Mount Katahdin was in the news this week. Fortunately, the rescue that took place on the high tablelands of this formidable mountain on October 11th was a successful one. Not all Katahdin tales end as happily.
The rangers in Baxter State Park work hard to educate hikers in preparedness and to keep track of them on the trail. Nevertheless, it is a challenging and unpredictable mountain. Every year, many rescue teams are sent out to search and recover lost and injured hikers (44 search and rescue teams were sent out in 2009).
But there is another kind of Mt. Katahdin rescue that doesn't get as much press. It is a personal rescue that takes place time and again in the hearts of those who reach that summit marker. Many inspired hikers arrive at Katahdin with a mission in their minds, or a longing in their souls. For many, summiting this granite behemoth is the culmination of years of anticipation - a goal that has been shining on their horizon. For others, it is an annual quest that sustains them.
Whatever their story, most hikers find some kind of rescue on top of Mt. Katahdin. I might venture to say that everyone who makes that one-of-a-kind climb receives some kind of rescue from the mountain, a Katahdin blessing, if you will.
They may be through hikers who are finishing their Appalachian Trail journey of over 2000 miles on foot. In the fall, in particular, you meet many of them - often rather bedraggled, thin, aglow, giddy with joy, celebrating with photos, cigars, and champagne.
They may be two old park rangers, somewhere around the age of 80, who reach the top together and say, "Well, this might be my last trip to the summit," for the tenth time.
They may be someone like Geri, who was in a life-shattering car accident that broke her neck in three places in May of 2009. After 16 months of recuperation that defied the odds, Mt. Katahdin stood before her as the symbol of her recovery. In late September, she reached the summit with her husband and friends.
Perhaps the seriousness of the Katahdin challenge is part of its allure. Over 100,000 visitors come to Baxter State Park every year, and many of those visits lead to Mt. Katahdin. It is more than a mountain.
I made my 5th trek up Maine's highest mountain in September. For me, reaching the top at age 50 was an accomplishment. I was thinking maybe this would be my last time up. I don't have such enthusiasm for the pain in the body, the tentative balancing on rocks for hours on end, the sodden feet and relentless tramping.
But -- this mountain with its massive granite slabs and arctic vegetation has an indescribable allure. After a hot shower and a good night's sleep in my own bed, I remember, and think again.
The 2010 summer camping season in Baxter State Park officially ends this Friday, October 15th.
Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, comments or ideas for more stories of the many sided people of Maine.