SOBO Approach Trail

As my southbound journey began, I felt a rush of peace and complete bewilderment. I was entirely ready, while simultaneously being utterly unprepared.

It’s extremely gratifying to no longer be planning for the Appalachian Trail. Sure, each day I look at maps and try to plan a lunch stop and a possible end point, but the only requirements now are to keep walking south, drink water, and properly (or improperly) fuel myself. This has created a sense of peace on the drive into Baxter State Park. No longer are there any “what ifs” to research gear. What I had was all I had, and it was probably too much.

Baxter State Park

Katahdin Stream ranger station.

Baxter Park provides day packs to make the climb easier. Unless the Knife Edge is involved, a fully loaded pack is unnecessary. I was grateful to only need snacks and water for my day excursion up some of the most physically. It was a great opportunity to get some steps in without the overwhelming weight of my pack. That could wait until the 100-Mile Wilderness.

Katahdin Approach Trail

When I had dropped Jessica (read her blog here: I ran part of the Approach Trail and really liked the idea of it. The idea of stepping onto the AT and hiking north to then turn around and retrace the same steps seemed to lack that magic NOBO hikers get when they finally step foot on the AT after working so hard to get there.

My Approach Route

My approach route.

I decided to build my own approach trail. Looking at maps I decided to road walk/run two miles back to the Abol Campsite and use the Abol Trail to summit the Katahdin Plateau. This trail meets the Hunt Trail (the AT) at Thoreau Spring. Instead of turning onto the AT, I continued straight onto the Baxter Cut-Off Trail. This trail meets the Saddle Trail, which I took up to the famous Katahdin sign.

Saddle Trail.

The Physical and Emotional Summit of Katahdin

The emotions of all the planning culminating to this day were a whirlwind. I had beautiful weather, cool in the morning and sunny views all day long. After traveling for days and following agendas of buses and airports, being alone all day was nice. The Abol Trail was challenging, but a warm-up for the descent on the AT. Fairly gentle consistent grade until treeline and then boulders all the way up to the plateau. This was a good mix providing challenge but never really overwhelming. At the top Thoreau Spring had water but it wasn’t really flowing. I managed to fill a bottle and continued onto the Baxter Cut-Off Trail, where I found a better flowing source about a quarter mile down the trail.

My feelings on top of Katahdin were strange. I was excited to finally get there but it seemed unreal. With so much more left in the journey, I didn’t feel the aura and mysticism in the same way as NOBO’s feel it. That mysticism didn’t hit me until I looked back at Katahdin and realized how I would be forever walking away.

Katahdin summit photo.


Regardless of the trail you pick to summit Katahdin, it’s worthy of celebration by anyone who makes it to the sign. After snapping some photos, I wasn’t entirely ready to start hiking down so I went out to the south peak to view the Knife Edge since the weather and views were so incredible. After coming back to the sign I was ready to begin my trek SOBO on the Appalachian Trail.

Welcome Home

The Hunt Trail was one of the most challenging descents I have experienced. The boulders continued below the treeline, and there were no switchbacks like with the Abol Trail. The rocks chewed up my shoes and my feet and spit me out into the wilderness. Even so, that first step south was an incredible feeling. Finally, I was home.

Looking back at Katahdin.

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