Sunday September 21- Monday September 29 @ 10.35am ET, Maine 15, Monson, ME – The summit of Mt Katahdin (Mile 2185.3 miles since Springer Mountain and zero miles to Katahdin)
This post has taken a while to get to get round to, as it has taken me a couple of days to get to grips with my own return to reality, so I apologize for the delay. If you have followed the Facebook page, then you’ll have seen the picture on top of Katahdin and, looking at it now, I can see the relief in my face. While I knew that I wanted this to be over, I hadn’t expected my visceral reaction at the culmination of this adventure, yet it was no less intense than it looks.
The week began just before the 100 Mile Wilderness, which is neither precisely 100 miles, nor a wilderness. There is a rather dramatic sign that warns hikers to prepare to carry 10 days of food as there is no way to resupply through the wilderness, yet things have moved on since that was truly applicable.
Our team, (me, Lighterknot, Tee Bird and Trillium) had determined that it was not only easy to resupply, but it was also easy to be picked up at regular intervals and brought back into Monson for a meal in the local pub and a bed in Shaw’s Hostel. We found a terrific local guy, Buddy, to assist us in this plan, which basically went like this.
The first day, Sunday, Buddy drove us out to Long Pond Stream, which was, in Trail miles, about 14.5 miles NORTH of Monson and we were to head back southwards straight to Monson. This meant that we had an immediate ford to negotiate and, somewhat inevitably, I was the only one who didn’t quite make it, managing to dunk my boot into the stream, with a resulting “squelch” for the rest of the day. However, once that little accident had passed, we had a fairly uneventful day going the “wrong” way, with the expected rain not materializing as strongly as the forecast had indicated. I did take one or two terrific snaps and, as this is my last post, I’m going to indulge myself and add a few of them here.
I know I’ve always talked about the difficulty of the roots and rocks, but this shows what I’m talking about, particularly when both have had either rain or dew upon them. In this case, the steady, though light, rain made them especially tricky.
I’ve also showed the wonderful things that light can do to the forest, particularly in the early morning, so these are another couple of little gems that demonstrate this. I really couldn’t get enough of these moments on the trail.
Having done the first 15 or so miles of the Wilderness, Buddy returned to the same spot the following day and pointed us north, giving us another, slightly longer day that would end at Katahdin Iron Works Road.
It was a terrific day spoiled by one silly slip on my part. The rain had continued through the night, but it was expected to blow through after about 9am and, indeed, the weather abated after about 8.30, with the rain giving way to sun, though it remained breezy throughout the day. We knew that it was going to be a day of ups and downs, with plenty of opportunities to keep warm as we pushed uphill. There were some spectacular lake, or pond, views that continued to wow us and we were all really enjoying the early part of the hike, with the view from Barren Ledges on Barren Mountain being particularly spectacular.
We had had a cold night a few nights before and started to notice the changing colors of the foliage, with this shot from Third Mountain being the first evidence of that iconic time of year. This would intensify as the week went on.
This day, though tough because of the more rugged profile of the hike, was great preparation for our legs, and we all really enjoyed the comparative severity of the day in contrast to the day before. I had just been speaking with another thru-hiker and my team had hiked on, when I slipped on a wet log that was lying in my path and flipped dramatically in the air for my 45th and what turned out to be my most dramatic fall of the trip. As I came down, in that slow motion way that we sometimes experience, I was aware of a rock to my left and flinched at a potential collision between skull and rock. Happily for me, my head missed the rock, but I ended up wedged, literally, between a rock and a hard place, in this case, the log.
It was excruciatingly painful and I knew that I had impacted my phone in my left pocket. This actually bent the phone and gave me a bruise for my troubles. There was considerable blood coming from both arms and, once I had been pulled to my feet, I was relieved that nothing was broken, other than my phone of course.
In what has been something of a hallmark of the trip, I had no real alternative other than to carry on and did exactly that, wincing from time to time, though relieved that I was not only not dead, but also able to walk. Astonishingly, my phone, though terminally bent, continued to operate as a phone.
Buddy had judged our woefully slow walking pace and was there to meet us as we emerged, tired from going over 5 mountains but happy to have wiped out another 15 miles of the wilderness. The ride back to Monson was an hour this time, with another opportunity to fill up on calories once more.
Back in the woods the following morning, with my left leg aching sporadically, we had another 15 miler that took us over the last high mountain before Katahdin, White Cap Mountain. Another great view and a self-indulgent selfie followed, this time without my trusty stic-pic to extend the view, as the case had shattered in my fall the previous day.
