2017 Katahdin Adventure

The four-day July 4th weekend was about as good as it gets. Any weekend when a group of family and friends were 17 for 17 in Katahdin summit bids, is a good one. Debbie, our children, and I joined 13 other Roy Family members for an awesome hike in Baxter State Park. Baxter and Katahdin are special places for me, but also for the Roy Family.

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My mother, Adeline (Roy) Livingston, hails from Upper Frenchville, Maine in Aroostook County on the Canadian border. Her house overlooked the St. John River, which is all that separates Maine from New Brunswick. Katahdin was an important symbol of my youth. We made many 500 mile drives north to my Mémère’s home, and it was on those drives, staring out of the window, that the mountain made its mark on me.



To this day, every time my Aunt Terry (who sadly missed this trip) texts me a photo of the mountain on her frequent drives to/from Aroostook County from her home in Portland. Reference my 2012 blog post, when I  made a solo trek to Katahdin for my 40th birthday. Prior to that, my last trip to Baxter was another solo adventure in 1994. I wrote about that trip in 2014 after I discovered a box of old photos.  It was about time that I shared my love of that particular mountain with my own children.

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Roy Family trips to Baxter State Park are a tradition, going back more than 50 years. Our last family trip was long ago. On July 6th, 2002, Debbie and I led a trip to Katahdin. Eight of the 16 adventurers on that trip returned this year. It was an amazing reunion considering how much has changed over the last 15 years. On that trip, we had terrible weather and never had a view. We were socked into the clouds with intermittent rain, and strong wind. The day after the family hike, Debbie and I hiked North Brother, and the conditions were even worse. We endured heavy rain, and coined the term, “white water running” because of the condition of the trail.

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I’m the oldest of 18 Roy Family grandchildren, and some of my first cousins were nearly as young as my children are today. On this trip, I was joined by seven of those 17 cousins: Monique, Luc, Gary, Billy, Paul, Andre, and Danny. In 2002, my uncles Guy and Phil; and aunt Terry, were on the trip. In 2017, only Phil was able to represent the older generation. He is in great shape, and even at the age of 60, the mountain was no match for him. My uncle Guy passed away last summer after a long battle with cancer. Four of his six kids were on this trip and it was great to see them come together to honor him. He would have been very proud to know that we tackled the mountain again.

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Over the past couple of days, we had much better weather, and despite a lot of overnight rain (on Saturday), and early morning clouds on Sunday, we were rewarded with stunning afternoon views. We drove up on Saturday, which took all day. Heavy holiday traffic delayed us in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. It wasn’t until we reached Portland, where that the traffic eased.

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My cousin, Billy, played a significant role in organizing the trip. He and I have been talking about this reunion for several years. He and his girlfriend, Ashley, are avid hikers and desired to return to Katahdin. At Christmas dinner, we talked again, and then we picked the four-day July 4th holiday weekend as the target date. The four Livingston’s, including my son Shepard, daughter Dahlia, and Debbie plus Ashley and Billy, committed early. We booked two tent sites and a lean-to site at Roaring Brook Campground, and then recruited other family members to join the adventure. We had up to 18 spots.

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In addition to the four Livingston’s, Monique, Luc, Gary, Billy, Paul, Andre, Danny, Phil, and Ashley, we were joined by Julia (Monique’s spouse), Mike (Gary’s partner), Dave (family friend), and Gary K. (Ashley’s brother). My uncle Guy was with us in spirit, and my aunt Terry was cheering from Portland.

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The whole long weekend was spectacular. Our group met at Roaring Brook Campground on Saturday afternoon. Some of us carpooled. By 8:30 P.M. we had all arrived. It was raining heavily, so setting up camp was a little rough, but everyone pitched in. My family stayed in lean-to #4, which I highly recommend. Roaring Brook was 30 feet from the front of the shelter, which made for amazing audio. Nothing beats the sound of a babbling brook. The only disadvantage of the lean-to, was the mosquitoes, which plagued us the entire trip. For that reason, I rate the adventure a 9.999.

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The highlight of the hike was the performance of our 7-year-old daughter. She weighs 39 pounds and is pretty small for her age, but she is MIGHTY! I’m so happy that the toughness that Debbie and I exhibit with our endurance sports, has rubbed off on our kids.

