Five weeks ago I broke my neck and was told by my doctor that my plans for thru hiking were totally out of the question. I was depressed, demoralized and demotivated. Caley and I stopped planning our hike and began the uncertain task of planning our next six months from scratch. We considered moving to a number of locations for work, applying to school, combining work and travel intermittently, and attempting a northbound thru hike in the spring. None of these options were ideal, and we found ourselves at a bit of a loss as to what we wanted to do.
Fast forward to a week ago: I had a 1-month follow-up exam and CT scan and was told not only that my neck looked almost normal again, but that doctor saw no reason that I couldn’t pursue a thru-hike. Chicka-what?! I don’t think anybody saw that one coming…
Over the next day and a half we bought food, odds and ends, and a few major items for our hike – shoes being the scariest new purchase (More on that later…)
On Friday morning, less than 48 hours after my appointment, my Dad, Caley and I were awake and packed for Katahdin at 5am. We drove north to Baxter State Park, arriving at the gate around 10am. We were greeted by the most unpleasant park employee I’ve encountered in my life. She took pleasure in telling us that it would be impossible to hike Katahdin today because all of the parking was full and our camping reservation didn’t begin until 1:00. Nevertheless, we continued into the park and made our way to Katahdin Stream campground where we were greeted by a much nicer campground attendant who asked if we were planning on climbing the peak, directed us to our campsite (early), and generally lifted our spirits.
We started hiking the 5.2 miles (and 4000 vertical feet!) via the AT/Hunt trail at 11:00, covered the first mile in a reasonable thirty minutes and were generally feeling good. We continued up the trail as it slowly transformed from a hiking trail to a staircase to an all-points-on scramble (2+ by Colorado standards) up some beautiful alpine granite. All the while the clock was ticking and the skies were darkening. We reached the top of “The Gateway” to the flattish Katahdin Tableland just as it began to sprinkle. From that point it was just over a mile to the summit on much easier terrain.
About a half mile in the clouds inevitably opened, the temperature dropped, and the wind picked up. We had a pow-wow, agreed to turn back if we heard thunder, and soldiered on to the summit through a frigid sideways rain. At 3:10 we made it to the famous Katahdin sign that marks the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, stopped long enough to layer up and started in earnest down the trail. It was so miserable at the top that we didn’t even get a picture of ourselves with the sign (a staple for thru-hikers) and instead resorted to a mediocre blurry shot of just the sign.
Shortly after we started our descent the rain realized it had been defeated and eventually gave up. This was fortunate since a descent of the gauntlet can be dicey even under the best of circumstances. By the time we got to the technical sections the rock was mostly dry and we were able move down below treeline in relative safety. Our total round trip time was 9 hours 15 minutes for 10.2 miles, which put us somewhere in the middle of the park’s estimated hiking time of 8-10 hours. Future southbounders: don’t underestimate Katahdin!