August 31st 2018
Abol Pines – Katahdin (mile 2190.9)
15 miles + 4.3 down
Total miles: 2221.3


Early to bed. Early to rise. We had 15 miles to do to get to the top of Katahdin, and there is a cut off time for starting the climb of 11am so we decided to get up at 4am and leave at 5am. I slept pretty badly. A mixture of being severely dehydrated, probably from the salty food I ate yesterday, anticipation of oversleeping, and the anticipation of it being the last day, and the nervousness about climbing Katahdin. 

When 4am rolled around it was freezing. Well it wasn’t freezing, but it felt it. I didn’t want to pack up too quickly because I didn’t want to be hanging around and waiting. We started out with out head torches on and our waterproofs. It was too cold to hold my trekking poles so I tucked them under my arm and walked with my hands in my pockets. I had my hood up to keep my ears warm. Eventually it got light, but it didn’t get much warmer. We were moving along quickly as thankfully it was easy and flat and we had done 3.4 miles in the first hour. 

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After a couple of hours we started smelling a cigar. This was 7am. Cigars are gross at any time of day but especially so at 7am. The smell really lingers too, it just hangs in the air. It was making me feel really nauseous. I was walking with my bandana over my mouth and trying not to breathe it in. And that’s not me being dramatic, the others don’t find cigars gross but after about 10 minutes they had enough of it too, the difference was my tolerance of it was about 2 seconds! I started to walk quicker and I caught a glimpse of whoever it was up ahead. I tried to close in on him. As soon as he saw us he sped up. The smell never let up so I ran to catch up and overtake. I came up behind him and he let me pass. I still had my bandana over my mouth and he asked if I was ok. Im fine I replied, it’s just the smell, it’s making me nauseous. The others caught up to me and we hiked on for about 2 minutes before this very strange man caught up to us again and asked to pass us. I’ve put out my cigar, he said. Then he ran. It was really odd. 

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Anyway, now we could actually breathe some fresh clean air, we had a much more pleasant couple of miles to get to Katahdin stream campground. Here you have to visit the Rangers station to register and fill in a form. Lots of people choose to leave stuff here and hike with a day pack and then descend Katahdin the same way they go up, via the Hunt Trail, and then collect their belongings at the end. We decided to carry all of our stuff with us because they are alternate routes down the mountain. Our packs were pretty light anyway as we weren’t carrying much food. What I didn’t realise is that they give you another number at the rangers station and I was number 599 to complete a northbound thru-hike this year (my start number was 2562). 

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We had a little break and ate some snacks, I had a honeybun, before moving on and starting the climb. I was already kind of stressed about the climb even though I knew it wasn’t going to be harder than anything I had done before. I was worried about holding everyone up because I feel like I am so slow on the climbs. 

When we started moving it felt like someone had said ready steady go and everyone launched themselves forwards as fast as they could. The first mile was pretty flat and I was just about keeping up, but it felt stressful. The second mile we started climbing and I was getting myself frustrated about not being able to keep up. It didn’t want to cry but I could feel the sting of tears. The harder I fought against the tears the harder it was to breathe. The harder it was to breather the harder it was to keep up. I fell behind. I lost sight of them. I cried. 

I tried so hard to stop the tears. I knew I was being stupid and irrational but I just couldn’t stop. As I continued to fight against it and try and hike faster my throat felt like it was closing up and it felt like I was breathing through a straw. I couldn’t breathe. I was having a mild panic attack. 

I caught up to them when they had stopped to filter water. I was blubbing and I spoke to them about it, I said I couldn’t keep up. They tried to make me go in front but I was stubborn and said I didn’t want to. I tried to explain that my problem was now the fact I couldn’t stop the tears over anything else. 

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Anyway, I somehow managed to calm myself down and as it got steeper we all stuck together. There were some big rocks to climb and a couple of times I needed a hand to be pulled up. Jukebox was up ahead with her long legs and upper body strength and whenever I heard her struggling I knew I was in for a tough time. We got above the tree line and we saw a guy on his way down. We all congratulated him but he didn’t seem very happy, he said something like he never wanted to do anything like this again! Another guy we saw said something about it only getting harder. The rocks did get bigger, there were a couple of hand holds but a lot of the time you were gripping the rocks and that lead to really sore hands. We started with our trekking poles but eventually had to put the poles away because we needed to use both hands for balance or to haul ourselves up and over the boulders. 

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Unsurprisingly it was slow going. I was really glad to have people to help on this section as some bits were really sketchy. It was sketchy and tough physically, but not cardiovascularly tough like a lot of the big climbs in the Whites. I wasn’t having to stop to catch my breath, I was just having to stop and look around because it was all so beautiful. We really got lucky with the weather today. Clear skies, sunny but not too hot and not humid at all. 

