Indira Gowell and her son Abel Tomazin live in Kingfield and spend a lot of time outdoors, skiing, riding mountain bikes, camping, hiking, swimming and paddling — and a little bit of running.
“When Abel was born…the easiest sort of way to get outside was to throw him in a backpack and go for a hike,” Gowell said. “So he’s had exposure to being on the trail since birth.”
So perhaps it isn’t surprising that 7-year-old Abel recently accomplished something that’s on the bucket list of many Mainers: he successfully summited Katahdin.
Hiking with his mother and her boyfriend, Warren Gerow, Abel relished the thrill of viewing Baxter State Park, and points far and wide, from the top of the state’s highest mountain.
“I think the scrambling was my favorite part,” Abel said of negotiating the rocks that covered the Tableland — a flat, rocky, exposed section of Katahdin located some two miles from the top.
The clouds were in and out, but the hikers were treated to tremendous views.
In planning for their camping, hiking and paddling trip, Gowell read up on Baxter State Park rules. She was interested to find out that children under 7 are not allowed above the treeline.
Gowell had climbed Katahdin via Knife’s Edge, one of the more treacherous routes to the top, some 12 years ago. She definitely understands why such a rule would be in place.
However, just because Abel was old enough to attempt reaching the top didn’t mean that’s what the group set out to do. They let the circumstances dictate their plans and allowed the mountain to come to them.
“We hiked The Owl the day before, and Abel was just like, ‘This is so cool. I really want to see what it’s like up there,’” Gowell said.
They hoped to at least reach the Tableland on Abol Trail.
“I had a feeling that he’d be able to do something that length because this past winter we did a lot of Nordic skiing,” Gowell said.
Gowell’s hiking experience helped, especially with knowing how to execute the climb up Abol and back down via Hunt Trail.
Reaching the Tableland served as motivation for Abel.
“I said, if we don’t get up there now, we might never do this hike again, so we might as well do it now,” he said.
While Gerow’s presence was comforting, Gowell’s primary concern was to facilitate a safe and rewarding hike for Abel. But she wanted to let him work through some of the hurdles he encountered.
There were a few times when Abel expressed his concern about the challenge that lay ahead, Gowell said.
“I’ve always been one to be like, it’s OK to be scared, to keep going, this is safe,” she said.
“I didn’t say I was scared,” Abel said.
“Or maybe a little nervous, but it’s pretty cool to watch him work through it,” Gowell said.
In addition to scrambling, Abel enjoyed drinking from the springs at higher elevations, such as Thoreau Spring, and also tasting water that seeped directly out of rocks.
The conditions were nearly ideal, with no wind and mild temperatures, and the sunlight provided by the late-spring day afforded plenty of time for the group to get up and back in 11 hours.
It also enabled them to take breaks when needed as they slowed down throughout the hike.
Upon their return to the Katahdin Stream campground, it was time to relax and eat. Abel slept well that night, his mother said.
“I’m still tired right now,” he said, a week later. “That was the biggest hike of my life.”
The day after the hike, the group took a canoe paddle on Daicey Pond and also hiked over to Lost Pond.
“I feel like I was going to fall over, just hiking one mile. I was so tired,” Abel said.
Gowell is thrilled that the successful hike with Abel is likely to inspire more adventures for themselves, and might serve as motivation for other parents of young children who love being outdoors.
“I guess you don’t know how far you can push until you try,” she said. “I hope that other families might see that and say, what could we do with our kids that maybe we thought we couldn’t do or was a little bit out of reach.”
Above all, she wants people who aren’t familiar with Baxter State Park to realize its incredible value.
“Baxter State Park is such a gift to this state,” Gowell said. “I really hope that everyone goes and sees it at some point because it’s just so beautiful. It’s just untouched wilderness.”