AT Thru-Hike, Maine [2] 1997

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(190) Saturday, September 27, 8:00PM

A perfect day, absolutely perfect. Mark beat me out of the tent this morning ensuring a reasonable starting time. Throughout the day there was nary a cloud in the sky as we enjoyed a crisp cool fall day. The wind was light and the sun was bright.

We reached the summit of Moxie Bald Mtn. before noon and enjoyed spectacular clear views in all directions. The fall colors were more prevalent now, and they burned brilliantly before the beaming sun. We spent a very long lunch break sheltered from the wind in a granite depression. The sight was intoxicating, and neither of us had reached our limit.

We finally moved on down from our last mountain together and reached Bald Mountain Pond below. We both agreed that the pond was a cliche in its perfection. The clear blue water reflecting the trees and mountains above it...just could not have been improved upon. Another long break was required to properly enjoy this gift of beauty.

The trail then became very level and quite a bit easier as we began our final long stretch toward Monson. We should arrive there sometime tomorrow afternoon. It will be hard to improve upon today’s experience.

My cold has finally grabbed full hold of me. I slept very poorly last night as significant deep congestion kept waking me. The pain in my throat and overall congestion are near worrisome. Even these conditions couldn't diminish the outstanding hike today. I think I will take Monday off in Monson to try to help break this cold. I think I can afford to give up the day, and the rest can't hurt as I prepare for The Hundred Mile Wilderness. Tomorrow's hike is more fairly level terrain, so I won't need a lot of energy to make it to town.

10.9 Miles Today, 2031.8 MTD

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Moxi Bald Mtn.--Mark and I camped down on the edge of Moxie Pond the previous night Directly behind Mark is Pleasant Pond Mtn. Farther back to the left are the Bigelows.
Mark and Joe.
Joe (Bigfoot).


(191) Sunday, September 28

Another absolutely perfect day. I sure hope I get a day like this for my summit of Katahdin. I slept a bit better last night, though my cold is at full strength now. There was ice on some of my gear this morning, and it was still very cold as we started our day. The hike today was a breeze with very little elevation change as we walked along the Piscataquis River. One of the river crossings today was aided by a well-constructed beaver dam. Mark and I just carefully walked across the top of the dam.

We took a lazy lunch on the bank of Hebron Lake just a few miles from our destination in Monson. It gave us a chance to reflect on how perfect this section was that Mark chose to hike. He got to enjoy two mountain top summits, one of them a bald; several picture perfect ponds; a lake; river walks; stream crossings; and absolutely perfect weather as well.

I'm taking tomorrow off to give my cold a break and prepare for the very last section ahead, The Hundred Mile Wilderness. The Hundred Mile Wilderness is the last section of Trail before reaching the Baxter State Park. It is the most remote section of the AT and is the longest section without a road crossing. It'll all be over soon enough.

13.9 Miles Today, 2044.7 MTD

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Piscataquis River--Mark crossing a beaver dam. These beaver dams were impressively sturdy.


(192) Monday, September 29

Zero-mile day. I thanked Mark for his companionship and watched him leave on his way back to Charleston, SC.


(193) Tuesday, September 30, 4:30PM

This cold is really bringing me down. I had a pleasant off day at Shaw's in Monson yesterday and slept well last night, but I'm still thick in the middle of this cold. I just couldn't cover my planned miles today. I have plenty of time so I'm not going to worry about it.

I'm in a shelter right now and am staying for the night. The trail this afternoon included two stream crossings. Each of them required full feet immersion. There was no way to rock-hop across them. The first one was Little Wilson Stream. I took my socks off and removed my insoles, then crossed in just my boots. As soon as I crossed I got out of my boots and poured the water out of them before it was absorbed. The method worked pretty well so I did the same when I crossed the Big Wilson. The Big Wilson Stream was much wider so my boots absorbed a lot of water before I even got half way across. They are now very wet, and thus my socks and insoles are wet too.

I had asked another hiker (Sourwood) to meet me at the crossing so that we could take each other's pictures. I got tired of waiting for him and crossed without him. He arrived right as I reached the other side. I was drying my boots off as I watched him cross. He removed his boots and tied them to the outside of his pack so that he could cross in his sandals. He got about half way across when the sandals lost their grip on the slippery rocks, and down he went. He thrashed about until he could get his pack off and stand upright, then he dragged his pack behind him as he finished fording the stream. He had a good attitude about it all, but he was totally soaked. I'm glad we hadn't exchanged cameras since mine would have gotten wet in his possession.

Right now everyone is busy getting a fire going so that they can dry out everything that got wet during the crossing. Sourwood wasn't the only stream casualty, but he was the one that I got to watch. I'm not going through as much trouble since we have two more streams to ford tomorrow. Anyway, my boots dry best while I'm wearing them. The trail is so sloppy that I'm sure my feet will be wet more often than dry.

The Little Wilson Stream created a splendid waterfall before I crossed it. It's supposed to be the largest fall on the AT.

There were scattered showers throughout the day with fairly warm temperatures, but it should get cool again tonight as a high pressure front brings in some clearer cooler weather.

10.4 Miles Today, 2055.1 MTD

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Monson--The last respite before entering The 100-mile Wilderness and finishing the trip. Shaw's Boarding House is a legend on the trail, having served over 20,000 hikers in the past 20 years.
I had caught a very bad cold and would struggle with this illness through to the end of the hike.
Little Wilson Falls--A dark rainy day in "The 100-mile Wilderness."


(194) Wednesday, October 1, 8:00PM

Another cozy night in my tent, though it is barely standing due to the poor tent sites near this shelter. I slept very well last night and woke without feeling very congested, but my nose began running again as soon as I started moving . . . and it's been running all day.

I pushed hard today in my damp boots until I reached another stream to ford in the late morning. It was knee deep water, and afterwards I again pushed hard, but this time in spongy wet boots. The day was much cooler than yesterday as I experienced intermittent snow flurries. The wind kept blowing and there was only a rare dash of sunshine throughout the day. I kept moving all day so that my soaking feet wouldn't get too cold. I was grateful, though for only having wet feet. Another hiker, Earth Surfer (part of the Swiss Family) was wading across the stream and decided to throw his pack to shore for better balance. His pack bounced off of the shore right back into the water. He got wet chasing it, and most everything inside of it got wet. He's been battling hypothermia all day as he rushed to keep up with the Swiss Family and build a fire at the shelter tonight.

I met another couple here at camp tonight that had thru-hiked the AT last year . . . or at least nearly thru-hiked. Last year they were on their second day in the 100-mile Wilderness at the last stream crossing. He arrived first and went ahead with the ford. While waiting for her he thought he would make the crossing easier by throwing more boulders in the stream. He slipped and fell while handling a boulder and the boulder landed on his hand, severely crushing it. That ended their hike for the year, now they're back to finally finish the AT.

I don't know what it is about being close to the end, but it seems like a lot of people left their brains in NH. I've heard of several idiotic moves by hikers that put the remainder of their trip in unnecessary jeopardy. I'm just trying to keep it one day at a time.

Fall seems to be in full swing if measured by the colors of the trees. Even in the unfriendly weather the views were magnificent. I just had to keep on moving. According to my map information I have another knee-deep stream to ford tomorrow morning. I would love to treat my feet to dry socks in the morning, but what's the point of putting on dry socks if they too will be wet in four miles? I'll make that choice in the morning. Right now I just want to get some sleep and enjoy the fact that I only have 88.5 miles remaining, and that my overweight pack gets a little lighter after every meal.

15.6 Miles Today, 2071.7 MTD

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Barren Chairback Range--More cold and wet...and beautiful!


(195) Thursday, October 2, 6:00PM

It's a cold day today. There was snow all about me when I woke and I'm now camped just below the aptly named White Cap Mtn. Last night's campsite was near the end of the Barren Chairback Range, and by tomorrow morning I'll be down from White Cap leaving mostly low and level trail until Katahdin. I'm looking forward to that.

I had to ford Pleasant River's West Branch this morning. I really didn't want to soak my boots once again since it was getting so cold. I put dry socks on this morning and my feet were really enjoying the comfort. I have a serious outbreak of some foot fungus on both feet from all the wet trail in Maine. Anyway, I wanted to get across the river while keeping my boots dry, so I went barefoot. This was brave for me because my feet are so tender to begin with. The additional weight of my pack and the rocky bottom made it a painful crossing. The water never rose much past my knees, but it was a wide and cold river. As my feet began to numb from the cold water, I started having trouble feeling around for safe footing on the slippery rocks. I persevered with concentration and made it across without mishap. I was glad I chose that method, as painful as it was. It means more to me to have dry feet right now.

As I was nearing camp tonight I got my second glimpse of Katahdin. It was hard to know for sure since so much of the mountain was shrouded in clouds, but being the largest thing on the horizon removed any doubt. The visible base of the mountain was streaked white with ice and snow. I don't think they let anybody climb it today after the icy snowfall from last night. There are some warming days coming this weekend, so hopefully I'll get a good day to climb next week.

