September 17, 2007

We Climb Katahdin!

Up at 4:30am, temp is 31 degrees, forcast for clear & perfect conditions..we just had to do this!
Yes, make the final 5.2mile 4200' climb to the summit of Mt Kathdin, the most northern segment of the Appalachian Trail. With a hearty carbs-loaded breakfast, plenty of snacks & water, packs and hiking poles loaded, we drive from our "home" at Hidden Springs Campground in Millinocket, Maine to Baxter State Park, the home of the mountain.
Kim has done several AT segment hikes over the years, but always felt this was the "ultimate challenge" of the Trail. It's certainly one to complete while physically able, and in favorable conditions. As it turned out, we couldn't have picked a better day. Moderate temps, virtually no wind, fall colors emerging, and all under a crystal blue-clear sky!
We arrived at Katahdin Stream Campground to find "The Greatest Mountain" (named "Katahdin" by people local to the peak and by the Penobscot Indians) waking in the early glow of a smokey dawn.

We signed in at the trailhead at 7AM, bundled for the chilly morning air, and up to the challenge that lay ahead. The first mile or so was typical of many other places on the AT. Cool dense forest, the babbling of nearby Katahdin Creek, a well-worn uphill trail marked with the familiar white blazes found throughout the AT.

Our map clearly indicated that things would start to change past Katadin Falls, which shown beautiful in the morning light. The trail turned rocky and upward signalling that our real journey to the top had just begun.

After a short segment through more & more steep, rocky, thick woods, at a short pause, our efforts are rewarded by our first look at surrounding mountains!

As we reached Cave Rock, and I looked straight up at the large boulders, and noticed the white blazes stacked vertically above, I remembered an old Army saying "when the goin' gets tough, the tough gets goin'. I just hoped with forty years difference in age, and a few worn out bones & muscles, the tough would still be there when needed!

Kim said I should go first, But I thought I should stay below and catch her if she fell. I guess she realized that she needed to be below to "catch" the insurance proceeds after the 200 plus foot drop "insured" their avaiability!

But, a few moments later it was her turn with me exclaining how "easy it was" to be first!

All joking aside this and much of the rest of the trip up was pretty tough, and required some climbing techniques that neither Kim or I had trained for. Many of the spots had near-vertical drops that would have resulted in a serious injury or death on a fall. Somehow in our reading and discussions with others we had missed this!
As Kim made it though the last of the "Boulder Field" (as labeled on the map), and things began to level out a bit, we were decieved into thinking that it would get easier.
The long ridge ahead gave the illusion that it wasn't too steep, and that the climbing would go much better. Actually we had another mile of climbing crevases, rocks and boulders that were just as demanding, and had many of the same open drops. The interesting thing is that that peak ahead is not the summit of Katahdin. It lay hidden off to the far right and another two miles away! The prize for all this effort were the spectacular views in every direction as we continued to gain altitude.

The ridge top brought yet another surprise, a long, almost flat plateau that stretched far ahead and to the left side. Cranberry colored low growth seemed out of place alongside the mostly green views below and the striking blue above. It was a welcome departure from the hand-over-foot slow climbing of the past couple of hours. And finally the elusive summit still laying far ahead. Although difficult, we agreed the climb through the Boulders was fun!

As Kim followed across the plateau, I looked back at the crest of the ridge we had climbed behind her, hiding all thoughts of what would greet us on the way down.

After what seemed like miles of travel across this broad plain, we reach yet another (but now the final - YES!) rocky climb to the summit....

And finally we actually see people on the top (those little dots way on top in the middle), and hear their cheers as the through-hikers celebrate having achieved the 2160 miles from Georgia.

Another twenty minutes at Noon, and we too are standing on what felt like the top of the world, celebrating the victory over mass and height like the others!
I'll let the pictures at the top speak for themselves...we had a nice lunch, talked with other day hikers, celebrated with the thru-hikers, and enjoyed the magnificant scenery!

By 1PM we had realized that what was so hard and vertical coming up would be harder and more VERTICAL going down. Needless to say not too many pictures were taken on the descent. We wanted to make it before dark, and knew the trip down would take longer!
Reaching the plateau was fairly easy and we were greeted with a beautiful view of the valley below.

It wasn't long before we reached the top of the long treacherous ridge. Beginning to get tired and a bit sore, it seemed to take forever to get down to the Boulder Field a mile below.

I'll never forget swnging over that iron handhold dangling, groping helplessly for the tiny footskeg 6' below, then having to work down gently with hands in small cracks and feet searching for a landing spot. Needless to say, this sequence was repeated many times on the trip further down.

We took our time, and tried not to focus on the steepness of the vertical views below us. But, there was no choice, descend or be trapped overnight in the cold with no gear to support us.
Finally reaching the wooded area. With only a couple of miles to go, it brought little relief for the aching feet & legs.

I paused for a few moments to catch the sun's final rays highlighting Katahdin Falls. Kim passed on by, too tired to divert the extra hundred yards to the view.

Finally at 6:30PM we reached the Campground parking lot. What a relief, and what a sight!
Perfect timing to see Katahdin glowing in the distance under the warm red dusk of the setting sun!