This time, we emerged at West Branch Ponds Road, a full two hour drive from Monson, including an 18 mile bumpety bump along a dirt road used by logging trucks. This drive had to be repeated the following day, with our last slackpack with Buddy, as he was staying in the area for a bit of fishing before meeting us once more, this time at Jo-Mary Road, to load us up with our full packs for the last time. In this way, we got through the more mountainous part of the wilderness and preserved our knees for our impending assault on Katahdin, which means “the greatest mountain.” On the way to meet Buddy for the last time, we were lucky enough to stop by the deliciously calm Crawford Pond and shoot the developing colors of the foliage.
Getting to grips with our full packs once more at the end of another satisfying day, we tried to find a campsite in the woods, as the light was beginning to fade. Luckily, I spotted an opening up of the path and found a spot for a couple of tents for me and Lighterknot, while the women moved deeper into the forest to set up about 50 yards from us. Once more, it was great to be back in the woods and I sat on a log and prepared my pasta, with only the twittering nuthatches as company; it was gloriously calming.
Looking at our maps, we headed for Nahmakanta Lake Campsite, another 15 miles north, yet were rewarded once more on the way with another gorgeous lake, Pemadumcook, for an awe-inspiring view of our ultimate goal.
Believe me, as the four of us were joined by another few hikers, this view quietened us all down as the reality of our imminent success dawned upon us. The fact that our target seemed to be increasing in size as we got closer made us all focus on the job ahead and, once sated with the magnificent view, we sped on to Nahmakanta Lake.
I absolutely LOVED Nahmakanta Lake. We got there earlier than usual and, having set up camp, hung out on the stones beside the lake and enjoyed the afternoon sun as it dropped slowly out of sight to the west. I was mesmerized by the peace of the place and sat for over an hour on a rock thinking about my time on the Trail and my hopes for my return to Diane. I shot this video and, thankfully for you, resisted filming much more! Maine has proved to be the most beautiful state and, in conjunction with New Hampshire, the last two states have been the highlights of the trip for me.
We were lucky enough to find almost as great a spot the following day, setting up at Rainbow Spring Campsite, after a fairly flat profile that allowed us to enjoy the day and not wear us out. Earlier in the day, as we were leaving Nahmakanta, the path took us out of the woods for about 200 yards and led us along the beach around the lake for that short distance. Of course, I recorded this unexpected treat before we dived back into the woods.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to grab my camera in time to record two moose that suddenly emerged from the bushes about 25 yards ahead of us. There was a mother and her calf (apparently from the bovine family), and we watched open-mouthed as they sauntered back into the woods to continue their assault on the limitless leaves. I may have said it before, but seeing the majesty of such animals in their own, very comfortable environment is very humbling and reduces mankind to awestruck onlookers.
No apologies for showing that evening’s campsite attraction, where about a dozen hikers, mainly thru-bikers but also some section hikers, gathered to watch the sun go down. The following morning, I got there early, by myself, and filmed as the sun pulled itself up to light up the trees on the opposite bank. I’ve been really appreciating my time alone and marveling at the glorious displays that nature is granting me.
It was now Saturday and everybody was feeling the growing anticipation of Monday’s climb, appreciating the beauty of the past few weeks, yet ready to go home and keenly aware that Monday was forecast to let us down with a 50% chance of rain, having rewarded us with stunning weather all week with both Saturday and Sunday expected to continue in this vein.
The walk out of the wilderness, to the deeply unattractive Abol
Bridge, was easy and mainly flat, with a wonderful little trip over Rainbow Ledges that gave us another glorious shot of our goal though, amusingly, Tee Bird and I spent about 10 minutes trying to identify Katahdin, only to find a few minutes later that we had been looking in precisely the wrong direction. The real thing, as you can see in this picture, wasn’t to be misidentified.
I’m not sure if it was the anticipation of the finish, or the accumulative effect of my 45 falls, but I was really struggling on what should have been an easy day and, when I mentioned this to Lighterknot, he felt exactly the same, so we presumed it to be the former.
The only real attraction to Abol Bridge is the fact that there is a campsite and restaurant, where Lighterknot and I demolished burgers for both lunch and dinner. However, the view from the bridge itself was pretty darn wonderful, as you can see.
I left it a little too late to take advantage of the shower that evening, so hurried into it at 5.30 the following morning. Unfortunately, I was completely unable to make my chosen shower work, so gathered up my clothes and darted across the room to the other shower before failing miserably with that one as well. As a consequence, my trip up Katahdin was going to take place with the added weight of a week’s worth of accumulated sweat and grime and a shirt commensurately filthy. Nice.
The traditional camping spot for the night before the climb is only 10 miles from Abol Bridge, in Baxter State Park at the Katahdin Stream Campground so, with only a flat 10 miles to go, we took our time and even detoured to yet another pond, Daicey Pond and yet another stupendous view, this time while sitting on a rocking chair.
