Day 158 — The Summit

Day 158

My last morning to wake up in my tent on the AT — sorta. Tandem and I woke up at 6:00 in the Birches Campsite, a quarter of a mile from the AT and the Katahdin Stream Campsite. We looked at each other with excited smiles and were packed and ready to leave by 6:30. The only hikers to have left for Mount Katahdin were Big Spoon and Toast with their instruments.

We let everyone else know that we were leaving and joined Mio for the short hike. Mio’s parents and sister were already there and greeted their hiking hero with hugs. Tandem and I put our packs on the picnic table under the pavilion where we saw the hikers who’d finished yesterday and repacked them for the slack pack up Katahdin by putting our camping gear in our pack liner bags.

My in-laws arrived shortly after that from Millinocket and parked their rental car in the parking lot. Tandem ran over to give big hugs, and I followed and greeted them as well. They had kindly brought McDonalds breakfast sandwiches, coffee, and Coke, so we went back to the picnic table to enjoy the breakfast and catch up. We talked until 8:00 and saw Mio, Ginger, and Gilligan head up Mount Katahdin.

We let my in-laws know that we would be back around 15:00, so they made plans to go back to the hotel for the day. Tandem and I loaded up our very light packs, and my mother-in-law took pictures of us hiking away on our last five miles of the AT.

The trail did have all of the features that we had seen earlier on our thru hike — mud, bogs, roots, and rocks. Lots of rocks. There was a point where we had to both climb and scramble over large rocks, so we stashed our hiking poles for that and use our hands. We made it to the top of Katahdin by 10:30 and were greeted with cheers and applause by the thru hikers already on top.Week_22_Day_158a

Tandem and I had several pictures taken individually and together on or around the famous Mount Katahdin sign. One of my poses was of the Captain Morgan character.

What ensued after that was three hours of celebrating other thru hikers arrivals, eating, picture taking, music from Toast and Big Spoon, and drinking Mio’s champagne and Toast’s Irish whiskey. We were surprised by trail magic at the end of our hike from a couple that gave us a gallon sized bag of banana bread! There were ten thru hikers that finished in the morning group today and we all hung out reveling in our accomplishments. One A Day took off with his hiking girlfriend to check out the Knife’s Edge. There was a rumor that he was going to propose to her, which made us wait longer. After two hours, though, we gave up on them returning and decided to take the group picture.

Week_22_Day_158cAfter the picture, Chamomile and Coolie headed over to hike down the Knife’s Edge. Tandem, Mio, Ginger, Gilligan, Toast, Big Spoon, and I loaded up and started hiking the five miles down to the campground. It was harder to descend the large rocks due to the downwards angle, but we made it down in two hours by 14:30.

Our families were there to greet us, and we gathered at the pavilion. Mio’s parents had brought Subway sandwiches and Cokes for everyone. Physched, is a thru hiker summiting Katahdin the next day, was there as well. Toast and Big Spoon entertained us some more with their bluegrass, and after a few songs, we spilt up, gave congratulations and hugs, and loaded into my in-laws rental car. Ginger and Gilligan joined us in the back seat for a ride to Millinocket.

We arrived at the Baxter Park Hotel and Tandem and I checked into out room. I showered while Tandem crashed due to not feeling well. We had dinner later, then both went to sleep. It had been a long eventful day!

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Day 157

Day 157

I woke at 6:00 for what I knew would be the second to last time waking up in my tent, and I was pumped for what the shorter and easier hiking day would bring me. The first stop at 3.5 miles would be the Abol Bridge Store and The Northern Restaurant. I was packed and ready to hike by 6:30, while Big Spoon and Toast had already left to go straight to The Birches Lean-tos & Campground.

I said goodbye to Tandem and the others and headed down the trail, knowing that each mile that I hiked was one off the final 18.9 miles to the summit of Mount Katahdin. I reached the Abol bridge, crossing it on a pedestrian lane where I was surprised at the most clear shot of Mount Katahdin we had seen.

Week_23_Day_157dI went on to the Abol Bridge Store just after it opened at 8:00 to shop for a few snack and lunch items that I forgot I needed the next day while summiting and hanging out on Mount Katahdin. Tandem arrived next, followed by Mio, Ginger, and Gilligan. The Northern Restaurant opened at 11:00, but it was only 9:00. We decided to wait and plugged our phones and batteries into the store’s power strip.

