The One with Katahdin [AT mile 2078.6-2193.1]
Day 160: 20.5 miles from Monson, ME to a stealth site in the woods somewhere
Day 161: 22.6 miles to Logan Brook Lean-to
Day 162: 25.7 miles to Mahar Landing Campsite
Day 163: 22.7 miles to Rainbow Lake campsite
Day 164: 17.8 miles to Katahdin Stream Campground
Day 165: 5.2 miles to Katahdin
Total miles on the Appalachian Trail: 2193.1
Before I get into describing my last six days on trail, I just want to say thank you. Whether I actually know you or not, thank you for following my journey and supporting me along the way. It means so much to me. There will be more posts following this one, but of a more advice/reflective nature. This is the last trail update, I hope you enjoy.
Entering the 100 Mile Wilderness
The 100 Mile Wilderness (100 MW) is the last section of trail before Baxter State Park and is more remote than the rest of the trail. It only crosses private logging roads, so you have no access to towns until you get to Baxter. The signs at the beginning and end of the 100 MW recommend carrying 10 days of food. We carried four.
Most of the 100 MW is very flat—once you go over Whitecap Mountain it’s literally smooth sailing until Katahdin. The first two days of the 100 MW killed me a little more than I’d like to admit, but after that we absolutely cruised.
We left Monson with a strong sense of “this is the beginning of the end.” Stupid me assumed it would be pretty uneventful. Oh how wrong I was.
The first adventure of the Wilderness happened on our first day inside it. I’m going to tell this story first from my friends perspectives, and then from mine, because I wasn’t there for the beginning cause the boys are too fast. (I’m not slow, I’m a normal speed. They’re too fast which is their fault.)
My friend Pace, good ole Indiana corn boy Pace, was walking along, minding his own business, when he came to a river. Now, Maine has this lovely habit of not putting a sufficient number of rocks in its rivers, so there are many one must wade through the water to cross. Long Pond Stream was one such river, so Pace removed his shoes and stepped into the refreshing water. This river was special–it had an island in the middle splitting the crossing into two parts. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only thing that made it special.
On the trail-north side of the island, in the middle of the trail, was a pile of innocent driftwood. Which Pace stepped over, or so he thought. His foot landed on a branch, which should’ve been fine, if it were indeed innocent driftwood. But it was not. There was a huge hornets nest attached to the branch he stepped on.
Fiddlehead was hiking only a little behind Pace, and saw him stepping over the not-so-innocent driftwood. And then watched in stunned horror as a massive black cloud swarmed his twin. Needless to say, Pace got LIT UP. And, while fleeing the scene of the crime, he fell, banging his knee and jamming his thumb.
When I arrived at the river, I found Pace rubbing a wet cloth (which he insists is green though it’s definitely gray, but that’s not important now) on his numerous massive stings. He had fifteen on his arms, neck, and torso, with more on his butt that we didn’t count, but he said he could feel at least three or four down there.
After the worst of the pain subsided, we prepared to depart the little island and finish the river crossing, when Pace realized he didn’t have his trekking poles. With TTT’s help (he was on the other side of the river setting up camp when he heard the ambush go down), we found them. Underneath and straddling the hornets’ nest. With the hornets angrily buzzing around keeping sentry over their home and hostages.
TTT suggested we wait until night to retrieve the poles, because the hornets would settle down by then and be less likely to sting us. But we still had six more miles we wanted to do, so that wasn’t exactly an option. So I concocted a plan.
I rock hopped out into the water, to approach the nest from the water side. Then, hiding behind a tall rock (because that definitely kept the hornets from seeing me), I used a piece of driftwood to grab the closer trekking pole’s strap and drag it to me. With it safely in my hand, I jumped out to a further rock to assess the situation for the other pole. Which was much harder to get.
