This is When the First Official Summit of Maine’s Tallest Mountain Happened
I'm going to go out on a limb and assume the majority of those reading already know what the tallest mountain in Maine is. Of course, it's the legendary Mount Katahdin, standing at 5,269 feet. In fact, it actually has the two tallest peaks if you count its spur, Hamlin Peak.
Every year, thousands of Mainers, climbers, and Appalachian Trail hikers summit its peak. I still remember my first time climbing it way back in the early 1990s as a young pup. It was awe-inspiring, to say the least.
The climb to the summit is no joke. The trails are difficult (some are just downright nasty, like the nightmare-inducing and properly-named Knife's Edge). There are all types of terrain, ever-changing weather patterns, metal rungs and steps, and hikers with all types of skill levels. It's a smorgasbord of potential pitfalls that truly test you mentally and physically.
This is what it's like to climb it today. So, just imagine what it was like for the first surveyors who trekked up Katahdin over 200 years ago.
Let me start off this history lesson with a disclaimer. While the belief is that the first official climb of Mount Katahdin was in the early 1800s, there is a strong likelihood (like 100% likelihood) that Native Americans had summited the mountain well before. The last thing I want to do is erase that history, so it's very important to include this note.
However, according to the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Penobscot Tribe did view the summit as a home of evil spirits. They specifically believed it was the home of the evil spirit Pamola, who would kill and devour anyone who summited the mountain.
But when the surveyors came, they ignored the warnings and got to work. According to the Appalachian Mountain Club, Mount Katahdin quickly became a peak that needed to be summited.
In the summer of 1802, the Commonweath of Massachusetts (yes, Maine didn't exist yet) commissioned a surveying trip to the Northeast. The man for the job was Charles Turner Jr., and he made his way to Katahdin along with 10 men and two Native American guides.
According to the Appalachian Mountain Club, Turner was insistent on summiting Katahdin. However, his two Native American guides refused to make the climb because of their belief in the evil spirits at the summit. This didn't stop Turner and his 10-man team, though, and they started up the mountain, climbing what is now the Hunt Trail.
The first official non-Native American summit came on August 13, 1804, when Turner and his crew reached the top. However, the surveying didn't go so well, considering he thought Katahdin to be 13,000 feet high. Just a bit off.
Turner Jr. and his crew proved the mighty mountain could be tamed, and it has been by enthusiasts ever since that faithful day.
You can read more about the early hiking days of Katahdin on the Appalachian Mountain Club website. There is some great info, including a summit attempt by Henry David Thoreau not long after Turner's climb.
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Gallery Credit: Chris Sedenka