APPALACHIAN TRAIL ADVENTURE RUN

   
       
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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
 
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DAY 148:  SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 24
 
Start: Abol Bridge                                              
End:  Mt. Katahdin Summit!!!!
Today's Miles:                      15.1
Cumulative Miles:          2,174.9
Miles to go:                          -0-
   
 
"Only those who will risk going too far
can possibly find out how far they can go."
- T. S. Eliot
 


WE DID IT!!!! Jim and Sue on the summit of Mt. Katahdin, northern terminus of the AT.

Sue placing a rock from Georgia on the summit cairn, a thru-hiker tradition.      9-24-05

 

Our decision to summit Katahdin today was wise. The weather was clear, as good as it gets on a mountain that attracts about as many clouds as Mt. Washington does. The wind was brisk and it was cool at the start, but the top was very pleasant, encouraging dozens of people to remain there for a while, enjoying the vistas.

Jim joked that he could see Springer Mountain, where we started in Georgia over four months ago.

I had mixed feelings on top, of course: Pride and pleasure in reaching my goal of running and hiking the entire Appalachian Trail this year. A little disappointment that I didn't finish in four months, or under 103 days. Relief that it was finally over and we could go home again. Sadness that this was the last day of my adventure run. And some fear about going back down the mountain and of what lay ahead in the final ten miles back to our campground, the real end of the Trail for me today.

I mentioned our plan yesterday: climbing up and down Katahdin when we knew the weather forecast was good, not waiting until I'd finished the 9.9-mile section from Abol Bridge to Katahdin Stream Campground, the starting point of the 5.2-mile mountain section. Instead of running and hiking the remaining miles in two sections, I decided to do it in one, if possible.

There was no way to do it in order, however. Since Baxter State Park severely limits the number of vehicles (and therefore, hikers) into the park each day, you have to be there very early in the morning to get in line. This time of year rangers don't let folks go up the mountain, at least via the AT, after 9 AM.

So we'd have to climb Katahdin first, get back down to Katahdin Stream CG, then I'd run and hike alone back to Abol Bridge afterwards - hopefully, all in daylight. Three other thru-hikers liked the plan and asked to ride with us to the park.

Diana and Regis Shivers advised us to get to Baxter by 5 AM. Park personnel earlier in the week said that 6 or 6:30 would be OK for this weekend.

We should have heeded the Shivers' advice!

Kokomo, Bigfoot, Clinton, Jim, and I piled into our truck at 5:55 AM and headed for Baxter, arriving by 6:10. There were probably sixty vehicles already in line, and they were barely moving. We'd sit for ten minutes, then inch up the space of a car or two.

We were all dismayed, knowing the climb and descent would take about six hours, and we might not even be able to climb Katahdin today.

Kokomo volunteered to walk up to the ranger station to see what was going on. He came back with disturbing news: it didn't look like we'd be able to park at Katahdin Stream, but perhaps at a different campground farther away. They wouldn't allow Jim to just drop us off at the trail head we needed; there probably wouldn't be any parking spaces there by the time we reached the entrance gate 200 yards ahead.

We discussed our options. I did not want to summit unless Jim could, too. We'd have to find a parking space today or come back tomorrow before 5 AM. The other three guys were on their own.

Nearly two hours later when we neared the entrance station, a ranger said someone about three cars up got the last place at Katahdin Stream but we could park at Daicey Pond, over two miles via the AT from the base of Katahdin (and about five more road miles to drive).

No, Jim couldn't just let the four of us out at Katahdin Stream CG and go park at Daicey. We all had to start from Daicey, the ranger said.

Never mind that thru-hikers who come in by foot on the AT are not counted, per se. There are strict park rules regulating people coming in by vehicle. This park's founding principals are based on primitive wilderness. Recreation is secondary.

BEATING THE SYSTEM

Well, we decided to beat the primitive system. Jim dropped us four thru-hikers off at Katahdin Stream CG and we strolled in, pretending to have walked there. The busy, friendly ranger took our personal information at 8:20 AM, wished us well, and we started our climb.

Meanwhile, Jim had to drive several more miles at 20 MPH to reach Daicey Pond. He parked, ran the 2.6 miles on the AT to Katahdin Stream CG as fast as he could, and

OOPS! There's a ranger at the road, telling folks on foot and by vehicle that it was too late now to go up the mountain. Another hiker tipped Jim off before the ranger saw him.

It was 9 AM.