We busied ourselves on the store’s front concrete sidewalk reminiscing about hikers we had met on the trail and trying to read the driver’s names from the cabs of the big lumber trucks going by. We were there long enough that trucks started repeating. I dried my wet shoes out on the warm sunny concrete.

We were the first customers when The Northern Restaurant opened. We ordered burgers and barbecue, which came with delicious hand-cut fries. While we ate, Ragnar came in without a shirt on and came straight over to say hello. I jumped up and gave him a handshake and chest bump. That is when he told us that he had fallen behind Scout due to differences of opinion and getting sick, which is when I went to the bathroom to wash my hands and arms.

Ragnar also told us that he was not continuing to Katahdin. We were surprised by that and tried to get him to finish, but he declined our urges, putting on a shirt and going to another table to order lunch.

We paid and headed out to get some ice cream next to the store. It was local and delicious! Ragnar came out and informed us that his uncle had offered him $1,000 and challenged him to get to Las Vegas without flying on an airline. He said that he was going to hitch, take a bus, ride a train, walk, and change it up to get there. He grabbed his pack and went across the gravel road to hitch. We told him good luck and bet that the first passing car would pick him up. He yelled over to a guy just leaving the store to see if he would give him a ride “as far as he was going”, and he was gone.

I loaded up after the ice cream was done and everyone else followed suit. We got water from the spigot and sink and headed out on the 10.1 mile hike to the Katahdin Stream Campground. After about a mile, we signed in for one of the twelve limited and cherished thru-hiker-only spots in The Birches Lean-tos & Campground. We were numbers four through eight for that night.

Even though the hiking looked flat on AWOL’s Trail Guide, much of it followed waterways that resulted in a lot of up and down hiking over roots and rocks. We also had to ford both of the forks of the Nesowadnehunk Streams.

The first one, across the Lower Fork, was the most difficult. After Ginger and I crossed and got our feet wet, Gilligan laid a long, dead pine across the hardest rocks to step across. At one point, Mio dropped one of his hiking poles, which floated quickly downstream toward the upper ford. Luckily, it got hung up at the stream intersection, so I dropped my pack and waded out up to the bottom of my shorts to retrieve the pole. Mio called me “his hero”.

The fording of the upper fork was easier, and after 6.6 miles we reached the Big Niagara Falls. We took a break there for a while, enjoying the sound of the falls and the bright sunshine and taking pictures

Week_23_Day_157cWe had a 3.5 mile, easy pedestrian-friendly hike left to the Katahdin Stream Campground. I couldn’t resist capturing one last natural tree phenomenon that impressed me.

That caused me to fall behind, and when I caught up with Tandem she was at a perfectly framed view of Mount Katahdin.

We hiked on and arrived at the Katahdin Stream Campground picnic pavilion closest to the AT where we found Bacon Dog, Scout, Go Far, Spruce, and Fiver all still celebrating their summit. Bacon Dog’s mother was there and had Rice Krispy treats and many bottles of cold water.

We hung out with them until we realized that it was 17:00. The ranger station was closing, and we still needed to check in as completing our thru hikes and to pay the $10 fee for our campsite. The five of us got our finishing numbers; mine was 277 and Tandem’s was 276, about 200 below what they were at Springer, but not everyone registered at Amicalola State Park. After registering, we signed the hiker logbook on the porch.

We hiked up to the Birches where Big Spoon and Toast were already set up on the tent platform, and we set up our tents and hammock. The five of us ate dinner at a picnic table, something we hadn’t seen at any lean-to in Maine.

While we were eating, Chamomile and Coolie hiked in. Deep Blue also hiked in, but from Mount Katahdin, where he had just completed his “test” summit with his buddy Handsome Dan. We learned also that One A Day was in the state park camping with his girlfriend.

That makes the Mount Katahdin thru hiker first summit list look like this:

– Buzz
– Tandem
– Mio
– Ginger
– Gilligan
– Big Spoon
– Toast
– Chamomile
– Coolie
– One A Day

We closed our last night of camping around a campfire with Big Spoon and Toast, the Philmont guys, playing blue grass songs for us until dark. Big Spoon played the fiddle and Toast played the banjo.

