My Katahdin Story

“You got a lonesome road to walk
And it ain’t along the railroad track
And it ain’t along the black-top tar
You’ve walked a hundred times before

I’ll tell you where the real road lies:
Between your ears, behind your eyes
That is the path to Paradise
Likewise, the road to ruin”

-lyrics from ‘Wait For Me’, Hadestown

It was summit day.

I awoke in Millinocket, after a mediocre night of sleep. Today was going to bring perfect weather for Mount Katahdin, clear skies, an occasional breeze, and temperatures that made you want to just hike all day. As such, it seemed like every hiker in Maine rearranged their plans to show up for it, eliminating any chance for a slower hiker like myself to grab a spot in Baxter Park, let alone one of the coveted spots at the Birches shelters. My husband had tried to grab something in the park, the best he could find was a lean-to for summit day, allowing us to get in the park ASAP that morning. We would have to make do.

It was an odd sensation, waking up indoors for an outdoor finale to this grand adventure. So many times before, it was my habit to camp as close as I could to a big climb, so I could tackle it on fresh legs, getting a mile or so along before the coffee had even kicked in. I walked out of the AT Lodge, coffee still in hand, feeling like some sort of thief sneaking out before sunrise. We still had to drive a half hour to the park, and then another half hour to the Katahdin Stream Campground, before I could start that final ascent. We scooped up my hiking partners, ET and Lady Slippers, who had pulled herculean days to reach the ranger station after dark the day before and were also staying in town. My awe for those two is still indescribable. To put it simply, they are total badasses, and I am very glad the trail decided our paths should coincide for the last month or so.

By the time we started our climb, the sun was in the sky and there were very few hikers along the trail. I knew the challenge before me, 5.3 miles up, adding over 4000ft of elevation in that time. It would not be easy. My body was drawing from reserves I wasn’t aware I had. The motions of hiking had become automatic, the feel of Meg on my back was normalized. However, I couldn’t escape the fact that I had been doing this for over 7 months and not giving my body adequate time to recover was simply breaking it down. Everything was getting harder, slower. It was going to be a very long day.

My husband had decided to join us for that final hike. Another badass. I always joked that he was raised in Colorado, so hiking is just in his DNA, he always made it look so easy. As I got into my rhythm and my blood started flowing, he kept up with me, barely breathing hard. I was reminded of all those days we hiked together, while I was training for my LASH in 2019, and then again for this adventure. He is definitely a mountain boy and was having a blast.

My hubby, still smiling on the way up!

Worry about it later.

The Far Out app is on just about every hiker’s phone along the trail. It has the occasional glitch, of course, but one of the things that makes it so valuable is that people are able to comment on it in real time. During the heat and humidity of summer it was an absolute necessity, as hikers ahead of me left comments on the upcoming water sources. Every now and then there’s a recommendation for a shuttle driver, or a report of the next shelter’s rodent population. Once I crossed into New Hampshire, I started to notice hikers commenting on the nature of the ascents, whether it was full of roots or rock slabs, if a descent was particularly sketchy in wet weather, etc. It can provide a lot of helpful information when you’re a planner, like me.

This climb, however, I chose not to rely the comments. After the first couple, it was apparent that Katahdin was not for everyone. I had watched previous hiker’s summit videos, and I was hiking with ET, who had climbed Mama K before.  There was no way I wasn’t going to get up there, come what may.  I would just approach it like everything else Maine had to throw at me, and remember my mantra ‘some mountains are easy, some mountains are slow’. My husband was confident that the climb wouldn’t be too bad. ‘After all, they let just anyone climb it.’ He ate those words later.

ET had broken down the climb for us. A bit of flat, a bit of incline, the hard stuff above tree line, then the tundra, as he called it. The first mile flew by. As we crossed the bridge and started to climb, my focus was more on what was ahead of me than all that was behind me. The trees started to thin and my focus became even more pinpointed. The first rebar made the voice inside me shout ‘HOW ARE WE GOING TO GET DOWN THIS?!?!’ I shoved that voice aside. We are going up, no matter what. We can worry about getting down later. Just go, girlfriend. Besides, it was hard to be worried when I looked over at my husband to see that he was having the time of his life. Yup, I married a mountain goat.

I kept my focus looking up, letting my brain get lost in the puzzles the rocks presented, laughing at the things the trail was asking me to do. After 2100 miles, laughter and curse words have become my favorite climbing companions. I may not be the latest Disney princess to hike with, but you can’t say I’m not entertaining.

On up we went, pausing occasionally to let someone pass or to greet hikers as they started to make their way back down. It was great to be able to congratulate folks I had been hiking around for the last few weeks. Every one of them encouraged me on. I know a lot of hikers who would have been sour to have so many people around. Not me. Bring on the people! I threw myself into the trail community like a rock star into a crowd surf, it is one of my favorite takeaways from this journey. With each hiker that crossed my path, I started to get more and more excited.

This is the climb that never ends, it just goes on and on, my friends….

Finally, I reached the table land, where the trail flattens out a little. The hubby, Lady Slippers, and I were still together, and keeping an eye out for ET, who was still making his way along the climb. The altitude was definitely affecting my breathing and energy, but the views reinvigorated me. It truly was a perfect day. Enough fluffy clouds to make for gorgeous photos but not obstruct the views, and still enough bright sunshine to keep me warm. I looked up and there she was. The end of my journey. The reason I slept through nights in the teens and walked in pouring rain and endured rashes left by sweat and salt on my shoulder straps of my pack. I was almost there!

