Sunday, August 1, 2010

Victory Dinner...

Yesterday, July 30, 2010 I summited Mt. Katahdin. This is a photo of my victory dinner. My hiking / climbing companions included Koopa and Big Ooh, who also enjoyed a Maine lobster for dinner.

The base to summit to base trip took 11 hours. It was a long, grueling, sometimes scary, sometimes amazing, sometimes painful, always adventurous trek. It was something I will never forget and something I will most likely, never do again.

We climbed the route designated as the official AT, aptly blazed with white rectangular squares painted upon trees and later rocks, once we were the above treeline.

Mt. Katahdin is the tallest mountain in Maine and is located in Baxter State Park. Most of the rules related to the mountain are weather related. According to the AT Thru Hiker Companion (a book that almost all thru hikers carry) Katahdin is exposed to extreme weather and has had snow during every month of the year. There are no shelters located above the treeline and all trails to the summit are completely exposed.

The park service posts the mountain's "class recommendations" daily. Climbing on a "Class I" day would be optimal, since all trails are open without restrictions. "Class II" days are officially described as follows, trails open but "Not Recommended For Hiking Above Treeline." Class III and Class IV notifications restrict hiking and climbing to the point of limiting or closing trails, citing and fining those who fail to comply, the risk of arrest, equipment seizure and revocation of all future park privileges. Bottom line, don't even try it on those days!

The translation for the word "Katahdin" is "Greatest Mountain" and without a doubt it's the greatest mountain I've ever climbed! The day started out beautifully, including clear blue skies and warm breezes.

The park service posted the day as a "Class II" day. Hummm.... not recommended for hiking above treeline. But the northern most part of the AT is on the tippy top (summit) of Katahdin, and of course that's well above treeline, so I'm going for it!

The hike started out as just that, a hike. The trail was gradual, yet increased steadily in elevation. We walked next to a stream for a while, which sounded nice. It was starting out to be a perfect day. What a great day to hike Katahdin!

Shortly after passing Katahdin Stream Falls the trail became much more rocky and steep. Hey, we're climbing to the top of a mountain I told myself, of course it's going to be hard! I eagerly scrambled over, around and up large stone slabs and boulders ... sometimes using tree roots or branches to assist. The trek was getting more "technical" ... or so I thought, since I found myself remembering back to some climbing lessons I'd taken years ago in California. Thankful for those skills, acquired long ago, I proceeded slowly upward.

I'd like to say I can remember when I had the first thought that "this is hard" but I can't recall when that realization popped into my mind. I think it was somewhere around the point of a large, open, severely angled, piece of rock, that was so steep my boots wouldn't allow for traction. I ended up climbing that section looking like a mix between Spiderwoman and a cat trying to climb up a well greased playground slide. Or maybe it was when we all had to collapse and store our poles in our (loaned daypacks) because, now approaching the treeline, both hands were required for safe progress.

A side side note on the daypacks. The park loans thru hikers daypacks, since our normal packs are too bulky to haul up the mountain. The pack I selected smelled and I couldn't get my fleece, snacks and water to load and balance well. At the bottom of the mountain, I was dreading my decision to leave my Osprey pack below ... but as things got steeper, narrower and tighter I was thankful for that stinky and small loaner.

When we reached the first area on the mountain that is so steep and vertical it requires climbing gear to continue, the park had bolted in a permanent assist. That said, it's not as if they bolted in a ladder ... this "assist" consisted of a single rung, steel rod (approximately a half inch thick and 18 inches wide) and a small, seemingly broken metal rod, that jutted straight out of the rock a few inches, to use as a foothold. This move still required climbers to place our left leg and foot into a crack, while reaching up with both hands to grasp, what is, in essence, a pull up bar while extending our right leg out and over to the foothold pin which seemed about shoulder height, in order to push yourself up the mountain and over the lip of rock that was above our heads. I was unhappy. I might not be able to say when I first had the thought, "This is hard" but I can tell you when I first had the thought, "This is ridiculous" and the first set of permanently set "gear" was it!

