On September 22nd, after 151 days, 14 states, millions of steps, and almost 2,200 miles, I summited Mt. Katahdin in Maine, finishing my Appalachian Trail thru-hike.
The Hundred Mile Wilderness was one of the prettiest sections of trail.
The last section of a northbound thru-hike is the Hundred Mile Wilderness, the longest section of entire trail without resupply options or town access. It spits you out nearly into Baxter State Park, only 10 miles from the base of Katahdin. Although there were some small climbs in the Wilderness, there are large sections that are almost completely flat for 10 or 15 miles at a time, so our five days passing through felt like smooth sailing into our final, difficult climb.
Passing by gorgeous, isolated ponds every day never got old.
Those last few days will always stand out to me particularly clearly and bittersweetly. Our drive and intensity seemed to have evaporated when we stepped into the Hundred Mile Wilderness. My little trail family stuck together, trying not to get too sentimental but each of us recognizing that our time on trail and our time together was quickly coming to its conclusion. When usually we hiked solo during the day and only met up at night to camp, we found ourselves continuously leap-frogging each other and clumping together during the day. We lingered a little longer over snack breaks, stopped into every shelter we passed to sit and relax for a few minutes, and stayed up at a little later at night laughing and talking.
Our last night on trail felt like Christmas Eve, camping in the shadow of Katahdin at mile 2,183.9. After almost 5 months on trail, we were a mere 5.2 miles from its summit, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Someone set an alarm for 4am, and by 5am, in full darkness but with headlamps blazing, we set out for one last climb, cold and giddy and a little wary.
The AT route up Katahdin is a hard climb. It starts out simple enough, then gets steeper…and more exposed… and then suddenly you’re grabbing short pieces of rebar drilled into house-sized boulders to haul yourself almost straight up a mountain ridge. The sun was rising, and by 6:30 we were 2 miles from the top, taking a breather and gazing out at smaller mountains rolling away into the horizon, tinged pink and gray with bright gold summits where the sun was starting to hit. For a few hours, we had the mountain to ourselves, and the whole world was silent and glowing and massive below us.
Climbing up Katahdin while the sun was rising = magic.
Eric and Julia hit the flat tableland on top of Katahdin ahead of Alice, Daniel, and me. As the three of us strolled across the boulder field toward the final small rise, I could see the legendary summit sign, so tiny silhouetted against the bright blue sky. Eric and Julia waited for us 100 yards from the top. We all met there, then silently turned and walked single file, together for our final minutes.
The “Tableland”, the last mile or so of the Appalachian Trail.
And there it was. The carved wooden sign I’ve seen in thousands of victorious summit photos, that I’ve been walking toward for five months. At exactly 8am, I stood in front of it for a moment and just looked at it. No one spoke. I felt tears filling my eyes, walked up to the sign, and hugged it, resting my cheek on the smooth wood. Finally.
So many feeeeeelings.
In the end, we only spent a half hour on top of the world, taking photos and chatting and just sitting and absorbing the moment. The wind was whipping and our hands and ears were going numb, despite the bright sunshine. We started down by 8:30 and started passing fellow thru-hikers on their way up who had started their summit climb after daybreak. Some were new faces, but we had the lucky timing to pass a dozen friends as well. We high-fived and hugged and exchanged congratulations and said our goodbyes. We would be gone by the time they made their way down. At one point, a group of day hikers passed by as we took a break asked if we were thru-hikers. “Not anymore!” I said, surprised as I realized it was over.
Climbing down was bittersweet. And hard.
We had the most perfect bluebird sky day for our summit, but we later found out it snowed the very next day up there. The hiking season, the summer, and our adventure all ended on the same day. People will continue to summit on good-weather days as long as the park allows it, but we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect last week on trail, or better people to spend it with.
Want photos from the rest of the hike? Find me on Instagram @nicholeyoung1.
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Hello, I'm Nichole, AT class of 2016! I walked from Georgia to Maine (4/25-9/22) to test my limits and strength, to be a badass, and to show myself that if I can do this, I can do absolutely anything... and also raised $2,500 for clean water in the process. Summer of 2017 will find me backpacking the Mini Triple Crown: Long Trail, Colorado Trail, and John Muir Trail. I'm currently living in northern NJ with my incredibly supportive and non-hiking husband, working multiple jobs to fund my mountain addiction, and working on my new website, do-anything.com. You can also see what I'm up to on Instagram, @nicholeyoung1.