Hiking Katahdin - aka "The Bear"
Check out our vlog on The Trek's YouTube channel about Katahdin and the 100 Mile Wilderness here!
At 4:50 a.m. the AT hiker we saw from the bus woke Mason and me up at the AT lodge. We headed to breakfast at the AT Lodge Cafe, where we received a massive breakfast of two eggs, two pieces of bacon, two sausage links, potatoes, and your choice of two pancakes or two pieces of a French toast. And holy cow was it delicious. We headed back to the Lodge, grabbed our packs and hit the road in the white van again, this time bound for the beginning of our AT thru-hike—Mount Katahdin. Ole Man gave us some trail spoilers on the way and said that the 100-Mile Wilderness is beautiful, almost like you’re on a different planet. Katahdin, however, is a “bear.” He said, “Katahdin is the hardest place to start the trail by far, but if you can do it, you can do the rest. The mountain will beat you down.” Oh great! When we reached Baxter State Park, our phones lost service, and signs at the park said “cell service is limited to nonexistent in the park.” The beginning. Ole Man dropped us off at a ranger station, wished us luck, and gave us one last piece of advice—he held out his fist to fist-bump us. “This is your new form of hello when you meet people. Only fists or elbows!” Oh yeah, hikers are not clean. Inside the ranger station, we dropped off our packs, picked out a slackpack from a pile of interesting smelling and semi-damp backpacks, filled our pack of choice with snacks, a water filter and bladder, first aid kits, and sunscreen, and headed for The Bear. The first two hours of the hike wasn’t too challenging—some steeper ups than we anticipated and a little more rocky and rooted, but hell, not nearly as bad as everyone said! Just before we hit the top of the treeline, we caught up to a group of hikers, in which was Brittany and her dad, Joe, who were from Tallahassee, FL, and we found out that Brittany graduated from Florida State University the same year as Mason and me. Small world! Brittany was just hiking Katahdin and the 100-Mile Wilderness with Joe, but Joe is going all the way southbound, just like us. We’re starting to make friends! Then we hit the rock scrambles. For those who don’t know, scrambles are sections of huge boulders, in this case twice the length of your body and triple the width, that you’re scaling as gingerly as possible while overlooking the edge, and I truly mean the edge, of the mountain. One wrong step and you’re done. There were metal bars drilled into the rocks in some places to help you up and give you something to hang onto for dear life, but for the most part, you’re climbing on light feet and a prayer. Terrifying, but thrilling and magnificently beautiful. Ole Man had told us that we’d hit a plateau after the rock scrambles and then it’d be smooth sailing to the top. We hit the top of the scrambles huffing and puffing and laid down on a rock at the beginning of the plateau to rest for a minute. After all, we were almost to the top, right?! Nope! After the scrambles we had another hour and a half of upward climbing on rocks. Every time we got up a set of rock steps and thought that was it, there was more. Billy Mays here with Mount Katahdin! Exhausted and think you’re done with your hike? BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!! The sun beat down on our necks and hands as we struggled to reach the top. Black flies just swarmed our exposed skin as our bug spray wore off and we spent each step swatting them out of our faces and trying not to suck them up with each massive inhale. Honestly, there were points where I thought, “Even if I make it up there, how the hell am I going to get down?!” I left Mason behind at one point because I had to keep a hefty pace to keep myself going and he was lagging a little. Finally I could see the sign at the summit and there’s no way I was going to summit without my partner, so I sat down on a rock and waited for him to come up over the rocks. As he got closer to where I was sitting he yelled, “Can’t stop! Gotta keep going!” I feel ya buddy. We held hands as we finished the last 200-foot climb and touched the sign at the summit and let out the obligatory celebratory whoop that we made it to the top. We climbed the bear! Surprisingly, the bugs were the worst at the summit—black flies, regular flies, beetles, these weird flying black bugs that looked like bees but weren’t. You name it, they were all over us. We ate lunch and stretched out our legs for about an hour before deciding to start the hike down. One of the gals we rode to Katahdin from the AT Lodge with was at the summit with us—Melissa—and we started the hike down at the same time. We stopped at a junction between where you can chose either Hunt Trail, the scary rock scramble trail we came up, or Abol Trail, a steeper but one mile shorter trail. We had asked some hikers who came up Abol how it was and they had said it wasn’t too bad, so we filtered some water at a spring and decided to try Abol Trail down. We were so thankful we made that decision. Abol Trail was very steep, but instead of having the large boulders you have to scale with your body close as possible to it, the boulders were smaller and jagged, so there were lots of good places to put our hands and feet to come on down. It felt MUCH safer than Hunt Trail, plus it was shorter! Win win! We chatted with Melissa the whole way down and we bonded over musical theater, chatted about our lives before the trail, and what our plans were moving forward. She’s an environmental scientist on a two and a half week hiking trip and was getting as much of the AT in as possible before heading back home. She’s a dancer with a huge personality, and she just bubbled with positivity. She could tell us what types of rocks we were climbing over, which plants we were passing, what type of bugs we were seeing. It was fascinating! We finally made it to the bottom of Katahdin after a ten-hour hike up and down, but Abol Trail lets out two miles from Katahdin Stream Campsite, where we were staying. As soon as we hit the bottom, we saw a car drive in to the Abol Campsite and I got my first experience asking for a hitch. A couple with lots of gear were in the car. I waved them down and asked if they’d mind giving us a lift to Katahdin Stream two miles down. The man driving replied, “Yeah, no problem! I totally get it, I’ve gotten hitches to Katahdin Stream before.” We got into camp and the other hiker from the bus was already there. He and Melissa hadn’t made campsite reservations, so we shared ours with them—after all, they sleep six people. We found put his name is Ray and he’s a wildfire fighter from North Carolina. And he was hilarious to talk to. He’s one of those people who is naturally funny but has no idea he’s funny. We cooked dinner in our camp stoves, pitched camp, filtered some water from the nearby stream, rinsed off our clothes, and hung them to dry before flopping down in our tent to sleep. We were pooped. It took us ten hours to get up and down Katahdin, and that was only day one. As we drifted to sleep, I thought about the 100-Mile Wilderness to come. I can do this, I thought, and fell asleep to the sound of Ray snoring in the tent next door.