8-30-09 day 89
start: The Birches in Baxter State Park, ME
end: Katahdin Peak, ME, then drove to Augusta ME
daily mileage: 5.3
total mileage: 1165.8
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls- today is K-Day. That's right, the day we've all been waiting for. Today, we climbed Katahdin.
Whisp, Sea Monster and I were in one shelter and Rabbit, Monty and Zoltan were in the other. We set an alarm for 6 in our shelter, but as Whisp had packed up his daypack the previous day he got started much earlier than us. We were in no hurry, so it was probably around 7:30 by the time we'd packed our daypacks and left. Part of the reason it took us so long was that I didn't want to climb Katahdin in my (now breaking) crocs, so I put my boot on my foot and duct-taped / twine wrapped the hell out of it, literally taping it to my foot in the hopes that it would carry me to the top!
We'd known since yesterday that the weather wouldn't be Class IV bad (so we could climb the mountain either way), but we were still worried it would be cold and rainy. Fortunately, the weather was great! Certainly not cloudless, but pretty warm and dry. Even better, as we climbed the sky kept getting clearer, affording us some fantastic views.
The first two of our five miles were really gradual and easy. We stopped around a beautiful waterfall for a few minutes and realized we had cell signal there (we literally have had none for the vast majority of Maine). We called Sea Monster's dad to make sure all was well, and then began our real ascent. It was an amazing climb- over 4,200 feet of vertical climb in 3 miles, most of it in just 2. We started up the tough part, and it was really awesome: hands over feet scrambling up rock faces almost the whole way. There were loads of places that, looking down, it seemed like you'd probably die if you fell. We quickly emerged above treeline, and began getting spectacular views of the surrounding area - far distant mountains, pine forest stretching out in every direction, hundreds of little lakes dotting the ground.
After perhaps an hour or an hour and a half of this scrambling, we emerged onto the "Table Lands," a huge plateau not far from the summit. The climb got much easier from there, and it was there that all my shoe bindings exploded off again. Certainly not the worst place it could have happened- I managed to get all the way to the summit in them!
The summit was unreal. The views were incredible (when it was clear, we could see for miles and when clouds rolled by we were over them, and got a top-down view like one gets from an airplane), but mostly it was the emotional experience of actually summiting the greatest mountain on the AT. Katahdin marks the end of our entire northern leg, over half of our journey, and definitely the hardest half. It's been at the top of our minds for months, and finally we'd conquered it! We cracked open the PBRs we carried up with us, took lots of pictures, dallied for a while, and then turned back to head down.
The trek down was tough, but other than one of Sea Monster's croc straps breaking (I brought up his fresh pair of crocs for when my boots broke), uneventful. We made it back down to base camp around 2:00, ready to hitch into Millinockett. We were just starting to talk about how we were going to do that (and hungrily complaining about how it would take us forever to get there to get lunch) when we unexpectedly ran into Whisp again! Whisp did part of his hike in 2006 with a girl named Fire, and her parents (from Maine) were there to pick him up and had an enormous amount of food laid out on a picnic table- for us! Yay food!
They then offered to drive us to Millinockett, but said that they'd like to drive around the park a bit first looking for Moose. We agreed- and so they drove to a parking lot on the other side of the park and said "come on, lets look for moose!" None of the three of us particularly wanted to hike any more after such a climactic morning, but we humored them by walking with them to a little pond and looking for the moose. Seeing none, we hopped back in and drove to the bustling metropolis of Millinockett, Maine.
We got there just as Sea Monster's dad arrived, and met at a McDonald's after saying goodbye to our buddy Whisp. We got in Mr. Smith's rental car and drove to check out the main attraction for thru-hikers, the A.T. Lodge, where we got showers and changed into our glorious cotton and denim clothes. We met up there with our other good friend Rabbit and said goodbye to her as well, and then began our journey south.
We only drove for 3 hours or so, but my knees were in considerable pain from the stiffness of keeping them bent and unmoving by the time we arrived at our hotel. We stayed in Augusta, where Sea Monster and I thoroughly enjoyed having "all the internet we could eat" on our laptops. It's great seeing Mr. Smith and Jackie, too- all together, a really, really fantastic day.