It was tucked under the nest more than the first, and was on the side of the nest with the entrance/exit hole. So the hornets were swarming in and out over my head. But, using the first pole (which I extended to its full length thanks to TTT having more brain cells than me), I slowly dragged the pole closer to me. Then, waiting for a gap in the hornets flying above me, I lunged and snagged the pole by the tip.
What I didn’t realize, was that the pole was on a piece of blue tape marking the nest that was stupidly tied to the branch holding the nest. So when I jerked the pole away, it tugged on the tape, which made the nest rock. Trying not to be distracted by the newly angered devils, I leapt very gracefully and very quickly across multiple rocks to one that felt a safe distance away (what a time to be graceful for the first time in my life). Unstung, I raised the poles above my head triumphantly, adrenaline wrecking havoc on my heartbeat.
I returned the poles to their owner, and we crossed the second half of the river with no other problems. Those hornets lived to sting another day, but they’ll have to find someone else’s poles to steal.
The Final Battle in My War with the Wind
Because the stupid sun is lazy in the fall and goes to bed earlier, I found myself night hiking over Whitecap Mountain on my second day in the 100 MW. Where the wind and I fought our final battle.
The wind and I have been engaged in a pretty fierce war over the last many months. It ambushes me as I’m climbing a mountain, and attempts to force me to my knees in surrender. It has succeeded in knocking me over many times, but never have I surrendered. This night was no exception.
As I neared tree line on Whitecap Mountain, the wind began flinging its icy breath at me, numbing my hands and arms, so I retreated into my rain jacket (I refuse to hike in my puffy). Sheltered inside my hood, I stepped from the safety of the trees and met the wind’s entire battalion head-on.
The wind had many minor victories, such as pushing me sideways into boulders and aiding the rocks in tripping my feet, but I held my ground and slowly advanced across the barren landscape. Thankfully the trail was very clearly marked, I easily found each blaze in the beam of my headlight. After tediously picking my way over the rocks for many minutes, I finally reentered the trees and the wind was forced to retreat. Victory was mine.
Most thru-hikers get their first view of Katahdin on Whitecap Mountain, but as we just covered, I night hiked that, so it was too dark for me to see it. I’m so glad that it was though, because my first look at Katahdin was nothing short of magic straight from a fairy tale.
We were walking along through the woods, as a hiker does, when I saw a sign pointing towards a supposed view of Katahdin. Without questioning it, I took off down the side trail, not even pausing to see if Fiddlehead and Pace were coming with me. The spur ended at some rocks that breached the edge of Pemadumcook Lake, so I rock hopped out and was instantly disappointed.
I couldn’t see it. I can almost never identify the mountains we are supposed to be able to see from viewpoints, but I figured that, with as long as I have dreamed of Katahdin, I should be able to recognize her. But I couldn’t. Until I turned my head.
Oh. My. Gosh. Never in my life have I felt such a rush of unhindered joy. Thirteen years I have dreamed of hiking from Springer to Katahdin, and there she was, more majestic than I ever could have imagined. I turned around as I heard the boys approaching, and watched their faces as they saw her for the first time. Their expressions perfectly portrayed how I felt. The only way I can describe it is how the groom looks on his wedding day when he sees his bride for the first time.
And we caught it at literally the best possible time. Sunset, as the loons were calling across the lake. I’ve had many magical moments on my hike, but this one leaves them all behind. Summiting Katahdin was absolutely incredible, we’ll get there, but this. This was straight out of a fairy tale. I will remember this moment, and the joy that threatened to burst my heart, for the rest of my life.
No Rain, No Pain, No Maine
That’s what they tell you the whole trail: no rain, no pain, no Maine. But I’m IN Maine, I thought to myself countless times, as it constantly poured rain on my third to last day on trail. I tried to enjoy it, knowing it was (hopefully) my last day of hiking through the rain on the AT. And for a while, I did.