Jim's no law-breaker but by then we were all tired of Baxter's restrictive rules and frustrated by having to wait two hours in line. The ranger never saw Jim as he bushwhacked through the woods for one-tenth of a mile from the road to the AT back in the campground. He signed the register at the trail head and boogeyed on up that mountain, reaching the summit in record time!

I'm sorry he's the one who had to "pay the price" for us almost not getting to climb Katahdin today. He had to run an extra five-plus miles, push hard to get up that mountain over terrain he wasn't accustomed to, then descend a very steep alternate trail with me.

I regret we couldn't climb up together, but I'm grateful he reached the top only fifteen minutes after me. We enjoyed another fifteen minutes on top before heading down.

Several rangers later told us the park set the season's record for attendance today. They were unprepared for the large number of visitors, couldn't process them fast enough at the gate (they take down a lot of personal information about everyone entering the park), and reached their parking limit earlier than any other day this year. Even folks who got there at 5:15, only fifteen minutes after they opened, had to wait two hours to get in!

That just doesn't make sense to us. Keep it in mind if you ever go to Baxter State Park.

MORE VERTICALS

The ascent was even tougher than I expected. I'd heard it was the worst climb on the entire AT. Well, you'd expect that, with a gain of 4,200 feet in 5.2 miles and much of that in the middle section. That's steep.

What I wasn't expecting were the rock walls again, verticals with minimal hand- and foot-holds. A couple places were as tricky to maneuver as Mahoosuc Notch.

This is one of them (below). I watched as the folks ahead of me tried to get their left foot where their left hand was (on a tiny metal rung). Everyone had trouble here. Fortunately, a young woman behind me assisted me by steadying my left foot as I moved my hand and swung the foot up. Trust me, it's harder than it looks here. Photos never show the true perspective of rocks like these:

Also, fortunately, I have long arms and legs and I'm strong after almost 2,200 miles on the AT, climbing untold numbers of mountains and rock walls. I couldn't keep up with the three guys who rode with us, but I passed about a hundred day-hikers going up that mountain, most younger than me. I even held back a little, wanting to give Jim more time to catch up to me and knowing I had fifteen more miles to do after reaching the top.

The wind was very strong above tree line, which started at 3,000 feet. That's also where the toughest rocks were, about a mile called "The Gateway." I was glad I had on my pants and jacket; I put on my gloves but had to take them off to get a better grip on the rocks.

I can't imagine climbing up this mountain in the fog or if the rocks are wet. When the weather is bad rangers won't let anyone go up. It's just too dangerous.

The terrain was easier the last mile and a half as the Trail became more gradual on a plateau. I finally felt more at ease and started looking around at the magnificent scenery. Numerous lakes shone like glass in the valley. Distant mountains were varying shades of gray-blue as they faded out toward the horizon.

The wind died down and the sun was warm. Hikers stopped to take layers of clothes off.

I could see the summit in the distance, up another rise or two. As I approached the summit after 3:20 hours of climbing, To-Phat came past. He was one of about twenty thru-hikers that summitted today. There were others on top, joined by about a hundred day-hikers. There is a lot of room on top for folks to congregate on a beautiful day like this.

On the way up the mountain, my camera indicated the batteries were exhausted. I couldn't believe it! We'd just checked them. So I didn't take many photos until I reached the top. I wasn't sure if or when Jim would get there. I had Kokomo take a couple shots of me at the summit sign. Then I talked with Santa and other thru-hikers who were lounging around, and waited for Jim.

What if he didn't get past the ranger, I fretted? What if he decided it was just too difficult a climb? How long should I wait?

A few minutes later, I could distinguish his clothing and gait down below. I walked over to the Trail and waited to give him a huge hug. I was so glad he made it to the top and could share that with me! I could never have reached my goal if not for his sacrifices the last five months. My plan was always to have him summit Katahdin with me.

Another hiker took the photo of us at the top of this page. Jim's camera was working and mine was good for a few more shots, like this one of the infamous "Knife Edge," a very narrow trail with 1,500-foot drops on either side:

That's the only trail on Katahdin that is more difficult than the AT.

No, we didn't descend that way!

We took the advice of other thru-hikers who chose to descend an "easier" trail down to Abol CG, a little over two miles from Katahdin Stream CG. I was fearful of descending on the AT and Jim wasn't too keen on it, either.

The Abol Trail was a little shorter to the base but actually longer to return to the AT because of the two road miles down below.

