The End of a Journey: The 100-Mile Wilderness and Sumitting Katahdin

We returned to the trail by 1 o’clock and happily entered Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness. We couldn’t believe how far we had come or how few days we had left on the trail. We knew nothing would stop us from completing the final 115 miles, and in six days we would be standing on Mount Katahdin.

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While in town, we managed to check the weather putting as much power into our prayers as possible. We desperately hoped for a nice week, but even more important, good weather for our final climb. Tonight, though, there was a high chance of rain so we did our best to book it to a shelter.

We finished hiking right at nightfall completing 17 miles for the day. To our surprise, we found the shelter basically full, but hopefully asked the hikers to squeeze us in. Though a couple hikers were a bit reluctant, we still managed to get shelter spots and were most grateful come morning. The rain started overnight and poured into the morning hours. We sat and packed, mostly just delaying the inevitable. Eventually, we headed out in the rain which lightened as the day and miles went by. By lunch, the rain stopped for the day. I remembered our lucky weather streak so far through Maine and stayed positive. Only 5 more trail days, you can walk through a little rain.

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The rain made this our scariest ford. He’s 6’5″ and the water is above the knee. I had to focus on not being swept away while crossing this thigh deep heavily flowing river.

After the wicked ford, the rest of the day we spent climbing. 15.6 miles wiped us out, and we called it quits at the shelter.

We were happy to be greeted by the sun the next morning. Other than Katahdin, today would be our last day of climbing. From the White Cap Mountain, the final peak of the day, we would get our first glimpse of the finish line.

We kept a great pace all day, really enjoying every part of the day. We were surprised when we arrived at the shelter and found it empty. Wow, a whole shelter to ourselves! We had just completed a 20.7 mile day, our first 20 mile day since…?

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Our first distant look at Katahdin (the big one in the middle).

We eased into the start of our day in no real hurry. Today, two more days of hiking, and one additional summit day was all we had left. All the daydreams were surfacing: where we would eat on the way home, seeing our friends and family, not hiking all day, staying dry inside on rainy days, bingeing on the Netflix, cooking breakfast in my own kitchen.

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Maine = Moss

After our morning river ford, the rest of the day was easy peasy. We strutted down the trail making excellent time. We were happy to see our friend, Hoff, when we arrived at Potaywadjo Spring Shelter. He had been there all day and had an excellent fire going.

BigFoot and I walked over to the spring to get our night’s water. This may have been one of the most beautiful and perfect water sources we saw on the whole trail. A spring, nearly 10 feet in diameter bursted out of the ground. The crystal clear water floated above a sandy bottom and then cascaded over rocks into a flowing stream. We took our chances by not filtering it. I felt privileged to be drinking from such a gorgeous source.

While we gathered our water, a flood of memories took over. I remembered many picture perfect springs and streams we had gathered from as well as some that were less than desirable. But, for the most part, drinking the water directly from the place it comes from was one of my favorite parts of the trail. To me, it was the ultimate connection to the wilderness – pure, beautiful water.

We enjoyed our evening swapping stories with Hoff and keeping the fire stocked. It had been awhile since we had done the chore of building and maintaining the fire, and this one was truly special. Just as the water had triggered many memories, I reminisced on the fires we had sat around and the people we had shared them with.

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Morning came and a little rain came with it. The sky looked like the rain would be short lived, and it soon came to a stop. We hoped it was done and were surprised when it started back up again. We put on the rain gear and walked on. Suddenly, it was a full on downpour, the trail becoming a river. My socks and oh so destroyed shoes were drenched. Well, this is annoying.

We made it to a nearby shelter and waited it out for a few minutes with Rocky Mountain High. She was one of the many hikers we only knew through the logbooks. She had been ahead of us throughout this entire trail, and now, just 2 days from the summit, we were meeting for the first time.

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Not gonna miss this.

The rain died down and pittered out over the next couple hours. The trail was adjacent to Rainbow Stream and its falls for a couple miles before taking us to the shelter for the night. After this wet day, we were happy to go to bed early and eagerly.

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Finally saw a moose!!!

We woke up very early to get a start on our 25 mile day. As the day went on, the clouds cleared. It was nearly 2 o’clock when we got to Abol Bridge marking the end of the 100-Mile Wilderness. We had already completed 15 miles of our day, and the sun was shining. We decided to skip the general store and headed for the entrance to Baxter State Park, home of Katahdin.

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Mount Katahdin in all her glory.

After walking nearly a mile, we came to Baxter’s park boundary and soon found an information board. Baxter has a large campground at the base of the mountain where many people (not just thru-hikers) stay at this busy park. Not only do they have miniature shelters for people to rent, there is also one large shelter specifically for thru-hikers. The Birches Shelter holds 16 and tends to fill up. At the information booth, we felt like we had been hit in the gut as we saw that the shelter was already full for the night. It was also noted that the rest of the campground was also booked, and stealth camping within Baxter was not allowed.

Basically, we concluded that we couldn’t enter the park and would have to hike 10 miles into Baxter tomorrow as well as the 10 mile round trip to summit Katahdin. That’s really, really not what I wanted to do.

Frustrated, we walked back to the general store, and, assuming we were done for the day, soothed our woes with beer and chips. When we cracked our beers, a man who had seen us walk past the store the first time noticed our return and asked some questions. We told him our story and frustrations.

“Well, I rented a (mini) shelter with my buddies and two of them backed out. We have two extra spots if you need them.”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now that’s trail magic at its finest!!!

Seth and his buddy Rick were finishing their journey on the AT tomorrow as well. Over the past 20 years, the pair had successfully section hiked all of the Appalachian Trail and were excited to stand on Katahdin as well.

We absolutely could not believe our luck and set out for the ten mile stretch to Katahdin Stream Campground. The terrain was simple, and we walked in a dream like state. We’re here, in Baxter, that’s Katahdin. Holy shit. We did it.

At the campground, we checked in with the ranger station and quickly found our new friends. We cooked our last trail meal and packed our slackpacks for tomorrow. No point in bringing a bulky bag up a steep climb for no reason.

At nightfall, we made our way into our sleeping bags for the last time. I was nervous excited, but overall the long day wore me out, and I got some good sleep. We were glad that Rick’s alarm woke us up early, and we were ready to hike by 7. Did I mention the sun was rising into a bright blue sky? We were beyond thrilled and grateful for this special, beautiful day.

It was 5 miles up the mountain from the campground to the summit. The iconic sign was on our minds. I felt like I was walking in a dream world. None of this seemed real. We walked through the woods passing many people along the way. Once we passed the breathtaking Katahdin Stream Falls, the trail just got steeper and steeper.

We were only a couple miles away from the summit when the trail rose above tree line. Suddenly, the trail was hardly a trail at all, just a maze of white blazes stamped onto rock. This was a rock climb, plain and simple. And the cold winds were seriously whipping. I almost felt like it could’ve carried me right off that mountain.

Up and up into and over the rocks we climbed. With all the emotions and memories flowing through my head, I had to remind myself to really focus on the jungle gym in front of me. I didn’t come this far just to break any bones here!!

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We made it to “The Tableland” where the mountain flattens out before rising to the peak. 1.5 miles to the summit. We saw Thoreau Spring. 1 mile to the summit.

Up we climbed into the mess of rocks and followed the last of the white blazes. The sign was in sight. We’re here. We’re HERE! WE ARE HERE!!!!!

We touched the sign. It was real.

We thru-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail.

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Thankfully, we weren’t alone on the summit, and the photo shoot began. Throughout the hour we spent on the summit, we saw many hikers taking in the beauty that is Baxter Peak. Regardless of how far a journey those people had walked, we were all here on this summit now together. Everything about this day was perfect and so very surreal.

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We eventually decided it was time to walk back down the mountain. We were hungry after all, and town food was on our mind. For the first time on this trip, we began walking southbound on the Appalachian Trail.

Thankfully, the steep section wasn’t nearly as windy now as it was on the way up. We jungle gym-ed down the mountain, got back below treeline, revisited the falls, and walked our way into Katahdin Stream Campground to retrieve our packs. We were done. We hiked the whole thing. It was time to go home.

We decided to try our luck on a hitch instead of waiting for the shuttle to nearby Millinocket where my parents were patiently waiting on us. A nice couple stopped when they saw us and offered us a ride.

“You guys hiking the trail?”

“We just finished it – the whole thing!!!”

They were as excited to hear our stories as we were to hear theirs. Over the ride, they told us about their organic farm and building their own cabin in Maine. I was going to miss meeting the nicest strangers.

When we got to Millinocket, it wasn’t long before I found my parents. After hellos, we brought our hunger to their immediate attention. We got food and then went to the hotel for a celebratory beer. Good call, Dad!

Over the next three days, we made our way across the country stopping in Maine to see the Atlantic Ocean and Niagara Falls, New York.

Going home

Eventually, we were back home again in Indiana visiting family and friends, answering lots of questions, and eating and drinking whatever we freakin’ wanted.

The 2,189.2 miles were complete. All 14 states were walked through. We battled injury and illness, rain, hail, and snow. We were supported by amazing friends and family and beyond blessed by countless strangers. The long journey was over.

And we’ll never be the same.

Catahdin

3 Comments on “The End of a Journey: The 100-Mile Wilderness and Sumitting Katahdin

  1. Your trip sounds amazing. I am planning on just doing the final 100 mile wilderness at the start of September 2017. Can you please tell me what time of year you did this trip? I dont want to go if all the shelters are overbooked. .
    Thanks
    Debbie

    • Ahh I loved the 100 mile wilderness. It was magical!! I did this section during the first / second week of September with pretty perfect weather. Any time June – late Sept would be a great time to do this hike though you’ll encounter a lot of black flies in June- August. In terms of shelters, I would guess the trail sees about the same amount of people July-September. Shelter space is always a gamble, however, I think there was always space in the “lean-to” if we wanted it. There’s no booking, just first come first serve. You’ll definitely want to carry a shelter as you cannot always guarantee a space in a lean-to. Good luck and enjoy every mile!

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