Words by Adam Danielson
“Whoa.” My uncontainable, jaw dropping reaction when Chris told me to “look up” as the four of us stood around Chimney Pond beneath a sparkling sky. The gaps between stars held even more stars - a little smaller, but just as bright. It was like looking into a giant Magic Eye poster. The longer we gazed, the more the sky unfolded, radiating beauty in every direction.
I’ve always been a seeker. I’m sure a lot of us are. Outdoor experiences can be totally addicting. Climbing to 12,000ft is a great challenge... but what’s 14,000ft like?! Skiing 4” of fresh powder is fun... but what does 10” feel like?! For me, this notion of bigger, better, faster, steeper has led to big trips far and wide, but hardly ever in Maine, my home state for over 20 years. Because the grass must be greener elsewhere, right?
Growing up in Maine introduced me to the beauty of outdoor recreation through running, biking and kayaking, but as I got older the intrigue of the west began to capture my attention. Publications like Outside and National Geographic always seemed to popularize the epic adventures in Colorado, Utah, California and other western states. Sooner than later I found myself traveling well beyond my home state to satiate my outdoor addiction. Maine just couldn’t provide the same visceral reactions as were “reserved” for the legendary landscapes of the western states. Yet as I would soon discover, Jamie and Chris were the perfect guides to prove me wrong.
They are both fellow Mainers who have traveled the world as professional photographers but are always most content at home. Holly and I were invited to join them on a two-day trip to hike Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park. With Jamie and Chris as our leaders, I was excited to explore somewhere closer to home and knew these two were capable of pulling back the curtain to unveil the magic of Maine in a way I haven’t seen.
Driving into a park always evokes an allure of promise. Waiting in a line of cars to get past the gate reassures that this protected, coveted space must be worth it. It was no different last fall when we rolled into Baxter State Park with our eye on Mount Katahdin. Trees filled with yellow and orange leaves hugged the edge of the dirt road and nestled the welcome hut, providing an exceptional invitation.
Under a crisp, blue sky, soon to be filled with pastel shades of pink and purple, Holly and I walked through the park. The surrounding landscape was stunning. In the near distance Katahdin stood tall amongst the forest. At 5,267 feet, Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine and is the northern boundary of the 2,200-mile Appalachian trail. A familiar sense of excitement pulsed through my body in anticipation of scaling along its ridge lines. Like the day before climbing The Grand or stepping off the plane to ski in Utah, adventure was close, and it felt good. This idea played in my head as the sun set, the stars rose, and we hunkered down with Jetboiled chili, a little whiskey and a few laughs.
A sleeping bag feels so cozy and safe on a cold, dark morning – especially when you know how strenuous the rocky climb ahead of you is going to be. Our hiking route for the day stretched across several different trails on Mount Katahdin including the infamous Knife Edge trail, a 1.1-mile rock scramble from Pamola Peak to the summit of Katahdin. I had heard frightening tales of exposure on the Knife Edge trail and horror stories of hikers paralyzed by fear, unable to take another step forward, but I was anxious to experience it for myself.
We packed up our gear, poured a few cups of instant coffee and began up the most direct route to the summit on Cathedral Trail. As many hikers know, “Direct” translates to “straight up,” and at 2,150 vertical feet in 1.75 miles, the Cathedral Trail was no exception. The piles of rocks and boulders made for a steep climb. We only had the light from our headlamps, so a fall “down below” was, literally, out of the picture. Once we reached the summit, the sun had risen considerably and illuminated the sky with gorgeous rays of color.
“NO WAY!!” Our trip leaders, Chris and Jamie shouted simultaneously, unable to contain their excitement. Both of them had been up Katahdin many times before, but neither had ever witnessed a sunrise like this. Yesterday’s fog had been trapped on one side of the mountain and the early morning sun got caught in the moisture, creating a firey backdrop of pink, purple and orange light dancing up the slope. Chris and Jamie’s excitement and their relentless dedication to sharing what the great state of Maine has to offer was inspiring. I had a much stronger connection to the trail beneath my feet. It was a new adventure and new terrain, and most surprisingly so close to home. That moment solidified my commitment to experiencing outdoor pursuits in beautiful places – especially in my home state.
We took plenty of pictures as we hopped along the Knife Edge trail - an experience I was much more comfortable with in the thick of it. Our hike down Helon Taylor trail was beautiful. I love the way mountains connect people. As we passed the trailhead and entered the parking lot, we packed up the car and started down the bumpy dirt road exiting the park. With the brightest autumn oranges and yellows, the trees engulfed us. Rays of light shown through the branches provided a mystical sight. I relaxed into the passenger seat, satisfied from the hard work of a big climb, excited about new friendships and inspired by the natural world - feelings that were all too familiar. But this time, there was something new in the mix: pride. My home is legendary.