On arrival at the campground, there was a palpable excitement around us, as hikers were on their way down from that day’s ascent and we greeted them as enthusiastically as heroes returning from combat. By now, we all had a huge mutual respect for one another and were delighted to see our fellow hikers achieving what we were hoping to achieve in 24 hours time.
Trillium’s partner, Jon, had booked a lean to for the two of them and, as Lighterknot had been met by his wife Deb and his mom, Mama Jean, they were going into Millinocket for the evening. Trillium and Jon let Tee Bird and me pitch our tents outside the lean to and we were in a great spot to greet and talk with the hikers as they returned with their stories of the day’s climb. Unfortunately, just as dusk was upon us, a ranger came by and told us that we weren’t allowed to camp there (even though we were in nobody’s way) and that we had to move about 20 yards further down. For that privilege, we were also charged $15 each. Despite getting particularly British on him, he wasn’t to be moved, so I had to accept the inevitable and drag my already erected tent to a new spot. I wasn’t happy.
Earlier, the same ranger had taken my registration to climb the mountain and recorded me as the 699th successful thru-hiker of the year (this appeared to be a little premature to me). Apparently. between 3,000 and 4,000 had started in Georgia, though numbers aren’t yet finalized.
That night, I was unable to sleep too much and actually sat up in my tent to contemplate what I was about to achieve. Funnily enough, one of the things that mattered to me most in those moments was the fact that my son, Rob, was going to accept my trail name, Mighty Blue, having insisted, not unreasonably, that I couldn’t claim to be mighty before I’d taken a step. However, he had already started calling me”Almost Mighty Blue” for a couple of weeks, so I knew that I was on the right track.
I also thought of what I was going to do when I returned to Florida and had the luxurious feeling of not knowing and being entirely open to anything that might come my way. That is a surprisingly attractive feeling to have.
Above all, of course, I was relishing my return to Diane and getting on with our lives. Stepping outside of your marriage, albeit with your partner’s blessing and support, is a strange thing to happen in a happy marriage and I will always be grateful for her buy-in to my adventure.
In the morning, Trillium and Jon headed out at 6.20, while Tee Bird and I left with Lighterknot at 6.50.
The going was easy for a mile or so, while the weather cooperated, though it was cloudy on the mountain. We started to climb gradually and, while it was arduous, it was hardly out of our capacity and we made great progress for a couple of miles. As we got higher, the trees became more sparse and we emerged above tree line with plenty still go climb and started to hit the rocks.
Suddenly, we were into real climbing, with hand over hand stuff that required thinking about as we negotiated our way up steep rocks and pulled ourselves up using metal bars driven into some of the trickiest passages. New Hampshire had prepared us well for this and I was really in my element, enjoying it hugely as we made our way ever up.
Eventually, we emerged onto flatter ground, though the cloud had really enveloped us by now and we stuck together as we continued ever upwards. Excitement was mounting and, even though we heard voices ahead, the end kept being delayed as another crest appeared ahead of us.
Then I heard a more prolonged chatter and excitement and, with about 75 yards to go, I was able to see that iconic sign, the sign I’d dreamt of for years and the sign that had been a constant in my thoughts for the past 6 months. As I drew nearer, I thought of Diane and my sons and had quite a lump in my throat, though, as I touched the sign to signify the end of the trip, I simply felt grateful and relieved that I hadn’t been injured or worse.
In seconds, I had taken pictures of Tee Bird on the sign, then climbed up to it myself. The relief flooded out of me as I let go a full-throated roar of achievement and delight, the pictures recording what I was feeling. I then called Diane and Rob, with both conversations ending in my tears, particularly with Rob referring to me as Mighty Blue for that first time.
The rest is just something of a blur, though it was important to descend carefully and we did just that. I don’t feel the need to write about the descent, as it doesn’t count towards the AT, though I concentrated throughout to avoid the ignominy of a calamitous fall after the glory, so to speak.
Lighterknot and his family took both Tee Bird and me into Millinocket, leaving me at the Appalachian Trail Cafe, where I spent a muted hour with yet another burger before being kindly run to Bangor Airport by the very kind Tim and Vickie Edwards, members of the local Florida ATC Club in Sarasota.
An early flight the following morning saw me home by lunchtime.
I haven’t had the opportunity to fully digest what the Trail means to me and I imagine that I’ll need a few weeks to put it in some perspective. However, I feel that I have undergone something of a catharsis that will likely fully manifest itself in the days and weeks to come. For now, I’m delighted to be back with the woman I love and pleased to have shared my journey with so many. I hope that you take the positives from this story and that these outweigh the negatives. At the end of the day, that is as good a result as any of us can wish for.