Gorham to Katahdin, Yeeha!

22 07 2009

Here is a little (ok, maybe a lot) more detail about the stretch between Gorham and the end.

After meeting up with Panama Red and Jolly Rancher at The Cabin, they were going to do a 26 miler slack pack day the next day, to be picked up by another hostel owner, Bob O’Brian at Gull Pond Lodge in Rangeley, ME at a random road. Slack packing is where you have somebody take your full pack for the day, while you do big miles with a day pack. It is a really sweet way to make miles, but it can be expensive because you have to pay for your host’s road mileage there and back. Thankfully, it is cheaper when you split the fare, as I did with Panama and J.R.

We actually slacked the next three days, once again with Bob, then two days with Susan from the Stratton Motel out of Stratton, ME. It was really nice to get some of the more rainy Maine days out of the way while sleeping indoors every night. 180 (Dan) even caught up with me in Stratton, on our second day there, and I saw him the next day as we were going over Saddleback mtn. Saddleback is a beautiful ridge above treeline, where, at the summit, you can see both Mt. Washington and Mt. Katahdin on a clear day. I met Dan on the summit that last day amid the beauty of sun, wind, mountain views and clouds and we made our adieus as he went on to hike on his own and I went on with Panama and J.R. to the finish. It was a beautiful though somewhat sad moment.

After our final slack packing day, it was time to get to Monson, ME, home of Shaw’s hostel. We did it in three days, staying at Pierce Pond and Moxie Bald Brook shelters the two nights. Pierce Pond has a reputation on the AT for being the most beautiful shelter location, and this is not without reason. Amid a beautiful pine floor forest, the shelter sits on the pond’s edge. We got in early and watched the sunset on July 9th, Panama’s birthday and the day the rainy weather in Maine broke. The next morning I went to Harrison’s camp, a camp mostly for anglers and day hikers. But since it’s just on the other side of the pond from the A.T. shelter, he provides an amazing “patriotic” pancakes (apples, blueberries and raspberries) for breakfast. I decided it was worth the detour and was treated to perhaps the most delicious, home made pancakes I’ve ever eaten. (Though, I must admit, on the trail as a whole, I had many a pancake and most were the best I’ve ever eaten … 🙂

We then had a string of 9 days of sunshine, maintaining the weather to our glorious finish!

We got in to Monson on the third day, stayed at Shaw’s hostel (also infamous on the trail) and ate tasty bbq and enjoyed the usual town gamut of laundry, showers, comfy beds and good company.

The most wonderful thing about Shaw’s, however, is their All You Can Eat Breakfast complete with eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes. They ask you what number of everything you’d like, and keep pumping out the dishes until you say no more. Wow. That was amazing. Plus coffee and OJ. mmmmmmm.

That day, however, we began the 100 mile wilderness. A word about this well-taled trail section: the signs warn you to take 10 days (minimum) of food and supplies once you enter, because there are no (paved) roads and it is some of Maine’s thickest/wildest woods. Most Southbounders are happy to get it done in 10 days or even 9 or 8. Same with section and day hikers. We, however, originally planned to do it in 6, since there are some good flat bits on the northern end.  We planned roughly 20 ish mile days for each day.

The first day we did 15, and were happy to meet a recently finished 09 NOBO hiker (Splinter) who had come back to the trail to do magic. He greeted me at Long Pond shelter with a six pack each of PBR and Long trail ale. I was happy to meet him indeed. Panama and J.R. soon joined us and completed the party. That was an excellent finish to our first day in the “Wilderness.”

In the “wilderness” you also can get cell phone reception on any hill or mountain above 2,000 feet.

Next day we did 21 to Carl A. Newhall, and once I arrived (after seeing a moose about 10 feet in front of me on the trail!!!!), I discovered 3 section hiker men and 2 SoBos already in the 6 person shelter. I, as well as Panama and J.R. had all mailed our tents home to shed weight for the final stretch, so perhaps the first few words out of my mouth after greeting them were “I don’t have a tent and there are three guys behind me who don’t either.  Do any of you have tents?” Amazingly (amidst much groaning and whining) the two SoBos got their stuff together and got out of the shelter, heading toward the tentsites nearby. I felt pretty bad, but they were amazingly compliant about it. When my boys arrived, they were tickled pink that I had cleared out the shelter for them and even a little surprised at the SoBoers’ amicability. When I asked them what they would have done if the SoBos hadn’t gotten out, they said “kept walking.” Mind you, this would have been 4 more miles up and over Whitecap mtn. after 8 pm.  I was glad the SoBoers didn’t consider this option!