We all made it up and continued up. Unfortunately the clear, blue skies began to cloud over so we climbed without much of a view. At some points the clouds and mist were so thick that it was impossible to see people climbing up ahead or behind you. The temperature began to drop as well. By the time we were nearing the top, Big Ooh's temperature gage (on his watch) read 45 degrees. That didn't account for the wind chill factor, which was also in full play. We continued on.

There were a bunch more tough sections and several times I had the realization that a wrong move could cost me my life so by the time we reached the summit I was thankful to have made the decision to flop flop my hike. Here it was, July 30th, and the weather was pretty rough. What would it have been like on my planned summit date of October 4th? Still, upon reaching the top Big Ooh, Koopa and I all seemed a little melancholy. We sat on rocks without much celebration, looking at each other ... looking at the sign ... looking at the other people who had also summited. It was "the end" ... but not. We did it ... but not completely.

Then the clouds parted, the sun appeared and our spirits lifted. Blue sky, even if only briefly, was a prayer answered on top of Katahdin.

We took pictures, celebrated, enjoyed the view felt the accomplishment sink in. While we may not be finished, we HAD finished the hardest and highest mountain of the trail. Yes, there was room for celebration. There was time for smiles.

Then nature decided that our time for blue skies was over. The clouds rolled in and this time they were dark ... and ominous. It was time for us to go.

Since I'm typing this in a shuttle on the way back to the trail I'm going to have to expidite, before I loose signal. There's more to share but here are the key details.

By the time we reached the the half way point it started to rain. That made us scoot a little faster down the mountain (or at least as fast as we could with the winds ... and now steep and slippery rocks). 

The trek down was painstakingly long.  Climbing up is so much easier ...  just ask any mountain rescue or fire crew located near ocean cliffs.  We took our time, ensuring our safety, and lowered ourselves slowly down the mountain ... rock by slippery rock ... step by muddy step. 

By the time we reached the camping area, at the base of the mountain, we were exhausted.  Piling into the rental car we headed back to Millinocket, Maine where we had made reservations for the night. 

Upon arrival in Millinocket we found the hiker hostel and then made our way to one of the two resturants in town still open for dinner.  Celebration was in order ... even though we were all exhausted ... so it was Maine lobsters all around!  Truth is, I was going to order the chicken sandwich and onion rings but peer pressure is a bear (kidding!!).  Our celebration feast was yummy.  Koopa almost fell asleep in her drawn butter but we all cleared our plates. 

Yes, climbing Katahdin in the middle of the journey certainly isn't how I pictured it .... but how often does life turn out exactly as we plan?  Lessons learned: (1) Flexability is key; (2) Success isn't always measured in accomplishing the goal in typical "A to Z" fashion and (3) Recognize, accept and be thankful for the blessings that allow me to pursue this dream in the first place.

Entering the 100 mile wilderness. Might be a while till the next update.

Rollin on,

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone


  1. All I can saw is WOW and CONGRATULATIONS for that climb.

    Hugs ~ FlowerLady

  2. So, so happy you finished this leg of the trail! Can't wait for the next update. Stay safe:)

  3. Hooray Yahtzee, Big Oh and Koopa!!! So glad you made it safely and no matter whether this was the end or the middle, it was a HUGE accomplishment. Congratulations - sounds like you all rewarded yourselves well!

    take care,

  4. BIG HUGE CONGRATS TO ALL 3 of you !!! You made the BEST & TIMELY decision !! These pics of you all at the summit, makes my hair stand up !! The undeniable joys of accomplishment ! I'm having adult beverages in honor of you all TONIGHT !! Big Cheers & Smiles !!! ♥

  5. Hi.. I'm here showing Melanie how to leave you a comment

  6. Whoop! Whoop! I can almost taste that Maine well deserved! Now everytime you ever taste this meal (for the rest of your life) your feet will tingle and you will smile your Victory Smile!! xoxo AOE!


Search This Blog...