Summiting Katahdin (August 31)
I woke different times throughout the night, thinking about the coming day. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel when I actually touched the sign on top of Katahdin, and realized this trip was over. I kept thinking of all the different people I had met on the trail, and my favorite moments. In the back of my mind I had often hoped to run into these people again- it was hard to believe that some had finished already, and I no longer had the same chance to see them out here on the trail. It was also hard to believe I would no longer have the single goal of hiking northwards, towards Katahdin. There is something comforting about having a long term goal ahead and making slow progress day after day.
On the other hand, I felt worn out, and ready to summit this final mountain. It was exciting to imagine going home to familiar friends and family, after being away for what felt like a lifetime. I felt the timing was right for this adventure to be winding down.
I got up very early in the morning, before the sun rose. Around me I could hear all the other thru hikers packing up at their sites. People spoke in hushed voices, even though we were all awake. Trips and I ate breakfast, and then hiked over towards Katahdin. I dropped some of my extra gear at the ranger station so I could hike up the mountain with a lighter pack. It felt good to drop the extra weight.
Trips wanted to wait for some other friends, but I was too restless, so I started hiking up Katahdin alone. I wasn’t in a hurry, and I knew they would soon catch up. The (Hunt) trail started off with a gentle ascent, eventually crossing the pretty Katahdin Stream Falls. The trail became steeper and rockier with time. My glasses started fogging up with the extra effort of climbing. I soon met a group of old friends coming down- they had begun hiking at 2am, hoping to catch a sunrise on top of Katahdin. They said it was too cloudy to see much up there, but that it seemed to be clearing. They didn’t seem to mind the missed view though- they were just excited to have finished their thru hike. It was a nice surprise to see them all a final time. Eventually I hiked on, and soon began the tougher climbs over and around steep rocks. Some of the rocks had pieces of rebar inserted to aid the hiker with hand and foot holds, adding to the sense of adventure. The scenery of the mountain took me right back to climbing the Whites, the first time I really experienced hiking “above treeline”. As expected, there was so much to take in: the white blazed rocks ahead stretching up and into the clouds, the mountains beside Katahdin with pretty rock outcroppings, and the valley with so many lakes stretching out below.
As I climbed higher, I had to take a break to put on warmer clothes, in spite of the exertion of climbing. The wind grew stronger the higher I climbed. I made it to the flatter area called the “tablelands”, and enjoyed the easier hiking and final views of the valley below. Friends caught up as I neared the summit, and I joined their line snaking up this final climb. The summit was completely fogged in, but I had to agree with the friends who had been up here before me. It didn’t really matter. Everyone just seemed to feel excited and jubilant to be up here at the summit, the final destination of this long journey. We all got pictures with the famous Katahdin summit sign, both as a group and individually. I talked with Designs, who said she had already cried multiple times on the hike up, and here at the summit. She was smiling as she said it, though. It was the nicest summit experience I could imagine- everyone hugging and smiling, no one lost in grief or too much melancholy over the moment.
Unfortunately, the descent down Katahdin was tougher than the ascent. The weather steadily worsened. Rain began to fall, and I felt very nervous climbing down over the steep, wet rocks. There were so many times that I sat to slide down the rocks, my cheap rain pants were soon completely tattered! I felt cold and wet by the time I got back among the protective trees again. I was really surprised to find a family picnicking by the side of the trail. As I approached, they looked up and said, “Want a sandwich and some cookies?” I said, “Yeah!” and sat down beside them. The rain had stopped, but everything was wet and the trees dripped down on us. We could watch the final fog wisps blowing around us. The family seemed relatively un-phased by the weather, calmly eating and sharing their meal with me. They had started the climb up Katahdin, but then turned back, deciding to wait for a nicer day. They congratulated me on finishing and asked me questions about thru hiking. They asked me how I felt, now that I was finished, and I said, “Content, and satisfied.” And thankful for one final, well-timed moment of trail magic!
The weather remained improved but cloudy at the base of Katahdin. I retrieved my gear at the ranger station and then stood around facing my new dilemma. Mom and Dad wouldn’t reach Maine for several days, so I had to decide what to do in the meantime. Eventually I decided to stick to my original plan: turn around and re-enter the 100 Mile Wilderness, hiking southbound to Monson, where they could pick me up. I was hoping to see a few friends behind me in the wilderness, and I thought it would be a good way to reflect on the trip. A renewed light drizzle made it tough to get started again, but in the end, I stepped out and headed back to the trail. I didn’t know if I would regret this decision in the coming days, but I was willing to take the chance…keep going and find out!
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