Hiking Trail Journals
Appalachian Trail 2003 -
Entry #157 - October 8, 2003
Well, looks as though I suddenly lost interest
in the journal. This is unfortunate, since now I probably don’t
remember half the stuff.
Friday morning we all milled about, wondering
what to do since the mountain was closed. The first Class IV day
of the year, I guess. Pretty much everyone decided to go into town
since the Ranger told us it was highly likely we wouldn’t
be able to summit the next day (Saturday) either. I’m not
sure if anyone was exactly disappointed about not going up on the
3rd. We just started to worry about how long we’d have to
wait. A day? A week? Until next summer? The park wouldn’t
even be open much longer. What if the bad weather kept up and it
closed down early for the year?
It wasn’t long before everyone started
disappearing – getting rides into town. Andy & I lucked
out & were invited to ride with Sherpa, his wife, & two
sons. Loser went with, too. We drove out of the park and made a
few stops along the way. Had some gorgeous views of the mountain.
It was covered in snow, but the day was actually turning out to
be beautiful. Lots of blue sky & not too cold.
Made a stop at the Big Moose Inn somewhere between
Baxter & Millinocket. Apparently Sherpa knew the girls working
there and was able to get Andy, Loser, & I rooms for $10 each.
I think the regular rate was about $45/person. It was a really
neat old place. Full of antiques and very cozy. There was a big
fireplace (and a Big Moose head) & seating area downstairs,
and a dining area, too. Sherpa was planning to meet some folks
back there for dinner that night.
In the meantime we went in to Millinocket & got
a tour of Sherpa’s town of birth. Somewhere along the way
the back wheel started grinding under the excessive load, but later
we found out it was just a stick stuck somewhere. We had breakfast
at the Appalachian Trail Café & then shopped around
a bit while the family relaxed at their hotel. Sherpa took us back
to the Big Moose Inn around one or so.
The evening was excellent. We had some drinks
and a lavish meal with the family & their guests. It was Sherpa’s
treat, which was lucky for us since it was pretty spendy.
Plans were made for the family to pick us up
at 5:00 AM. We doubted the mountain would be open, but had to be
sure we didn’t miss our chance if it was. Also, Baxter State
Park has all kinds of crazy rules. Once the parking lots are full,
they don’t allow anyone else into the park. On weekends especially,
it fills up fast.
We got to the gate around 5:30 and had to wait
in line 15 minutes or so to get in. But we did, and were informed
by the Ranger that it was a Class III day as of that time. The
AT up Katahdin was open. We could go.
God, I was so nervous. The night before Andy & I
had layed in bed talking and wondering and worrying. It was after
midnight when I fell asleep, and 4:00 AM when we got up. The night
before our planned summit date I had barely felt anything, and
now here I was. Pulling into Katahdin Stream Campground at 6 AM
on a Class III day, ready to puke or pass out.
There were already a ton of people ready to head
up. Me, Andy, Sherpa, Loser, Lumberjack, Slow-Ride, Geo, Euchre,
Morph, Moonshadow, Right On, Pushin’ Up Daisies, Flatlander.
We all wanted to get going since there was a possibility of the
Rangers changing it to a Class IV day by 7:00 AM.
We all started up the Trail shortly after 6.
Dawn was breaking, the weather was fair but chilly, and everyone
seemed pretty excited and was hiking fast. In a couple of minutes
we arrived at the registration board where we had to sign in & note
what time we were leaving. This spaced us all out quite well, and
we were on our way.
The first couple miles up were pretty normal.
The usual uphill grade & rocks & roots – nothing
too extremely difficult. We did start running into snow, though.
With Andy & I being two of the first group up, the snow was
packed down just enough to make icy foot holds – not enough
to turn it slushy in most spots. There were a few areas where we
chipped the ice away with our hiking sticks so that our feet could
get a grip on gritty sand & rock.
