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Real People. Real Advice.

Winter Summit of Mt. Katahdin
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My crampons fight for purchase while my gloved hand and ice axe claw at the ice covered granite. 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 tablelands, in the middle of winter, can be a physically and mentally demanding endeavor. High winds, snowdrifts 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 at 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 out of nowhere on otherwise calm days. Sometimes the god Pamola strives 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. With each footfall, the squeaking noise sends a shiver down my spine. Rocks and crevasses are hidden by the snow, and a step 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 situation.

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 Northeast. Numbness on my flesh signals the potential for frostbite, and I am forced to use my gloved hand to provide my face additional coverage against the raging and unforgiving winds. Very little visibility makes it crucial to always be within sight of all members of the group, so 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, the possibility of death. As I tire, I begin to count my footfalls, 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.

The Guide to the Wild

Steve Vose

Steve's specialty is facilitating memorable Maine experiences. As a registered guide, Steve can lead you anywhere anytime and make you feel at home. Equipped with first-hand knowledge and a healthy sense of humor, Steve openly shares the secrets of Maine's wilderness. Rely on him to survey the land and be your beacon for unique and remarkable adventures. Explore more with Steve on his blog, The Maine Outdoorsman.

Editor's Notes:

Mount Katahdin: Since Henry David Thoreau's climb in 1846, this has been "the" hike in Maine. At the northernmost point of the Appalachian Trail in Baxter State Park, Mt. Katahdin is the highest peak in Maine at 5,267 feet. Click here to stay informed with the winter policies and procedures.

Abol Trail: One of the routes to the summit of Mt. Katahdin, this trail was formed by an avalanche, leaving a trail of large boulders. Approximately 3 miles, it is one of the oldest and most direct ways up on the southwestern side. Since it is steep, it is common to use this path for the way up and not the descent.

Pamola Peak is a summit on the eastern edge of Mt. Katahdin and is known for its unpredictable weather conditions. It is named after the Native American legend, Pamola, a bird spirit who brought cold weather to protect the mountain.

Registered Maine Guides can plan and lead winter activities such as snowshoeing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling and ice fishing. They provide guests with fun and memorable adventures, and can take you to special places you wouldn't have found otherwise. They offer equipment, advice and instruction, then step aside and let you enjoy the action. There are more than 4,000 licensed guides in Maine, most operating as small independent businesses that can offer you a highly personal and customized experience.

Millinocket was established as a lumbering colony in the early 1900s. Today it is a hub for meals, supplies, and lodging for those visiting Baxter State Park and the wilderness surrounding it. Cross-country skiing is a popular pastime in the winter, and there are more than 350 miles of groomed snowmobile trails in the region. The area's fresh water lakes make excellent ice fishing spots. There are also a variety of accommodations from an adventure resort to motels and inns.