After much consideration and communication with Baxter state park rangers, we decided to summit Mount Katahdin on Sunday, June 26th. Heavy rain was predicted for our original start date on Monday, June 27th. Katahdin is extremely challenging on a good day (steep descents, rebar hand and foot holds, long exposure above tree line) that it’s not recommended to do in bad weather.
So, after a lot of scrambling to change our accommodations, we were able to secure the last available tent site for Sunday night. This means we would wake up at 4am to jump in the car and drive from Byfield, MA to Baxter State Park outside of Millinocket ME (about a 5 hour ride) to hike one of the most challenging hikes on the AT (5.2 miles to the summit with over 4000 feet of ascent) all before dark. It takes most hikers about 6-8 hours to complete. Not an ideal situation after a long car ride but better than the alternative of dangerous rain hiking on Monday.
The drive up went smoothly and gave us time to reflect on our upcoming adventure. We entered Baxter State Park around 9:30AM and Hayley immediately spotted a moose and 2 calves at Stump Pond- a good omen we think! We arrived at Katahdin Stream Campground a little before 10:30AM and ran into some red tape issues with the ranger on duty. We didn’t have a parking pass to park for the Katahdin Stream Campground which by their rule means you can’t hike. We had been told previously that our campsite included the parking pass and would allow us to summit on Sunday. Eventually the ranger agreed to allow us to proceed, and we registered as Southbound Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers!!
Now it’s a mad dash to get up and down the mountain before dark. We quickly threw up our tent at our campsite, left several pieces of heavy gear in the tent, and started the ascent. It was every bit as grueling as we remembered having previously hiked the mountain few years ago. We were certainly thankful to have lighter packs. Three miles into the hike we made it above tree line to nothing but spectacular views and an abundance of sunshine. Maybe a bit too much sunshine as we quickly drained our water and became fatigued from heat. The early morning and long drive also did nothing to help our tired muscles as we pushed and pulled ourselves up over the large boulder scrambles. The ascent seemed to go on forever and the bugs bit us relentlessly.
We found reprice when we got to the tableland section as the trail now only ascended gradually versus incredibly steep. We were disappointed though to find Thoreau spring dry, nevertheless we continued to the summit. We felt strange knowing once we got to the large “Katadhin” sign our thru-hike would officially start. As we placed our hands on that monumental wooden sign, we thought “now the miles count!” We enjoyed the incredible views from the summit, looking down all green forest, lakes, and ponds that would become our home. It was nice to have the summit mostly to ourselves as the majority of hikers had already started back down.
We began the descent with caution and excitement. We were thankful it was not raining or wet as the downhill was almost more challenging than the uphill. We were reaffirmed with our decision to hike Mount Katahdin a day earlier. While not unscathed, we were fortunate to complete the day with minimal injuries (the usual rolled ankles, banged up shins and scrapped knees). We also enjoyed refilling our water at Katahdin Streams Falls, the crisp, cold, clear water is ethereal in its purity. We’ve don’t often experience water quite like this.
We rolled into camp around 6:30PM, slightly earlier than we expected and set up camp as we normally would. Enjoyed a nice fire and had a fun chat with our neighbor who as taking a motorcycle ride around the northeast. We fell into our sleeping bags exhausted and elated that our thru-hiking journey has begun!
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