Day 144: Katahdin Peak

Day 144. I awoke at 5am and rushed to pack up my gear. The last weather update we saw showed rain around 10am, but looking up from my hammock, the sun was out and crystal clear blue skies surrounded it. It was only 8 miles to Abol Bridge where Honey and Moon’s parents would be waiting for us, with Subway sandwiches and forecast updates in hand.

I was the last one to leave the campsite, but was still on the trail by 5:45. I speed hiked (sped hiked?) those 8 miles to Abol Bridge, hoping that a fast walk could mean a possible summit today. When I arrived, the group was all there and they quickly agreed with the thoughts running through my head … we were headed for Katahdin. Today. Now.

We now knew that the latest forecast showed rain starting around 2pm, continuing all night and into the late afternoon tomorrow. Abol Bridge marks the end of the 100-Mile Wilderness, but there are still 10 miles to hike from there to the base of Katahdin in Baxter State Park.

Unfortunately, it was already 10am and Park Rangers require all hikers starting a summit climb to begin prior to 12pm in July, so it was either now or in the rain tomorrow. That timeline was simply too tight; and they have strict rules like this for a reason, as it’s very strenuous and time consuming to climb Katahdin, even for a thruhiker. We all agreed it was important (and significantly smarter, safety speaking) to hike in the sun while we had it … so that was that.

Side note, the 10 miles we missed will be a footnote post tomorrow. This is my summit post, my hike conclusion post, but tomorrow I’ll hike those 10 flat miles in the rain and make my northern terminus official.

After our massive food binge, Honey and Moon’s parents drove all 9 of us in their Yukon to the Baxter State Park Ranger Station. I checked in as northbound hiker #151 and then started the 4.5 mile ascent to Katahdin’s 5,200 foot summit.

It could not have been more perfect.

The climb up was tough as nails though. The official Appalachian Trail white blazes require you to take the Hunt Trail up, but you can take any trail down after that … since technically your thruhike is over. And the Hunt Trail is a BEAST. In all honestly, I can not recommend this trail to any casual day-hiker. It is incredibly steep, with severely tall steps over house-sized boulders, and scrambling up a sheer rock cliff called The Gateway for 2 miles. After this it calms down significantly, but that 2 mile stretch is no joke. Ok fine, it’s doable for casual hikers, but call your insurance agent to re-up your polices first.

And let me be clear, it would be deadly if wet. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT attempt to hike the Hunt Trail in the rain. Choosing to hike up today in the sun was the smartest decision I’ve made these past 5 months.

All that being said though, I loved it. We left most of our gear at the bottom, and scaling those boulders without any weight on my shoulders was like walking on air. I felt like a superhero learning how to use his powers for the first time, as I sprung from foothold to foothold with balance and ease. After 2 hours of scrambling, I finally reached the base of the summit and a much needed rest. After that, it was just a smooth 1 mile slow climb up to the official summit and sign.

It’s hard to describe this last mile to someone who didn’t walk 2,189 miles to reach it. But let me try and explain what went through my head …

I walked this mile alone, letting silence spread my emotions out over the canvas of the panoramic mountain landscape ahead of me. Each step was like a thundering drum beat in my heart, parading me to this dream-like place I envisioned for so long. Everything I experienced these past 5 months rushed through me in waves of memories as I watched the sign get closer and closer. Theme songs of my life echoed between my ears, like my own personal documentary was being filmed before my eyes. I was surrounded by people, but fully wrapped in a bubble of personal solitude. I walked alone, but not lonely.

And then, just like that, I was there. The giant brown sign beckoned me to it, looking immeasurably more real than the thousands of photos I’d seen before. I walked up to the sign and pressed my hand to it. I laid my forehead upon it, I exhaled a deep long-held breath … and I smiled. I didn’t cry, I didn’t scream, I just smiled. As the weight of 18 years of daydreams rushed over me in a single moment, I felt entirely fulfilled.

A day hiker asked if I would take his photo for him. I politely said no, not until he took 937 of me first. I wasn’t trying to be rude … but this was my moment. He reluctantly agreed and I posed in every way possible atop that famous brown sign. Then I waited for the rest of the group to arrive, watching them experience their individual emotional moments as well: Traveler, Honey, Moon, Candy, Ben, Rose, Willow and Charley Horse. We took more individual photos, then group photos, then goofy photos.

And then it was over.

We climbed back down the other side of Katahdin via the Saddleback Trail as it started to rain. This descent was not as bad after the first mile, and we soon found ourselves at the bottom, where the cars met us again with more celebratory snacks and sodas. We drive into Millinocket, had a BIG dinner, and then crawled across the street to the AT Lodge hostel. As I lie in bed writing this, I am physically and emotionally drained … but I am still smiling.

Thank you all for following me along my journey! Your reading of my blog motivated me in ways I could never tell you. Each hit, each comment, each like … they were fuel for me to keep going every single day.

I will post a few more times while I finish up today’s missed miles and finally get 3 weeks of late videos uploaded. In addition, I’ll write some more reflective pieces on gear, planning, food, and hiking this epic trail in the coming weeks as well. And I still have some “epilogue” posts to publish when I go back and finish that section of NJ/NY.

Also! I do want to turn this story into a book, and plan to do so this fall. If you’d like to see that happen, please share with me via comments or email which stories, characters, and moments you liked best! I want it to be a fun adventurous read, similar to the one that started this crazy idea for me so long ago. So, what do you think would best inspire others to enjoy my tale?

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 2168.0
  • Start Time: 05:45
  • End Mile: 2190.9
  • End Time: 14:15
  • Miles Hiked: 22.9 (-9.9)
  • Miles to Go: 0
  • Lodging: AT Lodge (Millinocket, ME)