It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. ~ Sir Edmund Hillary
I had been looking forward to this day for a long time, for many reasons. It was the final Portrait of a year long body of work. It was also the day I would conquer the mountain I’d been hoping to climb ever since I’d moved to Maine over 8 years ago. I had to prove to myself that I could do it. It was basically all or nothing. I was determined to say the least. What I didn’t realize is how difficult the journey would be that would demand every single last ounce of energy I had and a lot more.
The day began at the MaineBound Adventure Center at 4am where we picked up the group comprised of Dave, Derek, EJ, and Thad and headed up to Baxter. After some final preparations, we set off on our hike on the Abol Trail just before 7am. The higher you climb on the mountain, the steeper and more rigorous the ascent. I’m an inexperienced climber to say the least so I didn’t realize how much water I was consuming on the way up. I was a little past the 3/4 point when my water supply ran out with the toughest part of the climb still ahead of me.
My muscles were beginning to cramp, the sun was beating down, and I still had what seemed like miles to go to reach the flat lands. A couple of hikers on their way back from the summit checked on me, gave me some of their water (what would become a recurring trend) and gave me words of encouragement. I continued to climb but the boulders were getting bigger and my energy was fading. The biggest motivator that kept me moving up was looking back down. There was no way I was going back down the way I came. After many hours of hiking, I reached the summit of Katahdin just before 4pm. It was an emotional experience for me and the culmination of a year’s worth of sacrifice. I had been planning for this shot for a while and it came out with the help of my human tripod (Derek). I had purchased a special cable for my camera and used Pocket Wizards to remotely trigger it. I had EJ and Thad standing on either side of me with strobes for fill. We were only at the summit long enough to take a few pictures before we had to go. Little did I know I was already in trouble.
I thought the descent would be easy, or at least I did until the adrenaline wore off. Then my body slammed into a wall and my pace slowed considerably. I didn’t reach the Saddle Trail and the beginning of the slide until about 6pm. The sun was already going to bed on the other side of the mountain and I was beginning to get worried. Little did I know that everyone else was starting to get worried too. Thad and Derek had gone way ahead and EJ stayed behind with me. As the sun set, we began to communicate with the rest of the party that we weren’t sure how much farther we had to go until we reached Chimney Pond.
After nightfall, visibility was poor and only one of us had a flashlight. EJ would shine the light in front of him,walk 20 yards, stop, turn around and shine the light for me to reach his current location. We did this for an hour and half and I was well beyond the point of exhaustion. We had been hiking for over 13 hours. The rangers were called to try and locate us but it took a short while for them to mobilize. We heard some rustling around us and EJ made a makeshift shaker by putting some stones in a bottle to warn the animals and bears we were there. We didn’t want any surprises.
When the ranger found us, we were apparently 100 yards away from the station. He offered us food and a place to stay which we gladly accepted. Dave returned in the morning to meet us at the end of the hike and he was a sight for sore eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a car in my life. In total, we hiked over 11 miles in about 19 hours. It was a long and grueling day and a half. It was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life and probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I don’t feel like there was a more fitting way to end the project. I summited two mountains on this day and that will stay with me forever.
(Left) Derek, (Center) Thad, Tony, EJ, (Right) EJ looking at Chimney Pond