The rain soaked my shoes and socks, so I hiked down the trail intentionally splashing in every single puddle. It’s so liberating to have soaked shoes, it gives you so much freedom. You no longer feel like you need to inch over/around every puddle to preserve your dry feet, cause it’s far too late for that. So you revert to being a little kid, just splashing in everything and having a grand ole time. At least I do. I can’t ever bring myself to intentionally soak my feet, but once they are, I go nuts.
Until the cold sets in. On this particular rainy day, I hiked so long that the sun set, and I wound up night hiking again. And I began to get really cold. Everything started shaking—while I was hiking—in an attempt to produce more body heat. I returned to avoiding puddles and streams at all costs because, though my shoes were full of water, I had warmed up that water so it wasn’t quite so miserable. But each time I stepped in a puddle, new, cold water flooded in, sending a shiver up and down my whole body. Many times I highly miscalculated the ground ahead of me and sunk into a mud puddle up to my knee. Lovely.
I finally made it to the campsite we’d chosen that morning, and it was still raining. So, for the first time of the ENTIRE TRAIL, I set my tent up in the rain. I’ve taken it down in the rain many times, but I’d so far avoided setting it up in the rain by either waiting till the rain stopped to set up or sleeping in a shelter for the night. It wasn’t that bad since I have a Big Agnes tent where I can set up the footprint and rainfly, and then the tent under the cover so it doesn’t get soaked. It did take a little longer than usual, but eventually I was warm and dry in my cozy little orange dome for the last time.
Baxter State Park
Baxter is by far the most confusing part of the trail. Figuring out where and how to legally sleep inside its borders is super confusing. But essentially, as a thru-hiker, you’ve got three easy options (and more that are less easy but I’m not going to cover those).
- Abol Bridge Campground
- run by somebody that isn’t a part of Baxter State Park (not to be confused with Abol Campground that is run by the state park and is not on trail)
- right on trail, 15.1 miles from Katahdin’s peak
- costs money to stay the night but I’m not sure how much
- has a camp store so you can replenish food since you probably ate all yours in the 100MW (you can buy from the store even if you’re not staying)
- Katahdin Stream Campground
- run by the state park
- costs money to stay the night, but I’m still not sure how much (we stayed here but I split the cost with 3 others and I don’t remember what my share was, sorry)
- need to make a reservation WAY in advance cause it fills up weeks before
- 5.2 miles from Katahdin’s peak
- The Birches Lean-tos
- run by the state park
- essentially your typical AT shelters, but highly regulated
- $10 to stay the night
- limited to only 12 people, thru-hikers ONLY and sounds like they are very strict on this limit
- there’s a ranger kiosk (a fancy sign with a tarp roof) about a half-mile after Abol Bridge with a list for the Birches. You must put your name on this sheet in one of the 12 spots to reserve your spot for that night. This sheet is supposedly put out at seven a.m. each morning and sometimes doesn’t fill up all day, but sometimes has a line of people waiting to put their names on it at four a.m.
- also about 5.2 miles from Katahdin’s peak
The rangers at Baxter State Park are all super nice and very helpful, but it was stressful for us because we didn’t full understand how it works when we got there. Pace had made a reservation at Katahdin Stream Campground way back in Lincoln, NH because his girlfriend would be joining us and since she wasn’t a thru-hiker, we didn’t want to stay at the Birches. And getting a spot at the Birches sounded sketchy (it is), so we wanted to know we had somewhere to stay.
But when we arrived at Baxter, we learned that the spot he’d reserved was about five miles off-trail. The person he had spoken with when making the reservation didn’t mention this, even though he explained what our situation was. Anyway, the ranger at the kiosk radioed around to see if there were any spots open elsewhere, and there weren’t. So we hiked on, with a future five mile off-trail roadwalk hanging over our heads.
It was a beautiful, flat hike from Abol Bridge to Katahdin Stream. We did 3mph for the whole nine miles (which is speedy for me). Passed some lovely waterfalls and streams which helped distract me from the impending roadwalk.
