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-Rayo, AT Class of 2012
(2184.2/0) Hiked 5.2 miles to Baxter Peak, Mt. Katahdin. MPD 16.06
The dragon has been slain. All morning a battle was fought in Baxter State Park in the center of Maine, and a victor stood victorious, and scantily clad, atop the conquered beast at 8:15am on this day Sunday the 29th of July, 2012.
The night prior was a difficult one to sleep. I found myself awake and alert several times during the night. My alarm, set for 4:30am, never sounded; I turned it off at 4:20am and unzipped my sleeping bag. I deflated my air mattress and began the arduous task of rolling it up for storage-something that I have perfected over the past four months. After packing away my sleeping bag, air mattress, clothing bag, and down jacket, I put on my shoes and retrieved my food bag from the nearby bear line.
After sitting back down on the bench at the edge of the lean-to, the uncomfortable pondering of breakfast grappled with my stomach. The hour reminded my of the day I left for Georgia and had gotten up at that hour to drive Angela to the airport. An exciting hour for what lies ahead, but a dormant hour it is: the thick dark blanket of night still pulled tight to the chin of life around me. I had planned, yes planned, an oatmeal care package for my stomach of grandest scale, but the whimpering and popping inside my abdomen protested and the call of my body was heeded: oatmeal discarded for a later date, and cheese danish devoured in its stead.
I ate the danish as I walked the lonely dirt road back to the ranger station, headlamp ablaze, poles tucked under arm and pace swift and agile as I avoided pot holes and larger rocks. I did this mechanically, my feet and my working in a harmony forged by miles and months of steady toil fended off and overcome with a growing sense of grace and confidence.
At the range station I passed the bridge over Katahdin stream and over to the small parking lot where I waited for Tuesday. One of the stipulations of Baxter State Park is that when I was donated to the state of Maine by its former Governor, he mandated that parking lots never exceed a certain size so as to limit the public impact on the land and its creatures. The lot held about 25 cars, and once full, people are turned away. As I waited in the lot, I emptied my bag completely and only put in what I would need for my summit attempt. I decided to carry few items: down jacket, rain jacket, winter hat, headlamp, water treatment, food bag, rain cover, and water bladder, paracord, first aid, pocket knife and trekking poles. (My camera always sat in my pant zipper pocket.) I popped two naproxen and started my morning stretches, bag ready-5:05am.
Tewzday rolled in at 5:15am and started duct taping his feet while I put my spare contents into his car. We started down the Hunt trail, the AT, at 5:39am. There are several trails that reach Baxter peak and they are all of different lengths and difficulty. The Hunt trail is the longest at 5.2 miles and half of this ascent is above free line requiring rock scrambling.
The first 1.4 miles lead from the campground to Katahdin Stream Falls. The water at this point is crystal clear and ice cold. A satisfying place to fill your water bottle and gaze upon the falls. There is also a privy some 200 feet to the right of the trail, the falls is to the left, and this is the last man-made toilet available.
After the falls, the trail toughens from gentle dirt and occasional root and pebble, to rock and tall rooted birches leaning over a tight rocky canal with a steady shallow stream. The hiking became a bit arduous at this point and the water made rock slippery, but I was mindful of this condition and adjust my pace and foot placement accordingly. The trail isn't very steep at this point it is still gaining momentum, like the twig stage of a fire, it was slowly growing in strength.
As I climbed onward my mind shifted from the morning excitement and goose-bumped skin, to a more serious and laser-like focus. I didn't think of much else but the climb itself as the rock and root would except nothing short of my full attention. As I broke free of this stage and advanced above free line, he views were so spectacular that aloud I spoke, "oh my god." Katahdin has several mountains extending off of it like a long, spiked tail. These, at first illuminated by the new day, were sheltered in the shadow of Katahdin as the early sun rose. These mountains to my east were no threat, the west however gaped wide for rainclouds to gallop in and shower the lands below. They seemed to be moving south and so I continued pushing upward hoping their course set and my return hike down, dry.
