At 6:15, I woke to the sound of chirping birds and the warmth of the morning’s sun on my down sleeping bag. With much resistance, I unzipped my bag and crawled into the cold Maine air.
My dad had already checked the weather and prepared breakfast. “Great day for a hike,” he said with a boyish smile. Forty five minutes later, we were on the trail, heading up Mt. Katahdin.
Prepared by a youth spent tromping around the woods and mountains of the Pacific Northwest, I felt unfazed by numerous war stories from trustifarians at Colby and Bill Brison’s comical account of his tribulations in the 100 Mile Wilderness.
The “trail,” consisting of a foot and half gap in the Maine woods along a compass bearing connecting our campground with a distant peak of Mt. Katahdin corrected my fantasy of briskly walking up mellow switchbacks whilst eating granola bars and casually snapping pictures with my camera. Scrambling up Igloo-cooler sized blocks of granite, we emerged from the pine and hemlock trees onto a sparse alpine environment found on only a few of New England’s highest peaks.
Stopping frequently, we snacked on Cabot cheddar and Wheat Thins all while taking in northern Maine’s beauty from a 5,000 foot vantage.
Above the trees, we moved quickly across the barren mountain top. Looking down at my foot and hand holds, I forgot where I was, traveling thousand of miles away to the Rockies or the Cascades.
Confused by the thin air and sparse environment, my mind bounced from place to place transcending time like a daydream. The wind whistled through rocks, rattling the small and tilting the tall signs in the same direction.
This is a trail, look for the blue blazes spray painted on sporadic rocks.
Maine or the Rockies? For more pictures from Katahdin, check out this albumI took with my iPhone.
After ten hours and forty five minutes we made it back to a small bridge within shouting distance of the car. Sore from twelve miles and 3,500 feet of vertical change, I rested my feet in a cool stream. As the sun dropped below the rugged outline of Mt. Katahdin, I wiggled my toes in the runoff from winter’s snow. Taking my time, I jumped from rock to rock, happy to have finished the day.
After talking with Millard for ten minutes or so his eyes lit up, “Let me show something.” I eagerly followed him to the garage with no idea what was in store.
The garage door slid up exposing a room full of hunting and trapping gear. For the next twenty minutes, Millard walked me through his gear. Starting on the left: Millard’s trapping backpack, Conibear traps, a jaw trap and the wood things are pelt stretchers. According to Millard, peanut butter is the best all purpose bait and works on animals from squirrels to beaver and foxes. The Conibear traps are on the left and the anchors on the right are used to secure the traps into the ground.
Millard raved about these Conibear 120’s. They can catch a variety of animals ranging from fisher, fox, rabbits, weasels and beaver and are easy to set.
Millard used this set up to catch fishers, their pelts go from $40-$100 at auction. As you can see the traps exert a tremendous amount of force and kill the animals instantly. One winter, Millard used these very snow shoes to track and kill 96 porcupines. In the spring, he collected the 50¢ bounty and bought a Smith & Wesson Competition Revolver for $45 new. That must have been some time ago.
Millard uses these pieces of wood to stretch the skins before he sends them off the to local tannery. Starting on the left; hares, red squirrels, fishers, and foxes. After tanning the pelts, Millard would send them to a consignment auction house in upstate New York and await sale. “Every month or two I get a check in the mail for one of my pelts. Its a pleasant surprise.”
These larger, two-piece stretchers are used for coyotes. Note the sign, “Coyote Traps Ahead.” One winter Millard got 26. Millard does note like Coyotes. “Red Squirrel pelts will get 1$ in Russia. Apparently they use the dinky furs to line fancy woman’s coats. Who would’ve known.”
Three years ago Millard was diagnosed with bladder cancer. After a successful surgery, Millard’s catheter clogged and a failed cleaning led to a near-fatal infection. Three months later, Millard recovered, however his sense of balance never recovered, severely limiting his mobility. Today Millard struggles to walk and can no longer maintain his trapping lines. His eyes teared up, “This is just bringing back a lot of good memories.”
I will never forget Millard, and I hope that my generation will keep this fleeting Maine tradition going.
I left my job in New York in the summer of 2011 and moved into a camper. Since then, I have driven 100000 miles around the west, surfing and camping. During the summer of 2014, I set up a home base in the Columbia River Gorge. These are some of my stories and photos.