Monday, September 27, 2010

The 100-Mile Non-wilderness and Katahdin!

Now that I've been home for a week, it's time to tell you about the last part of my journey. 

We resupplied for the last time in Monson, ME.  By this late in the hike, resupplying was generally easy because we had finally figured out how to do it right.  Unfortunately, we were resupplying for an unknown about of time.  We weren't sure exactly how many days it would take to get to Katahdin.  The 100 miles past Monson are known as the 100-mile wilderness because there is supposedly nowhere to resupply for 100 miles. 

So we entered the 100 Mile Wilderness with a lot of food and a lot of energy.  This was the home stretch! And everyone had said we would have no problem making up time.  That was a little misleading, but we were still on schedule. It turned out to be a blast and one of the most enjoyable stretches of the hike.  The first few days were slow-going because we had so much food in our packs.  At this point in the hike I was probably eating only 2,500-3,500 calories a day, which doesn't seem like that much for the amount of exercise we were doing, but 10 days worth of that food is heavy!

Day Tripper and I didn't see many other hikers the first few days in the 100 mile wilderness. It was nice to have a little "solitude" and to have a shelter to ourselves... or so we thought.  One night settled into our sleeping bags at dark and we were surprised to see hikers coming into camp one-by-one until almost 10:00.  It was the crew that we had left behind in Rangeley.  They were doing 25+ mile days and really, really hating their lives and the trail.  They were trying to get the trail over as soon as possible, while we were trying to enjoy our last few days.  The extra 5 miles they were doing made a difference- they couldn't take side trails to see ponds, they couldn't stop to scout for moose, and they couldn't ride the boat across the lake to White House Landing. And they never wanted to hike or camp again, whereas I went hiking within a week of coming home.

After a few days we stopped at White House Landing, the only place to resupply in the 100-mile wilderness.  It is basically a bunkhouse with a restaurant, but the novelty is that there is no way to walk there from the trail.  You get to the dock and sound a foghorn so the owner of the place drives a motorboat over to pick you up.  We sounded the foghorn and somehow that turned on a downpour, so the restaurant was a nice short break from the rain.  We didn't spend the night there but we did each eat 1/2 of a pizza, half of a 1 lb hamburger, and half of a pint of Ben and Jerry's.  And I still wasn't full!

In the "wilderness" the terrain was difficult for the first two days, but then it leveled out and we had no problem going 15-20 miles per day.  The only thing that slowed us down a little is that some sections of the trail in Maine are very muddy.  The Maine Appalachian Trail has constructed "bog boards" or wooden planks over the mud in some sections.  I think the main purpose of them isn't to help us as much as it is to prevent trail erosion.  Well, when it rains those things get very slippery!  I was constantly slipping off of them, but mostly landing on my feet.  Except once when I didn't, and I landed on my knees, elbow-deep in mud. Fortunately it was raining so I get cleaned off pretty quickly!

We learned that the 100-mile wilderness is not actually a wilderness at all.  The area is mostly a national forest (I think?) and that means that the resources are meant to be protected but not completely conserved.   That meant that we heard (and saw!) logging trucks every day.  There is even a railroad that goes through the 100-mile wilderness!  But we did see our third moose.  It was swimming in a river so it couldn't run away from us, so we finally got some good moose pictures.

After leaving the "wilderness" we spent the night at Abol Bridge Campsite, where our old friends Conan, Backwards, and Skippy were waiting for us! They had taken a zero day to wait for us so we could summit Katahdin together.  They had also hitched to town and gotten food for the night and champagne for Katahdin!  So we had a campfire with an amazing view of Katahdin, hot dogs on the fire, and a little bit of beer.  Or maybe it was a lot of beer, because somehow we missed hearing a bear sneak into Skippy's food bag 100 yards away and steal Ramen and Poptarts.  We started calling him the "ninja bear" because we never even saw him do it!  Good thing we were all sick of Ramen and Poptarts after 2100+ miles!

The next day we walked together into Baxter State Park, the home of Katahdin.  The "state park" is not actually park of the Maine State Park system.  It was established by a private trust set up by the late, great Governor Percival Proctor Baxter.  So it is independently run and has some strict rules- like limits on the number of thru-hikers who can stay there.  You also have to leave to summit Katahdin by 10 am in September, and things like that.  But I am a rule-follower, so everything worked out fine.

It rained all night, but the weather report predicted that it would stop raining at 8 am.  So we left at 8 am for our last day of hiking.  The crew included Conan, Backwards, Day Tripper, Skippy, Skippy's girlfriend Alisha, and me.  And just as predicted, it stopped raining.  It was a "Class II" day, meaning that "hiking above treeline was not recommended", but we were trusting that the weather would get better throughout the day.

The climb up Katahdin is ~4000 feet of elevation gain over 5.2 miles.  For those of you who don't hike, I will translate.  That is STEEP.  People say that it is the hardest climb of the entire trail, but it was made easier by the fact that we left a lot of stuff at the Ranger Station. In fact, I think I was the only one to carry my own backpack and not a loner daypack.  After the ascent, I saw why.  There was a lot of very technical bouldering and climbing on rebar that would have been difficult with a heavy pack throwing you off balance.

The climb up took about 3 hours, but honestly, it was FUN.  The clouds cleared so we had amazing views, and it was a blast.  It was more than I thought it would be.  We got above treeline and the trail leveled out a little.  There were at least four false summits so it was hard to be sure where the top actually was, but finally we saw a group of people and knew that they were at the top.  So, we reached the summit of Katahdin.  It wasn't windy, it was just a little cold, and the clouds would move in and out giving us occasional views of the valleys below.  There were about a dozen day hikers at the top, and they all applauded for us. 

At the summit we had a great time taking pictures and enjoying the view- taking it all in.  We sang Happy Birthday to Skippy because it was his 30th.  Conan and Backwards sprayed each other with champagne and we drank what was left in the bottle. I thought that I would cry a lot, but I didn't cry until Backwards started crying.  It was more of a happy crying than a sad crying.  It was overwhelming to be at a place that I had dreamed about for as long as I could remember.  The feeling that I felt most was sheer joy.   I couldn't stop smiling.  I felt lucky to have had the opportunity and time for such an amazing journey.  I felt blessed to be with people I love so much in a place that will always be sacred to us.

So then we turned around and went home.  The hike down was kind of annoying, because there is no "extra credit".  We were done hiking the AT, but we still had to get back to the parking lot.  Also, I didn't mind the steepness going up but by the time we got down my knees were really hurting.  That was a sign that it was time to stop hiking for a while.  Overall, I will say with confidence that so far the day that I summitted Katahdin has been the single best day of my life, and hiking the AT was the best choice I ever made.  I am still processing thoughts on everything that happened and all we accomplished, so I will have one more closing blog post for you all.  Thanks for reading and being part of my journey.


No comments:

Post a Comment