Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The First Days

Mt. Katahdin as seen from Abol Campground. Yeah...I took this picture!
Before I start, my Grandma celebrated her birthday last Thursday the 28th, so I just want to say: Happy Birthday Grandma! Sure hope we get to see you when we get to New York!

It was truly a great start to our hike, all troubles aside. Jess and I are still thrilled to be out here on this amazing adventure, and we've got the 100 mile wilderness under out belts! There's a ton to say (and a ton more I've forgotten, I'm sure) about the start of our hike, so I'm going to attempt to break it all down. I'm sure there will be some overlap too so forgive me, but it's all stuff we'll want to remember when we read this blog 20 years from now :)

Day 1: Getting to the Trail & Summiting Katahdin

Ole Man from the AT Lodge gave us the ride to the trail head at 6:30 in the morning. It was a little under an hour drive, mostly uneventful except for a fawn that got so startled when we came around a corner in the car that it actually skid on the dirt road before bolting into the forest. It gave all three of us a good laugh. When we arrived at the ranger station we unloaded our essentials and borrowed a couple of day packs they keep for hikers just like us. Nice to only carry about 10 pounds up the mountain rather than 50. Before we left the station the ranger inside told us, "If you hear thunder, just turn around..."

Our hike up was hot, super humid and very sunny. We had heard about hikers that had gotten some hospital-quality sun burns on the top so we were prepared. We weren't prepared for the climbing. There is a good section above treeline where the route requires hand over hand climbing, and in several spots iron rods have been planted in the rock to use as hand/foot holds. After all the climbing there's another 2 miles of decent enough incline and spots where the terrain flattens out. Those who know the mountain have a name for it, but I don't recall what it is.

When Jess and I got within a mile, and could see the famous sign at the top of the mountain, the thunder rang out. It was a good distance away, but we were told to turn back if we heard it. And we would have. But we were too close and didn't want to hike all the way back to the top. The decision was made to hustle up, take the pictures we needed to prove we were there, and hustle down. Also, like Jess said, we couldn't consider the 5 miles (and 2400 feet of elevation) we had just done as part of the AT. This was all approach trail.

Getting to the sign was so rewarding! We did the last quarter mile almost in the fog but it cleared a little as we got to the top, just enough to see how high we had climbed. Funny thing was we were still below Denver's elevation. But as the storms we were warned about were rapidly approaching, we had to snap some quick pics and hustle down.

The famous sign and the official start of our hike!

The climb down was heart pounding. The thunder was getting closer and closer and closer. Finally, right before we hit tree line (thankfully we were underneath huge boulders so we were no longer the tallest things around) a bolt of lightning hit behind us, so close we heard whatever it hit sizzling with the electricity. Too close. We've learned our lessons, though, and will be seeking tree line on every moody mountain we come to now. 

Then the rain started to fall, and pour. It was a very wet descent. Thankfully we had a lean-to that night, so we set the tent up inside of it as a bug screen, ate a good meal and quickly fell asleep.

Day 2 & 3: To Abol Campground and Our First Zero

The next day we were SORE. Katahdin kicked our butts. We felt like if we kept moving, we'd loosen up a bit. Not. We ended up hiking in the rain just about all day, but the trail at least was flat. It was a long day gone when we made it to the little store in front of Abol Campground. Ole Man told us we had to try the Whoopie Pies there, so we stopped in to grab them and a campsite. $10 got us a campsite, but upon discovering the menu on the wall, we quickly spent more for some hamburgers.

We got to our site and set our tent up in the rain, once again crawling in to fall asleep almost instantly. Gotta love the Big Agnes Q-Core mattress. The next day passed by fast, we knew we were leaving the next day and the weather seemed to finally be cooperating. We were still super stiff, but ate some good food at the store and kept walking around. We were even able to watch a bull moose eating in the lake as he passed through. Must've been 7 ft tall.

