AT miles hiked today: 5.2
Total miles hiked today: 10.4
Total AT miles hiked: 1303.6
Miles to complete my thruhike: 880.8
I summited Katahdin today! I hiked 5.2 miles up the Hunt trail, which is the AT and then came back down the same way. The weather was predicted to have a 40% chance of rain, but we didn't have a lot of flexibility in our schedule and it was 80% chance of rain for the day after, so up we went.
Toe Knee's husband, Jim, and her sister, Linda, and their friend, Peggy, all started the hike with us, but didn't necessarily plan to summit, depending on the weather. We hiked ahead of them pretty quickly and lost sight of them for the rest of the day. It was overcast up to the treeline where the cloud surrounded me and blocked all views other than the rock in front of me. The wind picked up dramatically up there, and it didn't take long until the rocks were slippery and wet from the wind blowing mist on everything.
I remembered the places I had the most trouble last year, the ones that I did on my own, but that caused me injuries, and this time I took some helping hands and a boost or two. I did it alone before. I have nothing to prove to myself or anybody else. I have nearly 900 miles left to hike, and I have no need for an injury now.
The weather continued to worsen and the wind got even stronger and the water was blowing sideways. I couldn't tell if it was raining or not, but everything was wet and it was definitely hypothermia weather. We all wanted to turn back, but when would we summit Katahdin if we left now? Plus, we were getting close to the tableland, right? Right?!?
I couldn't see far enough ahead of me to even see the false summit that leads to the tableland, but I kept telling myself that it must be soon. I tucked my head and just kept climbing over each new obstacle. This was an entirely different experience than the first time I climbed this same trail on this same mountain.
Finally I reached the tableland, where the wind increased again with gusts we estimated at 60mph. At least the terrain was easy again, but we couldn't stop because it was too cold in the wind. I stopped anyway and put my synthetic Patagonia puff jacket on under my raincoat. This was the first time I have ever hiked in my puff, but I truly needed the extra warmth.
Finally, we climbed a bunch of rock steps and reached the summit! There were a couple dozen people up there. Are these people crazy? They're not even thruhikers. What could possibly motivate them to risk this weather other than being a crazy thruhiker with a tight schedule? Somebody took our pictures with Eagle Eye's phone and Toe Knee's camera, but I didn't risk my camera in that weather, though I had carried it the whole way. We headed down as soon as the pictures were taken. It was 11:30am and it had taken us five hours to get to the summit.
As we descended off the tableland and out of the worst of the wind a few more people passed us going up, but then no more for a while. That seemed right because the weather got even worse. The wind pelted my face so hard with rain that it blew into my eyeballs and covered my eyelashes with water so I could barely see. Toe Knee's glasses were covered in fog and water and she was following in my footsteps for a while, unable to see well enough to find good footing.
After a couple of hours a teenage boy came hiking up wearing just a wet t-shirt and jeans. Eagle Eye tried to convince him to turn around, but he ignored her advice and disappeared into the storm. About fifteen minutes later his grandfather hiked up in a short sleeved shirt, asking about the kid. He also continued into the storm, wanting to get his grandson off the mountain. Then the father came a while later and also kept going up.
We kept going down, desperate to get below treeline where we would be out of the wind, but we got lost where the white blazes split and led in two different directions. Miles was summiting with his mom and they caught us on the way down. They took one direction and we went the other way until our blazes led back up the mountain. So we backtracked and followed the way Miles had gone. We found out later that it's called the Dog Leg and lots of people get lost there. One of the trails doesn't take you past the same spot where you originally entered the treeline, which is where Eagle Eye had stashed her trekking poles. There was a backpack and walking pole seemingly abandoned there, too. I wondered if it was that kid's backpack or if the owner had come down the wrong leg. Why don't they fix that double trail is what I want to know. It's not safe to get lost up there in that kind of weather.
Finally, we got below the treeline, where we found a note under a rock that said "I've had enough. I'm going back." addressed to somebody I didn't know. I think the writer of the note was wise, but from there, the wind was blocked and there was no rain or mist and we were out of the clouds, so it was back to being a pleasant hike. What an amazing difference. If you want to hike Katahdin, really try for a nice day. I'm very glad I hiked before this on a gorgeous day, so I know what the terrain and views from Katahdin actually look liked and I'm glad to have pictures from that previous hike.
It took us five and a half hours to get down from Baxter Peak and we got back to the campground at 5pm. I smelled a cookout and started drooling and then saw a group of people and realized that it was Sparky, Stubby, and Low Gear, who's wife Debbie was there, too. Miles and his mom were there and Jim and the rest of our crew, who had wisely turned back at treeline. They cheered for us as we walked up and then fed us all sorts of wonderful food like hamburgers, hot dogs, sausage, chips, cookies, donuts, fruit, candy, cold sodas and beer. We laughed too loud and the ranger came over and told us to be quiet at 6pm. I felt like a kid at a slumber party being shushed by parents. Then I saw some guys heading up the mountain and wondered if it was a rescue attempt based on their gear and how late it was.
It turns out that it was a rescue crew. Those last hikers we saw had become separated from each other and they couldn't account for everybody. When Eagle Eye returned her daypack to the ranger's office, the ranger reprimanded us for being up above treeline in such bad weather. Eagle Eye tried to defend us all but couldn't win against the ranger who said "All it takes is for somebody to turn an ankle and then we have to go up in this weather and risk ourselves, too." That's a good point, but there were a couple dozen people up there, and we weren't the ones they had to rescue. In the end, they were all accounted for, but the rescuers were coming down the mountain with the grandpa and it would have been after dark when they returned. I think he need that rescue, and I would have turned back if I wasn't doing a thruhike. I really did not want to be up there in that weather.
We drove the hour back to town, picked up Mcdonalds, and got to the hotel after dark. The hot tub was open for another twenty minutes, so I rushed to get myself in it and spent a few minutes in hot luxury. That was wonderful. I survived Katahdin!
We'll be driving to Connecticut tomorrow. We'll have a day to resupply and pick up Rockin' Robin and then we'll be hiking south from Kent, CT, and I will start the last leg of my 2012 thruhike on September 11th.
I'm so grateful to be warm and dry.