Katahdin

A winter ascent of Katahdin is a coveted tick for all Northeastern alpine climbers, I finally got my chance.

Katahdin as it was known by the Penobscot Indians of northern Maine meant “the greatest mountain”.  Therefore when you talk about it there is no need to add Mount or Peak, Katahdin is all.  On the other side of the famous “knife edge ridge” is Pamola peak.   Pamola, according to the Penobscot, is the Storm God or the God of Thunder and the protecter of Katahdin.   The Penobscot described him as a moose head on a man with the wings and talons of an eagle. The Penobscot considered Katahdin taboo, primarily because of the fear of Pamola.

Despite the local fear of the mountain it was still coveted among the new settlers and Charles Turner claimed the first ascent in 1804 hiking the southern slopes.  Henry David Thoreau climbed it in the 1840′s and wrote about it in the Maine Woods.  Now Katahdin is best known as the terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

My own intrigue in Katahdin started in the early 80′s when I was introduced to Paul Dibello on the slopes of King Pine Ski Area.  Paul was a member of the first ascent of Pamola’s Fury Right III NEI 3 in February 1974.  This climb ended with an open bivy near the summit of Pamola with an epic rescue that claimed the life of Tom Keddy and left Paul a double amputee.   Paul didn’t climb much after that, however he went on in 1982 to win the slalom, giant slalom, downhill, and the combined at the Disabled World Championships in Switzerland.

I met Paul when I was 13 years old and my impression of him was of a grizzly bear of a man who could rip it up on outrigger skis.   I imagined he was the New England version of Reinhold Messner, with a full beard and deep eyes crushing ice routes on Katahdin and Agiokochuk (Mt. Washington).

The first week of March I climbed Katahdin for my first time with Kenneth Lamantia.  After the 15.3 mile ski in with 4-6″ of new snow falling we hunkered down in one of the many leantos and tried to sleep amongst the sub zero temps and swirling snow from the strong winds out side of our three sided structure.  My new found knowledge is get the bunkhouse for every night if you can.  Our first day was spent climbing on the Pamola ice cliffs and moving into the bunkhouse.  The bunkhouse is what camping in Northern Maine in winter should be like; wood stove with lots of wood, propane lamps, tables, benches and bunks.  When the temps are -8F and the winds are 50 mph true camping isn’t as much fun.

It seemed somehow ironic that the first route I climbed on Katahdin was the Diamond IV NEI 3+ first climbed in March of 1973 by Paul Dibello and Bob Proudman.  The route was as classy as they come with neve’ climbing between steps of WI 3 and a little mixed terrain snaking straight to the summit (literally, I belayed off the monster summit cairn).  Once on the summit we tasted Pamola’s Fury as we were hammered with 50mph+ winds and several inches of new snow.  We literally used the exposure of the South Basin to handrail us down the Cathedrals back to our waiting skis and wood stove back at the bunkhouse.

The following day we decided on the classic Chimney II NEI2 on Pamola.  Once again the winds hammered us as we descended down the Dudley trail.

I will be back to Baxter State Park to climb more in the winter. The reason is simple.  Katahdin has it all for alpine climbing; long ice routes, mixed routes, snow climbs, ridge scrambles, endless skiing, unclimbed lines and a bunkhouse.

2 Responses to “Katahdin”

  1. Todd
    March 29, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your trip reports. Katahdin is such a great place for the alpine game. Have a great season.

  2. Nico and Phil
    April 5, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    Let’s do this next winter.

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