag got left behind, but it wasn’t discovered until after we were preparing for our first evening meal after a strenuous day of hiking! We survived on snacks and water. We survived and learned our lesson: check your packs before taking a single step onto the trail.

We would take days off from strenuous hiking, go in to Sandy Stream Pond, sit on the big rock, and watch moose. I was never disappointed, as one or several will come out at almost any time during the day. We would take our car, go around the perimeter road, enjoy the views, stop at one of the waterfalls, and let the kids get cooled off in the mountain pools below the falls.

One of the craziest, scariest, and most irresponsible sights I saw was at Avalanche Field, a picnic area near one of the three entrances to Baxter State Park. Nearby was a town dump that was prone to black bear activity. As we gathered for ,lunch we saw a party of 4 teenagers standing around laughing and having fun. Unbeknownst to them, their toddler had walked away and was now at a distance, running towards a black bear, calling “Teddy bear…teddy bear.” The bear was slowly walking away from this running tiny child, until it came to a high cliff. It was trapped there, with only the toddler blocking its way. At our picnic table, we all jumped up, horrified at the scene unfolding. But we were further away even than the teenagers, who didn’t have a clue as to what was happening. A man sitting in a car closest to the situation got out of his car, ran to the toddler, scooped her up in his arms, and ran towards the picnic tables. We met him part way and told him the child belonged to the teens. The teens never seemed concerned, but the rest of us knew that child was very lucky that day.

Over the years I have been to Baxter State Park though all three entrances, coming from Greenville, Lily State Park, and Kokadjo on a private gravel road. It is slow going for many miles to Ripogenus Dam and the West Branch of the Penobscot River, but 54 miles from Greenville, you finally arrive at Abol Bridge. Then you must continue on the private Golden Road and enter the park at the Togue Pond Gate, 64 miles from Greenville. This tells you the park is surrounded by acres and miles of woods.

Another way to enter is by way of Pattern in Aroostook County, which is the northern entrance to Baxter State Park. Fuel your car in Pattern, 10 miles to Shin Pond, then Matagamon Lake, 16 miles across the bridge on the Sebois River. Continue on now 26 miles and cross the East Branch of the Penobscot River, then the Grand Lake Dam, a starting point for canoe trips down the rugged river, with many rapids and falls.

The East and West Branches of the Penobscot River combine to form one of the biggest rivers in Maine. The park is a mile beyond this dam, which is a 27-mile trip to this park entrance from the nearest small town. I have kayaked in this area of the park, and Travelor is the most well-known mountain in this area of the park. The third and the most popular park entrance is by way of Millinocket, off a major interstate, and it’s 18 miles from the park entrance: easiest, most popular, and closest to gas and supplies. Once you are in the park, you can settle down and let nature take hold.

One challenge in hiking different trails is to have a member of your hiking party volunteer to drive and meet the hikers coming down another trail at the end of a long hiking day. It takes an hour just to drive from one trail head to another, and no gas is available within the park. There are rangers at all the campgrounds and sign-in books for all hikers leaving on trails each morning.

Baxter State Park is a very strictly, carefully protected and maintained park, and therefore pristine and naturally wild and remote. For this I am glad.

(posted September 22, 2015)