Thursday, August 17, 2017
Start: Abol Bridge
End: Katahdin Stream Campground/on a dirt road moping and limping my way through Baxter
Miles: 21.2 (+ ~5.0 walking Baxter dirt roads trying to get a ride into town while racing to stay ahead of the bloodsucking mosquito cloud)
Elevation gained/lost: 5184’/4682‘
Listening to: Spotify playlists
I decided last night that due to the rain storm coming in on Friday, I would aim to hike from Abol Bridge up to Katahdin today. I was up at 5am and on trail by 5:20am. I made it to the Baxter sign-in kiosk by 5:40am, and rocketed my way past 4 other thru-hikers who had started earlier than me. I got through the first 9.9 miles to arrive at the Katahdin Stream Campground and ranger station by 8:30am. I registered with the ranger, packed up a day pack (forgetting my layers), and sprinted up the Hunt Trail/AT.
The first few miles were fairly smooth sailing. I stopped for a water refill part way up. Miles 2-4 were the hardest miles of the whole hike. Around the second mile mark, you hit timeline/treeline and the true boulder hopping and rock climbing began.
The first mile of it was super steep with legit climbing skills required (I’d rate it between a V0-V1). I used heel hooks to get up some of the ledges. It were lots of 8-10ft drops/climbs, and a few bits of steel rebar (not enough). The wind was whipping by today, blowing me off balance at every opportunity. I don’t know the MPH, but I’d guess up to 45 MPH gusts. I nearly lost my poles quite a few times.
The second mile was still steep but it was more typical boulder scramble. I put away my poles for this section since they were more of a hindrance than a help. However, this section had a large fear factor since it was very open and relatively narrow. For this entire 2 mile section, if you slip and fall near the edge, you’ll fall for hundreds of feet, land on sharp rocks, and then tumble for hundreds more feet before wedging your carcass against a tree trunk somewhere. And to make it more interesting, all of the rock was sharply textured. This helped with grip, but was brutal on my hands and knuckles and knees. Blood was spilled, offered as a sacrifice to the mountain.
Once I got to the top of this gnarly section, I came to the Tablelands where the trail flattens out for a bit and then you rock hop to (relatively) gently ascend the summit. This was a fairly quick section and the wind was more mild here. I hiked the remaining 1.1 miles to the summit, where I waited my turn for my summit photo (yeah, there was a line). I then found a spot with a wind break to eat a well earned classic whoopie pie I bought at Abol Bridge. It was absolutely delicious.
Relatively chilled, I started back down the mountain. In my haste to get up the mountain (just under 3 hours from base to peak) and my 30 mile day two days ago, my knees were completely toasted. The peroneal nerve problem on my right leg started up with a vengeance in my left leg. Every time I bent either knee more than 25 degrees, I’d have intense shooting pain in my knee and down my calf to my ankle. So I spent the next 4 hours climbing back the way I’d come, whimpering, groaning, and sobbing my way down the mountain.
Once I got to the bottom around 4pm, I sat with a graduate researcher, looking to give long distance hikers more of a voice in park management decisions, like camping, permits, and capping peak access. I’d met a friend of hers near the Gulf Hagas trail on Monday and he’d mentioned her research project. We had a good chat, she took my trash, and I got to sit in a chair.
I then headed to the parking lot to try and catch a ride. Sadly, most people had already finished or were staying in the park. I ended up walking with a family on the dirt road for a few miles until the father picked them up in the car. They weren’t going into town but they gave me a ride to Abol Campground, where I’d heard there was more car traffic, hence a higher likelihood of getting a hitch to Millinocket.
Unfortunately, the mosquitos were out in force and very few cars were coming by (maybe 2 cars in 15 minutes). So at the recommendation of the ranger, I started waking on the road towards the Tonge Gate… 6 miles away. I hobbled along for an hour. I had upwards of 8-10 cars drive past going towards town without slowing.
I became despondent. I was tired, dehydrated, sunburned, bug bitten, and in pain. I wanted to throw rocks at every person who sped by, refusing to look at me. I kept walking, hoping someone would stop, remembering to make my face happy for each new car driving by. Finally, a young couple, he from Tennessee and she from DC, stopped and picked me up. We had great chats and they dropped me off 15 miles away in town, right by the AT Lodge.
I was so glad to find the lodge had beds free in the bunkroom. I got settled, showered, arranged shuttles back to my car tomorrow, and ate dinner in town. Tomorrow, I’ll have breakfast at the AT cafe before heading to the bus station to go to Bangor to get picked up and shuttled back to Shaw’s in Monson. And then starts my 6+ hour drive home!