Appalachian Trail Journals 10-08-03

Journals From A 2003 Thru-Hike of the Appalachian Trail (by Loony)

Entry #160 – 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 was ours.