Monday, September 22, 2014

The Finale: Mt. Katahdin

So most journeys come to an end but they certainly designed the Appalachian Trail to finish with a bang. At 4200' Mt Katahdin is the highest vertical climb on the whole AT and most of the elevation occurs in a four mile span. To say that it is steep and difficult is an understatement. Much of the five mile trail up Katahdin is very rocky and exposed and involves scrambling, boulder hopping, rock climbing and even some iron handles and ladder wedging into the rock.

Looking down the steep rocky spine the AT follows
The first mile is fairly gradual following Katahdin Stream but starts uphill pretty seriously by the second mile. The weather was cool (upper 30s) when we set out but for such an extreme uphill hike not too bad. But somewhere around 2000' things changed drastically. We climbed through "The Gateway", a tangle of large granite boulders that required several hand-over-hand moves (with rebar ladders) and around that elevation we moved into a fog layer that persisted to the top. It may have been for the best because we couldn't really see how exposed and crazy the ascent up the trail was.
After The Gateway, The AT goes steeply up the rocky spine of a ridge at about a 70ยบ angle. Brutal. I needed to eat some food but there was no shelter from the 40mph winds so we just pushed on, trying to get out of harms way. Fortunately the Trail levels out after that into an other-worldy area known as Tableland. It's a high elevation Alpine zone filled with granite boulders that lead to the final ascent.
The Tablelands

Because of the fog and the wind we couldn't really get our bearings but knew we had to be near the top. We had been making good time, but my troublesome knee started aching a couple miles from the summit and slowed us down. Prior to that we had been leading the pack but several thru-hikers passed us. We could hear the jubilant screams of hikers as the wooden sign at the top of Katahdin finally came into view through the fog. It took us four hours to hike the five miles up. But it was over: I'd hiked the length of the AT.
Sept 18, 2014

Not surprisingly, there were quite a few hikers--maybe 15 that day--finishing the AT, about half section-hikers like myself, and half thru-hikers. Some day hikers were also on top. Even though the weather was crappy, the celebrations at top were in full swing. A few hikers had a toast, many dreamed of things they would eat and drink when safely off the mountain. I think I felt both satisfied to have completed such a long journey but also a little sad that the adventure was ending.

Occasionally the clouds would break and we would get a hint of the spectacular view one might get from Katahdin on a clear day. But the persistent clouds/fog, wind, and chilly upper 30s temps made lingering on the summit for very long unappealing.
Looking toward Pamola and down into the South Basin
The Kinfe Edge Trail

Plus, somewhat anticlimactically, we had to get DOWN off this beast, a task at least as difficult as climbing it. Four more hours of knee-pounding downhill hiking/climbing/butt sliding/praying and we were back at Katahdin Stream Campground like it was all a crazy dream.

1 comment:

Patty said...

So proud of you for seeing this through with such amazing strength, courage and aspiration.
Have always loved our times on the trail but these past several weeks top the list.
Congratulations and may there be many happy trails ahead!
Love you, Me OXO