Friday, January 11, 2013

Chapter 7 - Summit Tale

Time draws me further and further from the time I stood on top of Katahdin. I have done some long work weeks, and at home we've done some more renovation. The memories of living in the woods fade into the "did it really happen" grey. It seems like another guy did those things. I try to remember the pain I try to remember the discomfort, but as with anything hard done, the accomplishment is remembered but the blisters and bugs are the first to be forgotten.

I get such vivid images in my mind of something from the Trail. The way the light filtered through the trees, the way moss covered a rock, conversations with hikers, and even the pangs of immense hunger. The longing I feel to be re-immersed is extremely intense at times. The simplicity of the days in woods with only my longing to be home to keep me company and hours to think about it. Now home and wanting to see the bend in the Trail again, if only for a weekend or a week.

To matters at hand! I have a whole life time to wistfully think about the Appalachian Trail, and fondly!

The 100 Nile Wilderness! Sounds scary, right? Don't be intimidated, it is also one of the longest sections of easy hiking on the entire Trail. I could've done it in 3 days, but I stopped just short and did the last 3 miles after a leisurely morning, technically walking to Abol Bridge after 47 hours from leaving Monson.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The day dawned rainy and misty. I was dreading getting wet feet at the start of a long walk I was about to begin. I had 2 days of food on me and had arranged a bucket drop at KI Rd - almost exactly 30 miles in, so two 15 mile days was the thought. I got a ride to the Trail head out of Monson with Craisin, Tex, Ranger, and Rebound. A quarter of a mile or less from the road there's a stream crossing. Though it was misty and the ground was wet my feet were dry and I was keeping it that way! I sat and removed my foot gear and waded across the cool stream. The other guys got across mostly dry. A few minutes later I come upon Tex talking on the phone! Well I guess even the edge of the wilderness gets signal. He was making arrangements to get home after the Trail was done.

The roots and rocks were in treacherous condition, I fell a couple times while trying to get off a rocky ledge (though one of those times I bounced off my backpack back to a standing position unscathed!). However, as the day wore on the fog lifted and the sun came out and began drying the slick rocks. There were a few more streams crossings, some that required show remove, most did not.
No large hills were in my way and I made good time over the small ups and downs, especially after the dazzling sun came out and made the day beautiful. Towards the end of the day I decided that I might as well push a bit over the 15 miles I had thought about originally since there weren't any campsites close to where I'd be getting my food stash. This did mean a 2000 foot climb, but it was actually really easy, nothing too strenuous for a hiking machine!