We peered over the edge of the plateau where the Abol Trail started its free-fall and almost returned via the AT. What a steep, steep drop!! The first mile is steeper than "The Gateway." But a group ahead of us who had climbed it earlier today said there weren't any bad rock ledges or verticals, just numerous boulders and loose scree.

We decided to take our chances on the Abol Trail. The descent was hair-raising, slow, and we slid a lot. I banged up my left arm in one fall. But we made it down in about two hours and could run some when we got to the tree line.

In retrospect, I think I'd go back down the AT if I was doing this again.

We totally lucked out at the campground when a kind ranger offered to drive us back to Katahdin Stream CG to pick up the AT again. That meant I'd have time today to do the remaining ten AT miles, and my "bonus" mileage was reduced by those two miles.

I CAN "SMELL THE BARN"

After getting my paperwork signed at the ranger station for my AT "2,000-miler" patch, Jim and I began running and walking the AT to Daicey Pond. The first part was on the road, then trails. We caught up with Kokomo, Bigfoot, and Clinton, who had some food and gear in the truck.

Tracy, Elbow, and Daicey Ponds were beautiful in the bright sunshine. The Trail was somewhat runnable. The last ten miles were still in Baxter State Park. The trail was nicer than much of what I've seen this summer.

I was surprised I still had any energy left to run, considering I'd just climbed and descended 8,400 feet on Katahdin. But with less than ten miles to go to totally finish the AT, I could "smell the barn!"

I'd already taken my pants off and was wearing running shorts. At the truck I put on a short-sleeved shirt and got more energy drink. I kissed Jim good-bye, and then I was off on the remaining 7.3 miles to Abol Bridge while he drove back to our campground.

I ended up hiking with Kokomo several of those miles. He set a fast pace, ensuring we'd get done before dark.

This final section was full of water scenery like the Hundred-Mile Wilderness but the Trail itself was pretty dry. Besides the two lakes, the AT follows the boisterous Nesowadnehunk Stream ("swift stream between mountains") and the very wide Penobscot River most of the way. Nesowadnuhunk is full of cascades and large waterfalls, including Big and Little Niagra.

There were real bridges over most of the creeks that emptied into the two rivers, except one creek where the bridge washed out. I was with Kokomo and Bigfoot there. They got over the jerry-rigged logs upright, but I shimmied over them on my butt. I was afraid I'd fall off. The second half was a rock-hop that I could manage.

Kokomo and I both worried the rest of the way if there would be other creeks to ford. We're still creek-shy after our bad experiences with the Wilson Rivers on Day 141.

The last three miles along the Penobscot were some of the easiest, flattest, smoothest miles on the whole AT, a nice way for me to end my quest. I could run again! 

This is my final view of Katahdin as I crossed Abol Creek (on a nice bridge) about half a mile from the Abol Bridge, the actual end of the AT for me:

Several thru-hikers were congregated at the Abol Bridge store, just emerged from the Hundred-Mile Wilderness. Charlie Brown and Steady Eddie, Patch, Hitman, Giggles, Box o' Fun, Vision Quest, and Skywalker all plan to hike to Katahdin Stream CG on Sunday and summit Katahdin on Monday, weather permitting.

Goat and Buffet should summit Sunday. Africa and his buddy did Katahdin today, but still have to do the Wilderness. Kokomo has a 20-mile section to do next year that he missed after Big Wilson River, then he'll be done.

York, Bigfoot, To-Phat, Santa, and I are done. Santa said about twenty thru-hikers summitted today, finalizing their journeys. It's interesting to note that Santa and I both started on April 30 and ended the same day. We saw each other only about five times along the way, though.

Jim and the dogs were outside the store talking to hikers when I finished. I stayed a few minutes to talk and sign the store's AT register, then headed to the camper to get cleaned up.

I forgot to look at Katahdin again before dark, and in the morning it was too foggy to see the peak when we drove off toward home. Although it cleared up some later in the morning, I don't think Sunday was as nice a day to climb as Saturday.

I was grateful I ended the adventure run the way I did.

POST-RUN ENTRIES

I'm very tired now, and we have to drive home. In a few days I'll write several "post" entries and put them on the topics page - reflections, readjusting to reality, gear and nutrition reviews, things I wish I'd known, things I did right, physical assessment, stats summary, favorite places, websites of other hikers, etc.

If you have questions or suggestions of topics you'd like me to cover, please write and let me know. I want this journal to be as helpful as possible to others who want to run or hike all or part of the Trail.

More soon!

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2005 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil