Tag Archives: Katahdin

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

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.

imageI 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.imageimage

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 Abolimage
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.

imageThe 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.

image

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.

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Hit the Road, Slack.

Friday, September 5 – Saturday, September 13. Route 2, Gorham, NH – Caribou Valley Rd, Rangely, ME (Mile 1988.8 miles since Springer Mountain and only 196.5 miles to Katahdin)

It’s been a while since I was able to post and I’m now appreciating quite how remote Maine, indeed New Hampshire as well, can be.

We left the White Mountain Lodge and Hostel after a big breakfast and some regrets, as it was another one of those gems on the trail that always take you by surprise.

With the Whites behind us, we took some relief from the gentler incline at the start of the day, though gentler is merely a relative term and not to be interpreted as gentle in any way, as we were all sweating profusely within minutes. This was partly due to the incline and partly due to the warmth and humidity of the day. Of course, the higher we got, the cooler it became, so it was a terrific start and we covered over 6 miles before stopping for lunch. We had all over-shopped at Walmart the previous evening and went about reducing our increased load by consuming as much as possible.

I seem to have developed a somewhat unhealthy fixation for Snickers and Peanut Butter and will need to curb this rather disturbing habit in the near future if I’m not going to end up back at 250lbs by the end of the year.

Given our new group of 4, we’ve had to adjust the length of our potential mileage and had to settle for Gentian Pond Shelter, at just over 11 miles. We put up our tents on tenting platforms, which are wooden slats set level with the ground, thus obviating the need to find a flat spot on the ground. Very helpful to somebody like me, as I remain incapable, even after all this time, to find any level ground at all, often to be found in the morning tangled up with my pack in the bottom corner of the tent.

We left Gentian Pond just after 7am with 2 targets imminent. The first, the 1900 mile marker, was upon us within the first hour, yet the second was probably most significant as we moved into Maine, our 14th and last State. For months, I’ve refused to think too much about Katahdin, as it was so remote and in the future, yet here we are, in Maine. So I’ve allowed myself the luxury of imagining my picture at that iconic sign. It feels good to allow myself to add some reality to the fantasy.

I also notched up another fall, this one being the 36th time, catching my bent knee under my body. I’d been feeling particularly sore in my left knee just before I slipped and, rather amazingly, the knee felt relieved after, as if the fall had stretched whatever was ailing me. I’m aware that my falls are increasing with the difficulties we have encountered in New England and I’m really trying to be careful and avoid a bad fall that might jeopardize my hike.

Trillium had arranged for one if her partner’s relations, Geoff, to meet us at the end of a 2.5 mile side trail and take us back to his cabin in the woods. He was going to slackpack us through the Mahoosuc Notch the following day, which meant that we had the luxury of only taking a daypack and returning to his cabin that same evening.

Geoff has a rather chaotic, though cosy, home and he made us all feel very welcome, with Lighterknot and I on the floor while Trillium and Tee Bird took the sofas. While he doesn’t hike himself, he knew that hikers are generally ravenous, so went out to get some food at a local restaurant, returning with both a burger AND a meatloaf meal for Lighterknot and me.

The following morning, as Geoff drove us back to the side trail that would lead us back to the AT, clouds had formed over the mountains that looked like a comforter thrown over them. This augured well for the rest of the day, as there was a glorious blue sky everywhere else and we knew that the sun was steadily burning the comforter away.

The Mahoosuc Notch is a collection of huge rocks, making up a puzzle for hikers that is about a mile long. There are choices to be made as to whether to go over, go round, or even go under rocks as we threaded our way through this mile of mayhem. It was a lot of fun but took us nearly 3 hours as a team. Once we had negotiated that, there was an extensive climb up Mahoosuc Arm, so that, by lunchtime, we had only done just over 2 miles of the trail.

The sun had done its job and we were rewarded for our hard work, as so often in New England, by a glorious view at the top.

As the afternoon progressed, I fell twice more, for my 37th and 38th tumbles. The second was fairly uneventful and didn’t hurt too much, though the first was one of my worst falls.