Week_23_Day_157fDeep Blue caught a video of us around the fire that he said may be the closing music and video on his big AT thru hike video project. He said to search online later for his trail name to find it.

We were all excited for our summit the next morning. We all felt good being a part of this unique but familiar group of ten, and we knew that it is an accomplishment that so few humans do. . I felt special having completed it with my daughter Tandem. The music and fire was the perfect closure for what had been our last day of “real hiking”. I said goodnight and shuffled off in the dark to slip into my tent for the last time on the AT.

For the first time on the trip, I had set up my tent in the wrong direction, with my feet above my head. I felt that it was meant to be. Besides, it was dark and I was too tired to switch it.

It had been a 13.7 mile day to mile 2,180.3. The hike in the morning will be five miles to the top of Mount Katahdin then give miles back to the campground that afternoon. As Mio reminded me, we are summitting on “hump daaaay!”

Day 156

Day 156

I had set up my tent in front of the Wadleigh Stream lean-to, so when the loud section hiking couple woke up at 6:30, so did I. I retrieved my food bag from the lean-to, said good morning, and took the food back to my tent where I was going to eat breakfast since the lean-to was full of the couple’s stuff drying out.

The tent was wet from overnight sprinkles. I sensed that it was about to rain again, so I packed and took down the tent quickly as it started again. I went to a front corner of the lean-to under cover and opposite the couple. He continued to ask me through hike questions as I ate until Tandem showed up to save me.

We chatted about the hiking plans for the day. Mio came up and we finished eating and loaded up to leave, with me leading the group as we spread out. We climbed soon after leaving and summited Nesuntabunt Mountain, where we took a snack break and hiked on.

We dropped to the Wadleigh Pond Rd and were surprised to find a pickup truck parked there with the driver offering trail magic. I was there first and accepted. He had an Army Ranger hat on and a cooler full of cold sodas and Gatorades as well as full size candy bars and mini bites of candy. He made fresh coffee for Tandem.

His trail name is Walking Man. He was there waiting for his section hiking wife, Grace and Glory, who thru hiked with him in 2011. This week she is hiking with a friend to train her on the trail and to possibly thru hike with her next year.

We thanked Walking Man and he congratulated us on finishing our thru hikes. As we hiked on toward the Rainbow Stream lean-to, we passed Grace and Glory and her friend and let them know that Walking Man was waiting at the road ahead of them.

Week_23_Day_156We had hiked eight miles when we arrived at the Rainbow Stream lean-to for lunch, and we rejoiced when the sun started to break out of the clouds. Walking Man had said that the weather would be improving for Tuesday and Wednesday — perfect timing for our approach and summit of Mount Katahdin!

Due to the earlier trail magic, we all ate a light lunch. There was a totem pole in progress beside the lean-to, which Tandem posed next to, then I filled up water and we were on our way. There was a tough two-log elevated creek crossing from the lean-to.

The terrain for the next eight miles along the Rainbow Lake was tough, full of rocks, roots, and mud. It really slowed us down, though the guidebook said it was flat. We stopped for a break at the end of the lake and before a small climb, snacking and laying back on our packs. Tandem got up first and headed toward the top of Rainbow Mountain. When I got up to leave, I saw that Mio was sound asleep. I left him sleeping but leaning, so I knew the imbalance would wake him soon.

Mio hiked up shortly after that. We joked and he hiked on until we all met at the plentiful blueberry bushes on top of Rainbow Mountain. I ate about thirty, which was a treat. We summited the mountain in the sunshine and turned west to view Mount Katahdin. It was topped with cloud cover but looked majestic! We were 21 miles from the summit and reveled in our accomplishments getting there.

Tandem talked to her grandparents, who were flying up to meet us on Wednesday, which is summit day and hump daaay! They will be meeting us at 7:00 at the Katahdin Stream Campground near the Birches lean-tos and campsite with breakfast sandwiches and beverages to get us fueled up for our 5.2 mile hike to the top of Mount Katahdin.Week_23_Day_156a

We finished the afternoon with a 2.5 mile hike down to the Hurd lean-to. Much to our surprise, we were greeted by Ginger and Gilligan! Gilligan gave me a hug when I arrived. We hadn’t seen them for sixty days, since back on Day 97. They had skipped part of the 100 Mile Wilderness due to the high water and Gilligan’s recent illness.