That night Panama was mischevious. He was talking about pulling some 30 mile days and finishing the wilderness in the next two days instead of 3 or 4. J.R. and I (the more planning-minded of the three) were dismissive at first, but Panama’s amazing gift of gab and convincing abilities were in high form so we finally said that if he got up the next morning at 4:30 to hike 30 miles, we’d do it with him.

Sure enough, 4:30 am dawned gray and still, as we silently packed our things, gobbled some granola bars and headed over Whitecap. I was full of adrenaline, excitement and a sense of rebellion as we hiked our knees sore that day. With 11 miles to go at 3pm at our afternoon snack stop, I was nervous that the next shelter would be full as well and we would arrive too late and not as lucky as the night before. There was a small possibility of hiking a few extra miles and getting a ferry across a lake to White House Landing, an Inn and restaurant about a mile off trail, but in order to achieve that, we would have to make it there before sun down, which I was estimating at 7 or so. Anyway, with all of these worries buzzing around in my brain, I decided to try and hike the rest at 3 mph, so I booked it.

I got in to an excellently empty Potaywadjo Springs Shelter at 6:20pm, followed soon after by the boys at 6:30. We had booked it, and finished a glorious, beautiful day, through some very easy, very flat, (much of which was open, pine floored trail with a gorgeous brook or lake on one side — “wilderness” indeed) trail.

But the craziness wasn’t over. Panama proposed a 33 mile day for the ‘morrow, in order to complete the Wilderness and arrive at Abol Bridge, a campground 15 miles from Mt. Katahdin. J.R. and I didn’t argue as the alarm sounded next morning at 4 am and we were off again, coasting over flat,  muddy trail with many a lake or brook on one side and a few little hills on the way.

One of those hills, Nesuntabunt, went up to 2,000 some feet, so I (naturally) pulled out my cell phone to try and figure out a ride out of Baxter State Park. I called Cousin Jim with five bars of reception, (we had exchanged messages for a few days before, so he knew that I was now thinking of summiting the 18th), and told him I could summit either Friday the 17th or Saturday the 18th, depending on weather. I then had new flexibility since we had made such crazy miles. He told me to let him know when I knew and that they could not only come pick me up out of Baxter state park and take me to their place in Tamworth, but that Cousin Jim would drive me to Middlebury the next day. I was thrilled to have security about returning to civilization.

Then I hiked 24 more miles.

At the 5 mile to go mark after Rainbow ridge (which had a stunningly breathtaking view of Mt. Katahdin, sunny and clear of cloud cover), we stopped briefly at a shelter. Panama and J.R. were already there when I arrived. I crashed on the ground, feet throbbing, knees aching and brain turned to mush from the litany of it all. The boys were in high spirits (thanks to “5 Hour Energy” and “Gu” — they were into taking diet supplements to aid their hiking ability– read: lots of Bvitamins and Taurine ICK!!), but I was dragging. That is, until I ate a snickers bar and took some good old vitamin I (Ibuprofen). Then I was plucky as new and ready to “get ‘er done”!

We emerged from the “Wilderness” and crossed Abol bridge, to see none other than Panama’s Dad and brother-in-law in a van with a huge tub of pasta salad, leftover chicken, a dozen boiled eggs, champagne, and all sorts of goodies. Huzzah! What a finish. We gobbled everything in sight and settled for the night at the Pines campground on the lake’s edge, exhausted and content.

The next beautiful sunny day we did the easy 9 or so miles to Katahdin Springs campground, and rested at the Ranger station there, chatting to the Ranger and somewhat confused about what to do with ourselves since we had a complete half day of nothing to do. We hung around, ate lunch, made a fire and chatted as we waited for Panama’s crew to arrive with promised pizzas and beer for dinner. They soon came (amidst a beginning downpour) and we feasted on three pie-tins of spaghetti, three large pizzas and an 18-pack sitting inside our nice dry and warm shelters. Mmmmm, sooo lovely.

The next day, Friday, Panama, his crew and I planned to summit because we were really ready and because the weather was forecasted to be better than Saturday. J.R. was waiting for his family who would arrive to hike Saturday, so he took a zero in Millinocket (town 20 miles away). The day dawned cool and foggy, but without rain. I ate my last breakfast and packed my day-pack for the day. (The ranger station allows you to leave your full pack and take day packs they have there for the purpose).

I started up the trail at 6:30am, happy to be hiking “Big K”, finishing what has been such an amazing journey. It was surreal and hard to believe, I must admit. Here I was, a mere 5 miles and 4,000 ft away from the completion of a hike that began innocuously enough last August with the Mafia at Franconia Notch, NH. I was full of happy anticipation and eager to move.