I think it was maybe an hour & a half or
so when we arrived at what I’m guessing was called “The
Cave.” There were 8 or so of us that stopped for a quick
break there, among the beginning of the huge boulders. One by one
everyone left, up around the corner, straight up into a maze of
boulders and slabs of rock. We were getting so fogged in that we
couldn’t see any good distance. We were on a deserted island
of rock and wind and ice. The frost had started accumulating on
the rocks in such a way that they seemed as if they were covered
in some kind of 3-D houndstooth check pattern. Soon enough Andy & I
were ready to move on. Up the boulders we went – the point
of no return.
I’m not sure if I’d really call the
climb too difficult, mainly because I enjoy navigating the boulders
much more than trudging up a mountain grade for 3 hours. There
were quite a few spots that were very tricky, though. 5 or 6 foot
faces with one 6-inch iron foothold. I was also starting to be
glad we were fogged in, as I knew in a few spots there was only
a few yards between you & a long rocky fall.
Still we kept going, up up up. The white blazes
were getting hard to follow in the ice, frost, & snow and so
we tried to follow the tracks of the 5 in front of us. After another
hour we were up on the spiny ridge where the wind was ripping into
us. In some places we went to the side of the backbone as it seemed
like we could get blown off directly into the white abyss otherwise.
Still we followed the tracks & tried not to step in drifts
where there were no tracks. In a rock field like this, a tiny drift
could be hiding a hole to God knows where. I was definitely starting
to wonder if we should be up there at all. After what seemed like
an eternity, we reached the Tableland – a flat area about
1.5 miles from Baxter Peak. We had thought we’d be able to
make better time up there, but with the weather, it was slow going.
We had no visibility and glare ice sheets on the Trail. The wind
was blowing so hard that when it gusted I’d have to stop & brace
myself while it slid me across the ice. Up here the blazes were
covered and the footprints were blown over. We had to follow the
rock cairns closely, and even so we still lost the Trail a couple
times. We knew that if we got off track up there, we’d potentially
be risking our lives, so we made sure to keep watch closely. I
broke through the snow in a couple of places and was in danger
of really hurting myself. I about started to panic, really feeling
it was not smart to go on, but not wanting to turn around. Andy’s
beard & glasses were half frozen over and my face felt numb
from the wind. I really wasn’t too concerned about the cold
cause we’re used to it, but who knows what could happen to
make things turn bad in a second. But, we knew there were people
still ahead of us – people who were probably standing at
that sign right then, so we continued on. Soon enough we reached
the stone stairs and knew were ascending the final feet to the
peak. After some time I saw figures up ahead, heard yelling, laughing.
We were there. The sign. I walked directly up, with tears welling
in my eyes. I had made it, I had done it. I touched the sign I’d
seen in so many victory photos. It was like our referee, our silent
judge, waiting there to rule that we had played a fair game and
had won. After countless overtime, bad calls, and plain luck, we
had emerged the victors.
But even with such an important job, that sign
just sat there dumbly. Silent and deaf. Even as such an essential
part of our trip, it didn’t understand. It was like our first
preparation for re-entering the “real world,” where
people would maybe congratulate you or listen while you talked
about your trip, but they’d never really “get it.”
And maybe we never would, either. All we knew
was we were there – we were done – we had won at last,
and now had the rest of our lives to do with it as we chose. It
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Impressions - Appalachian Trail
Documentary from Flagler Films
Somewhere along our thru-hike of the Appalachian
Trail, SvenSaw and I (Loony) started running into a guy named
Mark Flagler, AKA "Carolina Cruiser" or "C.C." He
was filming a documentary about thru-hiking the A.T. Here
and there he'd ask if it would be OK to film us as we hiked,
etc. We even happened to summit Katahdin on the day he was
filming on the peak. We weren't sure if his film was something
that would ever actually come to fruition, but to our surprise
and delight, it did.
We ordered our copy of the DVD and found
it to be an excellent overview of the Appalachian Trail and
a great tool for anyone planning to thru-hike. We even recognized
ourselves in a few of the shots, including the summiting
of Katahdin (I'm the girl in the green jacket with SvenSaw,
in glasses and a yellow jacket). We recognized so many of
our fellow hikers and it was so wonderful to see them again
and to hear their voices.