Summit day had arrived. The Birches campsite lay quiet and still in the shadows of the dawn light. We were exhausted, nervous, energized and a little disoriented all wrapped up in the neat package of our regenerated trail selves. We were thru-hiking; we were thru-hikers. We stood at the bottom of a pinnacle of the Appalachian Trail, yet this was neither the beginning nor the end for us. However, it still felt surreal. This was a big day. We packed up our packs which had our gear and a days worth of snacks and water, so they were pretty light. And we did what we did every day, we started hiking.
A fog sat heavy over trail, and we couldn't see the sky. We had heard weather was moving in during the day so we wanted to get up as quick and as early as we could to miss it. Trail led us through the campground where very little stirred. We were the only ones up and ready from the look of it. So we followed the white blazes into the corridor of conifers and rock. Trail didn't start to climb right away. We knew that the climbing would come. We had 4000 feet of climbing and as the mileage ticked down, we knew that the elevation would come. A bridge led us across Katahdin stream and then just like that we started climbing. Large boulders decorated trail. Tree line grew shorter and the trees began to be more worn down by the wind. Clouds still surrounded us but as the trail climbed up and up, we began to emerge. We emerged from the darkness; we emerged into the light. We emerged as the same; we emerged as different. We were above the clouds felling the euphoria pump through our veins. We put out poles away and took to the earth with our hands. In the distance, the rounded top of Owl Peak poked up from the milky white clouds. The sun was still cast behind the silhouette of Katahdin. We climbed and climbed pushing ourselves forward and pulling ourselves up. Trusting small foot holds with our weight and the rubber of our shoes. Following the white blazes up and up towards the top of Hunts Peak. This was the steepest part of the climb. We were practically rock climbing. Hand over hand.
As the large boulders became a field of smaller boulders we climbed up and over to the Gateway. Trail followed the ridge line through the alpine. Thin rope and signs kept all
foot traffic to a narrow path. While it is hardy, the alpine is fragile. Enduring relentless exposure to the sun, wind and cold is an adaptable trait. Withstanding the scruff of boots, however, is not. One more push upwards and the sign came into view. The Sign. The sign that reads ‘Katahdin The Northern Terminus of The Appalachian Trail’. We have seen many friends stand on top of the wooden step celebrating success and strength. Today we would to the sign celebrating our own journey. The sun was out but clouds still stretched below as far as the eye could see. There were only a few day hikers up top. The wind was low. The sun warm. It was perfect. Our weather window was too good not to go down the Knife Edge. With the little service we had, we called Wild Bill to let him know that we would now be coming out at Roaring Brook Campground. And then it was time.
As we dropped below Katahdin’s peak clouds rolled over covering the trail behind us. In front of us, our path was clear yet trail itself was camouflaged against the rocks. The bends in the ridge lay as organically as a piece of yard dropped on the ground. The sheerness of the cliffs on either side left the serpentine line snaking through the clouds. We followed the blue blazes up and down, a rollercoaster of rock. Cautious footing was food by maintaining momentum, which seems counterintuitive. We moved graciously, trusting our bodies to keep us up right and stable. We used our hands to propel us along. In some parts trail wound around rock and sometimes trail went up and over rocks. We heard a crack followed by a crash as rocks broke off and went tumbling down. We weren't in the line of danger but the sound made our hearts stop nonetheless. In the final part of the ridge before climbing up to Pamola Peak, we down climbed to a small saddle. The footing was tricky so we lowered ourselves carefully. We had the upper hand when we climbed up the other side. It's always a little easier climbing up rather than going down. This was the most technical part. We trusted our hands and our feet as we moved vertically on the rock.
At the signs for Pamola, we headed down the Helon-Taylor trail towards Roaring Brook. Trail was rocky and steep the entire way. Pamola behind us disappeared behind heavy clouds. We stayed just in front, our eyes on the speck of blue. Our knees were burning and achy. It seemed like trail went on forever, yet we moved without stopping or slowing. Once the rocky trail became soft pine, we almost hit a run. We were so close to seeing Wild Bill. And the excitement hit us hard. When trail hit the bank of Roaring Brook, it made a hard right turn down level trail. We walked up to a campground and then a parking lot. And just like that our day in the mountains had come to an end. Our feet were sore from the rocks and our knees stiff. That's when we saw a small black car with a Wild Bill shaped shadow in the drivers seat. His hand waved out of the window. We jumped in and drove over to pick up Milo from Katahdin Kritters. He seemed well-rested and happy to be back with the pack. Next up, Portland, Maine. We caught up with Wild Bill during the four hour car ride. He had now been a part of all three hikes for Garbelly.