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Clouds wash over Mount Katahdin's Tablelands, just a mile or so from the northern terminus of the Appalachian TrailNin the cat on Mount Washington. Illustration by T.B.R. Walsh from Cat in the Clouds

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The Knife Edge on Mt. Katahdin, haunted by Pamola.OF MOOSE AND MEN...AND MOUNTAINS
An excerpt from North to Katahdin, by Eric Pinder

Henry David Thoreau got the scare of his life on a mountain in Maine. So did Donn Fendler. They were haunted by apparitions of Pamola in the fog.

Who is Pamola? Pamola brewed storms, uprooted trees and hurled rocks at unwary hikers. Ranger Roy Dudley stirred up Pamola’s anger at Chimney Pond Campground but later befriended him, helping Pamola get the moon unstuck from the jaged crags of the Knife Edge.

Meet Pamola, Katahdin’s bad tempered, odd-looking guardian. You can read his tales and visit his mountaintop lair (just below the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail) in North to Katahdin. Read an excerpt below.

I AM HALFWAY UP KATAHDIN, but the sky has closed in and I can proceed no farther. Piece by piece the fog is taking the mountain away. Occasionally the fog around me thins to a wispy white film, letting in sunlight, and I am able to walk quickly to the next visible cairn. Other times the fog is a dark gray soup, impassible. I cannot see the trail and must wait.

A sudden cracking, crashing sound echoes just ahead. It sounds like boulders set rolling, as if some giant creature has stumbled. Immediately I think of moose—but no, surely I am up too high. There is little for moose to eat up here. Whatever made the noise was not a hiker, for I hear no talking, no self-deprecatory curse or cries for help. But someone—or something—is out there.Fog shrouds a trail in Baxter State Park. Photo by Eric Pinder.

When the clouds slide off again, I see nothing but barren land. The granite looks the same as ever. There is no moose, no bear, no party of hikers climbing over the mountain. But something must have caused that noise—unless it was Pamola himself stepping down out of a patch of cloud and dying like an old myth in the sunlight.

I think I know the answer. The mountain shifted. For a thousand years, a loose rock poised on a ledge while wind and ice and the feet of moose, deer, caribou, and fox shook it off its base. That rock may have been waiting to fall for a hundred millennia. At last, a final nudge of wind dropped it down on a rock just below—a crack, the sound of a mountain coming down, inch by inch by inch. That rock will wait for millennia before it moves again.

The land looks no different than a minute ago, but I have heard it crumbling, ever so gradually. A slab of rock slides a single inch closer to the sea. Across the tablelands, across the eons, the process repeats. Too slowly to notice, a river of rocks is flowing down these slopes into the flat forest below. That is the speed of a mountain coming down. It is ancient yet mortal.




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Text and photographs © Eric Pinder