What a hike, what a hike. I think I can say without room for much doubt that it was my favorite part of the trail. No mud, hardly any tricky roots, and after the first mile or two, mostly rounded granite rocks and large grain sand. The Katahdin stream and waterfall accompanied me for the first hour, clear, freezing and jolly as it poured off the mountain. I then came to a section where my poles became useless as I grappled up rocks, the occasional rebar aiding my path. I passed two groups of students, as I began to make it above the clouds and the morning sun shone on the white-gray rocks. The trees became fewer and fewer as I passed above treeline and made it onto the “table land”: a flat section on the AT approach trail to Katahdin that runs the ridge until the final incline. What a view! The air was cool and crisp, with a breeze blowing fog across the ridge occasionally, followed by brilliant sunlight and mountain views. My eyes remained ever forward, scanning the steep horizon for a now very familiar sign post amid the blowing fog and blinding sun.

And then, almost once I had resigned myself to wait longer than I’d thought: there it was! A crowd of people stood atop jagged rocks looking out at the view, but only one thing held my gaze: the Katahdin sign, standing so seemingly unaware of it’s much photographed glory. My pace increased unconsciously until my hand finally grazed the well weathered wood, the white painted letters nearly completely rubbed off. I couldn’t believe that here within my grasp was the so-much-sought sign that adorns many a thru-hiker thank you and christmas card, poster and t-shirt.


I raised my arms in exaltation and joy and stretched to the sky — a silent Huzzah! in my head, and for a brief moment, the world was all light, joy and strength!

Then my mind came back to the mountain itself, and realized that the other people on the mountain had no idea. Ok, maybe they had some idea, because they too had climbed to this glorious peak, but they didn’t know the quarter of the trail. From eavesdropping, I learned they didn’t even know what the A.T. was. It was a group of kids from the city out in the “wild” to do a character building thing. I set myself on a rock perch and just took in the view and tried to absorb the gravity of the moment. My silence and beeming inner joy seemed right, and I was content to have this nearly private celebration in which to bask as I enjoyed the top of The Mountain.

After a bit, I did a little hike out onto The Knife Edge, another approach trail to Mt. K that is an aptly named, glacier-carved stretch of ridge whereon a false step means serious injury and there are steep fall-offs on either side. At a certain point, though, (where the trail went down, and returning would mean more up), I turned back to Mt. K to see if Panama and his family had made it up yet. As I came back, I saw him in his familiar hat and red beard, beige shirt and blue shorts striding up the trail. I let out a victorious whoop and he responded in kind as he came to the sign, kissed it and gave me a smiling high-five.


We ate lunch together with his Dad and brother in law and enjoyed the continuing clearing up of the sky as the sun beamed and burned the fog away. After many a photo of creative poses on/around the Katahdin sign, I decided to head back down from whence I’d come. I started at the base at 6:30, summitted at 9:30, left the top at 12 or so and made it to the bottom at 2:50pm.  I picked up my 2,000 miler application at the Ranger’s station, picked up my full pack and relaxed, waiting for Panama and his family — my ride to Millinocket.

I stayed the night at the A.T. Lodge in Millinocket, ate at the fabulous cafe there and witnessed another northbounder who had summitted that day complete the cafe’s Sundae summit challenge. He ate almost 3/4 of a gallon of ice cream sundae complete with snickers bar, pastries, m and ms, and all kinds of whip cream and sauce. Yikes. Another tall skinny guy. Go figure.

The next day I had another tasty meal from the cafe, picked up my laundered clothes, and was picked up by Cousins Russ and Jim, driven to Tamworth where Cousin Jim taught me how to eat a Maine lobster and slept a lovely night before being driven to my friends the Dickersons’ house in Bristol, VT (close to Middlebury) the next day.

A huge thanks to all of those who helped me along the way, a huge congrats and shout out to Panama Red and Jolly Rancher and huge thanks to Cousins Russ and Jim and to the Dickersons for their amazing hospitality and willingness to drive me around.

Greetings and blessings to all of you and thanks for following me on this final bit of the Vermont Mafia’s A.T. Adventure. 😀





3 responses

23 07 2009

Have I told you you were crazy lately?!

23 07 2009

Yaaaaaaaay, Maria!!

28 06 2011
Kathryn Fulton

I work in the editorial department at Stackpole Books, a midsize publisher of outdoor and other nonfiction books. We’re interested in using a couple of excerpts from your blog in a book of AT stories we’re putting together–could one of you please email me when you see this comment? I’d love to tell you more about the project and see if you’re interested.
Kathryn Fulton
Editorial Assistant
Stackpole Books

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