Above tree line was a sheer joy. It was my favorite of all climbs and not due to its finality. The climb reminded me of Dragon's Tooth and Lehigh Gap, neither of which truly resemble it in the flesh, more like distant cousins. Up to this point I had always used poles, well the poles were promptly sheathed as I worked my way up the giant boulders the size of mini vans. A few portions required rebar to aid hikers up and over taller boulders and the next mile resembled a jungle gym. It stretched long and tall up the mountain to a false peak. From the peak it extended upwards again with the jungle gym, until reaching the "Gateway" and "Tableland" as they are called.
Just before the false peak, the climbing was really fun. I pulled and pushed myself atop boulders slabs with rocky fingers, and slightly hunched over, I advanced skyward looking at the fleeing dark clouds to the west and the rocky peaks to the east. The Gateway proved to by just that, and the tone of the climb shifted instantly from serious to elated.
I smiled widely as I began the final 1.6 miles to the summit. I spoke out loud to myself, congratulating and wishing a happy finish. The terrain was still rocky, but there was life. The alpine zone has small plants that nestle close to the ground, some brooded by rock and tall root. The trail was line with twine for .5 miles or so, to keep hikers from beelining gayly to the peak, I'd assume.
The Henry David Thoreau spring, one mile from the peak, was nothing to speak of due to lack of rain or just a general lack of splendor, I hope the former. From here, knowing that after 2,183 miles, I had only one to go, was both comforting and exciting. The excitement truly grew as I climb the final steps to the rocky-ridged peak and wildly jumped over stones and dashed past blazes to the summit sign.
There were two thru-hikers up there and I was to be the happy third. I whooped loudly as I approached and once up to the sign, I embraced it fiercely rapping arms arms around it and pressing my face against the wood as of it would be blown from the mountain at any moment. I laughed and slapped the sign like it was an old war buddy and shook my head back and forth with a smile stretched from ear to ear.
Bobber and Hawk sat across from the sign, dazed and merry expressions pasted on their faces which were tucked in drawstring-tightened hoods. The wind and cold bad frosted over their hot muscles and they were beginning to feel the chill. They ate snacks and stomped their feet still cheerful, but very much aware of the cold wind. It was then that I stripped down and told them to snap my photo with the sign. The bought occurred to me as I walked the final mile. My body had done the work to get me to this point, why hide it behind gear that was replaced halfway or just recently acquired? I thought the idea a betrayal, and naked in the infamous Katahdin-Summit photo I must be. The existence of underwear is irrelevant at this point; I proudly recognized the feet and legs that did the walking and the chest beneath which lungs and heart worked at an epic rate. As skinny as a flagpole I extended my arms in proud resilient celebration of a war well won.
Afterward, the clothes were quickly picked up and put back on. The cold wind atop Katahdin is not to be mocked for long without stern consequence.
After a meditative 30 minutes hunkered down in my rain jacket, rain jacket and winter hat, eating granola bears and gabbing with the wind, Tuesday appeared on the final staircase. He showed signs of battle fatigue, what with blistered feet and battered shoulders, but it was scarcely there to detect. He as well was elated and very much appreciative of the sublimity of our present location. High fives were exchanged along with celebratory wishes. We took several pictures with three friends who were just arriving and then we all sat to gaze at the wonder and might of the surrounding region.
After a few hours we all started down the mountain. These were the first blazes that I met since graduation. I looked at the white rectangles the way a professional looks back at past teachers, a reverence that isn't mouthed, but softly cast with one's eyes. The descent took longer than the climb up, but it was filled with emotion. I was thrilled to have achieved my goal and beginning to ponder what my next adventure would be (I'm still pondering).
The car ride was slow and bumpy leaving Baxter. I had a slight headache from the sun and perhaps. It enough water, and my stomach was haranguing me for not feeding it enough. I motioned for Tuesday to make a stop at the Abol store and we pulled over for some body fuel. I ate several slices of pizza, two large cookies, another danish, and a Gatorade. To answer your question, No, I will Not continue to eat like this once home, but my body is still clamoring for calories and I best serve to listen. At nearly 155 lbs. I have some work to do to reclaim my 183 lb. physique. If you would like to send me protein-laden treats, I promise they won't go to waste.
The trip from Baxter took us through Millinocket and then to Bangor where I spent the night. Jean, a member of the AMC, who I met at Zealand Hut in the White mountains put me up for the night. She made chicken Marsala, fettucini, salad, blueberry pie and hard cider from Vermont. I ate till full and now plan to fall deeply, madly, and victoriously asleep.