We all cooked and ate together and talked about hostels and experiences since we had seen them last. Mio really wasn’t familiar with them but fit in and related quickly.

Today was a 19.6 mile day to mile 2,166.6. Tomorrow will be a 13.5 mile day to The Birches lean-tos and campsite. We will stop in the morning at the Abol Bridge Campground & Store for treats three and half miles in.

Day 155

Day 155

What a weird night! At 22:30, a mouse ran across my sleeping bag in the tent, and having been startled from a sound sleep, I panicked. I was able with some coaxing to get it out through the tent door and figured that he’d popped in for a warm spot to sleep while I was out on a potty break earlier.

Then, at 3:00, I woke up after six hours of sleep thinking about the thrill of climbing and summiting Mount Katahdin on Wednesday and couldn’t get back to sleep. It was like Christmas morning but three days off.

Since I was tented separately from Tandem and Mio, it didn’t wake them when I went to get my food bag from the shelter. I met Toast, who was camped further up the trail, on the way to the shelter. He is one of the NOBO through hikers that we met on Day 40 who had worked at the Clear Creek campsite at Philmont and had been playing music on the trail in towns for the hikers. He and Big Spoon are also aiming to summit on August 20.

I ate breakfast in my tent. Being “bucket restock day”, I ate four Pop Tarts and two granola bars, then packed and met Tandem and Mio at the shelter, where they were eating. We talked about the day ahead, packed up, and hiked out by 8:30. Today would take us 21.5 miles closer to Mount Katahdin.

In four miles, we reached Jo-Mary Road where our restock food bucket was hidden. We filled our food bags for the final time and were able to leave our trash in the bucket. Tandem had extra cinnamon buns that were smashed in the bucket, which she offered to us. We each ate three, which really filled me up. This was the biggest breakfast I had had on the trail from trail food. Before we got back on the trail, we met a section hiker who was stopping due to bad blisters. He offered us his unneeded food, some of which Mio took, and Tandem took some Starbucks coffee packets.

We hiked on, enjoying the flat terrain though much of it was root-y, rocky, and muddy. We had a climb and descent of 450 feet before reaching the Potaywadjo Spring Lean-to for lunch at mile eleven for the day. Toast and Big Spoon were there, and they said that Bacon Dog had left just recently. Apparently he had a deadline of summiting on the nineteenth and had to make up time after the flooding last week. We were surprised that he had caught up due to how slowly he hikes.

We didn’t eat lunch long and were back on the trail by 13:30 with 10.1 miles to go. We continued to make good time on the “flats” when it was clear of mud or roots. We followed along the Nahmakanta Stream for several miles as it changed back and forth from a roaring river to ponds and lakes. At one point, the sun came out and shined through the rain on the river.

Week_22_Day_155With seven miles to go to the lean-to, we stopped at a campsite for a snack and water break. Most of the final five miles were along the shoreline of Nahmakanta Lake, which had lots of views but was very rocky. The trail also went up and down the side of the hill several times.

We stopped for water before the lean-to and arrived around 18:30 to find an older couple of section hikers in the shelter with their dog and Toast and Big Spoon there cooking. I set up my tent to dry it out; the sun, which we hadn’t seen in several days, was actually peeking out,

I joined those cooking and eating and had Ramen with Ritz crackers and trail mix. We talked a lot with the Philmont guys about their experiences on staff at the camp. The funniest stories were from Toast about black powder rifle shooting at Clear Creek camp and even a story about him shooting a chipmunk (mini bear) on the range. Meanwhile, there was a chipmunk running around the shelter begging like we were going to feed him.

I borrowed Mio’s shoe glue to repair a pinhole in my Sawyer filter bag, which I just need to last another day and a half. I cleaned up and retired to my tent at 20:00 to glue the filter bag, listen to music, and write this blog.

Today was a 21.5 mile day to mile 2,147.42, leaving only 38 miles to Mount Katahdin! Tomorrow we cut that in half, hiking 19.6 miles to the last regular lean-to before The Birches lean-tos on Tuesday night.