Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Day 130: Katahdin!!

8/27: The Birches - Katahdin
10 miles

I knew I wanted an early start today, the ranger had warned a sunny Saturday could mean upwards of 200 people on the summit and that crowd didn't sound appealing. Plus let's face it, it's pretty darn exciting to be here.

I heard Mcdubbles rustling around and packing a short time before sunrise and figured if one person was making noise I was free to go ahead. I was out with a quickness and starting up the trail by headlamp. There was a sign in sheet as I started out of the campground and there were already two people ahead of me. So no solo summit but company sounds more fun for this anyhow.

The first 2 miles were easy by headlamp, it was getting light as I passed Katahdin Stream Falls and I got a few rare glimpses through trees of sunrise and mountains. It was pretty cold but clear where I was hiking. To my west a large cloud bank loomed but I crossed my fingers and climbed.

I think this was one of my very favorite climbs of the whole trail. I'm sure my excitement didn't hurt but it was honestly fun. As it got rockier and I needed my hands more I stowed my trekking poles and really headed up. At first it was narrow and rocky with only a few weird scrambles but as I hit treeline it was full on both arms required to pull you around kind of fun. It was getting colder and I had to pull out my jacket and my poor hands didn't love me because I needed them as I climbed.

It was straight up scrambling, rebar ladders and foot holds and all around fun. I was having a blast scraping up my hands and hailing myself around.

After a few very steep spots and a false summit the trail opened up to the beautiful tabletop. I felt like I was in a totally different place, above treeline is always another world.

Lots of trail protection work in action.

I made it to the summit and excited started talking to myself only to discover a couple hundred up for warmth napping. After startling them I made some small talk and enjoyed the view. They had wine and cookies and had caught sunrise. I had a little time by myself before people started trickling up.

McDubbles was the first and we took a ton of goofy pictures. I ended up spending 3 hours up on top.

I walked the mile that was the knifes edge and back because I didn't feel like trying to hitch out of a parking lot at the end of the road.

Looking back at the Katahdin summit and ahead to the top of the knifes edge.

By the time we left we had quite the group of thruhikers and curious day hikers. But it was getting mighty crowded and we passed a ton of people heading up as we headed down.

A few of us decided to take the Abol trail down, after all we were done with the AT and it would put us about 2 miles closer to the park entrance. Near Thoreau Spring we veered a bit to the left and headed down. We were just on a different spine of the mountain and looking to our right you could see where the AT had climbed up.

It was still plenty steep and ridiculous but towards the bottom it was a little more dirt and smoother sailing but I was beat.

We had chatted with a couple on our way down and as 3 of us sat collapsed in the campground parking lot exhausted and dazed they offered us a ride to the park entrance. They were on call search and rescue so couldn't take us farther but wished us luck and off we went.

The second car that passed took us the rest of the way into the closest town in Millinocket and dropped us off right in front of the hiker hostel there. It sound like everyone else who left the summit later had about an hour longer wait than us but we all hitched into town and ended up at the hostel together.

Food and beds, laundry and plane tickets meant a busy evening but a fun one. It was a relief to take of my shoes and now I had to hike no further and my feet agree. Tired and sore but excited and happy I get to spend one more night with a bunch of hikers. What a great journey.

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Day 129: the Birches

8/26: Abol Bridge - the Birches
Mile: 2174.1 - 2184.1 (10 miles)

I had decided to sleep in one of the lean to's at the campground when I heard it might rain overnight. I had the whole thing to myself and it seemed like a good idea. Especially when the rain started a little after sunset. But the rain was short lived and it was a hot and muggy night with enough bugs to keep me restless. But no mice got into my food or fear and everything is dry so I'll call it a draw. But no more shelters, you'd think I'd know myself by now!

With only 10 miles I had thought to sleep in a bit but that was a complete failure. Other people are packing up as I leave but only one other person has already signed in for the Birches campsite when I get to the infamous kiosk sign in sheet. As usual worrying for nothing.

