Mount Katahdin and the 100 Mile Wilderness

Leading up to my thru-hike start date, 80% of my mind was focused on the hike up Mt. Katahdin to reach the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail (AT).

Climbing Katahdin is a monumental achievement, and I’ll provide a bit more detail on that later on. But the AT in Maine (from the northern terminus through the 100 Mile Wilderness) has been much more than one sign. It’s blue lakes, spruce trees that tower above your head, granite rock scrambles, chirping squirrels, river Fords, laying in moss during a mid-day break, and laughing at worn down lean-tos.

Photo courtesy of @mr.photo_op

This post will be a long one, each section separated by a quote or thought from the day. So grab a beverage of choice, a favorite snack, and enjoy.

Mt. Katahdin – The Sign is Real

The hike up Mt. Katahdin was a challenge. At least for me who’s not much of a peak bagger but more of a long-distance over rolling hills type gal. Elevation and I have never gotten along. I’m doing a mountain trail to challenge myself.

When it comes to researching the Hunt Trail (AT) up Katahdin, people talk about the boulders with rebar right above treeline, which actually didn’t turn out to be too bad. You’ll hear about the tablet alpine zone with tiny ropes to protect rare plant species.

What no one ever seemed to mention is the never ending rock scramble in-between the two. The. Never. Ending. Rock. Scramble.

Then once you reach the alpine zone there is one final push of elevation to Baxter Peak where the Katahdin sign is located. At one point my husband Matt, who was joining me in Millinocket to say goodbye, looked over and said ‘if you don’t make it to the top you’re getting back in the car cause there’s no point in continuing on’.

We eventually reached the famous Mt. Katahdin sign, took a break with a few others to watch the clouds roll through, then started the climb back down the Hunt Trail for miles that actually counted towards the AT thru-hike. In total it took us around 10.5 hours. 10 to 12 hours to hike the Hunt Trail is expected. Expect the decent to be incredibly technical and slow going.

One other aspect to consider is how weather can effect your summit attempt. My summit day was June 6 and I got sunburned. We had gorgeous weather with a few clouds at the top. The day before hikers had hail, and later in the week there was rain, snow, and hypothermic conditions up on the mountain. It’s been super interesting to hear stories from those who I’m hiking with now who ran into limited weather windows or didn’t reach the sign. Be prepared to budget for weather alternatives.

Mile one and there’s already sap on my shorts

I started walking south into the 100 Mile Wilderness from Katahdin Stream Campground on Friday June 10 after unexpectedly having to spend a few days in Millinocket. Again, budget for the unexpected.

The sap, it’s everywhere. The pine trees make for beautiful scenery but a constant dialog of how did my hand/shorts/tent/trekking pole get sticky again? A sit pad is very helpful.

I remember the first miles heading south from Katahdin Steam Campground as being tough. The terrain was easy. However, emotions and pack weight were pretty high. (Emotions only hightended at the disappointment of the Abol Bridge burger shack being still closed for the season.)

I had always imagined the start of my first thru-hike to be full of excitement. We give up so much to be out here – there’s the impression you should be only grateful. There’s also alot to process. I was suddenly conscious of what a big task was ahead. A total of 2,194.3 miles from Maine to Georgia for the year of 2022. Not including any extra miles (blue blazes, town miles, etc.) Breaking it into small goals was no longer working.

Here I was alone, a few others ahead or behind, following a trail of white blazes into this thickly vegetated Maine forest. What led ahead seemed impossible.

Around Abol Bridge I met a few other female Southbound (SOBO) hikers. Dee, Tator Tot, and Oasis. Meeting people got spirits up. Then at 13.2 hiked miles for the day we arrived at the first campsite.

The group was bigger than I expected with around 10 hikers staying at the site and one 2:30 am bear encounter (Photo Op, who saw the bear at his feet in the shelter, tells the story best. I was in my tent far away .)

Night one at Hurd Brook Shelter

If I know anything about elbows, pus shouldn’t be in them.

The hiking miles continued to get harder. Technical terrain with roots and rocks, climbs that only warm you up for the next one. But the people and the views kept us going.

The 100 Mile Wilderness (~99.4 miles from Abol Bridge to Monson/Maine Route 15) takes an average 10-12 days to hike. Katahdin to Monson is 114.5 miles.

