Weird Horse Climbs Katahdin

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A rainbow touching down on Katahdin the day before I summited.

Ok let me remember how to do this… Its been 75 days since I finished my NoBo thru hike at the top of Katahdin, the most magnificent mountain on the entire 2,189.1 miles of the Appalachian Trail. That final climb will forever be one of my proudest moments and everything about that day was perfection. There was so much that happened leading up to that moment and so much that has happened since and I found myself in a tail spin after returning home from the trail. That is why it has taken me so long to get back on her and update about my experience. I still haven’t found the words to describe what 5 months in the woods has meant to me and how I have changed or even if I have changed. This is not uncommon and I know almost every fellow thru hiker can relate to this post trail identity crisis. Since so many have requested an update I am going to start at the beginning of the end just so everyone knows I made it off the trail alive after walking every single inch of that beautiful trail that has stolen my heart.

The final summit

I awoke at 2:30 am in one of the tiny lean-tos at Katahdin Stream Campground on the morning of August 5th exactly 5 months since I stood atop Springer Mountain in Georgia. The camp sight was pitch black and completely silent but for the gurgle of the ice cold Katahdin Stream that runs through the campsite. I was nervous, excited, and so much more. I had done exactly zero night hiking ever in my life including during my 5 months on the AT. Here I was packing up in the stillness before dawn preparing to climb the most intimidating 5 miles of the whole AT and I was doing it alone in the dark. I knew though that this was how my journey was supposed to end. Ever since I saw my coworker’s son’s summit picture from his 2014 thru hike where he is gazing east into the first light of dawn while standing atop the Katahdin sign, I knew that this was how my hike would end. Everything had worked for the 2,184miles before this moment and these last 5 were for me to do alone in the dark. With my heart pounding and ears ringing from the dead quiet I set off to summit The Greatest Mountain.

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August 5th at 3:00 am at the base of Katahdin

I started at the base of Katahdin at 3am and reached the summit at 5:45 am. I utterly impressed with the ease with which I was able to scramble over bus sized boulders by the light of my headlamp. When night blankets everything else around you the obstacles in front somehow seem less impeding. All I could hear was my own breath, my pounding heart, an occasional owl, and the sound of water trickling down the trail. When I broke tree line there was just enough pre dawn light for me to see the massive landscape of mountains below me. The words “holy shit” escaped my lips in an astounded whisper because I didn’t want to wake the world and share this secret with them. My heart continued pounding as I pulled myself up the precarious ledges above tree line. Up, up, up, the looming darkness of the mountain without knowing what lay to the sides or below me.

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So this is what night hiking is like.

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The first light of dawn behind Katahdin

By the time I reached the Table Lands the world was gray with the approaching dawn light. I practically ran the last mile to the summit afraid I would miss the sunrise. I was told that at this time of year, the summit of Katahdin is the first place in the continental U.S. to see the morning sun (turns out this isn’t quite true, but it is pretty close) and as I stood on the summit it was as though I was the only person in the world. I reached the Summit at 5:45 am but it took me almost 10 minutes to bring myself to take those final steps to touch the sign and end my 2,189.1 mile journey. For months I pictured myself in this moment and in my day dreams there were always tears. I even cried countless times along the trail thinking about those last steps and touching that sign. I didn’t cry. The feeling was incredible, indescribably, a pile of emotions as jumbled as the rocks I had scrambled over to get there. The tears would come but not until later.

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My first summit picture at 5:52 am.

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My Raven friend

I spent 30 minutes on the summit completely alone except for my Raven friend who stopped by to congratulate me. Then I started back down the mountain to meet my husband and dad who had started their climb around 6:15 am. I made it back down to tree line before I stopped to wait for them to make it up the bottom of the mountain. As I was sitting there at tree line the first thru hikers started to pass me on their way up. These were people who I knew only a little and people who had become my fast friends but all of us shared something. That high that only thru hikers know that comes on that final push to the end.

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Two of my biggest fans. My dad who did the 100 mile wilderness with me as well as a 5 day stretch from Damascus to Atkins VA, and my husband who selflessly supported me the whole way by sending me care packages and gear and words of encouragement.

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Others who shared in the joy of summiting on Aug 5th

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Myself (Weird Horse) with Peanut Butter and Juice

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Second trip to the summit at 10:15 am

Looking back and looking forward

I would like to share more with everyone about my adventure and I hope to do so in the coming weeks. I am still sorting through all the emotions and talking or writing about the experience can be surprisingly difficult. I do want to thank everyone who has followed me for all of their support and encouragement and know that it made this experience so much more meaningful.

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Comments 3

  • Avatar
    Uncle Jim : Oct 20th

    Nice way to stick the landing!!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Perry Ann Butler : Oct 25th

    Congratulations Sara!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Margaret : Oct 25th

    Can you share how you became “Weird Horse?” or did you share that already and I missed it? I’m always interested in trail name stories.

    The ending photos were awesome, by the way, and that raven, oh my!

    Reply

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