I got a late start out of White House Landing as it included an all you can eat breakfast and really, how could I pass that up. From the Landing I was planning on standing on top of Mount Katahdin in a day and a half, meaning I would have to cover 45 miles in that time.
While for the past few days the miles seemed to be coming slowly, they were now just flying past. I was 15 miles in my day before I even took notice of how far I had hiked. The only interruption in the morning was a moose fording a stream. I heard something splashing around and couldn’t figure out what it was until I saw the mangy moose crossing the river. I was later told that many moose look unkempt after a long winter as they aren’t able to take in the proper nutrients. It is also why they can be found near roads in spring, as they are licking the remnants of the salt runoff that had been spread on the roads in the winter snow.
I have been seeing the steady stream of Northern Ribbon Snakes, other Garter Snakes, a Red Bellied Snake, American Toads, Salamanders and all manner of other reptilian creatures on my hike. Bears were non-existent, which was just fine with me. The purveyor of information on moose also explained that the bears are not used to people in Maine and are therefore quite leery.
I had good information as to what lay ahead on the trail from all the hikers that I passed hiking the opposite direction. Some of the trail became quite muddy in the areas of the boreal bogs, but it was nothing new having to play hopscotch on rocks and tree roots to keep my feet from being covered in mud. My boots were certainly worse for the wear as not only were they entirely lacking in providing cushion to my feet and knees at this point, but my feet were exploding out of the sides of the shoes and the sole on the right shoe completely delaminated, leaving it flapping with each step. I would normally replace my shoes every 500 miles regardless, but this pair hadn’t even made it to 450 by this point. The only salvation for my shoes was copious amounts of duct tape. Anything I do I always try to do it with a certain sense of style, but the tape wound around my shoe robbed me of that. I just hoped it would last the remainder of the trip.
There was some uncertainty in my mind as to what I should do for my last night on the trail. I had initially planned on staying in a shelter that would leave me about 18 miles from the end of my journey, but rethought the idea. I had plenty of daylight left as it didn’t really get dark until just after nine, so I kept going and figured I would find myself a nice tree under which I could perhaps find some slumber for the night.
I continued through the woods, out of the 100-Mile Wilderness and across Abol Bridge, from where I was able to see the top of Mount Katahdin. It wasn’t an imposing peak like some, but more of a tabletop with the steepest sections on its flanks. It was however the goal that has been hanging over my head since beginning the Appalachian Trail over 2,100 miles and a year ago.
Just prior to entering Baxter State Park I happened upon a small campground. While I didn’t have a tent, across from the campground right on the Penobscot River I was able to find a shelter, similar to the three-sided shelters found on other parts of the trail. It would be my home for my final night in the woods. And similar to most other nights, I would have it all to myself.
I wasn’t planning on sleeping much as I wanted to get started well before dawn. I was hoping to complete and have made my exit from the trail by early afternoon. This was for two reasons: I wanted to beat the afternoon rain that was in the forecast and I was trying to give myself the best opportunity to find a ride out of the park and to the town of Millinocket, ME, some 25 miles distant. As there is no public transportation to or from the park, I would again have to rely on luck.
I woke at three to clear skies, a full moon and temperatures in the low 40’s. It was chilly, but otherwise a perfect night hiking scenario. I quite enjoyed night hiking on the southern sections of the trail and up north was no different. The trail looks different, sounds different and feels different. The focus is on what can be seen in the beam of light emanating from my headlamp. As there was a full moon though, there was sufficient ambient light to illuminate much of the trail. When there was no tree cover overhead I was able to shut off my light and guide myself solely by moonlight, far more than what my headlamp could accomplish.
Nighttime quickly yielded to the sun and I no longer needed my own light source by 4:30. The perfect nighttime conditions turned to perfect early morning conditions leaving me to thoroughly enjoy my last morning on the trail, remembering the smell of the forest, the sound of the birds and the look of the ponds as the surface was disturbed by a light breeze. It was starting to hit me that by the following day I would be in a major metropolis, a far cry from where I spent the last month of my life. I just didn’t want to forget any piece of it.
I stopped by the ranger station in Baxter State Park to try and hit up a ranger for some information as to what I could expect for the last 5.3 miles of the trail on my way up Mount Katahdin. The ranger however was awfully late for work as there wasn’t a soul around during a time that was allegedly included in what the ranger’s office hours should have been. Hikers are generally encouraged to leave their packs behind to climb Mount Katahdin, taking only a loaner daypack from the ranger station. While I didn’t want to forego my pack entirely I did decide to leave my cook set and sleepmat behind before setting off.
The first mile of the trail was nothing more than a slow and steady incline. Soon after though, the trail became far rockier and was a series of boulders that required lifting my feet up 12 to 18 inches on average each successive step. I plodded along in a slow and steady fashion until the rocks turned larger and essentially the climb up was a scramble over boulders. There was also some snow still hanging around, but none directly on the trail.
Once the trail took me above the tree-line, the view opened up dramatically showing thousands of square miles of forest, riddled with lakes. While it was somewhat hazy and clouds began billowing in, the view was still remarkable.
The trail became steep amidst the boulders to the point where metal handles and footholds were fastened to the rock. On one particularly difficult section I thought to myself, “Wow, that has to be really difficult for some people”. It was only then that I realized I had gone off the trail and when I reconnected with it, the trail was leading me back down the mountain. When reconnecting with the trail I should have zigged when I zagged. With a shake of my head I corrected myself and again began putting more distance between myself and sea level. As I was climbing up I thought about the fact that I hadn’t seen anyone, which would make life difficult trying to find a ride to town, much less take my photo when I reached the top.
As I climbed I could see the top, or at least what could have been the top of the mountain. As the summit of Mount Katahdin was on a tabletop though the “top” was a false summit. From there the trail lead over a steadily rising trail for the last mile with basketball sized rocks strewn about. The hike wasn’t taxing, but I had to think about where I was going to step as there was little space between the rocks.
As I walked along the tableland I could see the actual summit of 5,267 foot Mount Katahdin and the sign that sits on top. I had the hardest part of the trail behind me but wasn’t going to consider any part of it a foregone conclusion. Even with the last little climb I was ever so careful. When I finally did reach the summit there were several people there as I reached out and clutched the sign atop of Mount Katahdin, signaling that I had officially hiked the entire 2,176.2 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine.