KATAHDIN

CuppaTea met us at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy HQ and off we went. CuppaTea is really sweet and I am so glad to have met her. We stopped in my home town of North Billerica, Massachusetts on the way to Maine, staying at the home of some dear friends.We stayed for two days and got the chance to rest and recuperate – taking my friend Brita up on her request that we “consume mass quantities!” while visiting their home.

Yesterday was a wash, literally. Horizontal rain and atrocious winds prevented us from hiking in Baxter. But by mid-afternoon, it was clear enough for a short hike to stretch our legs and get our Katahdin hiking permits from Ranger Dave.

permits

We summited Katahdin today. My alarm went off pre-dawn at 4:55, signalling the beginning of a long day of arduous hiking. CuppaTea & Stryder were both up and at-em by quarter past five and we were on the road to Baxter State Park by half past.

When we arrived at the gate, Stryder and I bought CuppaTea a season pass to Baxter State Park so she could continue to come in and out of the park without needing to pay the $14 each time (it paid for itself in just 2.5 visits). She dropped us at Roaring Stream Ranger Station and then made her own way to Katahdin Stream Ranger Station, where she was planning to hike and where we’d meet her later in the day.

Stryder and I began our ascent of Katahdin on the Helon Taylor Trail at about 7:30. We chose this trail for two reasons. One, we didn’t want to hike up the Appalachian Trail, only to backtrack back down again. We liked the idea of using an approach trail to the summit and then beginning our southbound journey on the AT from where it starts with fresh eyes, just like Springer Mountain in Georgia. Two, we wanted to do the Knife’s Edge Trail. This is one of America’s more dangerous hiking trails, connecting Katahdin’s Pamola Peak to Baxter Peak, the highest point of Mount Katahdin and the AT’s official northern terminus. It’s just over a mile long, with sharp, steep cliffs on both sides. Some of the trail runs over rocky edges only three feet wide. But it wasn’t the danger that drew us, it was the challenge and the promise of gorgeous views.

The elevation climb began right away. We hiked over rocks and roots at first, then over boulders. Eventually we had to stow our trekking poles as the trail provided us with hand over head climbs. We paused for a brief break about two miles in at Bear Brook to refill our water bottles and to eat some snacks. The water tasted delicious and crisp. Maine water has been the best we’ve found on the trail thus far.

trek-stryder-baxter

From there, the climb only became steeper still, causing me to lose my footing at one point. I took a slight slide down a boulder, a small cut on my hand as my reward. We slowed down. Still, we reached timberline at about 9:15, stopping to enjoy some marvelous views.

Once out of the fir and aspen forest, temperatures began to drop quickly and the wind picked up significantly. Hiking suddenly turned into rock climbing, only without the gear! (It’s okay, we didn’t really need climbing gear, it was minimal technical climbing.)  Before long, we reached the summit of Pamola Peak (4402′). That was about 10:30. It was enveloped by thick clouds. We kept looking at the Knife’s Edge, hoping for the skies to clear enough for nice views. To that end, we took a long lunch.

There were a few other folks atop Pamola, so we chatted with them and watched as these hikers slowly trickled off Pamola and out onto the Knife’s Edge. About 11:30, we decided it was our turn. At points it was barely three feet wide. We saw steep falls on both sides of us. I have to admit, it was a bit terrifying. It took us an hour and fifteen minutes to hike that 1.1 mile stretch. At 12:45, we arrived at Baxter Peak (5267′), the summit of Mount Katahdin. We were here, the place where so many northbound thru-hikers end their months long journeys. But for us, the second half was just beginning.

katahdin

From end to end, our approach trail was 4.3 miles. Once at the sign, we took our obligatory photos and then ducked down a ledge to just rest for a while. Stryder ate a woopie pie and had a Coca-Cola. I ate a huge block of Maine fudge. Around 14:00, we began our descent, beginning our southbound journey back to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

The Tableland was gorgeous, providing a grand view of the mountains surrounding us. But after a mile, we began a rock scramble and then a boulder down-climb. Gosh, it was back-breaking and knee-breaking. We finally reached timberline at about 16:30, stopping for a snack and one final view of the valleys now that we were out of the cloud cover.

Our pace quickened as we got lower in elevation, arriving at Katahdin Falls about 17:00 and eventually exiting the woods at 17:30. We were greeting by CuppaTea, who gave us huge hugs and congrats. From there, we were off to dinner. Now showered, it’s time for bed. I may sleep in for several hours tomorrow.

If you’d like to help me with staying on trail, a typical resupply costs me about $50.00. You can make a contribution to my trail fund via http://www.paypal.me/trekreef. Any amount is gratefully appreciated.

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Half-Ways, Flip-Flops, & Harpers Ferry

On Monday, August 8th, Stryder, Snips, and I stayed at the Jim & Molly Denton Shelter just outside Front Royal, Virginia. The shelter is easily one of the most premier shelters on the Appalachian Trail. Most shelters follow the typical Adirondack-style lean-to design, sleeping six to eight people, but the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club went above and beyond on this one, so I’ve included a photo.

Image result for jim and molly denton shelter

We hung out with a couple guys we met in the Shenandoah Mountains, Archer and Sleepy, and met two new folks, Fish and Sunshine. It was a nice evening of chatting and just relaxing after a day resupplying in town.

The hike out of the Jim & Molly Denton Shelter on Tuesday morning was fairly easy – in fact the entire day was fairly easy. Archer left first and we didn’t see him again until we got to Harpers Ferry on Thursday. Stryder and Snips hiked out next, then me. Sleepy must have left sometime shortly after me, though.

My favourite part of the day took us through Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, Virginia. The trail was lined all along with yellow poplars, their leaves dancing in the wind that swept over Appalachia that particular day. Those looking for an incredible day hike should definitely check out Sky Meadows.

I got on Rod Hollow Shelter and found Snips and Stryder were already there along with a young teen called Ben with his dad, Jake. While we were setting up for breakfast, Sleepy came in, followed by Fish and Sunshine. We all chatted for a bit, Jake encouraging us to tell Ben stories and give him pointers. In turn, Ben told us he’d like to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail himself one day. So, of course, we decided to be as encouraging at possible!

Wednesday was a very trying day. The climb out of Rod Hollow Shelter was more demanding than one might think for such small hills. I knew the stories – 13 hills in 13 miles – The Roller Coaster, as it is called. Of course it was going to be hard work, but it was far more strenuous thanks to 97°F heat and humidity at 90%.

Up the first hill, down the next. Ran into Ben and his dad.  Up the second hill, starting to feel sick, I ran into Tinky-Winky (another fellow thru-hiker). Down the second hill was a footbridge over Martin Mill Stream. I threw off my shirt and sat down in the stream to cool down. Despite cooling down and resting, I continued to feel unsettled and markedly nauseated. I refilled my water and added electrolytes, knowing I needed to just keep hydrated and go on. There was no where to get off trail safely here.

Sleepy and I ran into each other and kept our minds off the heat by chatting. By the time I did 10 miles into the Sam Moore Shelter, I wanted nothing more than to vomit and go to sleep. Instead, I ate lunch with Snips and Stryder, who were waiting there for me. After an hour of rest, we hiked on. From here, only three more miles to Bear’s Den Hostel.

Soda. Water. Cold shower. Resupply. I kept chanting these to myself as we hiked on. But no. Two miles in, I collapsed from heat exhaustion. It was too much. My pack was so soaked in sweat that Stryder figured it weighed an extra six or seven pounds. Stryder carried my pack ahead to the hostel while Sleepy carried my water and Snips kept her hand on my back, pushing me up the hill to Bear’s Den. Once there, they got me quickly into the shower for a long, cold soak.

The hostel did not open officially until 17:00, so we made our dinners, drank a lot of fluids, and rested – knowing we still had eight more miles to go to make it to the Blackburn AT Center that night. Once they opened up, I grabbed my resupply box and off we went. Refreshed, we made it just an hour after dark – night hiking the last three miles.

We got up super early on Thursday. Big day! Eating only a Luna Protein Bar, we hiked 12 miles in under four hours – reaching Harpers Ferry and the Headquarters for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy just before Noon. Woot! We made it – the psychological / spiritual half-way point of the Appalachian Trail (just a few miles shy of actual half-way). And I cried. I cried on and off all day. I accomplished something I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do.

Inside, we met with Miss America (trail name of an ATC volunteer), Dave, and Laurie. They were super sweet to us and invited us to hang out in the hiker lounge. We had our photos taken – a tradition the ATC started to mark when hikers reached Harpers Ferry. All photos are kept in archival books for posterity. We met back up with Archer and Fish and said farewell to Snip, whose parents came to take her back home.

It’s bittersweet. So many people get off the trail in Harpers Ferry. We may never see many of them again. Others we’ve befriended are ahead, inching ever closer to Katahdin. And what about us? So badly we wanted to be walking with our other friends, but it was not to be. There is no way for us to catch up in time. But we aren’t fretting, we’ll see many of those who continue north very soon.

We’re flipping up to Maine to hike south back to Harpers Ferry, completing our thru-hike in that way. We will get to see so many of them soon as we pass by, trail family forever – north or south – and wherever else we may roam thereafter.

Speaking of trail family, we’ve made a new dear friend. While Stryder and I were sitting in the hiker lounge at the ATC HQ, conversing and fretting about how to get to Maine (bus, for example, was $180pp!), we fell into more serendipity. A lady who was perusing the photo book turned to us and said “I’m heading to Maine. Let me think about this first, but I think I want to offer you a ride. Tell me your life stories first.” And so we did. I’m not sure where we’d be without her, but CuppaTea is a trail goddess, not just an angel. So now – off to Maine!

If you’d like to help me with staying on trail, a typical resupply costs me about $50.00. You can make a contribution to my trail fund via http://www.paypal.me/trekreef. Any amount is gratefully appreciated.