Day 173 Summit Day

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.

Day 171

25.4 miles today to get to Hurd Brook Lean-to, the last Shelter in the 100 Mile Wilderness. It was a tough, long day but we made it. The forest today was magnificent. The sunlight through the maples and birches cast a warm autumn glow all around. The trail continued to pass numerous little, secluded ponds.

We are very close! Got great views of Katahdin today. Again, the weather is a concern… but we will be at The Birches tomorrow and if we have a window Monday morning we will summit.

Day 170

23.8 miles today to Nahmakanta Stream Lean-to. A big day. It seems we are always trying to out run the rain. The weather looks good through Sunday. Monday the chance of rain begins. But if we can do another big day tomorrow and the rain holds off til Monday afternoon, we may be able to summit Katahdin early Monday morning and wrap this little adventure up.

The trail today passed lots of ponds, streams and lakes. There is lots of water up here in Maine. These bodies of water are all fairly remote and picturesque. Still have not seen a Moose.

Received some great trail magic today from a couple of folks who cooked us eggs with onions and peppers, as well as pancakes. They were set up at one of the forest service road crossings. That fueled us through the afternoon.

Wish I could get a cell signal and get these posted in a more timely manner…

Day 169

16.6 miles today from the make-do campsite on the abandoned logging road to East Branch Lean-to. The day began with a ford of the west branch of the Pleasant River. At 7 am and 39 degrees outside it was pretty painful! Then we climbed over four prominent peaks on another beautiful day. The first was Gulf Hagas Mountain followed by West Peak, then Hay Mountain. These three peaks were wooded on top and were very special places. The forest floor was green moss and fir trees filled the woods. The fir trees are beginning to drop their leaves… I guess they do that in the fall. The final Mountain we ascended was White Cap Mountain with its rocky summit. On one side of the mountain we could look back on the recent mountains we had gone over these past few days. And then, as we rounded the other side of the mountain we got our first view of Mount Katahdin! Katahdin stands alone and proud. They say we will get glimpses of it as we hike along these next few days. Supposedly the climbing is done with the exception of Katahdin. We should now have a few days of good trail. I hope we can do some big miles.

Day 168

Hiked 15 miles today and completed the Chairback Mountains! It was a tough day but we made a few extra miles from our original plan. Today we crossed over Barren Mountain, the Chairbacks in the following order: Fourth Mountain, Three and a half Mountain, Third Mountain, Columbus Mountain and Chairback Mountain. It was very cold this morning. The sky was perfectly clear all day. Tonight we have pitched our tents on what looks to be an old logging road just past Katahdin Iron Works Road. We are currently 84.6 miles from Katahdin. I hope to have cell service late in the day tomorrow when we reach White Cap Mountain and I’ll try to update everything.

Day 167

Had a great breakfast at Shaw’s this morning… eggs, potatoes, bacon, pancakes, OJ and coffee. Was shuttled back to the trail by Poet and he gave us all a very inspiring pep talk before we stepped off into the 100 Mile Wilderness. His talk centered around the idea that standing there in that parking lot everyone is thinking, “I am so ready for this to be over.” But, he added in a couple of days when we reach White Cap Mountain and get a view of Mt. Katahdin, and it’s so close you feel like you can reach out and touch it, then the full impact of our journey will start to sink in…

Hiked 15.1 miles to Long Pond Stream Lean-to. Passed a “100 Left” sign formed with rocks a little ways back so we now have less than 100 miles to go. Tomorrow we’ll see if we can get all the way through the Chairback Mountains. Looks like it’s going to be a roller coaster.

Day 166

Hiked 9 miles to Maine 15 and called Shaw’s Hiker Hostel. Hippie Chick came out and picked us up. Wheels and I got a private room. We have resupplied and had some town food. In the morning we will have breakfast here then head back to the trail and into the 100 Mile Wilderness. There are no towns for a hundred miles. We have resupplied for 6 to 7 days. I hope we can get through in 6 days… Right now we have a great weather window before the next chance of rain.

Day 165

Today we hiked 13 miles to Horseshoe Canyon Lean-to. It was a very nice day with sun and blue skies. The only real climb today was over Moxie Bald. Great views from the top. They say Katahdin can be seen from Moxie. We saw some great mountains to the northeast. I’m not sure which one was Katahdin. We could also see the mountains we had climbed these past few days, especially the Bigalows. After Moxie the trail was pretty nice… a bit rocks and roots at times but mostly nice. Tomorrow we have 9 miles to Monson. We will get all geared up for the push through the 100 Mile Wilderness. We hope to be at Katahdin I’m 8 to 10 days. As of tonight we have 123.7 miles to go!

Day 164

12 miles today to Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to. Stopped pretty early today, around 2. The added weight of this new sleeping bag kind of wore me out. I have Wheels the go-ahead if he wants to do 4 more miles to the next lean-to. I’m not sure what he’s going to do yet. Plus it’s a cold, windy day and the rain is moving in. I just felt it was better to be conservative and get inside my tent while everything was still dry. Tomorrow is supposed to be better. Once in Monson I’m going to have to mail home some items to lighten my pack again. Thankfully, the terrain has improved. We had one climb today over Pleasant Pond Mountain which wasn’t too bad. Tomorrow morning I’ll have Moxie Bald right off the bat and then pretty flat from there. Right now I’m 22 miles from Monson with 136.7 miles to go.

Later… the wind has died down. I had a nice little nap. I got up and went to the shelter. Wheels is still here. He had set up in the shelter and was napping as well. We had supper at the shelter and talked for awhile before turning in for the night.

Day 163

A short day of mileage but a good town stop. The is morning we hiked about 4 miles down to the Kennebec River. When we got there about 8:30 there were already 9 hikers there sitting along the shore. The Kennebec is where hikers get ferried across via canoe. The river is wide and can be a dangerous ford. The ATC and a couple of other organizations foot the bill for a ferryman to take hikers across. It was a beautiful day and great fun. From there it was a short walk into the tiny town of Caratunk. We decided to call for a shuttle to the Sterling Inn. They offered a free shower, free laundry, free WiFi, free phone charging and a very good resupply. All this even if you don’t stay the night! We spent a few hours there getting things done and then were shuttled to the post office. The post office in Caratunk is only open from 2 to 4! And the funny thing is, the young guy working at the Sterling Inn also runs the post office! I picked up a warmer sleeping bag that I had shipped out. It’s a 15 degree bag and there’s no way I’ll be cold at night now. The bad side is that it’s added probably 3 or 4 pounds to my pack! It’s also much bulkier so I’ve got to get creative with packing my backpack… From the post office we walked down the street to the Caratunk B&B for a pulled pork sandwich and a milkshake. Very good. The we only hiked about 2.4 miles up the trail to some nice camp sites by Holly Brook. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow but looks ok for the next few days. By Sunday we should be in Monson, the last town before the 100 Mile Wilderness. I’ll need to really go through my pack and will probably send some items home to make room for the food I’ll be carrying for the Wilderness. We are thinking it’ll take us about seven days to get through, then we’ll reach The Birches and be at the foot of Katahdin!