I was pulling myself up a very steep, sheer rock face and had just left the comfort of a tree root that I’d been pulling myself up with to get to another one, when I felt my boots slip slightly on the rock. I thought I’d steadied myself and made the fatal error of relaxing for an instant, only to take off, like a giraffe wearing socks, sliding down, then falling about 15 to 20 feet, badly banging my hip as I fell. I always shout out the number of the fall as soon as I realize that I’m not bleeding and nothing is broken, yet this call was accompanied by a grimace as I felt the pain. There never seems much point in hanging around in these circumstances, so I got up and got on with it as usual. Happily, everything worked as before, though the hip hurt like blazes every other step.

The climb down after a few more gorgeous ups was 3.5 miles and seemingly endless. Eventually, we met Geoff just before 7pm and he took us for an excellent Chinese meal.

Geoff had to drop us off early at Grafton Notch the following morning, as he needed to get to work, so we loaded our surplus stuff into bags and left them to be collected by the folks at The Cabin, our next stay, in Andover.

Once more, with lighter packs, the hiking was easier and we made our way up the glorious Baldpate Mtns, East and West. This part of the trail took us above tree line, which I love, so the resulting video is pretty darn nice.

As you can tell, slackpacking had become something we were getting used to and we became aware that the majority of our fellow hikers were doing the same thing.

By now, Tee Bird had emerged as our booking agent and she had arranged for us to be met by Earl, or Bear, the proprietor of the Cabin. Bear and his wife, Honey, or Margie, have run the Cabin for 20 years and are 2 of the loveliest people on the trail. They are both in their 80’s and expect to be closing at the end of this season, as they are starting to feel their age. Hikers will certainly miss them.

The highlight of the stay is the dinner, which is served family style around a huge pine table, with Honey and Bear presiding at the top of the table, soaking up the stories and jokes of the hikers. The food is great and unlimited, with Bear pushing us all to eat more. It was a great evening for each of the 3 nights we stayed there, with friends old and new providing a changing cast of characters each night.

Breakfast is similarly unlimited and I had 8 pancakes the next day, along with eggs, sausage and home fries. Bloody marvelous!!

There was only room for 5 people in the cab of Bear’s truck the following morning, so I chose to sit in the open at the back of the truck. There were 4 garrulous women in the cab, plus Lighterknot so I preferred a quiet ride! The truck back fell open as we were going uphill, so I had to grab packs and poles to stop them falling out.

When Lighterknot got out, he was shaking his head and muttering, in his heavy southern drawl, “I should have sat in the back!”

The way the roads are configured limits the amount of miles we could do, so we had just another 10 Mike day that ended with a very tricky climb up near the end and a resulting perilous climb down Moody Mountain, with Bear meeting us at the end again.

The third slackpack out of Bear and Honey’s was a more respectable 13 miles, with Bear telling us that we would likely finish at 5pm. The old boy knows his stuff, as I emerged at Maine 17 at exactly 4.59pm, giving me a stupendous view from the small parking area.

That last evening at the Cabin, 2 of the Rocky Pizza Challenge participants, Hawkeye and Buchanan, showed up, the first time I had seen either of them since Tennessee.

We had made arrangements to move on to Rangely and stay with Shane and Stacey,at the Farmhouse. This has been another terrific stay, and we were able to continue our food fest by sampling the local restaurants for 3 days. Shane has slack packed is for 2 days this far and we are now down to less than 200 miles from Katahdin. Indeed, we’ve now worked out our likely finish date of 9/29.

One highlight of the past couple of days has been Saddleback Mtn, though it was clothed in clouds when we summited, so I took this video from its younger sibling, Saddleback Junior.

We’ll be moving to Stratton tomorrow and all the hikers now around us are eager for the 100 mile wilderness then the finish.

I told Diane of our expected finish date and she is looking for flights. It’s getting near and I hope you’ve been enjoying the journey with me. New Hampshire and Maine have been wonderful, while slackpacking has certainly saved my knees from too much punishment. However, we’ll be back to full packs shortly, so that should keep me interested till the end!