I now have only 76.8 miles remaining. It still hasn't sunk in yet that this journey is ending. I'm wanting it to end, but each day of hiking doesn't really feel any different. I'm still busting my butt with exertion each day out here. Perhaps it would feel a little different if I wasn't struggling so much with my cold. My nose is still running like crazy and I barely have a voice, but I'm sleeping well and my legs still work. The journey continues.

11.7 Miles Today, 2083.4 MTD

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Barren Chairback Range--That cloud touching the ground in the left photo is actually a snow squall.


(196) Friday, October 3, 8:00PM

Another night in my tent, now with only 59.7 miles remaining. I awoke this morning with frost all around on the mountain. I made the three remaining ascents of the White Cap range by mid morning. The nice, partially-obstructed view I had of Katahdin on the first ascent was gone by the time I reached the tallest final summit of White Cap. Snow began falling and Katahdin was mostly hidden by clouds.

I made it down from the higher elevations to be met with easy trail. I mean easy level cruising trail. Much of what remains up to Katahdin supposedly meets this description. It felt great to stretch my legs and cover miles with ease. This experience has let me plan on my final summit being Tuesday. I have to pull three full days of hiking to reach the base camp Monday afternoon, but it looks pretty possible with this terrain. Only four more days to finish!!

My voice is pretty much gone as my cold continues through its cycle. My nose ran just a little bit less today, but it was less. My throat is still raw as I continue using my lozenges. As long as my legs work and I can breathe, then I'll keep on walking.

A new condition has slowly developed over time, peaking this morning. I have what appears to be a severe outbreak of foot fungus on the tops of both my feet. An ex-soldier told me it was jungle rot, and gave me some medicated powder to treat it. I've had the condition ever since entering Maine, but it never got out of control until recently. The wet trail in Maine has made it difficult to keep my feet very dry, and the several stream crossings of late just aggravated it more. I'm doing my best not to scratch my feet. They are inflamed and burning, but this will all end soon.

I had another stream to ford this afternoon, but there were enough rocks to hop across it. This would have been fine, but I slipped and fell halfway into the stream. It could have been a lot worse, but I moved quickly to prevent anything from really getting soaked. The event was just one of those little reminders that this trip ain't over yet.

17.1 Miles Today, 2100.5 MTD

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White Cap Mtn.--This was the last real summit before reaching Baxter State Park and climbing Mt. Katahdin.
Another snowy view of Mt. Katahdin, getting closer and closer. Due to poor weather the next 3 days, I would not see KAtahdin again until I crossed Abol bridge into Baxter State Park.


(197) Saturday, October 4, 8:30PM

My throat is still raw and my nose is still running, but I can breathe and walk, so the hike continues. I got an early start this morning at 7:30 to get a jump on this long day. There had been trail-talk the last two days about trail magic occurring at Antler camp site. I thus set my sights there and cruised the eight miles there by 10:00. The trail was gravy to let me walk so fast. There were indeed trail angels at Antler called Manna From Heaven. It was their tenth year of canoeing in a weeks worth of food to feed the hikers. They choose a different week every year, and this year's week ends tomorrow, so lucky me. I really pigged-out. I spent two solid hours there eating the whole time. I'm glad I did, because I needed all that fuel to get me through the day. The trail got progressively more difficult as the day went on.

I'm 38.2 miles from the end. That's just three more days, only two toting my pack. I'll be about three miles from exiting the wilderness by the time I finish tomorrow. It's all so close now.

21.5 Miles Today, 2122 MTD


(198) Sunday, October 5, 7:30PM

I could repeat the opening to yesterday's log entry . . . I just keep on walking. I spent a night in a shelter with a hiker last night while we defended our food against the most acrobatic mice on the trail. These mice were immune to all the usual mouse-proof devices. Fortunately for me, they harassed the other hiker's food more than mine.

There was also a very active bat patrolling the area last night. It was a large gray bat that enjoyed playing chicken with us as we moved about doing our evening activities. The bat would fly directly into our faces/heads and pull out at the last possible moment. We were both impressed and annoyed with the flying display.

I awoke to rain today, and it fell all morning. The trail was soaked and so was I. It was a very demanding trail today, though there was very little elevation change. I was very glad to finally finish the day and get out of my wet clothes and boots. I was also pleased to see that my foot fungus had not been aggravated by today's dampness. In fact the use of the foot powder has already helped to clear up most of the condition. I was nearly elated by this discovery tonight.

Today was my last extra-effort day. I only have 18.6 miles remaining over the next two days. Tomorrow will be the last day that I have to carry my pack. It's all finally coming to an end. I heard from a south-bound hiker that Katahdin has been closed for the past several days from the ice, but they expect to open it tomorrow. Good timing for me; the backed-up group of hikers can summit tomorrow and be out of my way for my summit the following day.