Food is one of the heaviest things you’ll carry, so many hikers including myself, take advantage of food drop services offered by local hostels to avoid having heavier than needed packs in the 100 Mile Wilderness. This splits a 10 day food carry in half. I highly recommend the services offered through the AT Lodge in Millinocket.

The food drop and challenge of this section created a bottleneck of SOBO hikers traveling together. Those first few days were spent doing introductions as we hiked, comparing blisters, discussing falling off toenails, and the extreme opportunity to see and hear all about a fellow hiker’s swollen elbow after he fell during a rock hop. Who needs television when you have this level of excitement?

A mid day rest. Photo courtesy of @mr.photo_op

Tevas might have saved my thru-hike

It’s not until the hike is almost taken away that you appreciate it the most. After multiple 10-15 mile days, the upper side of my right foot had started to hurt. With every step came a reminder of how many more miles needed to be hiked until Monson.

I had come into the hike with shin splints and knee pain issues, but foot pain was a frustrating new development. So I switched over to my Teva camp sandles, which helped to reduce the pain, and put in an earbud to listen to the only 5 songs downloaded to my phone – an EP called Homecoming, piano compositions by a friend Nicholas Hrynyk. New shoes with more modsole cushion were ordered at the top of a summit with service to be sent to the next town. And those 5 songs carried me through the next few days.

I wish you good chicken

Around halfway, town food began to be a common discussion as each step brought us closer to civilization. Burgers, fries, pancakes, eggs, you name it.

On this day a section hiker (someone hiking a short section of the trail – we saw alot of them in the hundo) mentioned the possibility of a chicken BBQ happening the day of our arrival in Monson. She parted with the phrase ‘I wish you good chicken’. Feel free to add that to your own list of goodbyes.

This was also around the day that myself and two others, Photo Op (@mr.photo_op on IG – you won’t be disappointed) and Bio Diesel, split off from the larger group to add a few more miles. We had reached the point where at 2pm, 7 miles hiked didnt feel like enough to sit around with the bugs, and 7 miles before 8pm is still an option.

We pressed on to a stealth (unmarked) campsite along the shore of East Chairback Pond. After a 1500 foot elevation gain over 1.2 miles I was a bit cranky. However, swimming in the lake and enjoying a small campfire made it totally worth it.

I answer to the name of Big Cat now

My new trail name, Big Catt, will always be a reminder of that campsite (pictured above). It’s a reference to the TV show Fantasy Factory, DJ Drama, which led to Big Cat. I guess I tend to be a bit dramatic at times? That’s news to me. (Hear the sarcasm?) I’ll own the reference and the name.

Trail names are a fun tradition. There are no rules to it other than you can choose your name or let others suggest one. There’s the option to veto until a name feels right. Some hikers might go by multiple names. Again, the rules are sparse out here. Other than leave no trace. Always leave no trace.

Do you think the water in the steam knows what’s going to happen next, that it’s going to fall to it’s demise?

Said Bio Diesel, standing above Little Wilson Falls the day before our arrival to town.

Photo of Little Wilson Falls courtesy of @mr.photo_op

At the top of the falls the water is a calm trickle. Does it know what’s coming?

Sure, during the drop the water molecules may get rearranged. Some may hang out in the deep pool, others get swept away. But eventually their journey continues. A calm steam once again until the next obstacle.

With our first 114 miles hiked we are coming out of the 100 mile wilderness bug-bitten, scratched, and sore. We’ve forded a handful of shin deep rivers. Carefully rock hopped many other crossings. It’s been hot and sunny with little spots of rain, two thunderstorms. Our molecules are definitely a bit disjointed.

Most of us from that first night at Heard Brook Lean-To made it to Monson. Our group joyfully reunited at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel. (Shaw’s is a must stay.)

It’s a needed reprieve to stay a night in town. Town food, hot showers, laundry, dry gear.

But like the water crashing over the falls our journey does not end here. We might get separated and meet back up later. Our legs will get stronger, molecules rearranged, new friendships formed, laugher shared as we trek slowly along.

This is how I will remember the 100 Mile Wilderness.

Now there’s only 100 miles 21 more times. Hike on.

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