Mount Katahdin marks the northern end of the Appalachian Trail in north-central Maine. I had been to its peak before, where previous hikers had built a ten-foot-high pile of rocks so that, standing atop it, one could accurately claim to be one mile above sea level. The main trail to the summit, passes a lake with some large jagged boulders in it. There I had a conversation with a seasoned hiker who recounted how those boulders came to be there. One late evening, she had been camped by the lake, when a large section of the ridge above began to glow. A few seconds latter a rumbling roar began and grew louder and louder. She and her fellow campers realized they were witnessing a landslide, a big one. And it was headed their way! As the roar subsided, and they began to relax, several large boulders came crashing and tumbling through the forest and into the lake, splashing to rest just some hundred yards (90 meters) short of their campsite. Whew!
The next morning, a large patch of freshly exposed granite near the ridge revealed the origin of the landslide. Even when she gave this account a year later, the patch was distinctly paler that the rest of the ridge face.
It was on my last hike on Katahdin, that I also had a very memorable experience — of an entirely different sort. Me and my friends, had decide to turn off of the trail to the lake and go over the opposing ridge to the neighboring cirque. As we are setting camp that evening, there was non-stop lightening and thunderclaps above the cirque we had left behind. During the three to four hours this sound-and-light display went on, we received only the occasional light sprinkling. Before hitting the sack, we decided that in the morning we would go back up to the ridge, to look down and see what impact the storm had had, if any.
So, under a clear deep blue sky, we reached the ridge and too our amazement there was a brand new pond perhaps a quarter-mile downstream from the lake. Just the day before, we had hiked through that same area of huge boulders with green grass and small flowers growing in their big shadows. We hadn’t noticed that it was a depression, and now it was filled with fresh rainwater! We clambered down off the ridge, then jumped from boulder to boulder until we were near the center of the pond. The water was crystal clear and, sure enough, there they were: the grass and flower flourishing as if nothing had changed.
We stripped down and plunged in among the boulders and down to the flowers, pretty little white things. After several dives, we scrambled back up unto the boulders to dry off in the summer sun.
The image of those flowers under 10 feet (3 meters) rainwater has stayed with me ever since. It would be decades before I would experience anything quite so pristine. I have walked in the Rockies and the Alps, driven over the Atlas Mountains, and visited the Bolivian Altiplano, but only Patagonia had that pristine impact. Yes, the beauty of the small Katahdin pond was ephemeral; while vast Patagonia is forever. Still, I will always remember both.
I didn’t name the “lake”, above, because I wasn’t sure that my memory of it — Chimney Pond — was correct. Google Maps confirmed that. The “brand-new pond” turns out to have an appropriate, oxymoronic name: Dry Pond. Satellite View shows it partly full of water in late winter, judging by the ice on of part of it and of Chimney Pond. If you zoom in you can see the huge boulders! Our campsite was in the North Basin, the “opposing ridge” which we crossed is called Hamlin Ridge. The landslide ridge: Keep Ridge (with its death-defying Knife-edge trail). The Chimney Pond campsite has been relocated further from the shore, no doubt to reduce wear and tear on the pond.