19.6 Miles Today, 2141.6 MTD


(199) Monday, October 6, 8:30PM

I'm in my all too familiar tent for the last time on this Katahdin Eve. I have 5.2 miles remaining to the summit, and then the same distance back down to finish this trip. Good fortune is again on my side. I started my hike out of The Wilderness this morning in a little drizzle, but it soon began to warm and clear as the day turned nearly perfect. I later came to learn that today is the first day the mountain has been open since last Tuesday. The five days that it was closed due to two feet of ice and snow caused nearly fifty thru-hikers to be backed up waiting to summit. Some defied the park rules and summitted while it was closed. Others ran out of time and had to leave without summitting. Me, I got here at the most perfect campsite this afternoon right in the path of the descending crowd while enjoying a perfect view of the mountain. I got to see hikers I hadn't seen in a very long time, like Footprints, and many others that I got to congratulate. Tomorrow will be less crowded, but more special for me. It is actually supposed to be even better weather tomorrow.

My cold is not improving; I'm very disappointed to say. I feel very weak and was coughing up blood several times this morning. For my own health I need to finish this constant expenditure of energy and let my body heal. My daypack is ready, and I will climb tomorrow!!!

I've been giving some thought to the overall experience these past few days, and feel that I should have something substantial to say. The truth is that I group my thru-hike together with a lot of other questionable events in my life. This group of events shares the characteristic that if I had any of them to do over again in my life . . . I probably wouldn't, yet I credit them in a large part for making me who I am, and for that I have no regrets. I'm very happy with the person I am, and much of my development grew out of the harder lessons that I learned doing things that I don't want to do again. My thru-hike has been very special and I'll remember it forever, but I would have liked to have enjoyed it more while doing it. I sought adventure, and found it. I also sought enjoyment, but that was often much harder to find. I've been enriched and stretched, and have grown in ways that I'm sure I don't even recognize. I'll just take more pains planning my next adventure to ensure that having fun is a higher quotient.

I don't really think that it has hit me yet that this is almost over. I know how much I want it to be over, but the reality of the closure as yet eludes me. Perhaps it will be clearer tomorrow, or perhaps I won't understand it until I've spent a week at home being a couch potato. Few things in my life will ever reach the magnitude of this undertaking, and I'm sure that the depth of that understanding will be accompanied by some strong emotions . . . all in good time.

13.4 Miles Today, 2155.0 MTD

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Mt. Katahdin--This is one of my favorite shots as I crossed the Penobscot River.
Mt. Katahdin from Katahdin Stream Campground.


(200) Tuesday, October 7, 8:00PM

It's all over!! I finished the hike. It hasn't really sunk in yet, but I'm celebrating with a Chinese dinner here in Millinocket. I still feel very sick, but I'll finally get to recover.

I didn't get much sleep last night; something to do with the upcoming ending. I finally gave up trying to sleep at 5:00AM. I fired up my stove and made my last trail breakfast, and then I thoroughly began preparing for the hike to the summit. I had my daypack ready and hit the trailhead at 6:50, the first to sign in for the day's summit.

The skies were perfectly clear and the temperature was reasonably moderate, but oh how the wind blew. It blew all night at the base of the mountain so it must have been blowing hard on the summit. I climbed with apprehension as the wind continued to gain intensity as I gained elevation. I reached tree-line just past 8:30 with 2.4 miles remaining above tree-line to the summit. I began the initial steep climb up to the steel assist bars where I was being blown about like a kite. I was terrified as I stopped and crouched in a crevice out of the wind to contemplate my circumstances.

I sat there feeling the cold wind chill on my bare legs and asked God to reveal his intentions for me this day. I so badly wanted to finish this hike today, but more than that I wanted to live to hike another day. I decided to sit and wait to see if God would calm the wind or make more hikers appear. This waiting only lasted ten minutes as I felt my joints get very stiff in the cold. Dejected, I began my descent to the protection below tree-line.

I had walked back down for about ten minutes when I ran into two other thru-hikers, Soul Traveler and Moses. For real: Moses! I took this as a sign from God. Moses was gung ho and energized. I explained the dangerous conditions above tree-line and they both proceeded to discover for themselves. Soul Traveler reached the point above tree-line that scared me, and immediately turned around unwilling to continue. She proved to be the wisest of us all. I had hiked briefly before with Moses, and knew him to be a strong and steady hiker. I told him that my biggest fear was going ahead alone. I assured him that if he was willing to test the wind above tree-line, then I would follow him. I also warned him that I was far below 100% in my current sickly condition. With eyes open and risks understood we wrestled ahead into the wind's wrath.

