The best adventures are usually the ones you haven’t put a lot of time or thought into; where the sheer desire to get after an idea overtakes the need to pick it apart into 1000 pieces. Mt Katahdin was one such adventure for me and Dane.
I arrived on Mount Desert Island
(MDI), Maine last Saturday to visit my main squeeze where he works as a climbing guide for the Atlantic Climbing School
based in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park
. Already looking forward to shaking the dust off my climbing skills, my motivation was accelerated when Dane chirped about the Armadillo Route
up Mt Katahdin
-a classic eastern alpine climb with an involved approach to a beautiful 5.7+ granitic crack, face, and ridge climb to Maine’s highest summit, boasting one of the most exposed pitches of climbing east of Colorado. Given my lack of time on rock and rope lately (hell, I’ve never really been a climber) I should’ve been hesitant. But… I wasn’t. I figured between his technical ability and my ability to, well, persevere, we should be able to at least
give it a helluva try.
So I immersed myself in the accelerated Dane Sterba school of multi-pitch climbing refresher course nearly every afternoon that week, running through transitions, techniques, and movement. He crushed it as coach and I the attentive student, quickly feeling like we had a handle on the required skills for our mountaineering pursuit.
Great Head, Acadia NP
Otter Cliffs, Acadia NP
Otter Cliffs, Acadia NOP
Sunday was go day. We collected bits of beta from friends and Mountain Project
, threw some gear, clothes and food (Huppybars!
for me) in the whip Saturday morning and pointed north to Baxter State Park
. Baxter is busy and all camping permits sold out this time of year, so we booked a hotel in Millinocket and prepped for an early morning start. Just before we left MDI, a number of pesky details surfaced about getting access to the trailhead: parking permit requirements (!?!), Park hours of entry restrictions, and ranger check-in time restrictions that all had potential to sandbag the trip (the things you think about when you plan ahead….). We thought fast on our feet (and phones) and snatched a cancelled camp site in the Park (thank you, nice woman who answered the Park phone), setting us up with a secured parking spot and early launch in the A.M.
We had no camping gear in the car, or the state for that matter, so we put on our America hats and went to Wally-world for some “alpine gear” to get us through the night: $45 to Subaru snuggling freedom.
We got to camp, packed packs, made dinner, made breakfast sammies, drank beer, got fired up, went to bed. 3:50 am wake up, made coffee, packed car, drove to trailhead, more coffee, map check, fist-bump, got more fired up, hiking by 5:45.
Climbing the Armadillo--an aesthetically beautiful route with moderate but fun climbing—is one thing, getting there is quite another. As with most remote summit pursuits, the approach can be the most daunting, scary, and exhausting part of the journey. Armadillo’s approach did not disappoint: 3+ hours and over 2000 vertical feet of hiking, bush-whacking, bramble rambling, gully crawling, 5th class slab scrambling, and tight, exposed ledge walking brings you to the base of the technical climb and 1000’ shy of the summit ridge. Here we happily replaced our approach shoes and mental route-finding scrambles with rock shoes, harnesses, and a clear line to the summit.
Was I nervous? Yeah, some. Anxious? Sure. Was Dane? Somewhat. We paused to harness the eye of the tiger once or twice in the approach and knew there was more to come. But, just as I tell myself above a big rapid, or a huge rappel into a deep, narrow canyon, those feelings are a huge part of why we were there at all: to push our boundaries and comfort zones--to extend ourselves and to grow. This what makes us feel alive in this world, to live deeper and love stronger.
Pitch by pitch we fell more in tune with the mountain and each other. The higher we got, the higher we were and the more beautiful everything seemed to become. Nerves eased, smiles grew more frequent, and the rest of the world fell away. We were so damn happy and having so much damn fun.
The only problem was that the route ended. We were on the Baxter summit, staring at a 12’ rock cairn, with nowhere to go but down...
What we did was no great feat in mountaineering, we didn’t dance on the edge of the sport or turn any heads with our accomplishment. Many have come before us and many will be there after us. What we DID do was dance on our own edges for a day. We drew each other’s strengths, experience, goals, and motivation and set out on an adventure for US…to try, to push, to see, and to feel. Because we love it. And that’s the point.
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