The Birches, Katahdin Stream Campground to summit of Mt. Katahdin – 5.2 miles – This is the Day!
Just like the previous night, sleeping well last night was not a problem. I sleep in past 5:30 AM and it is still hard to wake up. I could easily sleep hours longer, but this is a special day and I must drag myself out of my bag one final time. I have run myself to exhaustion these last few days with just enough energy left to finish this thing. I fill my water from the stream, use the privy, and get going before 7 AM.
SOBOs had said Katahdin was tough, but they also haven’t seen New Hampshire- or Maine-tough yet. I’ve heard a range of 7-12 hours roundtrip to the summit. I figure, at my dragging pace, it’ll take me four hours to cover the 5.2 miles to the summit.
The trail certainly has some challenging parts, especially challenging with a pack. My feet are sore, very sore. I take my time. A few day hikers fly past me. They just quickly and easily scramble up bouldering sections.
The weather is quite cool and windy as I get above treeline. What a gorgeous, clear, cool day it is. It’s beautiful. There are a few more tough rock climbing sections about two miles from the summit and then it is relatively flat to the top.
A SOBO, 56-year old teacher catches up with me as I finish the final climbing section. He hikes and talks while following me the last half mile or so. He is really inspired by meeting me as I’m finishing my thru-hike as he’s beginning his.
I can see the sign in the distance. My pace lifts. I can’t believe this is it. I’m briskly closing the last several hundred meters, an appropriate kick to 2,185.3 miles. I grab the sign at 11:30 AM: 82 days 22 hours (clock time) after leaving Springer Mountain, Georgia.
I have so many different feelings and kind of none all at the same time. I’m kind of in a daze. It’s like the finish of a marathon, when one doesn’t realize how tired or sore or short of breath one is until they’ve crossed the finish line and it’s suddenly all over. That’s it. Done.
The SOBO hiker takes a few photos of me. There are over a dozen day hikers on the summit. A few people ask if I am finishing a thru-hike and the SOBO hiker seems to enjoy letting everyone know. He is excited. I receive many congratulations and high-fives.
What a view at the top! It’s a beautiful, clear day. According to several folks, it’s the best day of the year. Apparently the weather’s been poor about 70% of the year. It’s quite cool and windy at the top. I take a seat on a rock and just rest. I don’t even remove my pack. And then I eat. People are offering me candy, another SOBO hiker offers a Snickers and honey bun, another a granola bar. Another SOBO appears and asks if I “want a, actually two, cervezas” and then pulls out two for me and one for him. We toast his starting and my finishing. I am on the summit for an hour. Maybe the longest rest I’ve had on the trail the entire hike.
A day hiker mentions the Saddleback trail as an alternate route down the mountain. I ask if that is an easier trail. He says, “Yes.” Without hesitation, I say I’m taking that trail. That’s an easy decision! I certainly don’t need to do the Hunt Trail (AT), again. Most thru-hikers borrow a day pack from the ranger station at the base and then only carry the essentials to the summit. It wasn’t even a debate for me to carry my pack. I hoofed it thousands of miles already, the climb couldn’t be any harder than other parts of the trail, and I wasn’t sure if I would be descending the AT from the summit. Having the option to take a different, easier trail from the summit made me feel even better about my decision to shoulder my pack up the final climb and not have to descend the AT back to the ranger station at the campground. The AT is a tough climb, I finished the trail, and I’m happy to take another trail down.
I start down the blue blaze trail. This trail is still 5.2 miles down a rocky decent. It’s slow. I’m not moving fast. I’m going even slower than usual over the rocks. I’m tired. My feet are sore with my terrible shoes. It takes me about four hours to get down the “easier,” not easy, trail.
This is my first day in Maine, 281 miles, that my feet and shoes are dry. There are some minor wet spots on the descent that I am careful to keep my feet dry because I am really enjoying (and needing) dry feet right now.
The miles coming off the mountain seem the longest. I call and talk to Lindsay as I walk. I am done. It feels so good to be going home. I miss them so much and I know they need me back. I get to Roaring Spring Campground, sign the register that I am off the mountain (I signed in at the base at Katahdin Stream Campground this morning) and continue walking straight through the parking lot, and down the gravel road, hopefully, leading to the exit. I figure I’ll just walk until a car passes, heading my way.
After a few minutes, I thumb the first car that approaches. The car, with a guy and a couple, stop, figuring I just finished thru-hiking. They have no problem giving me a lift to Millinocket, the Appalachian Trail Café to be exact.
About 25 minutes later, I’m sitting at a table and order the item on the cover of the menu, the Summit Sundae to complete the Summit Sundae Challenge: 14 scoops of ice cream, king size Snicker bar, banana, handful of M&M’s, doughnut, chocolate syrup, whip cream, and cherries. It actually sounds really good to me, the quantity is no deterrent. The waitress seems surprised I order it.
A large family is finishing their meal as I order the sundae and they stick around to see the size of this thing. The waitress brings it out and the family takes a photo before leaving. The waitress later tells me the family picked up the tab for my sundae; said it was trail magic.
More than three-quarters of the sundae disappears no problem before I start to slow down. The frozen solid Snickers and a few M&M’s remain in some soupy remains, so I begin drinking it. I notice there are four pieces of candy bar, which means two Snickers. The ‘doughnut’ is a little different, but still pretty good. I ask what kind and the waitress says it’s a bran-date muffin. What! I am kind of annoyed the sundae is not as described, containing two candy bars and a large muffin. Oh well. Bottom line: I don’t finish the bowl completely clean. I have to use the restroom and that is against the rules of the challenge, so I don’t “complete” the challenge. I come up a few soupy spoonfuls short and three M&M’s, so darn close!
That wraps up the dinner hour. There are so many good-looking items on the menu. I want to eat some things but I’m tired and dirty and haven’t checked into the hostel yet. I order a salad and jalapeño poppers for later.
The owner of the café also owns the lodge. They are sitting at the bar and I talk to them briefly. Nice folks. I walk the few blocks to the Appalachian Trail Lodge. I do laundry (finally, it’s been a very long time), shower, eat my café food and some hiker box food, drink a Moxie, and hangout with some of the late arriving SOBOs who start hiking tomorrow. In the fridge, I leave a can of Coors Light, carried from the summit of Katahdin, as pre-hike trail magic for a SOBO.
Everyone turns in early. I sit at the kitchen table still eating and it’s after midnight before I finally hit the sack. I’m finally going home tomorrow.
Partaking in tradition, I carried a stone from Springer Mountain 2,185 miles to the northern terminus…and then home. I forgot to leave it on the summit. Lots of thoughts were in my head while on the summit and apparently leaving the stone was not one.