I climbed Barren Mountain, the wind kicking up and the temperature dropping noticeably. Cloud Pond Lean-to, though far off the Trail, was my destination. Beautifully situated next to a tarn, the trail sidled up next to a cliff and a lake and required board-walk to get around the cliff face to the shelter. The camping spots, even for a hammock, were very limited. Behind the shelter there was a dense stand of fir trees that I hung the hammock; the trees were so small that I wrapped the hanging drop around three on each side so I wouldn't bend in and have my butt on the ground! The wind whipped and I put on every bit of clothing I had glad I had it all! Ranger and Rebound also hung close by bundled up as well. The shelter itself offered no protection from the wind, in fact facing the breeze seemed to catch the air and was colder. After a hurried dinner I hopped in my gloriously warm sleeping bag to read some Harry Potter before drifting of swaying in the wind listening to it blow through my fir stand.
The next morning began bright and sunny, though still cold. The best thing for cold is to start hiking! Over Fourth Mountain and through a bog, over Third and through another bog! These area were incredibly interesting and beautiful with the sun making the green stand out brilliantly.
Soon enough I was at my bucket, making my pack heavy with 4 more days of food. Thus prepared I hiked into Gulf Hagas. The day was still young and I was feeling good! The last mountain between Katadihn and I could either be done today or tomorrow. I decided to go as far as I could and see if I could get to the other side of White Cap, though that would be a 26 mile day. I questioned my decision as I made my way past Tappan Campsite, but the Trail was stairs, though so steep but not difficult. MATC (Maine Appalachian Trail Club) does a wonderful job maintaining this section, between the stairs and the water culverts, all made by hand to prevent erosion, I was very impressed.
Additional motivation to crest White Cap was I heard that this was one of the few spots in the wilds that cell reception was good. I wanted to let Cara know I was doing well. I stopped on the top and the wind began to chill me immediately, but I got a call through and spoke for a few minutes before heading off and down the last few miles of the day. As I rounded a bend, into the afternoon sunlight, I recevied a clear and unabashed view of Katahdin. This was in fact the same mountain I had seen from the Bigelows - I just hadn't been able to confirm it. This was Katahdin! Not the point of my journey, but the end. Like Frodo seeing Mt.Doom, my burden would soon be lifted, my journey at it's end, my precious lost. (nerd alert)
Still, it seems so far. But the lay of the land seems flat. And thinking back to other times on the Trail being able to look back and see where I began and ended in a single day - that time looking back to see the high point in NJ, so far away that I had stood at it's base the afternoon before - or that time in the Smokies with Flip looking back at Fontana Dam and Shuckstack Firetower three days later and seeing how far we'd come - the distance wasn't great. I would be there quickly. Now was the time to reminisce, to try and capture images and keep them in my mind and in my heart. I'd never be here again most likely, almost assuredly. I would stare off into the forest or a meadow and whisper to myself "Remember this". And I do.
The next day was a day of great hiking, through pine forest with soft needle carpets, skirting lakes and following rivers. At Jo Mary Rd, a Trail Angel had left some Cokes! What a surprise, here in this supposed wilderness. On the 2nd day of hiking there was an AMC Lodge that just opened that I could have stayed at. At Jo Mary Rd there is a campground with store and showers. And a few miles later there is a Lodge at Whitehouse Landing. If one choose, one could have slept in a bed or had a shower on several occasions through this stretch of Maine.
I surpassed Whitehouse Landing, after hearing the proprietor could sometimes be on the mean side. After further contemplation  and hearing other stories, I came to the conclusion that was not the case. He just doesn't put up with the "Entitled Thru" - the hikers that expected special treatment because they decided to be homeless for a summer. I had seen the same thing over and over on this trip. People probably said the same thing about the owners of Hemlock Hollow, even though they were very kind and generous  just not to be taken advantage. I ended the day at a completely primitive campsite right by the side of a river - 28 miles from where I had started the day!
Katahdin was much closer when I got the chance to see here this day. Not quite looming yet, but getting there!
The next day was another fabulously easy day of hiking. Following a river here, and a lake shore there. All the rivers that I had to ford were not raging, as I knew they could've been. Some spots were a bit muddy and rooty, but easy to skirt around. Had I been going through here while it was raining or had been a wetter year I could see how the pace would be much slower through the wilderness. I was not here while it was wet, though, and so I flew. Another 25 mile day that I could have pushed and made it to Abol. But why pay for a campsite when I could camp for free? I hadn't seen many people in the last couple days, and was glad someone was at the shelter, he and I spoke into the late evening before turning in. I was envisioning scout troops and weekenders all over as this was Labor Day weekend, but I was thankfully wrong and received a quiet campsite with only one more night in the woods ahead of me.
From Rainbow Ledges I was able to view a cloud-shrouded Katahdin, and glad I wasn't in that fog for my summit day! I had high hopes of a good clear day to mount the Mount! From Nesuntabunt Mountain I was able to shoot a text to my parents, but no more than that. I texted them that I would wait at Abol until 1pm for them the following day if they were in the area to meet me there. Otherwise, I would be summiting Katahdin the following day and I'd try to get ahold of them from the top.
I made it to Abol Bridge with an air of excitement pervading me. Joy and accomplishment and wistfulness too. I sat there for a long time, after making a reservation for myself, Ranger, Craisin, and Rebound for The Birches for that evening with Jonathan from the ATC. My parents never came, but that was alright, I hadn't expected it but just had to be sure.

I started a very leisurely 9 miles into Baxter State Park, following a nearly level trail along the shores of the Penobscot River, watching white water rafters float down stream while I walked under old huge pines on a periwinkle blue sky day. I took my time and savored every step. Soon I got into the tourist section. I knew this when around 50 Indians (from India) asked me for directions. Next toddlers began toddling down the Trail and I knew I was nearing the end. Still the lakes and trails, woods and streams all sang sweetly to me. A day to be locked into my memory forever. I have been so, I can only say, blessed. By whatever there is out there through trial and adventures I always seemed to turn out just fine. I was never seriously injured, I never really wanted or was tempted to quit, though of course I had my low moments, I was able to have days like this!
Later, at The Birches, after dark and already bedded down, Jonathan from the ATC arrived with a cake! Trail magic on the night before Big K!
The next morning I was packed before dawn. My stuff stashed and a day bag packed. I got to the trail head and saw that a group of ten started the trail before me, I was imagining a mobbed summit - but I've been hiking for nearly give months, I can beat them up the mountain. The first couple miles of the trail to the top were great, following Katahdin Creek. The trail began to get steeper, and I soon passed the group of ten. Right at tree line Craisin caught up and we walked the rest of the way up... actually a lot of it was climbing! Up boulders and rock faces, along a incredible rock ridgeline to the tablelands. The wind blew chilly and I had to put a few more layers on. The last 2 miles was spread out before me, the summit still hidden. At last the top came into view! The celebration began in earnest! The sign I never really believed I'd see in person, I was now standing on it! Ranger and Rebound showed up quickly and we all congratulated each other, they spewed champagne all over. I got a bit of signal and got to talk to Cara for a few minutes! After pictures and lots of smiles we headed off the mountain. And that was it -the end of the trip, the summer of hiking over!
I didn't use it

The knifes edge

Coming back down
Here are the blog posts that I posted while I was hiking. They lack pictures, and overlap what these 7 parts have covered, but are more 'immediate' to where I was on the Trail.

Johnny Walker Black