The End of the Trail

We summited Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine at 5,270 ft! We completed the trail. Words cannot completely express how it feels to have completed this insane journey! The last miles through the 100 Mile Wilderness were tough and tiring for all of us. The trail was relatively flat after climbing mountains through New Hampshire and Southern Maine but the slippery roots and large rocks made walking at a fast pace impossible. Bengal John, Scribbles, Cash and myself pulled some larger miles through the 100 Mile Wilderness so we could arrive at Baxter State Park on a specific day. We were all low on food and exhausted. When we finally came upon the sign for the 100 Mile Wilderness we knew we were close to Katahdin, but we still had 10 more miles to Baxter State Park from the Abol Bridge Campsite. We stopped into the convenient store to load up on snacks and grab a few beers to celebrate making it out of the 100 Mile Wilderness. While we snacked outside Storybook and Zen strolled up and sat down at the picnic bench outside with us. We listed to Katahdin tales from Rocky Mountain High, a past thru-hiker who was working at the campsite and bombarded her with questions about the trail. How long would it take? What about the weather? What should we carry? After our break we all packed up and headed out to Baxter State Park.

Cash and I arrived at the park after dark and checked in with the rangers at the ranger station. We talked to the rangers about our weather concerns, the forecast for the next day was looking wet and cold! They explained to us that a storm was going to roll in later in the afternoon but that they would not stop anyone from going up the mountain. I was still pretty concerned about heading up the mountain in such conditions but we were determined to summit with Bengal John and Scribbles who hadn’t arrived at the ranger station yet. We had planned on camping with Bengal John and Scribbles that night so that we could all scheme and then head out in the morning together but our plans were derailed. The rangers placed us at the Birches campsite which was completely empty except for the two of us. Bengal John and Scribbles couldn’t locate the campsite and ended up setting up their tent by a parking lot instead.  We had no idea where they were or what time they were planning on hiking out so we discussed waking up at 5:30 so we could get an early start up the mountain. The next morning we woke up early and walked to the ranger station to check in. BJ and Scribbles had just checked in 30 mins before us so we logged our names in the registry and headed out to the trail head.

We started up the Hunt Trail which is 5.2 miles one-way. The start of the trail was pretty gradual as we made our way through the forest and over the wooden footbridge that gave us a beautiful view of Katahdin Stream Falls. Past the falls we started climbing a series of steep stone staircases. We were still bundled up in our many layers as we made our way up the mountain but as we began to sweat we stared shedding our jackets and pants. The trail narrowed and we made our way along streams and up and over some larger boulders. The terrain was pretty easy through that section so we made pretty good time until we hit treeline around the 3-mile mark.  That’s where we hit the boulder scramble section, the most difficult part of the trail. The wind was blowing pretty hard and clouds were starting to build up all around us. We followed the white blazes up and over the large boulders, some with metal rungs protruding out of the sides. The wind started blowing harder and rain started coming down. As it was falling it started freezing so that it would sting our faces. We stopped behind a large boulder that was shielding us from the wind and rain and discussed our options. We could continue on or turn back. We knew we were only 1.7 miles from the summit but with the encroaching storm, we knew it would be a long way up and a slow process. BJ and Scribbles were somewhere ahead of us but we didn’t know where and we didn’t know if anyone was behind us, we did not want to be the last ones on the mountain heading down so we made the difficult decision to turn around and head back down. On our way down we ran into Cookie, Thor, Storybook, and Redlocks coming up the mountain and we warned them about the worsening weather. They decided to continue on but we knew we were going to head back down. It was a slow downhill, we both felt defeated. We ran into Zen on the way down who also decided to turn back after news of the storm. We finally made it back down to the ranger station and waited for BJ and Scribbles to arrive. Slowly, one by one, the other hikers arrived off the mountain. Everyone was excited and celebrating while we were quietly standing by, unsure of how we felt. We got a ride to Millinocket with BJ and Scribbles and checked into the Katahdin Inn, tired and hungry. We stayed there for 3 days and waited out the weather. We ran into Ryan at the hotel and discussed trying to summit again on Monday when the forecast called for low temps but sunny skies. Then, we waited!

We hopped into a cab Monday morning at 6 and made our way back to Baxter with Ryan. There we met up with Dixie and her friend, Frank and we all started up the mountain together. As we were driving into Baxter the view of Katahdin was completely white. The mountain was covered in snow, this was going to be a long day! The snow wasn’t too thick but the streams along the trail had all frozen the night before and were extremely slick to walk on. Ryan lead the way, followed by Cash and myself and then Frank and Dixie. We made it to the boulder scramble portion of the trail but had difficulty following the white blazes because the snow was covering most of them. A few other hikers had left before us so we tried to follow their path as best we could. Some of the sections were pretty tricky, especially with the snow buildup. We all helped each other pull and push ourselves up and over rocks that had formed slick layers of ice but we managed to make it to the tablelands, a flat expanse populated with rocks and rare alpine vegetation. There the trail is sectioned off with rope but it was difficult to follow because of the thick snow. At some points, we were in knee-deep snow which made it hard to stand upright and slowed everyone down. We followed the snow-covered cairns to the last portion of the climb which was mostly rock steps… And there it was, the Katahdin sign at the northern terminus. We made it! We all took turns taking pictures and admiring the views. It was such an amazing feeling. Our celebration was short as we realized we still had the daunting task of heading back DOWN the mountain. So, we said our goodbyes and turned around. Heading back down pretty difficult, we ended up on our butts most of the way down boot-scootin’ down the snow-covered rocks. Our hands and pants were soaked but we managed to make it down past treeline. The streams we passed on the way up had thawed during the day and then refroze as the sun was starting to go down, making the trail extremely slick but we all managed to make it down off the mountain just at sunset. We hopped into Frank’s warm truck and headed back to the hotel to celebrate with the other hikers! We still can’t believe this journey has ended.


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