Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Winter Summit of Mt. Katahdin Not for Faint of Heart

My crampons fight for purchase and my gloved hand and ice axe claw at the ice covered granite, as my entire body struggles to climb over the few remaining boulders, marking the crux of Abol slide. To the uninitiated, the top of the slide appears as a false summit and many a climber has reached this spot only to be hit by despair when they realize the actual summit still lingers miles away.

Crossing the expansive table lands, in the middle of winter, can be a physically and mentally demanding endeavor. High winds, snow drifts and bitter cold challenge even the most fit and courageous adventurer. It is a battle of man against a monolithic obstacle older than time itself.

Staring across the clear vast expanse, it is easy to forget oneself and proceed forward without locking in a GPS coordinate and determining a compass bearing. This however could prove a fatal error given that this area is prone to whiteout conditions that can appear from no where on otherwise calm days. The God Pamola striving to obliterate those who violate these high empty expanses during his time of slumber.

My plastic boots creak and groan in the cold and my crampons pierce packed snow the consistency of Styrofoam. The squeaking noise sends a shiver down my spine with each footfall. Rocks and crevasses are hidden by the snow and a footfall unfortunate enough to land upon one of these soft spots could easily break a leg or hyperextend a knee, instantly making a winter hike a life or death experience.

My face is protected by goggles and a full face balaclava and my labored breathing momentarily fogs the mask with each exhale. A fierce wind blows from the North East. Numbness on my flesh signals the potential for frost bite and I am forced to use my gloved hand to provide my face with additional coverage against the raging and unforgiving winds. Very little visibility makes it crucial to always be within sight range of all members of the group and I continually scan to make sure my comrades are in close proximity.

Here high on the mountains there is little room for error and a lost team member can invoke a best case scenario of an exhaustive search and the worse case possibility of death. As I tire I begin to count my foot falls, putting my mind into a meditative state that allows me to forget that I am tired and my legs hurt. The trick of the mind works and within a short time I am standing with my friends on the summit. It is yet another battle hard won and a chance for reflection, wonderment and pride that is connected to the accomplishment of a difficult goal. Our moments on the summit are brief and we are soon on our way down the mountain. Though our breath is labored and our backs tired, in our minds we are already plotting our return to this high place.
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  1. Ok Rabid..I am very impressed..I became short of breath just reading your post..good job my man!

  2. Nicely done indeed! Now let's plan our early morning visit to Baxter for first light on that beauty!

    1. DP, I picked up a Maine Hiking Guide book concerning Turner. Stop by when your around and check it out! I have my tripod all dug out!

  3. PBM, I actually did the hike in the same amount of time as I did a decade ago. It was just MUCH harder! LOL!

  4. "Staring across the clear vast expanse, it is easy to forget oneself and proceed forward without locking in a GPS coordinate and determining a compass bearing."

    .... *ahem*

    1. RM, What is it that they say about hindsight? LOL!


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