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[at-l] September 11, 1979
- Subject: [at-l] September 11, 1979
- From: Sloetoe <email@example.com>
- Date: Mon, 11 Sep 2000 18:35:27 -0700 (PDT)
17:30 EST. At this time 21 years ago, I was returning to the Katahdin Stream
campground from summiting Katahdin.
I was so much warmer than I had been all day -- I felt a glow from the
sunshine peeking through the pines as the sun itself hurriedly sank. There
was a slight breeze, but nothing like the hell-powered furies that had
battered me for most of the day.
And battered I was. What I know now as a rush of endorphines was powering
through my exhausted frame, pretty much keeping me upright. (And "frame" is
indeed the right word: I was all of 136 pounds on 6'1", not counting hair.)
Every muscle in my body was sacked, whipped, beat up; and quite a few of them
were just plain painful. But I was a throughhiker!!!
What I'd gone through included a 1/4 inch of ice on everything, steady winds
of 50-70 mph, and gusts of twice that which would pick me up without warning,
backpack and all, and toss me 10-15 feet, for me to land on my face, my hands
often landing on the last rocks before the sheer edge of Katahdin's western
face, my head peeking over, my eyes looking down into nothing but cloud, my
mind knowing the unavoidable, unappealable death waiting down through the
cloud if should I slip over the edge....
The details are getting kind of fuzzy now (much like the top of my head).
When I arrived at Katahdin Stream on September 10th, I had but one day,
"tommorow", to hit Baxter Peak, and if I didn't do it then, I would get no
other chance in 1979. No "throughhike". No "2000 miler" patch. All that rain,
muck, grief, sweat and heartache for *nuthin'*. So come what may, I climb
In my photo album is a series of Katahdin from the area around Abol Bridge,
and you can see (as the afternoonof the 10th wore on) how Baxter Peak was
going from whispy to clouds to serious gray and black cloud reaching down
below treeline..... All I could do was heave my shoulders and sigh... And the
next morning, lighten my pack at the Ranger Station and head out.
I don't know if they still do, but the rangers used to post the summit
weather/expected conditions at the foot of the Hunt Spur Trail by 7:00am
every morning. I recall leaving *around* 7:00am, and the weather conditions
not looking too bad. Apparently, just as I left, they posted the NEW expected
conditions, and closed the peak for the day. TRULY, I didn't know. I *can*
tell you that I was nervous enough, having heard horror stories all the way
Alright, so, there I am, tooling nervously up the Hunt Spur Trail, past the
Katahdin Stream crossing, observing the rapid loss of deciduous trees, and
then "poof!" around the next corner, the trees shortened to nothing and my
head is above treeline. It was that(!) sudden. And Brrrrrr! It was cold! It
was the wind! Big wind (I thought at the time) sucking the calories right out
The bravest thing I ever did was to keep going at that point. A summer's
worth of stories of windy horror swirling in my head, Gray/black granite
freezing cold to the touch, no gloves, an exposed ascent line, and roiling
clouds directly above. It was like climbing UP INTO hell.
But I thought, maybe I'll just give it a little try, and if it's *really*
that bad, I'll just quit. Bag it. Turn a 180 and head for the trees. I'll
just give it a little shot.
I paused there and put on my fiberpile and a wool watchcap that I'd found in
a leanto a few days before (and grabbed "just in case"). I climbed up the
first few van-sized boulders and felt the ferocity of the wind: it was
ripping at my jacket pockets and hood opening. Holy Crapinskis. I'm not even
"up" yet! I battened down the hatches and went up a few more van-sized
boulders. I noticed my freezing hands would have to play a MAJOR role in
getting me up AND down; what if I concluded that it was time to go down, and
I didn't have the "hands" to do it?
And the wind... When I was a wee youth, a couple of hurricanes hit
Connecticut hard. My father took us all down to the shore (*against* the flow
of traffic!), and piled us all out of the car, to stand arm in arm, the five
of us, against the howling wind. And later in life, I would ride an unfaired
motorcycle at speeds up to 125 miles per hour. And even on my throughhike,
I'd gone through BUNCHES of nasty weather and wild winds....... Nothing like
what met me on top of Katahdin....
I remember too, going up the Hunt Spur, the times when a gust of wind,
powerful but not yet to the coming speeds of the Tableland, would hit me and
blow me off of my grips on the rocks. As there was ice now (on everything),
all I could do was ride the fall down to the previous rock, looking down
between my legs, hoping I would stay upright, trying to catch the next ledge
down "on the fly." This happened ...a "few" times. Maybe a bunch. But each
time I recovered, and I asked myself "Was that the one?" which would make me
turn back -- and the answer was, each time, "No, not just yet...."
