While at the hotel bar this afternoon, Ranger Dave came in and reported that he and some other hikers had summitted Katahdin today!! I asked him how the trail was and he said that there were just a few patches of snow and that he could see no reason why the mountain shouldn't be open tomorrow! With that little bit of information, my hopes have begun to soar.
I didn't realize how much summitting Katahdin really meant to me until I started to think that I might actually be able to climb. Prior to this I'd just been convincing myself that I'd be content to reach the bottom of the mountain and go home. Now with the possibility that the mountain will reopen, I'm ecstatic and hopeful once again! Sleep is out of the question tonight. My thoughts are whirling, my stomach is in knots, and there is a huge grin on my face at all times.
As we arrived at the gate to the park, we were ecstatic to see that there was a trail report posted listing the mountain as Class II!!!!!!! Class II means that it is not recommended to climb due to weather conditions, but that all trails are open! That's all I needed to hear. We were going to summit today! What a relief it was. As we pulled past the gate I just kept thinking over and over again "things work out on the trail."
Our group included my younger brother, Michael, Safari, and Sedona. We set off from the Katahdin Stream Campground in a light drizzle and waved to my parents as we headed off down the trail. Michael and I soon took the lead. The first mile was a breeze, but then we started the actual climb. As we ascended, the trail became more and more rugged. Each time we'd glance back over our shoulders the view was more breathtaking than the last. Michael and I stopped often to look over the landscape and burn these images of beauty into our memory.
It had started as a foggy, drizzly morning, but the skies soon cleared enough to provide wonderful views of the surrounding countryside. As we would stand and watch, the sun would break through the clouds on a far off ridge and illuminate the golden leaves as if a spotlight had been turned on at the flick of a switch. I don't know how many times we uttered the simple phrase "WOW", but it was impossible to express the depth of our delight at the beauty we saw before us.
We took several breaks atop rock outcroppings and ledges to allow Sedona and Safari to catch up. I knew there would be sections ahead that would be most easily climbed in a group. Michael was exceptional in helping us over the rough spots. He is extremely solicitous and patient and would climb up the most difficult spots and then reach back a strong, steady hand to help the rest of us over the worst of it all. I should have had his company in The Whites! After the first hour of very intense rock scrambling with some pretty tough little sections, Safari was so appreciative of Michael's assistance that she offered to give him her truck! Too bad for Michael that he can't drive yet ;-)
We reached the plateau at about 11. My heart was racing. In the distance I could see a small cluster of hikers clustered together around what must have been the summit sign. It looked so close, but we still had a mile to go. I wanted to slow down. I wanted to remember every one of these last steps, but I don't think I was very successful at controlling my excitement. We eventually found ourselves in a small line of hikers--SouthPaw, LoneWolf, Bulldog, Texas Tapeworm, and BSUR. As we approached closer and closer, all conversation stopped. Michael stepped aside and let me pass him. Some of the others ran the last few steps to the sign, but I just continued on as if in a trance, my eyes fixed on that sign. All those who had already reached the top had been very careful not to block the view of the sign for those coming up the trail.
I don't remember the last few steps, I just remember reaching my fingertips out to touch the sign and seeing my fingers tremble as they contacted the faded and chipped paint surface of the little A-frame sign. I pulled my hand back, and then extended it once again. There were no tears, no shouts of joy. It was a quiet and calm moment for me. I only spent a few instants up at the sign and then I stepped away a short distance to look once again at the end of my 7 month journey. Michael embraced me and I know I shared embraces with a number of other hikers, but for the life of me I can't remember who.
The top was crowded and noisy that day. I would say that close to 30 thru-hikers summitted October 6th. So many of us had been waiting out the mountain in the hopes that it would open once again. I remember quite a few of the faces: Texas Tapeworm, BSUR, Keebler, Weeble, Bones, Fire Marshall, Screaming Knee, LoneWolf, SouthPaw, Wiggly, Grizzly, Green Bean, Hootie, Mountain Laurel, Moose, Bulldog, Safari, Sedona, Footprints, Steady Freddie, SkyGod, ... I'm sure there were others that I've left out, but my mind was in a blur. I shared a can of Busch beer with the Vermonsters (Grizzly, Wigly, and Green Bean), and then I stepped even further off from the crowd to try and collect my thoughts. I only had a few brief moments of solitude before I was approached by some dayhikers and engaged in a conversation about my hike with them.
