It’s 4:30 am in Millinocket, Maine
It’s also get up out of bed time for us. The day has arrived to begin our conquest of Katahdin and the 100 mile wilderness. The word is out…… It will take all day to do the 5.2 mile climb to the summit and return plus hike two miles off of the AT to our campsite. So I found myself standing in the deserted Main Street of Millinocket at 04:45 on my way to get breakfast. There is no way I’m going to miss breakfast on this day.
The Ride to Baxter State Park and Katahdin
Breakfast was great and I downed my last coffee for the foreseeable future. After I walked back to the hostel they pulled out a van and a SUV for the transport of 16 hikers. They said it was the largest group of the year. We began the 50 minute trip to Baxter State Park wondering just what we had gotten ourselves into. Along the way we could get our first glimpse of Katahdin…… she was a beast.
The Great Unloading
The time for bravado was done. In a moment the trucks were unloaded and gone. We were left with the realization that we had to put up or shut up.
The Sign Up Ranger Station
We entered the station a few at a time…. I was third in line and discovered that 77 Northbound hikers had completed their journey including Database who I had suggested his trail name way back in Georgia in March. We were given a choice of daypacks to use which all smelled like garbage retained in your garage for a month with no circulation.
Paint Splash and Walker
Jed and I began the ascent after running into Dryl and Peebo. They had done the ascent the day before and were now heading out on the AT.
It didn’t take very long for Paint Splash and her lagging behind partner Walker to pass us. “I can’t keep up with her,” he grumbled as he scurried up the mountain in pursuit of her.
It wasn’t difficult to find her….. she was the most colorful thing on the mountain.
There was no doubt about it being a Wilderness
I guess this includes most of the necessary warnings. Oh yea…. bring plenty of water… food to eat…. a flashlight…. a light jacket…. Ibuprofen….the best footwear on the planet!
The Beginning of a Wicked Climb
It began innocent enough. The grade was gentle as we walked through deep forest. We were soon passed by an energetic young lady named Fallon. “I’m part Irish and my mother wanted to name me something Irish. I’m not Jimmy Fallon!” Her energy was infectious as she laughed about every stumble. We wanted to keep up but….. well you know. She was soon gone and at the moment we had no idea what an integral part of this hike she would become.
It’s Just a Bit Rocky Here
The progression of pictures above reflect the change in elevation as we climbed. Tall huge evergreen trees became more stunted and would eventually disappear altogether.
We teamed up with a young man named Mark who was just beginning his SOBO adventure. A two tour Iraq veteran he had allowed himself to become large and he was angry about it. He was absolutely resolute in his determination to conquer this mountain and the trail beyond. An infantryman…. we bonded quickly.
Note Steel Loop to pull Up on
It’s All About Rocks!!!
Soon it became a rock scramble. Each step had to be measured with several locations complete with steel pull-ups and foot assists. Happiness was having left our heavy packs behind. On several occasions I found myself falling backwards. I can’t imagine doing that with a full pack.
In the meantime Mark was having a difficult time. He was working for oxygen within the first mile. We waited for him multiple times but after a couple of hours he waved us on. “I’m going to do this but I don’t want to hold you up. Please go on.” We didn’t want to leave him but we also wanted to summit. We moved on up the mountain.
Note Steel Bar
Note Steel Foot Plants
Keep Going Legs! It’s a long ways up.
The climb was incredible. The rocks gave few moments of reprieve. I would no sooner get over one and the next one would be taunting me. I decided to put it out of my mind and just concentrate on each step…..each concentrated step. I found strength in my legs that I did not know I possessed.
The Most Dramatic Pictures Couldn’t Be Taken
The pull ups took every bit of strength we had. It was easy to see why no sticks or packs were recommended.
One False Peak After Another
From the distance each peak appeared to be the top. We would struggle to reach it only to find another more significant climb ahead. Along the way I met Bitcoin who informed me that his hiking mate Mega Trash Pop Tart was accompanying Mark up the mountain. By this time it was well into the afternoon…… well after the time recommended to turn back if not at the top.
The Last False Peak!
By this time my legs had that now familiar fatigued feeling. Yet…….. there was still another long climb ahead of me. I tried to avoid dreading the climb and concentrating on the goal. There was a sign up there that I needed to visit.
The Summit at Katahdin
Suddenly I was there……. I wondered if I should whoop and holler….. but it didn’t seem right. I was on Katahdin but if this was a home run I had only run to first base. It was foreign to me to run the round tripper from home to third to second. My baseball coach son Jamie would be shocked knowing full well how it’s supposed to be done. I posed for a picture. My arms were not extended. I was there and it was an accomplishment but on this day I was basically a day hiker.
The Amazing Moment of Absorbing Gods Creation
Whether you believe or not matters not to me. As for me I cannot sit in a place like this and not believe. All of us are overwhelmed in our own way when viewing such grandeur. I found a soft rock and laid back to take it all in. The only distraction ….. the horrendous stench of the loaned day pack.
There was nothing soft about this environment. No gentle spot. I took it all in. Jed, Fallon and Bitcoin were there. A side ridge ran out to another peak called the Knife’s Edge. Folks hiked the narrow ridge through the gusty wind but that was not for me today…. I was at the top.
A Victory For Another Hiker
I’ve been more than fortunate to have visited many parts of the world. Today I could add the fact that I had finished the book ends of the Appalachian Trail. Only 1500 miles to go. There was no time to tarry though…. we needed to descend.
George Washington Slept Everywhere and Thoreau Wasn’t Exactly a Stay at One Place Kind of Guy
It seems that everywhere I go Henry David Thoreau was there before me. We were hiking back down the mountain and it was no faster than going up. The drops were worse than climbing up the boulders. Knees protested.
The Night Was Coming Along Quickly
At 4:45 we came upon Mark without Mega. He was still doggedly climbing and in exhaustion mode. We spoke and I asked him to turn back with us. Jed was in agreement. Mark stood there knowing that we were right but not wanting to give in. He finally submitted and joined us. He really struggled and finally with darkness upon us Mega rejoined us and joined Mark. Under headlamps we worked our way down the mountain. By 9:45 pm we made it to our backpacks at the ranger station. We still had two miles to go to our campsite and Mark was supposed to be with us. Finally a park ranger appeared as we found Fallon, Zack, Alex and Allison. He was not the most polite human on earth. Luckily I was registered and he graciously gave us a ride to our site. Jed and I both collapsed and it was not til the next day that we realized that Mark and Mega did not get off the mountain until midnight. We have not seen them since!
The next day would begin our Southbound hike. Katahdin has been conquered! We would soon be thrown into the 100 mile wilderness.