June 19, 2018
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Chimney Pond in the rain

By Brad Viles, Special to the News

Pamola must not want me to do this hike, I’m thinking on my way up the Chimney Pond Trail last Tuesday. Pamola is the deity who the Penobscot Indian people believe controls the weather on Mount Katahdin.

I’m not sure how I offended the part moose, eagle and human creature, but I was pretty certain I did something. Otherwise, I couldn’t come up with an explanation for why it was raining steadily as I trudged along the trail.

My hiking partner for the planned overnight at Chimney Pond Campground, in Baxter State Park, was Charlie Cirame, a Millinocket resident who has climbed the mountain more than 20 times. He was behind me somewhere as we headed steadily up the trail to the hike-in campground. We left our lean-to at Roaring Brook around 9 o’clock, but we didn’t hit any real rain until about halfway up the 3.3 mile, rocky trail.

By the time we reached Basin Pond, a spot where there’s ordinarily a view of the whole mountain, all I could see was the pond. Everything else was a grey blur. If I hadn’t been there several times before, I would never have guessed that there was a mountain up there. But it was up there, so after a brief stop to let Charlie catch up, I hiked on toward it.

The thing that probably upset Pamola most was that Tuesday was my birthday and I planned to celebrate on the summit. To offend the creature more, I guessed, if I counted right, it would be my 100th climb to the top. That really must have made him mad.

I was not going to let a little thing like a ticked-off deity ruin my good time, however, and pressed on through the steady drizzle. There was water everywhere. Bill, the ranger at Roaring Brook, had told us that Chimney Pond had received 3 inches of rain on Sunday, two days earlier. Added to the rain falling on this Tuesday, all that water was coursing down every brook the trail crossed. Fortunately, the streams have bridges across them. All except for one, Dry Brook.

Dry Brook is the last brook the trail crosses before it reaches Chimney Pond. Ordinarily the brook is dry as sandpaper, with no water in it all in summer, but not this day — it was several inches deep. Fortunately the water level was below the rocks, and that allowed me to ford it without getting my feet any wetter.

Soon, I was at an open-sided, covered shelter at Chimney Pond. The park built it this year to protect hikers from the elements. There were a few others standing under it and after greeting them and checking in with the ranger, Cathy Lutz, I made it to the lean-to to get changed into dry clothes.

Cirame showed up a little later and we took stock of our options. Between cups of powdered cider mix and hot chocolate we decided that we wouldn’t be climbing any farther that day. It wouldn’t have been be impossible, but it sure would have been ugly and possibly dangerous. At the shore of Chimney Pond only occasionally did the cloud we were immersed in lift enough to see across to the wall of the Great Basin.

We agreed that we could climb the next day if we woke up and saw any improvement, rainwise. With that decision made we settled in to the lean-to, hung wet gear and over more hot chocolate, mixed nuts and granola bars, we played cribbage, told jokes and killed time until supper.

Lutz visited with us as she made her rounds, then it was time to eat. We had our meals of cold-cut sandwiches, more snacks and cider, followed by the last of the nuts and turned in soon after dark. The temperature was cold, in the low 40s, but I was toasty in my sleeping bag.

Around 2 a.m. I woke up to what I thought was the sound of a rock slide, but it could have been thunder. There was only one long rumble, but in my half sleep I couldn’t tell the difference. Still a mad attempt from Pamola designed to discourage me, I figured. I turned over and went back to sleep.

By morning, it had stopped raining. We had a few more views of the mountain out the front of the lean-to, but still it was grey towards the summit. After breakfast Cirame and I made the decision that today wasn’t going to be the day to hike to the top either. Pamola had finally convinced me that he would decide when I climbed.

We packed up and headed down. As is typical of so many mountain excursions, the sky threatened to clear just as we hit the trail. The sun actually came out as we hiked the trail down. Another of Pamola’s tricks, I figured.

But this time I fooled old Pamola, because after reaching the truck at Roaring Brook, the clouds rolled in again. It would have been worse if it turned out nice and sunny on the day I left. I’m probably taking too much pleasure in that, I thought, because next time Pamola could have something really bad in store.

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