Trail Monster Running

Visit the official TRAIL MONSTER RUNNING website for information on upcoming group runs, local trails, trail races and more, including the Pineland Farms Trail Running Festival and the Bradbury Mountain trail Running Series.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Note: I started to write this post 3 weeks ago, but abandoned it. Now it's been resurrected because I like some of the images.

I suppose I was still supposed to be taking it easy and recovering from the VT100 two weeks ago but when you're spending a long weekend in a place like Baxter State Park it's hard not take advantage of the mountains and trails. On Friday morning we packed up our car (with a full tank of vegetable oil), and headed north with my parents, sister and her kids following. We stopped along the way to pick up my cousin Jon in Hampden and then finished the 225 mile drive to Katahdin Stream Campground on the west side of Mt. Katahdin. After setting up our three campsites we had a little time to kill before dinner so Emma and I decided to get a short run in.

We chose the Grassy Pond Loop Trail which is my favorite trail to run in the park. It's only 4.3 miles from the campground round trip, and a mile and a half of it is on the tote road, but the 2.8 miles of trail are spectacular. This is some seriously technical trail running with a plethora of rocks and roots to keep your feet moving quickly and enough hills to switch up the pace and keep your heart rate up.

The trail passes Elbow Pond, Daicey Pond and Grassy Pond.

On Saturday we headed out on a leisurely hike with the whole family up to Katahdin Stream Falls, just over a mile from our campground. From there Emma, Jon and I climbed to the top of the Owl. The Owl is a small mountain, relatively speaking at 3,736 feet, to the northwest of Katahdin. On a good day the views of Mt. Katahdin would surely be incredible, but we were mostly under cloud cover and when the clouds did break we didn't got to see much more than where we had come from below.

I found the most exciting part of this hike to be the vast array of fungi growing along the trail, I'd never seen anything like it and ended up taking about 50 photographs of unusual looking mushrooms.

On Saturday evening the rain began, and it kept up all night in the most ferocious manner. Luckily we were sleeping in a lean-to so we didn't have to worry about getting wet while we slept. I later found out that we got 2.8 inches of rain that night, that sounds like a lot, but it's a lot more when it all comes running down the mountain in the streams and down the trails. We woke up Sunday morning with hopes of getting an early start to climbing Katahdin to find that the little stream that ran through our campground had risen by about 2 feet and it was still raining. After an extended breakfast the rain eventually let up and we decided that it would be "safe" to begin our climb, the ranger reported wash-out conditions on the trails but they were still open!

I told my family we'd be back in 6 hours but Emma and I hoped to be able to break 5 hours up and down the mountain. I knew this was an ambitious goal, especially since it was only 2 weeks after my 100 miler, and now that the trails were soaked/submerged it was going to be even more difficult. But Emma and I agreed to "take it easy" and not push the pace too hard, I didn't want to do more than my legs could take and neither of us wanted to slip and fall to our death.

From Katahdin Stream campground we ran along the Tote Road for 2.4 miles to Abol Campground and from there took the Abol Trail up Katahdin. The first mile of the Abol trail would be runnable in decent conditions and we covered the first half of that mile pretty quickly, but as the slope began in increase we encountered the water running down off the mountain and the wash-out conditions. There was no point trying to keep out feet dry in this. Soon we reached the exposed rock slide that makes up the next 1.5 miles of the Abol Trail and we were no longer in running water. This part of the trail is incredibly steep but doesn't have the large boulders of some of the other trails so we were able to keep a pretty good pace going up the mountain. A few areas of loose footing kept us alert but no major problems. The mountain was completely enshrouded in clouds so there was no need to stop and enjoy the view. At 5 miles we reached the Table Land and I had hoped to be able to run the rest of the way to the summit of Baxter Peak, but the fog was so thick I became concerned about going off the trail. With no sun to give us a sense of direction it would be easy to get disoriented up here (no map and compass either) we decided to move at a slow pace to be sure we stayed on the trail.

We reached the 5,271 foot peak 2 hours and 38 minutes after leaving our campsite. We took a 4 minute break to photograph a couple of thru-hikers who had just completed the AT and then headed back down the way we had come up. The Abol Trail is not recommended for descent, but in these conditions I actually thought it would be one of the safer trails to take. The Hunt Trail would have taken us right to our campground but that trail is mostly large boulders that can get pretty slick when wet. Abol proved to be a good way down for us, we created a few mini landslides as we went but nothing too dangerous to ourselves or any of the few people coming up. The pace going down was actually about the same as going up and I began to wonder if we'd break 5 hours, I certainly wasn't going to push the pace just to make that arbitrary goal though.

When we reached the more gradual (and submerged) section of trail we were able to start running again and we both felt really good. When we finally hit the drier trails we kicked up the pace a notch and had a lot of fun weaving around the rocks and roots in the trails and splashing through the puddles. By now I knew that my legs weren't going to give out and that I wasn't at risk of falling off the mountain so I felt okay about running fast. The last 2.4 mile stretch along the Tote Road was a great way to really stretch out the legs after the pounding of descending nearly 4,000 feet. We made it back to our campsite in time to join the rest of our family for lunch, 4 hours and 48 minutes after we left.

Not much action for the rest of that day.

Monday morning we got up early and ran another loop of the Grassy Pond Loop Trail before breaking down our campsite and heading home. We had hoped to bump into Karl Meltzer over the weekend since we knew that he would be starting his attempt at the AT speed record on Tuesday but it turned out we left a few hours before he arrived. D'oh!

Anyway, the recovery from my first 100 miler seems to be going well and I feel great. One of the best parts of this trip was trying to put back on a few of those pounds that I lost during the 100.


Jamie said...

Sweet pictures. Baxter rocks.

Pathfinder said...

Hey Ian,

That climb sure sounded exciting. I have not done that but am inspired to after reading your report.

Thanks for the run Saturday, I felt quite special to run with a bunch of elite ultra runners. I had a great time and am looking forward to the race in a couple weeks. HTTP://

Regis Styles said...

I saw some fungi along the Bull Run Trail I think you'd like but alas I didn't have my camera with me that day!