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After a while of climbing up rocks we reached what’s called the gateway and the trail mellowed out a lot and from there it was basically a stroll to the summit. The trail follow a narrow rocky pathway with a few rock steps built in and you can see the path to the summit. The best thing for me was that I thought the summit was a lot further away than it was so I was pleasantly surprised to get there so quickly! It took us 3 hours 45 minutes from Katahdin Stream campground to the top and we weren’t pushing hard at all once we were above the tree line. 

There were so many people at the top. Way more than I expected. There were lots of people congratulating us which was nice and we saw a few thrus coming down as we were going up. Most of them were slack packing. There’s a certain pride to having carried all your shit the whole way.

We did a round of photos but we were a bit rushed as there were people queuing to have their photos with the sign. We sat at the top for a while and all the others phoned home. Don’t expect to be able to do that of you have AT&T, I don’t think they have reached Maine yet. We watched lots of people come and go and realised that people seemed to be coming in waves. We got another chance to do some more photos without people in the background and then we had to decide how we were going to get down. The bugs were pretty awful at the top which came as a surprise to all of us, so we were keen to get moving. It was about 2:20pm and we had two options. Go back the way we came, 5 miles, some steep rocky parts but 2 miles of easy stuff at the end and hitch out of the park; or go over the knife edge and down to roaring brook campground and hitch out from there.

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We decided to come down Knife Edge. The first bit is kinda rocky, well it’s really rocky but manageable. It’s just walking over rocks. Then it gets pretty ridiculous. It just became a literal edge. The top part is about a foot wide and then it’s just sheer jagged drops to either side. But if there was a perfect day to do it it was today. There was no wind and no chance of rain. The slightest bit of moisture in the air and I wouldn’t have done it. It was 1.1 miles from the summit to the end of the knife edge and most of it was basically rock climbing, which isn’t usually done with a backpacking pack on! We passed a few people who said they were turning back because they didn’t think they would make it down before sunset. It did plant a little seed of worry but we were committed now, plus I had new batteries in my head torch. It was all going ok, there were a couple of moments where my stomach dropped, but mostly it was clambering over rocks which we have been doing for weeks, just without such sheer drops. There was one particularly difficult bit at the Chimney that really made me feel a bit sick. Jukebox was killing it and making it look so easy. She rock climbs in her real life. So at this point I had to take off my pack and give it to her while I awkwardly slid down the rocks, turned around and lowered myself down while clinging on by my fingertips. After that we were looking up at a big wall of rock and we were going to bypass it and miss going to the top, but I said we are only here once let’s just do it, and we did. We were pleased about it after the event. We were so close we would have been really annoyed with ourselves if we had avoided it. 

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Then it was just the simple matter of making our way down to Roaring Brook campground. The way down was absolutely the most brutal part of the whole day. It was 3.2 miles and it was all steep downhill over big rocks. It was so hard after being so tired.y knees were killing me. My hands were so sore from the sharp rocks and I was constantly leaning on them and lowering myself down. It just seemed to go on forever. Once we got below treeline there were a few trees to hold rather than rocks and some of them were so nice and smooth, but it was a gamble as to whether you would get a handful of sap. 

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We were moving slowly but we passed a few people, and we were just so happy to get to the bottom, it was such a relief. I was completely done in. Everything hurt. The early start and the adrenaline and the concentration and the tiredness were all catching up with me.  

Once we got to the parking lot at the campground we had to try and get a hitch out of there. There were loads of cars but we could discount half of them because it was split into overnight and day use. We didn’t have much luck. A few of the people who passed us had fully loaded cars and apologised for not being able to take us. We were beginning to think we would have to pitch our tents and stay overnight, but we had absolutely no food left between us. We asked a car going by how far it was to the nearest paved road. 8 miles. Well, there was no way we were going to walk that! Jukebox went and worked her magic and we got a guy who was there camping overnight to drive us the 8 miles to the road. We didn’t realise it was such a bumpy terrible road! It was so nice of him to take us and then have to drive back to his friends. He dropped us at the gate entrance to the park where we handed in our yellow forms that the ranger had given us this morning, then we walked a bit to get to the paved road. I think we hit a bit of a low point here. It was already 6:45pm. What if we didn’t get a ride now! Just as we were losing hope we got picked up by a nice man and his 2 kids who we passed on the trail as we descended from the knife edge. He wasn’t going to Millinocket, I’m not sure where he was going I was too tired to follow the conversation, but he took us right to the door of the hostel we had booked into. So thankful to them and to be in town. 

There was a note on the door saying they would be back at 8pm so we went for pizza. There was free Popcorn that you could have while you waited for your meal and it was so good but it also stung my lips as I ate it, definitely had too much exposure to the elements today! 

We found our room. It was already kinda late but we had nothing to get up for in the morning! After 10 days it was so nice to have a shower, and as soon as the hot water hit me all of the itchy parts of my body started itching at the same time. So very very tired…


Watch the video!

For this trip I made a daily video diary which you can watch here: DAY 115

 

 


 

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