I've been sailing in conditions where the wind speed was measured at 50 mph. This wind on the mountain was a good deal stronger exhibited by its frequent ability to simply lift our bodies from the trail. I estimated these gusts at 80 mph or more as the wind sheared up from the west side of the mountain across the ridge-line trail.

The wind roared like a hurricane, making communication near impossible; especially with my impaired hearing and voice loss from my illness. I would cross my hands to signal a time-out each time I needed a rest. I would then catch up to Moses and we would duck behind a boulder out of the full force of the wind. The cold was hard for me to breathe and I just couldn't climb as fast as him in my depleted health. We continued this way carefully all the way up to the Tableland. This refers to a more level 1.5 mile section leading to the summit. There were no boulders behind which we could rest in this highly exposed area, but we could now see the summit luring us ahead. The risk of being blown off of the mountain was now mostly removed on the Tableland, it was merely about staying on our feet and moving forward. I frequently had to stop, crouch down and curl myself into a ball on the ground to catch my breath. The dry wind was drying out my contacts and its severity kept threatening to rip my rain jacket apart.

Moses and I pushed on finally reaching the 5267' summit of Katahdin Peak just before 10:30. Much of the final stretch was done on all fours as we tried to keep our body as close to ground level as possible. I was totally spent and could hardly breathe by the time I finally put my hands on the sign. I felt partly robbed of the joy of summiting, knowing that a very challenging descent was still ahead. The views were breathtaking as the sky was still completely clear for as far as the eye could see. We managed to exchange pictures and eat a little food as we enjoyed our summit as best we could. Twenty minutes was all we could tolerate as the wind chill was numbing our extremities. By 10:45 we were already beginning our intimidating descent.

I led on the descent as agreed so that he wouldn't get too far ahead. I moved more steadily coming down since I didn't have to breathe as hard. We were also aided by what was now a tail wind. We both took a spill coming down across the Tableland. A gust had lifted me up and was quickly pushing me to the edge. I had no choice but to kick my legs up and let gravity finally drop me to the ground. It was painful as I severely bruised a bone in my hand, but at least I had succeeded in stopping my body. Moses got blown to the ground, severely bloodying his knee. He was temporarily incapacitated, but later regained movement, albeit painful.

As we finally reached the edge of the Tableland to begin the treacherous descent back down to tree-line, we both agreed that the wind had lost at least a bit of its intensity. This was also evident by the sight of other thru-hikers just now approaching the Tableland on their way to the summit. They had all waited for the wind to ease a bit. Moses and I continued a very concentrated descent, but clearly enjoyed a lesser level of fear now.

The hard part was over as we finally reached tree-line and cruised down the remaining miles to the trailhead. We finished at 1:30 and immediately began separate plans for how to get out of the park and on to Millinocket. We congratulated each other one last time and said our good-byes. Only five other thru-hikers made the summit today, all of them several hours after Moses and I did. I will remember this day and those feelings for a long time. It's not exactly the summit I had imagined, but in many ways it was unbeatable. I never permitted myself to contemplate the emotions of finishing while I was on the mountain. I was just too focused on my very survival to consider such lofty impressions. I'll have the rest of my life now to carry out those contemplations.

It's all over, and I'm relieved. I can now focus on getting myself back in good health. Well fed as I am now, the next priority is sleep, of which I have had very little over the past three nights. I'll say an extra special prayer of gratitude tonight as I continue to recognize my good fortune. And thanks to all of those in my life and along the way that made this possible.

5.2 Miles Today, 2160.2 MTD

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SUMMIT DAY!!--A view of The Owl Peak on the way up the mountain in the very early morning. The winds were gusting up to 80 mph!
Looking south.
Looking west.
My summit companion was Moses. He is pointing at the summit on the far right nearly 3 miles away.
The wind gusted up from the left creating a strong wind shear as we meandered up along the Nose.


At this point I am officially finished with the 2160.2 mile AT, but I still have to hike back down from the summit.

Moses looking out at the Knife's Edge Trail to the north. It was too dangerous in these heavy winds to use this descent route.
This basin to the west is formed by the Knife's Edge Trail coming down from the right.
This plateau is called the Tableland. The trail is visible. There was no protection from the wind for the mile and a half across this section.
Looking back down the Nose to the south.
Looking down on Owl Peak to the southwest.
Braced against the wind while coming down the mountain.
Katahdin Stream Falls in the background; one tired finished hiker in the the grace of God!!

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