Almost.

Back in my half marathon days, I regularly ran one race in Virginia Beach, VA. The last stretch of that race was down the beach boardwalk to the finish line, which sat just behind a massive statue of Poseidon. Every time I hit that final stretch, I would see the statue and start to pick up my pace. But that statue just never seemed to get closer, no matter how much I ran, it felt like it kept moving further away. By the time I reached it, I would be spent, barely able for a hobbling sprint across the finish line.

Mama K was no different than Poseidon.

So close, yet so far!

While my mind knew I was crossing my way to summit Katahdin, my body was trying to convince me that we were back on Mt Madison, head down, watching every slow step, and creeping along. It said we were just out of Palmerton, our triumph at conquering that climb slowly ebbing away as the rocky terrain dragged on. The table land made me feel like I was hiking on a treadmill, and for one brief moment I wished the weather was socked in, so I wouldn’t be able to see how close yet how far the summit remained. My body went back into hiking mode, eyes on my feet, making miles. I didn’t register my husband was now, probably for the first time ever, breathing hard and struggling to keep up. ‘We Dwarves are natural sprinters. Very dangerous over short distances.’ That line from the Lord of the Rings had come to my mind more than once over mountain tops in Maine, and now it was on loop in my head as I closed the distance.

Then I started to dream.

Since crossing into Maine, I had let my mind envision many times what it might be like to approach the summit sign on Mount Katahdin. I had dreamed a picture where I strode confidently up to it, reciting the final speech from Labrynth:

‘Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen, for my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great. You have no power over me!’

Realizing I could barely think of summit day without emotional overload, I figured it would be more likely that I would walk up to the sign, trying to talk through tears and wails of accomplishment, exhaustion, and relief, tripping over rocks along the way.

Turns out, neither was accurate.

I waited back a distance, while a group of hikers took what felt like a full photo shoot, complete with costume changes and props. My husband caught up to me, Lady Slippers not far behind and waiting for ET. I knew I wanted to have a summit photo with them, but for now I needed some one on one time with that sign. I thought about all the hikers I had shared this journey with. Those that started with me had all summited. My Derrick Knob tramily, still very much in contact virtually, were back in their lives waiting for me to finish. So many friends along the way had sent me their summit photos. Now it was my turn.

The first tears fell as I put my hands on the sign. I stood there, speechless, expecting the drama I am known for to come rushing up and consuming me. Instead, a quiet resignation relaxed my shoulders. I bent forward, and silently thanked everything and everyone that came to mind, ending with each part of me.

Gratitude

My body, for constantly rising to the challenge and demonstrating over and over that it could do the really hard things. My mind, for keeping me on track when everything seemed to want to derail my hike and for all of the conversations I was able to dig up and all of the wounds we were able to reopen and heal along the miles. My heart, for never letting me down, even when broken. Finally, I thanked the trail, for being the hardest teacher life had ever brought my way.

We quickly took our photos and videos, most of which I don’t remember at all. Sadly? There is no parking lot on top of Katahdin, if you want to get up there, you have to be willing to get down. I could make out hikers moving along Knife’s Edge, but there was no way I was going to climb another thing, not even the Katahdin sign.  Many were opting for the Abol Trail, either getting scared off of the Hunt Trail’s boulder section or just wanting to take a shorter route. Sticking with the known entity sounded like a better option for us and it would take us directly to our car, so back down we went.

An unlikely trio that was just meant to be.

The final steps

I would love to be able to write that the way back down went smoothly, with laughter and celebration accompanying us the whole way. That would be a lie. It took me forever to get down that tree line section, throwing every negative emotion I experienced over 2200 miles back in my face briefly. We were all tired and hungry, having snacked but not properly fueled throughout the day. I will say, however, that aside from one brief section, I found Katahdin much easier to descend than ascend, a last blessing. One last time, headlamps came out and now my exhausted husband learned what it was like to night hike.

In the full dark, there’s very little to distract you from the task at hand. You methodically move over the terrain, and your world is only what exists in the light of your head lamp. When the terrain evened out for that last mile or so, I started the home movie of my hike in my head. I took the time to recall some of my favorite memories on trail, locking them in my mind in the hope that the mark my adventure had left on me would never fade. Lady Slippers called out we had “.3 left!”(will I eventually stop referencing distances this way?) and I stopped. I let everyone pass me.

I wanted to finish this hike the way I started. On February 18th, I left the Amicalola Lodge in darkness, and took those first few steps alone. On September 25th, I took my last few the very same way. It took me 7 months and 7 days for this journey, and from what I could to tell, I was the last one out there on trail that day.

As they say, ‘The last one to Katahdin wins.’

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 8

  • Chris : Oct 3rd

    CONGRATULATIONS!!!

    Reply
    • Trishadee Newlin : Oct 5th

      thank you!

      Reply
  • Julie : Oct 3rd

    I loved following your Trek! Congratulations!!!!🎉🍾

    Reply
    • Trishadee Newlin : Oct 5th

      thank you!

      Reply
  • David Odell : Oct 4th

    Congratulations on finishing your AT hike. Enjoyed your excellent journal. David Odell AT71 PCT72 CDT77

    Reply
    • Trishadee Newlin : Oct 5th

      thank you!

      Reply
  • Julie : Oct 4th

    “The last one to Katahdin wins.” The perfect ending for a very enjoyable, readable trek writer. Thank you for letting me follow your adventures!

    Reply
    • Trishadee Newlin : Oct 5th

      Thank you so much!

      Reply

What Do You Think?