I had a restless night at the Birches, the anticipation of summit day racing through my mind… Was our two day push of almost 50 miles enough to beat the rain? What would the climb be like? How long would it take? We arose just before 5 am, made a quick breakfast with coffee, then we walked up to the ranger’s office to drop off the unneeded gear leaving us light and fast for the climb. We were on the trail just before 6 am hiking by headlamp.
The AT takes the famous Hunt Trail to the top of Katahdin. We had been hiking for 172 days and now we only had 5.2 miles to go. The air was warm and the moon was visible through light clouds. After a mile or so the rock scrambling began. Climbing up and over huge boulders as the sky lightened. At one point a patch of blue appeared through the clouds. I was hopeful.
After an hour or so we reached tree line. The rock scramble continues but now there were narrow ledges to navigate. I’ve learned to just keep climbing and not look down. When I did get a glance I could see the sun shining on the fall colors below.
As we climbed higher it became apparent that Katahdin would soon be enveloped in mist and fog. Then the wind began to increase. From here on the wind became a major factor for us. I have never experienced stronger wind gusts before! At times it was difficult to step forward while maintaining my balance.
The “trail” climbs up and up and seems to take forever to reach an area known as the Tableland. Once there we are greeted by Thoreau Spring and an intersection with the Abol Trail, the trail we would eventually take down. The trail continues flat now but amid the rocks. Bright white blazes punctuate the fog like little blips on a radar screen. I hike alone. Wheels is somewhere behind me. The wind now is a roar! At times almost knocking me over. I press on.
A young hiker who had passed me earlier was now headed back down. He smiled and said, “You’re about two minutes from the top.”
Soon, through the wind blown fog the sign on top began to appear. I was all alone on the summit. I reached out and touched the sign and shouted, “Yes!”
I removed my pack, took some pictures and waited on Wheels… after about 20 minutes his figure appeared through the fog. “Take my picture and lets get out of here!” he shouted.
Wheels wears glasses and had a terrible time. His glasses were fogged up and wet. I stayed close in front of him so that he could better tell which way to go. Later he would tell me this was the scariest thing he’d ever done.
At Thoreau Spring we merged onto the Abol Trail for our descent. After a couple of hours of rock hopping the trail returned below tree line and things calmed down.
It’s said that famed naturalist John Muir would climb trees during thunderstorms to better experience nature’s fiercest moods. I think I know his motivation. Everyone wants to summit Katahdin on a beautiful day, but I have no regrets. I love nature, in all her moods. The wind and fog I found exhilarating… a final challenge before ending my thru hike.