Now, though, for the scary part. We had discovered an electrical outlet in the bathrooms and gone back to charge our phones and cameras. This was about 9 o'clock. Near 10-ish I walked out of the men's bathroom over to the women's room too see if Jess had gone to bed. Thankfully, she had. I turned around to go back and grab my stuff when I heard a snort, and there about six feet in front of me was a black bear. Not sure how or why I didn't panic, but I looked at him and he at me, then I calmly walked back into the men's room. Adrenaline pumping, I told the other guy in the bathroom (a fellow SoBo named Yash who we met on Katahdin) there was a bear outside. We watched as the bear tore into the trash can guard, grabbed a regular size metal can and dragged it into the forest. Later that night, Yash who was camped next to us heard him going after our food bags. Our we tied "PCT style" in the tree (future thru-hikers-- learn this tactic!) and his was in an "Ursack" which is a type of bear proof bag. We found some teeth and claw marks on his bag the next morning, but it was otherwise undamaged. All of our food was fine.

Days 4-12: The 100 Mile Wilderness

The next few days were spent in pouring rain. I set the tent up and took it down in the rain. We got ready to hike and left our warm sleeping bags in the rain. Two hikers actually gave up, dumped there food in a pile at there campsite and turned around. 

The trail to White House Landing felt rough, it was flooded and muddy, but we didn't know anything yet. We hadn't really even gone up a mountain since Katahdin, and there were a few coming up. Thankfully, we got through the entirety of it with no major injuries and were feeling good now. Although, on day 10 my Katadyn Vario Water Filter quit working, even though I took it all apart and put it all back together in what seemed to be perfect condition. Then on day 11 my SteriPen stopped working too. It tells me that the bulb (which is supposed to last a very long time) needed to be replaced, and I had only treated maybe 50 liters with it. We were lucky enough to be able to rely on other hikers to get drinkable water. I was actually able to call my mom (thanks mom!!!!) from the top of Chairback Mountain to buy me replacements from REI and overnight them to us here in Monson, which I will be picking up tomorrow when the post office reopens. I'll be sending the broken ones back to her so that she can return them and get her money back. I really just love REI at moments like this. 

But to sum up the 100 Mile Wilderness, I'd have to say, kind of false advertisement. There's actually two hiker hostels inside the wilderness that will feed you, provide resupply and a place to stay for the night. There's a stream to ford near the southern end of the wilderness that is .2 miles away from a very busy parking lot where a hiker in trouble could find a ride to town if needed. But it's relatively easy as long as you're prepared. We were actually over prepared and sent a bunch of stuff to Caratunk from White House Landing.
Alas, I could write a ton more but it's getting late here. Our new bedtime is around 7 now and we wake up at 5 in the morning (even though the sun actually rises at 4:30 here). I have to say that we've met so many wonderful people, and everyone is so helpful and supportive. Yash is a good friend, and I'm sure will be down the trail. We also met a triple-crowner who is on the AT for his third time, although this time he's doing the International AT and started in Key West, Florida. There are too many others to list. But before I go I have to give a shout out to Rollie and Priscilla who rode with us from Bangor to Millinocket:

To Trail Blazer and Pokie Okie:
                Since White House Landing we had heard of a hiker that had become exhausted on Katahdin and had to be rescued on a stretcher from near tree line. We were so relieved to see your comment on our blog and finally know for certain that this wasn't either of you. It was tough to find our food drop and not see a bucket there for the two of you. 
                I'm sorry to here that you had given up after Katahdin, but that mountain was hard. Extremely hard, even for us and the 100 mile wilderness didn't get any easier. But don't hang up the boots yet! Head to Colorado, find the Wild Basin Trail Head and hike in to one of the campsites there. You'll need a permit from Rocky Mountain National Park, but it's worth it. The trails are excellent and maintained, and you'll still get beautiful views and the remote experience, especially if you can make it to the sites at Thunder Lakes, which if I remember is an 11 mile hike one way. Also while in Colorado get to Estes Park and hike in the national park, then drive over trail ridge road through the towns of Grand Lake, Granby and Winter Park. 
               We were sorry not to see you in the wilderness, but are glad you are both safe. Please email us if you would like any more suggestions of hikes or with any questions or comments as we continue on this journey. 
                                             Happy Trails! --Andy and Jess

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