I woke up and had breakfast with Captain No Beard at a diner at 530. I took the 630 shuttle back to Baxter to climb the mountain and finish this thing. The weather was perfect — sunny and cool. When I got to the ranger station it was about 830 in the morning.
The hiking for the first three miles was manageable and very scenic as the trail followed a large stream as it tumbled down the mountain. The scenery was just gorgeous. After a few hours I reached the bouldering section and had to stow my trekking poles to have both hands free for rock climbing. I caught up with Achilles and his girlfriend and we hiked the “hardest” mile together.
The climbing was moderately difficult but the real issue was the shear drop behind you if you fell or lost your grip. When climbing, if you look over your shoulder, you see a “Will E. Coyote” type plunge of hundreds of feet. Not cool if you have any fear of hights. I continued on despite feeling a very heightened anxiety. There’re a few thru hikers that actually turn back when faced with this pretty scary climb. I was not going to be one of them despite my anxiety. This climbing went on for almost an hour and a full mile before reaching what felt like the top of the mountain. The views up there were unbelievable. At the “top” I realized that it was a plateau and that there was a slightly upward traverse of another mile to the actual top.
After a half hour I completed the traverse and arrived at the summit of Katahdin and encountered about a dozen hikers taking pictures. I knew about half of them and we took turns taking pictures at the summit sign.
I climbed the sign and had my pictures taken as I completed the Appalachian Trail. It was pretty surreal and overwhelming. Rather than cry like some, I felt numb and a great sence of relief.
I hung out for thirty minutes and waited for Achilles and his girlfriend. Most people were in favor of taking a shorter, steeper descent trail than the AT trail up. I left Achilles and girlfriend up there and started down the alternative trail. Like is always the case, the way down was twice as scary. Two hours into a very harrowing descent I encountered a section where there had obviously been an avalanche and rock slide. The trail was completely covered with loose rock and boulders.
I found out later that there was a small detour sign that redirected away from the rock slide. I must have missed it and braved the very sketchy avalanche section wherein I would slide down sections triggering minor rock slides— sometimes with bowling ball boulders falling around me. It took me two harrowing hours to navigate down and I finally made down to the bottom at 4:15. The last shuttle back to minanocka was supposed to leave at 4. My “shortcut” left me two miles by gravel road from the ranger station where the shuttle leaves. I tried to Yogi some campers to give me a ride to no avail. I walked up to the road wondering how I would get back to town to meet Laura. Laura was suppose to meet me at the hostel at 530 for our four hour drive to Portland.
I got to the road thinking that I was totally screwed when I heard someone yell out “hey Uncle Puck”. I looked up and saw Achilles’ dad sitting in a pickup truck as he asked me where Achilles was. I quickly told him that they were 30 minuets behind me but that he needed to immediately drive me the two miles to ranger station. He said “get in” and we sped down the road. Two minutes later he spotted the shuttle coming toward us and stopped blocking its way and said “quick, jump out”. I quickly thanked him and jumped out and grabbed the shuttle just in time.
When I got back to the hostel my sisters friend Laura was waiting with a Welcome sign and a six pack of beer.
We drove back to Portland and and she drove me to the airport in the morning.
All through the trip I would always write in the shelter log/journal: “Uncle Puck was here, still moving the Puck Down the ice”. At the last hostel I made one last entry in the log: “Scoooorre! The Puck is in the net”.
PS. Thanks for reading my blog. I hope that I was neither long winded nor overly obtuse. I will write a brief epilogue in the weeks ahead with some final thoughts and conclusions.