All Good Things Must Come to an End: My Final 2 Weeks on the Appalachian Trail
I’ve done it! I hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. I could just post my summit photo and jump right to next adventure (or, working for the man, ugh), but I think I’d be a little remiss if I didn’t share with you my experiences and pictures during my last two weeks on the trail leading up to my Mt. Katahdin summit.
In my last post, I’d left off in Rangeley, ME, and since then I completed the Saddlebacks and Bigelows, the 100 mile Wilderness, and summited Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
Maine is a Water Wonderland
The trail in Maine leading up to the fantastic finale atop Mt Katahdin is a beautiful, fitting end to my time as a homeless woodsman. I left Rangely after an awesome stay and day of rest (ok mostly just eating) with my hiking buddy’s friend Xavier. Big shout out to X for taking us in and cooking for us!
The Saddleback Range was one of my first tastes of just how beautiful this state is. Dozens of lakes and ponds dot the landscape from the rugged mountain tops. The Saddlebacks are above treeline, so even though there’s a big climb and drop in elevation, with such great views I didn’t even notice. Oh, and wild blueberries at both peaks made the climb even more enjoyable! Put those blueberries in my mouth!
My Favorite Day in Maine: The Bigelows
For five months, I’ve been working towards one tangible goal. On a beautiful day in central Maine, I caught my first glimpse of that goal in the distance, and I couldn’t help but just stare at it in disbelief for much longer than I’d planned.
I’d started the day camped with Chiclet right near the Horn pond, having fallen asleep to the sound of loons, my all time favorite bird call. Maine’s mornings have been quite chilly, so it motivates us to start climbing mountains just to warm up.
We climbed Bigelow West Peak, and the views back to the Saddlebacks, Avery Peak, Little Bigelow, and down to Maine’s many ponds, lakes, and rivers wer breathtaking. Both Bigelow peaks were above treeline, so I stopped constantly to take all the views in during the hike from West Peak to Avery Peak.
From Avery Peak, I spotted Mt. Katahdin far off in the distance. My first sight of the end was incredible. After so many days toiling on the trail, I could physically set my sights on my goal. It was an exciting, beautiful moment, but also a little melancholy. Chiclet and I sat on the Peak for over an hour, staring at the view and eating all of our snacks for the day (since hiker hunger is real and I have no discipline when it comes to chocolate anymore).
The Beginning of the End: the 100 Mile Wilderness
After finishing the Bigelow’s, a stay in the town of Caratunk, ME (population 50), and easy, boring two days into Monson, Chiclet and I set off into the abyss of the 100 mile wilderness.
The 100 mile wilderness is billed as one of the most remote, rugged, and beautiful sections of the entire Appalachian Trail. In reality it’s not quite a wilderness and not quite 100 miles. In my 5 days in the wilderness, I was rained on for 4 straight days. As a result, my opinion of the 100 mile wilderness is a bit skewed. Luckily, the terrain is comparatively flat, some of the flattest on the entire trail.
There is beauty in the 100 mile wilderness, but the trail and the campsites were so busy at times it reminded me of the early days in Georgia where every shelter was swarmed with thru hikers. I think I passed at least 5 separate groups of 10-15 teenage girls out for an “adventure camp” in the wilderness. Lots of section hikers were out as well to tackle the wilderness. Maybe I hit this part of the trail at the wrong time of year, but it certainly lacked the remoteness I’d been led to believe it possessed.
The wilderness’s redeeming qualities were a plethora of beautiful ponds and lakes and my first up close views of the big K. It didn’t rain all day everyday, so I did get to savor some of my last few days on the trail drying myself out temporarily while stuffing my face with wild blueberries. The terrain is flat but rocky, but in comparison it’s really like the red carpet to Katahdin for a northbound hiker.
Disbelief in Katahdin’s Shadow
All in all it took me 5 days to complete the 100 mile wilderness. The feeling I got as I crossed the Abol Bridge and was greeted by a stunning close up view of Katahdin was of utter disbelief. Only 15 miles separated from the summit. I’d made it to my goal. There she was in all her beauty. I celebrated at the Abol Bridge Restaurant with ice cream of course. I was joined by several other thru hikers I’d had the pleasure of meeting along the way. We all shared stories and beers and did the hiker trash thing by camping next to a free dirt mountain rather than paying to stay at the either of the campgrounds adjacent to our dirt mound home.
Due to Baxter State Parks camping restrictions and my desire to have a shorter summit day, I only hiked 10 miles the next day in order to camp at the base of Katahdin. We got there by noon. With nothing to do, the group of us summiting the next day wasted the day lounging in Katahdin’s shadow and sharing our Last Supper on the trail. When I retired, I couldn’t sleep, anxious like a kid before Christmas for the morning’s climb.
In order to beat the swarm of day hikers that attempt Baxter Peak every day, Chiclet and I got an early start, filled with nervous excitement about our final climb. After nearly 5 months and 2200 miles of hiking, today was the day we were to end our journey. The whole day felt utterly surreal. We’d planned on a 9th of August summit due to the better chance of a clear weather day. We started our 5 mile, nearly 5000′ elevation gain climb with a beautiful clear sky.
The first mile of the climb was beautiful and flat as we followed the Katahdin Stream up to the Katahdin Stream Falls. Chiclet and I kept asking each other, “Is this real? Can you believe we’re actually climbing Katahdin?” Once we got past the falls, we began our climb in earnest. The bulk of the climb is in the middle 3 miles. And boy what a climb it was, with near technical boulder scrambling, climbing, and big views.
The Gateway, the last steep portion of the climb, is all above treeline with far reaching views back into the wilderness and an ominous view of the extremely steep climb to come. Unfortunately, the wide open view revealed the ominous incoming clouds. Despite my pleas for the sun to burn off the clouds, Baxter Peak on Katahdin and the Tableland was completely socked in.
Once we passed the Gateway to the Tableland, the easy last mile and a half to the end, we walked in a fog. Every step was propelled by the idea that the sign on Katahdin, the end, would appear out of the clouds at any moment. I passed a few fellow thru hikers on there way down, we hugged and congratulated each other on our feat. As we kept walking, for 10 brief, magical seconds, the sun partially cleared the fog, and I saw the sign atop the peak not 50 yards away. It’s real! It exists!
Pumping my fists, and yelling, I quickened my pace till I reached the sign, bent down and kissed it, then jumped atop the sign, raising my fists and yelling at the top of my lungs in victory! My long trek was over!
Miles Hiked So Far:
All 2190 of Them! Now What?!?
Thanks everyone for following along with my journey! It’s been incredible and life changing. If you any have questions about my experience or think it would be cool if I wrote a little bit more about my reflections, gear, advice, etc, comment below and let me know! Until then, this is Blue Steel, signing off. Follow my Instagram for any future (but probably less epic) adventures I go on.
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