The winds were starting to pick up and the clouds were moving in quickly. When we had reached the top, we could still see the surrounding land. After only 30 minutes up top, our visibility was cut to less than 100 feet at times as the clouds raced over the ridge. I wanted to wait to make sure that Safari and Sedona had made it up. Michael was getting pretty cold and I was concerned about the safety of our decent should the weather conditions worsen. As soon as Safari and Sedona appeared on the trail, we all decided it would be best to head down. All told, I got to spend some 45 glorious minutes atop "The Greatest Mountain." 45 minutes of celebrating a 210 day odyssey. They were magical moments every one of them.
The rest of the day was a blur. The descent we took was down the Chimney Pond trail. Michael and I were lucky enough to see two moose. The trail was absolutely spectacular and as we neared the Chimney Pond Campground, we were struck by the immensity of Katahdin as we would glance back over our shoulders at where we had come.
It was nearing dark by the time all of us had finally descended the mountain. It had been an incredible day. I'm so glad to have been able to share the climb with Michael, because I know it will be something that we will remember forever.
For those concerned with numbers, I am a 2000+ miler, but I'm not even exactly sure how many miles I did complete. Let's just say there were a lot of them. I figured out that I took some 48 days off from the trail. My days off were just as much a part of my hike as my days on. I experienced some wonderful things while off the trail and got to fill my hike with many memorable side trips.
It's been a few weeks now since I left the trail. I've taken some time to piece together my thoughts and emotions. I think that right now I'm experiencing a fairly common post trail reaction. I have this overwhelming sense of "directionlessness" to contend with. As I drove away from The Gathering in Hanover and bid my final fairwell to my trail friends, it really hit me that this chapter of my life was drawing to a close and a sense of loss washed over me.
I do have a job to return to on November 17th. I've been spending a great deal of time with friends and family and reliving some of my trail adventures in the retelling of the stories. Overriding it all is a sense of loss. Where to from here? I'm already planning my next adventures to try and give myself something to look forward to. The John Muir Trail in California and The Wonderland Trail in Washington figure large for 1998. After that, I like the idea of an extended vacation in New Zealand and possibly a few months spent on the PCT.
All of these are hollow comforts right now. Right now I'm facing the task of dealing with society once again. It's a little overwhelming and rather frightening at times. Trying to put my life back in order and find my place among the non-trail community is going to be a challenge.
On the bright side, I face all of this with a deep-seated sense of optimism. I have a smile in my heart when I think of my future because I know I can make it what I want it to be. I have a new-found strength, a new-found confidence in my abilities, and this is what I hold within me when I face the world. The trail has given me these gifts, and I'm sure there are many more as yet undiscovered gifts that I will find deep within me as time goes by.
There were many caring souls who helped me to reach Katahdin. I wanted to express my love and gratitude to a few extra special people though. To my mother, who prayed for me every day, who carried countless drop boxes to the post office, who stood behind me and believed in me at all times, who always offered a safe and comforting home to escape the harshness of the trail when needed, and who had to deal with her own fears and worries as she watched her daughter tackle a daunting and sometimes dangerous task. To FireBall, who was always there to help me out when needed, who had the patience to deal with my emotions under some pretty trying circumstances, and who toted uncounted gallons of water from near and far. To Andy, who made my journal possible, wrote countless letters of encouragement, and was willing to take on a very time-consuming task at a time in his life when other demands made it very difficult. And to Micah, my best friend and the greatest hiking partner that ever lived. I could have never imagined a braver or more courageous companion to share my days with.
I've received quite a number of letters, care packages, and emails from all of you that followed my journal. You have all become a part of my thru-hike, just as much a part of my memories as the hikers I met on the trail. I am honored to have shared a small part of my life with you, and I hope you enjoyed it. My journal turned out to be a considerable amount of work, but the returns have been worth it. Thank you, God bless, and happy trails!
"Solophile" GA-->ME '97