So I got up on the Tableland -- and even with the 20-30 feet of visibility, I
could see why it was so named -- and I headed in the direction of Baxter
Peak. My hood's drawstrings were so tight that they drooped far down my cheek
-- except the wind picked them up and wiped them *across* my face, to "whap!"
me right in my *other* eye! And of course, the big gusts would hit. Would
pick me right up, pack and all, and throw me. DIDN'T EVEN FEEL LIKE WIND.
More like the earth just moved. Then SMASH! on the ground again.
What was scariest on the Tableland was not the wind, actually, but the
falling away from the trail. There were a couple of times when I'd get up,
turn in the direction of what I *thought* was the trail, and see NOTHING of
it in the deep, deep cloud. No blazes. No furrow of long established
treadway. Just blowing and roaring and gray rock. Holy Crapatosis! At that
time, I felt TRULY exposed and afraid. How WOULD I survive?
Why didn't I turn back? Well, once I hit the Tableland, I figured I'd gotten
the nasty part of the climb in back of me, and whether I hit the summit or
not, I had to make the descent either way, so what's the diff? Somehow, the
fright of the Tableland winds didn't register as part of the danger, but
something else.... I could think about this a while and not come up with the
So I hit the summit, took some pictures, ABANDONED the thought of the Knife
Edge and Pamola (easy, since the 20 feet I could see of the Knife Edge was
less wide than what I'd been thrown coming across the Tableland from the
Gateway), and in 30 hurried minutes, when my hands started to loose function,
I jumped up and started down.
Met one other poor fool near Thoreau Spring, and after a half dozen attempts
in the high winds, he managed to take my picture -- the only one of ME on the
mountain. And then, POOF!!!, the clouds lifted, then BANG! they fell back
down, then POOF!!!, they lifted to clear a view for miles. Halfway back from
Baxter Peak, I'm standing in the middle of the Tableland with the wind
howling a million and a half miles an hour, and I can see perfectly for miles
off of the mountain, and I can reach up and touch the clouds. Outraaaaageous.
The way down was nuts. It was not danger-free, and I was NOT yet tempted to
crack open the pint of Naragansett beer I'd purchased at the Abol Bridge
store in lieau of summit champange. But the way down was DRY!!!, and I warmed
up in not having to fight the winddriven moisture. And the all-encompassing
ice was sublimed away, and I was left sliding down by bootsoles only. At one
point, I dropped my bamboo walking stick down a crack between two boulders,
and the wind was powerful enough to have the stick "float" gently down. I
laughed and laughed.
And burned up 2-3 rolls of film. Saw the truth of Thoreau's comment on the
view of the landscape from the summit of Katahdin: he wrote something like
"...like a mirror broken into a thousand pieces." Gave my boots -- which had
gone 850 + 2100 miles looking just fine, thank you -- such a beating that no
amount of SnoSeal ever got it out. And from gripping the ice-covered rock, I
lost my fingerprints for weeks afterwards. Brrrr.
And I got down to the bottom at 5:30, burned out, talking silly, fried. Had
the remainder of my throughhiking food: minute rice and a piece of bullion
(urp). Same for breakfast the next morning.
I started the hitchhike to Connecticut with all of $2.00 in my pocket. Made
it home in a day and a half, was home for a day and a half, then hopped on a
bus for northern Wisconsin (College, AYCE, girls, girls, girls), for a day
and a half. And exactly a week after DaBigUgly, I was a registered freshman
in college. Holy Crapatolito!
Yeahhhh, and then I ate a scoop of ice cream for each week I was off the
trail. Gained a pound a day through October; a half-pound a day through
November. Life was very, very, good. And around about Christmas, I got used
to having a roof over my head; didn't sit upright when I heard rain at night,
wondering what needed battening; and received Christmas cards from the
servers at college cafeteria -- they knew me by name....
Hope you all eat well tonight, are secure at bedtime, and wake refreshed and
ready to peel off another 20 miler. Me? I'm going to order Chinese tonight. I
just know there's some worthy throughhiker bedded down right now who'd give
their left [insert favorite body part] for a good bowl of Hot&Sour right now,
and I'm going to eat it in their honor.
Have just a really appreciative day, OK?
Ask for what you want;
Create what you need;
Go with what you have.
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