We were up at 4 as planned and on the trail at 5. I had saved a clean pair of socks for today and they felt wonderful on my tired feet...nothing like clean sock day! The trail began how we left off yesterday: flat and smooth. But...of course it didn't last. The trail got rougher as we went and then we came to a stream. In the dark. The water was flowing good and probably waist-deep, but we thought we could rock-hop across. I was about 5 feet from the other side and the next step was a big one. I took the leap and my right foot slipped as soon as it made contact with the rock. My whole foot went underwater, and to catch myself I had to put my left foot down as well...in the water. Two soaking wet feet for Katahdin!
About a mile later we came to another crossing of a branch of the same stream. The morning was gray by this time and Bear Bag found what he though was a good route across. I suggested we go downstream where the rocks were more dry, but he stepped out onto a wet rock and guess what happened...he slipped and both feet went about knee-deep into the cold water! So, we both had soaking wet feet for Katahdin!
The next few miles went fairly quickly, and I got a rush of excitement when we arrived at Katahdin Stream Campground at the base of the mountain. We walked to the ranger station to sign in as thru-hikers, and the ranger told us that the mountain was a Class 1 (the best rating) today and we should have beautiful weather up there! So happy about that! We were numbers 578 and 579 for northbound thru-hikers this year.
We took a bathroom and snack break and then started up the mountain with our packs. It's common to take only a daypack up Katahdin, but I carried my pack the entire way without slackpacking so I was adamant about taking it up Katahdin. And Bear Bag followed suit by taking his full pack as well. I was full of emotions; I was excited but at the same time I didn't want to finish because I knew reaching the top meant the trip was over. The first mile was gently uphill and very simple. We came to a footbridge crossing Katahdin Stream and I admired the incredibly clear water below...coming right off the mountain! We passed a falls and then the trail took a turn for steep. It got gradually rockier until we were making our way up and around boulders. We reached the treeline and it was all rocks from there...big boulders and tricky maneuvering to make our way up. There were a few sections with rebar and we had to pull ourselves up. It was slow going and I was getting frustrated. In my mind this was the hardest climb of the entire trail but I was completely overwhelmed at that point and I think my judgment was a bit skewed. Still, it was hard and I kept thinking that we were going to have to come down all of this stuff too...
We could see the top of the section we were on, and I thought we were almost to the tableland, meaning about a mile and a half from the top. But, when we got to the top I looked up and saw blazes going straight up another rocky mountainside! Again, it was frustrating, and the ridge was breezy. The sky was still sunny though and I was thankful for it; the climb would have been even more difficult in worse weather! We finally made it to the top of that climb to the tableland, a flat ridge walk for about a mile. Neither of us said much as we made our way across; we were both caught up in our own thoughts and emotions. I thought about starting on Springer and feeling horribly discouraged as I laid down in my tent that first night. I thought about sitting around the campfire at the cheese factory campsite with the group I hiked with for so many miles. I thought about the pain in my knee for those first few weeks, and the awful foot pain I limped on through Virginia and beyond. I thought about meeting Bear Bag and hiking with him for so many days, about the stifling heat of summer, about the consecutive days of rain, about the return of my foot pain and doubting that I could walk through it again. I thought about saying goodbye to my friends when I went home for a week in July, and the struggle to find motivation and strength when I returned. I thought about the mountains and the views and the heat, the cold, the rain and mud, the mosquitoes, the sweat and tears, the stumbles, the laughter, the campfires, the friendships, and the mental and physical strength it took to get myself to this point. I was crying already.
We came to a sign that said the summit was just a mile away, and we could see it and see little dots of people on top. That last mile seemed to last forever. We passed some other thru-hikers coming down and exchanged congratulations; everyone was smiling in excitement. We had the final climb to the top, and as we crested the rise I saw the outline of the sign in the distance. We stopped several feet short and waited for some other people to take pictures. When they finished, we both walked slowly over to the sign and I reached my hand out and touched it. I broke down in sobs as my fingers felt the weathered wood and my eyes read the word I'd worked so hard to see: Katahdin. Bear Bag was crying too and the other people must have wondered about our tears because they asked where we had hiked from. We told them we'd come from Georgia and they couldn't believe it. They took pictures of us with their cameras as well as ours. Bear Bag had his little photo shoot and then it was my turn; I climbed up on the sign and put my arms up in the air, a permanent smile on my face. I did it.
I got out both of the rocks I'd carried from Springer Mountain, touching one to the summit and leaving one right beneath the sign. I'll keep the other; I picked up a rock from Katahdin to keep as well.
The summit was breezy so we sat out of the wind and ate lunch, enjoying the beautiful views. Around 2:30, after about an hour on the summit, we knew we had to start heading down. Clouds began rolling in and we wanted to get off the mountain before sunset; it took us 4.5 hours to get to the top so we assumed it would take about as long to descend. Bear Bag convinced me to collapse my poles and go down without them, and it was much easier maneuvering down the boulder scrambles using just my hands. I also used him as a handhold in a few spots; I wanted to do the trail by myself so I wouldn't accept help before, but I was done with the trail and it didn't matter anymore! Haha! Going down wasn't nearly as terrifying as I dreaded it would be, and we made it down in 3.5 hours. It was just getting dark when we got back to Katahdin Stream Campground to find my parents waiting for us there.
We drove to Millinocket and Bear Bag and I were starving so we got a quick meal at McDonald's; tomorrow we will celebrate with a lobster dinner on the coast! We checked into the Baxter Park Inn and got laundry going. The two of us have kind of just been sitting around in some kind of daze. I'm exhausted but I don't want to sleep.
I don't think it's set in yet that we're finished, and I'm not sure when it will. I plan to write a reflection at some point, and probably another gear review as well, so stay tuned!
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