Acquainted with Mama K: SOBO Day 1
Katahdin was so different from what I expected. Since I’ve already attempted hiking it once before, I knew what to expect until the trail reaches the tree line. The trail until that point features the kind of hiking that is similar to the hiking back home on the East Coast of Canada — incline, rocks, roots, streams, waterfalls, and, of course, lots of mosquitoes.
But that’s about where my expectations ended.
The First Attempt
During my first attempt of Katahdin, which was on a weekend trip during a hurricane, might I add, we halted our hike at the site of the first iron rung (at the tree line). We judged it to be far too windy and slippery to safely continue. So, after arriving at that same iron rung on Day 1 of my Appalachian Trail hike, Mount Katahdin was all new to me.
Mount Katahdin Is No Joke
I’ve never felt so simultaneously terrified and exhilarated, in the same proportions, at the same time. Each time I hoisted myself up another rock or grabbed at a crack for support, I held my breath. And each time I paused to slow my heart rate and look behind me, I let go of the breath in shock at the sheer beauty of the Maine wilderness stretching for miles and miles.
I didn’t feel as emotional as expected during the rock scramble, that was for later. At the top of the rock scramble, a friendly hiker let my group know that we were “only” an hour from the summit. So, we scooted across the tablelands to one finally rocky ascent. This is where I became emotional.
And A Seriously Huge Milestone
The experience for a SOBO hiking Katahdin must obviously be different than a NOBO. As a SOBO, you’re constantly reminding yourself that, yes, this is hard, but this is, apparently, as hard as it gets. You’re thinking about the rest of your journey and you’re wondering about the 100-mile wilderness to come. You’re overwhelmed with the idea of months on trail. You’re wondering if there are others at the summit who are heading out on their own thru-hike journey in the morning. You’re hungry. But so is a NOBO, probably. You’re amazed at the beauty. You’re stunned that months or years of planning have come to fruition and you’re really here, you’re really starting this. You’re one million things at once and only half of them are sore and tired.
I only cried a little bit.
In seriousness, the SOBO experience at Katahdin, for me, was a lot of imagining what it must be like for a NOBO at the end of their journey. I think most people hesitate to call themselves a “thru-hiker” for many, many miles. Call it imposter syndrome, maybe. I was certainly feeling that way at the summit. It felt like maybe it could just be a day hike. And it felt like I hadn’t gone far enough yet to be confident I could make it past Baxter State Park, let along through Maine, or all the way to Georgia. So, I didn’t feel like a thru-hiker at the summit. It almost felt wrong to take the iconic photo standing on the back of the wooden sign reading “Katahdin”.
But, like doing anything “different” in life — be it graduating and going into the woods for months instead of getting a job or hiking SOBO instead of NOBO — it can take some mental energy to remind yourself that it’s okay to take a different path. Uh, not a literal different path though, it’s still the white blazes and it’s still the AT.
I still don’t feel like a thru-hiker, but after meeting lots of other SOBO’s and other NOBO’s too, it feels real, it feels right, and I’m loving it. Seriously, I really am, and I’m not just saying that to keep you from worrying, Mom.
Anyway, back to the hike.
What Comes Up Must Come Down
The summit itself was stunning, of course. There were more people than I expected. Everyone’s photos of the summit always make it look like such a solitary thing. But really, it’s a group thing. And someone has to be there to take your picture standing on the back of the Katahdin sign.
After some chit chat, photoshoots, and tuna (obviously), it was time to descend.
The descent was, at first, a welcome treat from the cardio on the ascent. And then quickly, the rock scramble, backwards, became challenging. And honestly, I think it was some of the most technical hiking I’ve ever done. I joked about doing bouldering to warm up for the hike during my final year at university, thinking it would be a useless hobby to prepare my legs for hiking. But honestly, out there on Katahdin, I didn’t think it was useless at all, quite the contrary to be honest. Now Katahdin certainly wasn’t an epic free solo climb, but the practice of bouldering did help me to feel comfortable supporting my body with my legs and arms as I ascended and descended the mountain. Not to mention the odd foot swap or searching of a good jug for a hand hold.
Once through the rocky descent, I was ready to greet the tree line once again, especially after some near-tears as I maneuvered over the iron rungs. They’re freaky, okay?
As my legs grew more and more tired, I stopped for snacks to keep my energy up. This worked, y’know, for the most part. To my credit, my legs did have enough power left to practically run down the last kilometre towards my campsite at Katahdin Stream Falls.
And That Was Just the Beginning
Looking back, it doesn’t seem real that I did that, that I summited Katahdin. I was in a daydream all day. And I think the contrast from wondering about how the climb would go to actually doing the climb was so abrupt I hardly realized it was actually happening.
But I think what was perhaps the most surreal part of the experience was walking up the next morning in Baxter State Park, in my tent, with the next 2185.9 miles stretching before me. But one-step at a time, and the first step was to deflate my pillow.
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