Mt Katahdin in Baxter State Park is the highest mountain in Maine. At 5,266′ it is not the highest peak on the AT but it is rated as the hardest climb on the AT.
I exited the Hundred Mile Wilderness and arrived at the base of Katahdin on a Sunday. Looking at the calendar, we need to leave Maine by Wednesday afternoon to make it to a wedding in Michigan on Friday. The forecast for Monday is 50% chance of rain and Tuesday is 60% but Wednesday is looking great at 10%.
On the one hand, I would really like to get this part of the hike over and then have a relaxed drive back to Michigan. On the other hand, a couple days off would be really nice and good weather is almost required for climbing Katahdin. There is a fair amount of rock climbing involved that would be even more treacherous when the rocks are wet. And half of the trip is above the tree line so is very dangerous if there is any lightning in the area. Weighing the options I decide on taking a couple days off and climbing the mountain on Wednesday. We will hit the road to Michigan as soon as we finish the hike.
The weather Monday was as expected but Tuesday was actually pretty nice and never did rain. Wednesday dawned with a light sprinkle. Ugh, so much for weather predictions! Hopefully the rain will quit before the trail is soaked.
Tortuga and The Bow Princess are in town to help celebrate finishing the northern half of the AT. A short hike on Monday on the International AT convinced Tortuga that his knees are not quite recovered enough for Katahdin. But The Little Rabbit is fired up and ready to do it with me.
So The Little Rabbit and I are up at 0430 and head to breakfast at 0500 at The Appalachian Trail Cafe. Their ‘Katahdin’ is a hearty omelette with meat and veggies and seems appropriate this morning. Service is a little slow and the drive to the park takes a while. A line if cars heading into the park slows us down even more so we don’t get to the trailhead until 0700.
There are numerous trails leading up to the peak. The AT follows the Hunt Trail so that will be our ascent. But we plan on descending on the Abol Trail which we have been told is a little easier than the Hunt. The Abol Trailhead is a couple miles from the Hunt trailhead so one of us will have to hitchhike back to the car after the hike. Except for the hitchhiking, the hiking distance is about the same either way.
We gear up, apply sunscreen and bug repellant and are ready to go at 0715. For the first time I decided to ‘slack pack’ which means I am only carrying what I need for the day. My pack is almost empty except for lunch, snacks, and water. One last visit to the privy and we sign in at the trailhead at 0720.
The rain didn’t last so the trail is dry and starts off very easy. A gentle uphill grade for the first mile and not too many rocks and roots. A beautiful waterfall along the way makes for a good photo-op.
The trail gradually gets more and more difficult for the next half mile and then it gets really tough. It’s not quite the type of rock climbing where you need ropes and a belay but it is close. And the wind has picked up making it a little chilly. It’s hard to find the right combination of clothes and windbreaker to be comfortable.
We press on. There are dozens of people on the trail and we are all helping one another in the more difficult sections. A hand here, an encouraging word there, etc. We are not fast and many folks are passing us but we are not the slowest either. We just don’t want an injury so we are very cautious with every step.
The steep rock climbing lasts for about a mile before we reach the Table Lands, plateau that leads to the ridge line and the peak. Here we are on the ridge and the trail levels out. It is still rocky so we watch our every step but the worst of the climb is over. The wind is always stronger in the mountains and is now about 30 mph and the temperature is only in the 50s so the wind chill is biting. Only the fact that we can now see the summit (still a mile and a half away) keeps us going.
We pass by Thoreau Spring, a small water source, and I note to myself that today, July 12th, 2017, is Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday. I wish him the best and thank him for his inspiration.
As we near the peak we start to see the crowd gathered there. This is a popular destination for hardy day hikers. Somehow the wind feels lighter now.
We wait a few minutes for others to get their picture at the sign then we step up. A stranger offers to take pictures of the two of us then The Little Rabbit snaps a few of just me with the sign – a rite of passage for all AT thru hikers.
It’s only 1100 but we decide to have a little lunch before we head down. We sit behind some rocks to block the wind and pull out sandwiches The Little Rabbit made for us and eat half.
We start down and The Little Rabbit gives me the go ahead to hike at my own pace. So I take off, not in a hurry but trying to work hard enough that my body temperature comes back up after sitting through lunch. It’s not long before I am back at Thoreau Spring and heading down the Abol Trail. My knees have been getting battered in Maine and are pretty sore so I move pretty slow on the steep descent. The Little Rabbit Soon catches up to me and we work together. The trail is a little less technical than the Hunt Trail but not by much.
A helicopter is hovering in the valley below us… A rescue we wonder? Then he flies off toward Millonocket dangling something below him. A little while later we see him return, hover, fly off. We aren’t close enough to see what he is carrying. As we get closer we see that work crews are maintaining the trail in this area. Then the helicopter returns and the work crews direct him in. Now we get the rest of the story… The helicopter is delivering a 75 gallon water bladder for the crew but is having trouble releasing the bladder. Third try is a charm and the bladder is dropped on the trail a couple hundred yards further down the trail.
The Little Rabbit is also having knee issues due to the steep descent so she is moving slower now so I make it to the trailhead ahead of her and sit at a picnic table to wait. When she arrives, exhausted from the effort, I offer to fetch the car. A couple cars pass me by but the third car stops and offers a ride. A father/son from York, ME visiting the park for the week for fishing and hiking. I pick up our car and drive back to The Little Rabbit and we head to Michigan.
Onward and SOUTHward,
Day number: 100
Miles hiked today: 13
AT miles completed: 1301
AT miles to go: 888
Average miles per day: 13