My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Appalachian Trail Memories: Old and New

Many years ago, maybe thirty, I spent several spring breaks hiking on the Appalachian Trail, mostly in Tennessee, but one year, we also hiked the beginning of the trail in Georgia. 

I have many wonderful memories of hikes with different friends and meetups with new people.

My first time, I learned how groups form and us vs. them happens. Three friends and I hiked for several days just after the park had started computer reservations. Through some glitch, they overbooked,  and we had more people in the shelters than there was room for - they had two rows of 6 bunks made of hardware cloth and logs and we all just slept next to each other. We had about three groups that ended up hiking together and were joined each evening by extra groups - either hiking in the opposite direction or hiking up from a side trail.  By the last evening, when we stopped in light snow, everyone took on a job -  all without any conversation - putting up tarps on the fenced side of the shelter, hauling in wood, sawing wood into fireplace-sized logs. We were joined by a thru-hiker and a pair of very high-tech, obnoxious guys from a side trail.  The thru-hiker was a quiet,  polite guy and we allowed him to share our fire.  The others?  Not so much.  They had to stay in their corner of the floor away from the fireplace and off the bunks which we had already taken. They were very much THEM and we didn't want them around.  And previously I would have thought we were all more civilized than that.

Another wonderful memory was of passing by a medium sized tree that had an oval hole in it, maybe eighteen inches wide by 28 inches long on a few minutes before we reached the shelter.  Scratches marked the tree up to the hole and from it came both the sounds of snoring and mewing.  I figured I was hearing a mother bear and her cubs.  I was glad she didn't wake up until after we left as her tree was only about one hundred yards from our shelter. I went back early the next morning to enjoy the sounds again.

And we had a wild, unexpected party in Georgia over one Thanksgiving weekend. We met up with a group of guys that had been camping together along the trail every year since college.  (They were probably in their late 30's at the time.) They had a support vehicle carried lots of food and booze plus marijuana. They came and invited us to share their fire. They made grape koolaid/vodka wine which they let age at least a minute before declaring, "no wine shall be served before its time.... IT'S TIME.

Many of them shared memories. One guy had gotten divorced because he never spent Thanksgiving with his family.  He remarried but made his new wife sign an agreement that he would always be able to go hiking with his buddies for Thanksgiving.

Another guy told of finding a female ranger swimming nude and joining her.

So when I got to Maine, I had dreams of hiking the last bit of the Appalachian Trail which ends on Baxter Peak of Kathalin Mountain right there in Baxter Park.

I got up at 3:30 AM, got dressed and packed the inside of my tent, then the tent. I was leaving camp just after 4:00 AM, in order to drive 1.5 hours to get to the day use area for the Appalachian Trail. It was still dark when I arrived - I can't believe how many minutes of light we are losing each day - and I was the first person in the lot. I thought about cooking breakfast and making coffee, but decided I'd wait until after hiking. As it started to get light, other cars started arriving.

Morning sky from the day use area 

I decided to go hiking around 6:00 AM and then saw I was supposed to walk to the ranger's station to register.  No one was there, so I just started hiking towards the trailhead and registered there. It was 6:30 when I got there.

Metal Plaque on a boulder in the parking lot

Sign at the Trailhead

The trail was very well maintained and was mostly flat and easy for the first little bit, although it is listed as strenuous. It traveled up along Katahdin Creek which tumbled over every larger rocks as I started the uphill climb. At a few places, I could walk down to the creek and take pictures of the large rocks and small waterfalls before getting back on the trail. 

View of the creek from the trail 

The trail is beautifully maintained

Even though a lot of it looks like this 

I was able to walk down to the creek to get this picture

I took this still pool with the lovely pattern of rocks from very near the bridge

Then I crossed the creek on a flat bridge with no sides, about fifteen feet above the creek before the path took such a sharp right over a huge boulder, that I lost it for a while and could only find the path to the restroom. Finally another pair of hikers came by and I followed them.

From this spot on, the trail traveled up almost continuously, either up rock steps of varying heights or just through medium to large boulders.  Almost immediately, I arrived at Katahdin Falls, which were amazing. Water fell over three levels and in different numbers of streams, from one to three.

This was the trail at the sharp left turn after it had gone up over slickrock

The falls were outstanding - and worth every bit of the hike

A closer view of the top level of the falls

The bottom of the falls

Then I hiked uphill until I was next to the highest level of the falls

One of the easy spots

I continued on up the trail and then got the reward of a wonderful view looking west.  I went on up a little more, then changed my plans to keep hiking until 9:30AM since I was going to have to climb back down the same, ever steeper and rockier route I was struggling up so I abandoned the hike at about two miles up. 

Some of view from lookout area above the falls

A closer look

The mist was rising into clouds

Going up - but at least it's steps

And up

The higher I climbed, the larger the boulders I had to climb over and through

I took this picture on the way down - the lichens looked like lace

There were several thru-hikers on the trail.  I asked one of them how long he had been hiking.  He had started in Georgia on April 1, 2016. Not bad for 2160 miles by foot. 

On the hike back, while dreaming of lunch in Millinocket, I realized that I had left my hammock at camp so had to drive back for it, then leave by the northern gate.  I ended up eating ice cream for breakfast and lunch, around 2:30 PM along with a cup of coffee from a gas station. 

Here is the advertisement for the trail.  Lots of rewards for the willing and able. Be sure and bring your hiking sticks. I needed them to boost myself up the taller steps and to catch myself on the way down.

Hunt Trail (Appalachian trail)
5.2 miles one-way Elevation gain 4,188 ft
The Hunt trail is one of the more popular trails to the summit of Katahdin. This is because of the outstanding features along the trail such as picturesque Katahdin Stream Falls, the Boulders on Hunt Spur, the traverse of the Tableland, and extensive views in all directions, as 2.4 miles of the trail is above tree line.
Difficulty level: Very Strenuous      Trailhead Parking lot: Katahdin Stream Campground

I'm playing with a friend in Acadia National Park.  We've already hiked, biked, and paddled and had a three rainbow day - without any rain. Stay tuned.