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Starchild Summits Katahdin 9-1-13

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On Sun Sept 1st around noon Splash and I reached the northern terminus of the AT, the summit of Katahdin which translates to 'the Greatest Mountain' (from Penobscot tribe) and is the terminus for my thru hike. Katahdin does live up to being ‘the Greatest Mountain’ as it is the single greatest accent of the AT. My summit date was also very tied into the history and legends of this mountain, something I felt near the summit and also at a moment on the way down.
Leading up to this date, there are several viewpoints of Katahdin along the AT both after and in the 100 mile wilderness, places where one can preview the upcoming climb. During my trip however the mountain was shrouded in clouds to the point I could only see the base and at one viewpoint an unidentifiable upper section of the mountain was visible through the clouds. I didn't expect such clouds blocking my viewing this mountain and, as Starchild typically does, wondered what that meant for me. Why was the mountain being hidden from me? I pushed on and forward following the white blazes that have guided my trip so faithfully.

Hiking companion Splash offered to drive up the day before to join me on my summit date. So instead of staying on mountain at the AT thru hikers shelter I hitched a ride to the town of Millinocket to meet her and we both stayed in a hostel that night to return the next day for the summit hike. Going into town is a common option for thru hikers, especially coming out from the 100 mile wilderness, and needing a touch of civilization and resupply before heading onward, though not one I would have chosen if it was not for Splash coming up to meet me. Splash coming up also answered my question as how I was to get home from Maine.

The date for me to summit was to be the Sunday of labor day weekend, so not only was the park expected to be filled with visitors but this also is a day of a Native American pilgrimage - a whole section of the park reserved for members of this tribe. It was sure to be a busy weekend. Several thru hikers wanted to avoid this, and pushed ahead to summit on Friday, some tried but ended up summiting on Saturday, and others tried to push ahead and ended up on the summit on Sunday anyway. I was happy that my summit was falling naturally on this date and it seemed appropriate due to the significances of this day to the Native Americans of the area as this was a pilgrimage for me as well.

Katahdin is not a easy climb, it's the only continuous 4000+ foot ascent of the trail with some very rough sections of steep climbs. The first part of the climb was below the trees, and something fairly common in hiking up a mountain in terms of terrain. Then the trees started to slowly fade away and the rocky sections became more common, along with boulders and some iron rung 'ladders' that have been placed into the rock to make climbing easier, or perhaps possible. There were a few technical sections that Splash and I navigated through. In the distance was this accent up a 'spine', but it was also off to one side, I didn't expect the AT to go up that, but take an easier route. I was wrong about that and the trail swung over so we can climb up on this exposed traverse. At this point it was just something you accept and do - so we did and reached the summit plateau.

Once on the summit plateau an area known as Tableland opens up, a much flatter walk to the summit that is still a mile away. On the way up we passed and spoke to several thru hikers that we have hiked with on previous sections of the trail. They were on their way down and just summited and they wish us better views then they had and we would see them again either at the base or back in Milinocket. One hiker responded to the question ‘how does it feel? (to have just completed the AT)’ with the answer that he needs time to process it - an answer I can understand. As I approached the summit I did feel this sort of holy peace and comfort come over me which took me from the first sight of the summit area to touching the sign indicating "Katahdin - Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail". The end, beginning or something else to do? What did that mean? I was sure to get lots of pictures and enjoyed my time up there but also knew that we needed to continue.

For the year I was # 277 who summited Katahdin as a thru hiker as recorded by the state park. My summit date was very significant in multiple ways. As mentioned above, the date I summited is a day of a pilgrimage for the Native American tribe Penobscot. Members of this tribe make at least a 100 mile trek to a sub-peak of Katahdin, called Pomola (home of the storm god). Pomola lies across the knife's edge, a rough trail/rock scramble from the peak of Katahdin. Normally there is no reason for a AT thru hiker to traverse here as they typically need to return to their gear left at the base of Katahdin and Pomola brings one down to a different side of the mountain. Was I also to journey to this peak, to also partake of the Penobscot’s pilgrimage?

Weather was also with me and seemed to be helping me by opening up my journey. The clouds that shrouded the mountain and obscured my view of Katahdin, and covered the earlier hikers, now made an opening for me to travel through. There was a chance of rain and clouds were expected, but what I got was a surprising amount of sun which seemed to follow me and my hike. My section was somewhat cloud (fog) free for most of my trip, opening exactly on the section I was on, though most other thru hikers reported being clouded in that day including some as little as 30-60 minutes ahead of me.

What also opened up is the path over the knife's edge, This opening up happened it two ways, first the fog cleared revealing it's crystal clear beauty and at its end the sub-peak Pomola. But there was another opening up that happened in a different way. The Penobscot tribe’s pilgrimage closes down the south section of the park to the tribe only and AT thru hikers, Because of this Splash and I needed to use a shuttle as there was no parking available at the AT trailhead so we didn't need to return there after the summit of Katahdin, but could traverse the mountain to Pomola and down the other side.

So there seemed to be more to do, at least for me, to venture across the knife's edge to Pomola the Native American's storm god. The Knife's Edge is a very technical trail. What it is known for is a narrow path, perhaps 3-4 ft wide with a steep dropoff on either side where one may fall 100's of feet down the walls. Literally a pathway across the sky. That aspect of heights really didn't phase me, as I don't fear heights and 3-4 foot wide is certainly enough not to fall off. OK it did at times as the path was not flat either, but up/down and even sideways at points. But it was something easy to refocus on and even look over/down the canyon walls at the sheer beauty of the drop off.

The part that got to me most was a technical section of steep decent where one needs to hang one's ass over nothingness and go on faith that there is a good handhold that will get one's foot to a small rock 'platform'. I say hang one's ass over nothingness because that is so fitting both figuratively and literally - it is the maneuver that one needs to do to descend here. The handhold is not so much as a blind reach, and one can see other hikers/pilgramgers use it, but when it comes to move your hand from the comforting position and reach out for this unknown hold hanging over a pretty high exposure it does give one pause, Once committed the foot then needs to find that platform, which always seems not in the position you remember – but maybe just a bit further? I reach just a bit further, not there, must be up a bit - nope that was just wishful thinking, it's just a bit further then just the just a bit further. OK but this just a bit further now seems like another commitment, OK there it is, let me reposition my foot better, OK that part is over and I climb down. I also assist Splash who has smaller legs and shorter reach.

Now I ascend the last part, to Pamola and do so respectfully with the crowd of hikers and what I assume are some on their pilgrimage. I summit, touch the sign, take pictures and then Splash and I start down. I didn't feel anything from that one like I did at Katahdin till I looked back at the peak from a few hundred feet below and knew I left something behind, or something was taken from me. Not in a bad way, but like a burden was left - or a delivery was made that I was to make, and I got the message, 'go on your way Starchild, you have done well'.

As to what that was I'm not sure, I do expect to understand it more in time, and I do suspect that it was right and good. Splash and I descended, got a ride back to Millinocket and returned home the next day, also taking two other just completed thru hikers home along the way.

The question I am left with is ‘Where to next?’. My journey certainly didn’t end at Katahdin. That was immediately apparent when Pomola opened up after summiting Katahdin. I do believe that is a sign that my journey has just begun.
The Appalachian Trail stretches some 2185.9 miles from Georgia to Maine, but also the AT is a doorway, or gateway to a better life.

Peace and thanks


Appalachian Trail Class of 2013

Updated 09-19-2013 at 10:06 by Starchild

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  1. hikerboy57's Avatar
    What a wonderful way to begin your journey. Thank you for sharing that. Congratulations best of luck
  2. Gluefoot's Avatar
    Your right! Now it all begins!