Katahdin --- Northern Terminus

Trip Start Jun 25, 2012
Trip End Nov 25, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Maine
Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Katahdin is the native american word for "great mountain." It is the highest mountain in Maine, and the day with the most elevation change on the entire Appalachian trail (i.e. lots of climbing). The rangers who were discouraging my climb claimed it as the hardest mountain on the AT, one of the reasons most hikers begin their journey northbound from Georgia. The mountain is in Baxter State Park, a huge parcel of land donated to the state of Maine by Governor Baxter, but only under certain conditions. Baxter deemed that the park always remain wilderness, and forbade heavy commercialization. No gift shops, bathrooms, paved roads, trash cans, or basically anything other then small rangers' stations, campgrounds, and trails. It had remained, and would always be, pure wilderness.

As i began to climb up the Abol trail, the rain was falling pretty heavily. The temperature was in the 50s, which was pretty tolerable underneath the tree line. After about a 1/4 mile, the trail turned into a rapidly flowing creek. After a 1/2 mile, dry shoes were but a fantasy. All I could hear was water rushing beneath me, and rain beating on the hood of my jacket from above. Half a dozen large toads surfed down the mountain beneath my feet as i climbed up. I climbed this creek trail for a mile or so, until I reached a different segment. This next part was dirtless, and was covered by massive boulders and loose rocks and was as wide as an 8-lane freeway. It was steeper then anything I had ever seen in my hundreds of miles of backpacking experience, and was an exhausting climb. I could look up and see that the path of boulders stretched far into the clouds, and saw no sign of a summit. I was exposed to the elements of rain and wind without any protection from a forest, so it began to get very cold. I never stopped for water or rest, because i knew the movement kept my body heat warm inside of my jacket. I was fueled by adrenaline and fear of hypothermia. Phil says that hypothermia is more common in Maine during summer rather then winter, because people aren't as prepared for harsh weather.

After climbing for a while the boulders got bigger and bigger. I stashed my trekking poles on my back and began climbing up the rock walls with my hands. Everything was slippery, so it made the climb even slower and more difficult. I understood why the rangers were so concerned. After climbing this boulder path for a pretty long scary time, I reached Katahdin's ridge. The trail here was also a creek, ranging anywhere from 4 inches to a foot deep. The mountain at this altitude had little vegetation, and was covered primarily by rocks. I could only see about 10 yards in front of me due to the cloud coverage, and relied on the cairns (manmade rock piles) to guide me through the fog. I hadn't crossed another hiker my entire climb up, I guess they were not as foolish as I to hike in those conditions.

After a little over a mile on the ridgeline i reached the Katahdin summit. I couldn't see the sign until very close, as it was shielded by fog. It carries a sacred aura of sorts, being the most famous spot along the AT and a wooden sign that northbounders spend months dreaming about. Although i would have liked to spend some time soaking it in, the rain was falling hard, and the wind blowing strong. I began to shiver and get goosebumps, so i snapped a quick selfie, chugged a liter of gatorade, and began my descent.

Instead of the Abol trail, I hiked the AT down. It also had ridiculous boulders, which were equally as slippery. Most of the time I slid down them on my butt into another boulder, but it was pretty dangerous. I would reach a high sliding speed, attempt to slow myself down with my hands, but they were soft and pruny from the rain causing the rocks to tear them up. It was a very difficult climb down, the closest real life comparison to the trail they take in Lord of the Rings before fighting the giant spider. After finally getting past the boulder part, the trail turned into a rapidly flowing creek again. This lasted for a few obstacle ridden miles, climbing down a steep creek. 1.5 miles before the campground the trail became normal again, and it went along a series of waterfalls, known as Katahdin Stream Falls. I hiked the rest and made it to the ranger's station where I signed in. One of the rangers who discouraged my climb asked me how it was, and to spite her I said "piece of crumb cake" and smiled. She laughed, knowing the opposite, and I made my way to my campsite. After purifying some stream water, I pulled out a quick bite and then retreated directly to my sleeping bag at circa 4 pm. 4000 feet up plus 4000 feet down equals 8000 feet that I plan to never do again.

With aching leg muscles, sore feet, a shivering, soaked body from head to toe, and a headache from analyzing so many sticky situations, my spirits were still high. All these conditions were simply part of the experience I signed up for, so even after finishing I was thrilled to be out here on the trail. Tomorrow I will hike out of Baxter and enter the 100 mile wilderness, another difficult section that will surely test my commitment.
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Curtis F. Blaine on

That is "a piece of crumb cake" I want no part of.

Melissa Bryant on

OMGGG this makes me worried sick!

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