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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Katahdin...

I had an incredible summit day. It went like this. I wouldn't trade my climb up that mountain for a million dollars.

2:45 am- Wide awake in the lean-to nervously convincing myself that I'm tired enough to get a few more hours of sleep.

4:30 am- Alarm goes off as of I was sleeping and I bolt up in the cold morning and make coffee and bagelsi acquired from some trail magic the previous day.

5:45 am- Meet Banjo and his dad in the Katahdin Stream parking lot and we head up the mountain under headlamps.

I was the first hiker to sign in that morning so I was pretty sure that with any luck I would have the summit to myself for at least a small bit of time. The weather was looking good and forecasted to be sunny and windy which sounded fine to me.

The best thing about Katahdin is that all of the harder climbing is above treeline. By the time you pop out above the evergreens you are some 2 miles up the mountain but you have not
gained any significant elevation. When I reached the rock scrambling section of the Hunt Spur I was by myself and in the sun. I noted the clouds to my left and how fast they were moving. But I pressed on.

Halfway up the most difficult section of the climb it had gotten noticeably colder and windier. I grabbed onto a rock to pull myself up another big boulder and noticed my handprint on the rock. This puzzled me for a second. ICE!!! ICE!! What? The clouds I had climbed into we're blowing frosty air all over the west side of every rock on the trail. The winds were a steady 25 mph an by the time I had gotten to the tablelands the alpine flats looked like a wasteland. The hard part of the climb was over but I still had 1.5 miles until the summit.

Now mind you that the wind was blowing hard and I'm wearing my running shorts, sneakers, Patagonia jacket and my rain jacket. That's it. I can only guess that the wind chill was into the low 30s or high 20s. I'm all alone and the closer I get to the summit, the worse conditions are getting. Then at a certain point I realized the wind was blowing so hard I wasn't able to walk straight lines. This wasn't much of a problem because I realized the frost and ice had hidden all of the white blazes on the rocks!! The cairns weren't much help either because the visibility was down to about 20-30 feet. This was the point that I ducked behind a rock to get out of the wind and collect myself and think.

I stayed behind the rock for about 15 minutes and contemplated what to do. Hunkering down was not an option because in the time that I had stopped I was already beginning to shiver uncontrollably. This was when I knew I had to turn back. Yes, turn away from the summit of a monumental 2,184 mile hike I knew I was only 20 minutes away from finishing!!! It wasn't an easy decision but it was the smart one.

I started waking south on the AT and made it to the beginning of the tablelands and noticed an opportunity to climb down a rock and get out of the elements on the sunny side of the mountain. I was warming up and thinking about what was going to happen next. One side of the mountain was sunny, the other was cold and icy. It was a crazy thought in my head to think that I'd come this far and I'm NOT going to summit Katahdin.

After a half hour or so on the cliff I heard some voices. It was Banjo and his dad arriving at the tablelands. I started walking back to them. They thought I had finished and was heading down the mountain. I told them briefly what happened and from the look of the ever improving weather I said we make a push to get to the summit before another system socked us in even worse.

By the time we hit the summit around 9:30, the clouds were breaking and the memories of my wild morning ascent were almost a dream. After an hour the only trace of bad weather was the frost on the sign (see the pictures) and the heavy winds.

We stood in awe of the sign not really sure what we just did. In fact I'm still not sure. It was an incredible way to end an amazing 5 months of my life. And Katahdin taught me one more lesson before I left its peak. It's in control, and it will kill you if you don't respect it.

This is my story of my day on Katahdin.

1 comment:

Thomas Trigg said...

Stephen, congratulations! I have been following your journey since you joined backpackingarkansas.com stop by the forums when you can. i have followed you hike and wished I was younger again! What a trip!