Then a miracle happened. We arrived at Katahdin Stream to the news that a campsite had opened up in the main camping area, so we could camp right on trail! I was so very relieved. And the campsites are sooo luxurious. There’s a pit toilet that doesn’t stink. And each campsite has a fire ring, wood you can buy, and its own personal mini shelter! It was so fancy, we were ecstatic. We went from having to trudge down a five mile roadwalk that night and again before summiting Katahdin, to camping right on trail in our own private shelter!
We feasted on our final trail meals (I had a chicken teriyaki Mountain House that my parents had given me for my birthday, I never splurge for them, too expensive) and smores that Pace’s girlfriend had brought for us around a campfire, which made for the perfect last night.
Oh gosh. I already know I’m not going to do this day justice. Before I start, just know that it was an absolutely amazingly fantastically incredible day. I refused to think about how my hike was ending (which made me sad) and chose instead to focus on how I was accomplishing my lifelong dream. Which put me solidly on Cloud 9 all day long. So much joy and excitement, I couldn’t stop smiling. But now on to the day itself.
We got a later start than we intended, which I don’t recommend, around 8:45. This hike took much longer than I thought it would, and we didn’t get back down to Katahdin Stream until around 6:30. But it’s fine, we made it, and everything could not have been more perfect.
I had heard from SOBOs that Katahdin “has a few rock scrambles.” Um, no. False. Fake news. It does not have a few rock scrambles. It has about a mile-and-a-half worth of rock scrambles. After the first two miles of just steep UP, you leave tree line to enter what is essentially a mile and half of Mahoosuc Notch but with elevation gain. Which I LOVED, but made the hike take much longer than we expected.
The views were absolutely MAGNIFICENT. The mountain range to our left as we climbed rivaled the Whites with its beauty. We took many breaks to admire the views, and to rest cause again, it was literally Mahoosuc but UP.
Eventually, the rock scrambling gave way to the gloriously flat Tableland, a flattish mile or so that precedes the final climb. On this section, we began passing hikers that had just completed their thru-hikes coming down from the summit. Some we knew, but many we didn’t. But that didn’t stop us from exchanging high fives, fist bumps, and congratulations. This is when my heart really began to pound.
And then we began the final climb. Through some unspoken agreement, we did this climb in total silence. No other hikers passed us in this section, and we felt no need to talk. My mind was playing a slideshow of moments from the trail, soundtracked by Miley Cyrus’s song ‘The Climb,’ though I didn’t tell it to. I couldn’t stop it, and I didn’t want to. Then Fiddlehead stopped in front of me.
“I can see it,” he said simply. And there was no need to ask what “it” was.
The sign. The famous brown sign marking the end of our journey. I couldn’t see it yet, because I’m short, but after a few more feet of elevation gain, there it was. I don’t remember covering the distance between me and the sign, just suddenly I was there in front of it, touching it.
“We did it,” I whispered to 10-year old me, a few tears of absolute joy rolling down my face.
I wish I could adequately convey how I felt, but I can’t. I’ve never been good at explaining how I feel, even with simple emotions. But I can tell you that this day was the happiest day of my life, and that that statement doesn’t even do it justice.
We stayed up there for a long time. Took pictures. I ate my whoopie pie I bought from Abol Bridge to savor at the summit. And we just sat. Relishing our triumph. But eventually, with the wind chilling us and the sun beginning its descent to the horizon, we knew we had to descend ourselves. It was just as challenging as the climb up, but I didn’t notice my knees complaining over the joy that filled me. That still fills me.
I read a book as a 10-year old kid and decided that I would thru-hike the AT after I graduated college. I graduated from Clemson University in May 2020.
I summited Springer Mountain, in Georgia, on March 21st, 2021.
I hiked 2193.1 miles (and then some) for 5.5 months, with a 2.5-week break to recovery from surgery.
And I summited Mount Katahdin, in Maine, on September 17th, 2021.
I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.
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