Top five hikes of 2009 recalled

Posted Dec. 25, 2009, at 7:01 p.m.

It’s been such a long year and so many hikes. That’s the thought that’s been drifting through my head off and on, ever since Thanksgiving. I’m not sure what it is about the holidays that guide me into remembering the past year. Maybe it’s the nature of the season. Celebrating with friends invariably conjures memories of a particular hike, summer camping trip or winter trek to the mountains.

Maybe someone asked, “What were your favorite five trips this past year?” Answering that question makes me pause, like the anticipated fall of a water drop from an icicle. I hike a lot, every year. It’s hard to narrow it down to five. And some weren’t really hikes. They were more like adventures.

I start narrowing down the list by deciding what would qualify as a favorite, the most memorable. Meeting people would be one category, because hiking with people is always fun, entertaining and usually educational. If hiking with others and making new friends qualifies as a favorite, then meeting Lee Kantar on a wildlife tracking hike in Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Milford, makes the list.

Kantar is the state’s moose and deer biologist, and he’s also a great individual with a wonderful family who joins him when he leads group hikes. I learned more from him, a former Appalachian Trail through hiker, on that hike than from years of observing tracks on my own using field guides.

He led about twenty of us, young and old, that day and everyone with him on that January morning was engaged by his talk in the woods. He’s an outstanding example of a dedicated outdoorsman. Come to think of it, all the people on that hike were memorable, because we had shared a brilliant blue sky day snowshoeing into the refuge.

One trip to the mountains in February was noteworthy even though I didn’t hike at all, well, except for a brief walk on an observation deck and another climb to the top of a tower in seventy mile an hour wind. That was the long weekend I spent on the top of Mount Washington on a Winter EduTrip, hosted by the Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire. The experience of staying overnight at an elevation of 6,288 feet was worth the price of the trip. To top it off, the wind was so fierce that our group of 17 was stranded an extra night. The snow cat tractor couldn’t pick us up at the appointed time the next day, due to hundred-mile-an-hour winds and blowing snow. So, we participants, none of whom complained, had to stay another night. The wind peaked at 130 miles an hour that night. That trip’s definitely on the list.

I took my most memorable camping trip in mid-June, during what was the rainiest summer in memory. I camped at the Mattawamkeag Wilderness Park, a town owned park in Mattawamkeag. It poured both days I was there. Even though it was wet, I have to rate it among the best times I had outdoors all year.

Partly it was because of the fine fellow campers I met, like Rose and Ron Adams from Bangor and their grandson, Ben Hessert. Hessert was from Alaska and visiting Maine for the first time. We all made the best of the rain and with the river raging in the background I hiked only a few wet miles along the bank. It makes the list as a remote, scenic spot that’s just tough to beat in any weather. I liked it so much I went back in August for two nights.

The rain continued into July and I found a new place to hike and camp in Aroostook State Park. It was new only to me, because it is Maine’s first state park, founded by local citizens in 1939. I managed to fit a spectacular day hike to the top of Quaggy Jo Mountain on one of rare days when a hiker could get a view, other than grey clouds or driving rain. The view across the potato fields of The County was such a relief to rain weary eyes, I hated to head back down the mountain. I went back there for two nights in August, too.

But, the top hike I took was on a mountain I climb every year, but this year it was different. This year I hiked with Nelson Daigle on his 402nd trip up Mount Katahdin. He’s the retired paper worker from Millinocket who’s been counting his climbs for the past 15 years. We were joined by his daughter and her friend. The views were as expansive as always on that mountain, the August day, brilliant. Just to hike along and hear Nelson and his stories of past adventures on Katahdin and other mountains, made the trip a keeper for the list.

All my trips seem to have a few things in common. There are usually people involved in a special hike, one that makes the list. The campers, hikers, and town folks you meet add the human factor to any trip outdoors.

Weather doesn’t seem to determine whether a certain trek makes it, unless it does and then it’s usually in spite of the weather. It’s rarely about how far I hike because sometimes it’s not far at all. Although, after trying to compile the list made a realization. I should hike more.

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