Looking back at the Abol Bridge area, I'm not sure what I expected but this dusty power lined road wasn't quite it. Soon enough it's back to the land of water and into Baxter State Park.

The trail is flat and easy going, more old fire road than narrow walk way today. It's still muggy and if I stop to long the bugs get busy but I'm trying to take my time. There are lots of short viewpoints this morning, mostly to water and I take advantage of most. The trail seems to be all along large creeks or rivers and it's quite the change when I think back to the beginning of Maine. The one little rocky section is a joke compared to the ridiculousness of my first day in this state.

Once at the Katahdin Stream Campground I find another hiker and we twiddle our thumbs waiting for the ranger. Eventually he appears from the campground and gives us our official passes and the rundown on the rules. Already there are 9 people signed up for the Birches tonight. I've never been to a park that is so aware of where all the people are. There's a ranger at that first kiosk radioing all the sign ups up to this guy. He's completely friendly and encourages us to hang out at Katahdin Stream as long as we want. I find an outside pavilion and kill a few hours meeting all the folks I saw yesterday as they trickle in. We eventually head the quarter mile up the hill to the dry Birches campsite. Two shelters and a picnic table with plenty of spots to tent.

We hang out and people seem to eat and nap in waves. I'm hiding in my tent when I hear Wanderer start playing a ukulele and someone mentions it's our last sunset. It's hidden by the trees but I can't resist and it's a quiet group sitting out taking it all in. It's really a perfect evening before a finish. The wind rustles the trees and the music is quiet and wonderful.

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Day 128: I can see the mountain

8/25: gravel beach - Abol Bridge
Mile: 2149.8 - 2174.1 (24.3 miles)

I have another restless night but this time manage to fall back asleep. Heading out I pass other people packing up and even manage to turn back a lady who had started hiking the wrong direction. Then it's a climb up Nesuntabunt Mountain. I feel like I'm in a jungle. The green is back with a vengeance and everywhere I look there are ferns and giant rock faces and boulders covered in moss. I keep picturing Indiana Jones and the holy grail only I'm clumsily slipping on wet rock and stone steps, no flashy footwork and daring escapes for me.

The views are great and I try to stop and enjoy the views. I'm soaked in sweat and it isn't even 7. It's going to be hot today.

As the hours to pass the temperature and number of bugs rise. I feel guilty for not having fun, this is one of my very last days after all. I chat with a guy named Scuba who looks as cranky as I feel. We commiserate and decide it must have to do with being so close to done. In a few short days there will be no more muggy hiking, constant stumbling, and mosquito bites. My brain has jumped ahead, the only problem is that I'm still hiking.

The clouds roll in a bit and the breeze becomes a little more frequent. I hike on and off with Scuba. The chatter helping us both along. After running into a southbound ATC employee out mapping the trail I take some time to hike alone. He was so very heartfelt and almost tearful reminiscing about his previous hike and making it to Katahdin that I really tried to be reflective and happier. It works to some extent and spots like the Rainbow Ledges help. Views of the mountain, open sky and granite. All fantastic things.

Katahdin in the clouds!!

I hike the last 4 miles to Abol Bridge with Scuba. We both hobble on tired feet to the campground store and restaurant. It's less than a mile to the official entrance to Baxter State Park and it's mess of rules and regulations. The park isn't particularly fond of AT hikers and there has been talk about getting the trail out of the park completely. Right now there's one walk up campsite 10 miles into the park 5 miles from the summit available to northbound thruhikers only. The problem is only 12 people can stay, first come first serve. So instead of a long 20 mile day with the second half being a giant mountain the plan is to wake up early, get a camp spot and relax with a 10 mile day. My last full day on the trail. Then I can wake up early to beat the weekend crowds and summit with another 10 mile day. And that's it, and this crazy thing will be done just like that.

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