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Everyone arose early on Sunday and we convened at the trailhead at 6:30 A.M. At Roaring Brook, you can roll out of bed and be at the ranger cabin for sign in. We split in to two groups for the day. Eventually, the groups reshuffled and Debbie, Dahlia, and I ended up in a lagging group with Monique and Julia. The planned route was a counter-clockwise loop via Chimney Pond Trail–>Cathedral Trail–>Saddle Trail (to summit)–>Knife Edge Trail–>Helon Taylor Trail–>Chimney Pond Trail, and back to the campground. If the weather was really bad, we reserved the option to skip The Knife Edge, and return to Chimney Pond via the Saddle Trail.

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The Chimney Pond Trail was very wet, but beautiful. The Basin Ponds were gorgeous and the huge talus field beyond them was awesome to see again. Our group got spread out on the steep and rocky Cathedral Trail. It was slow going for us. We were climbing in and out of the clouds. Our son ended up joining a few of the other men and they merged with the front group on the summit. Our group of five was about 30 minutes behind. We got to the top around 12:30 P.M. and must have just missed the other group, which was unfortunate because they decided to descend the Saddle Trail and take the easier route back to Roaring Brook. They based their decision on the wind and clouds that enveloped the summit while they waited for us.

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We spent about 20 minutes on the summit and while we were up there, it started to clear. The wind calmed a bit and we figured that they were still ahead of us, having started the traverse of The Knife Edge, the sawtooth ridge that connects Baxter Peak and Pamola. We knew we wouldn’t catch them, unless they waited, but we continued with the original route plan.

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We were treated with an amazing day. We knew it would be hard, but we had all day. Both groups had all the gear needed, including the 10 Essentials. We figured the round-trip would be 8-10 hours and it ended up being 13 hours and 11 minutes. Blame it on my daughter’s short legs! We got back to the campground just before 8:00 P.M.

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When the first group got back to Chimney Pond on their descent, my cousin Danny decided to head back up with the intention of intercepting us. I’m the oldest cousin and Danny is the youngest. He and I have a great relationship. I’ve written about him many times in the past because he has joined us on several adventures. He has become a key pacer for Debbie at many of her ultramarathons. He is a talented runner too. We will see him next week in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

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Anyway, despite the concerns of his older brother, Billy, he did what I probably would have done (despite being a little short on gear…I’ll talk to him about that!) and went back up the mountain. However, he didn’t see us on the Saddle Trail, so he continue back over the summit and onto the The Knife Edge. He caught us about half way between the summit and Pamola. We were surprised and realized that the other group wasn’t in front of us. That was OK. We were going slow, but enjoying ourselves. Dahlia needed help on the steep stuff, Debbie and I took turns while Monique and Julia worked together. Danny stuck with our group until we got back to tree line on the Helon Taylor Trail. Then, he took off for the campground and dinner.

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The views were stunning. I took a lot of photos and just soaked it in. I hope it isn’t another five years before we return. I’m sure it won’t be. Our son missed out on the excitement of traversing The Knife Edge, and we didn’t get a chance to climb Hamlin Peak on the other side of the Great Basin. Plus, there is so much more of Baxter to see. I want to return and drive the entire Tote Road to the northern end of the park, which is much more remote.

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Hiking with Debbie and Dahlia was a ton of fun. When we got to the summit, she got a loud ovation from all of the adults who were hanging around. Throughout the day, we got a lot of crazy looks and positive comments. By the time we got to treeline on the Helon Taylor trail, we were all tired. She said, “I’m shot.” She needed some coaxing down the trail. When we got into the trees, the mosquitoes were vicious. That kept us moving. Halfway down the Taylor Trail, two thru-hikers passed us. They had just completed their Appalachian Trail hike. They took the Knife Edge Trail across to Pamola like we did, and were descending to Roaring Brook Campground with the goal of hitching a ride to Millinocket before dark. It was cool to experience their satisfaction with completing such a long journey.

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As dusk set in and we were struggling after a long day, I said to Debbie, “Does your taper begin tomorrow?” Like our daughter, she was also “done.” Once down, with the entire family reunited, we enjoyed dinner by the campfire. Everyone was thrilled with how the day went. It’s hard to believe that it had been 15 years since the majority of this group last climbed the mountain.


On Monday morning, we got up early again. The sunrise was amazing and Roaring Brook was babbling on. Danny joined me for a loop of Sandy Stream Pond. Debbie ran the same loop after us. We washed up and struck camp. Everyone helped each other until we were all packed up. We took our family photo, reprising the one we took in 2002. We departed Baxter State Park as a group, and bonded forever.

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