Baxter Peak, Katahdin

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Sept 18 , 1983 Sunday (7.2 mtg) From Gonzo!s Appalachian Trail journal

Rich and I decided that if at all possible we would climb today - views or no views. If there were no views we could always climb again the next day. But climb today to finish.

We set off toward Katahdin Stream Campground following moose tracks in the moist trail as if the moose were going the same place that we were. We covered the two miles, partly on park road, to the ranger station very quickly, accelerated by our excitement to begin the ascent. At the rangers station we signed in and indicated our destination as Baxter Peak, shed our packs from our backs, and loaded our day packs. I had carried a day pack that was sent to me in Monson, while Rich borrowed one that had been left at the ranger's station. The ranger informed us that the day was categorized as a Class II day. He told us that it had snowed up on the summit last night, but had probably melted. Class two was better than I had expected, Class I being the ultimate day. The way the weather looked yesterday I expected worse. We noticed two other hikers had signed in before us, not necessarily thru-hikers.

The climb began. We reached Katahdin Stream Falls within a mile, stopped for a few photos, and were off again. I quickly outdistanced The Rock Hopper, and found myself alone during the final ascent. Being alone was sort of fitting, it had been a personal journey, and although I had begun as a member of a two-person team, the finish was all mine, the biggest thing that I had ever set out to do - and now seemed to be successful at accomplishing.

The climb steepened. Climbing 2000 feet in the next mile and a half through a succession of birch trees that slowly changed into evergreen forest whose trees gradually became shorter until I emerged from treeline and could only see clouds before me - no summit. About a mile of regular rock scrambling similar to that in the White Mountains began. As I made my way up the slope, the windward side of the ridge seemed to clear, while the clouds seemed to be materializing from the sharp edge of the ridge on the opposite side. Perhaps when I reached the top there would be no clouds.

One mile beyond, I reached an area known as "The Gateway." The going got a little tricky at this point. The boulders became much larger, and in order to follow the trail, iron handholds imbedded into the rocks had to be utilized to pull myself up and over the jumble of boulders. This area soon gave way to the "Tableland," a more level section, as the name implies, before the final mile of the trail, the ascent to Baxter Peak and the end of the Appalachian Trail. On the Tableland I could see no more than 15 yards into the thick cloud cover that hung in the air, and my hopes of having a view began to dwindle.

Suddenly a small hole appeared in the clouds before me and I saw a peak that I thought might be my destination. As quickly as it appeared, it disappeared, and the sky was full of grey again. The appearance of a hole in the blanket of gray provided some hope that I might get some views if I waited long enough. I knew I was getting close. Minutes later, I could just barely make out the summit marker as it grew more visible with every step that I took. The marker, weatherworn from exposure to the elements, became more visible as I approached. Finally, close enough, I reached out and touched it as if to proclaim "I have made it!" I had hiked the 2138 mile long Appalachian Trail! - "All In One Roll!" - End to end in one season!

I was at the top, by myself, in the fog.

The wind was strong, and the clouds continued to roll by. I got out a candy bar, nibbled on the sweetness, and began to wait for a clearing in the sky. I must have really blasted out in front of everyone that morning, as I sat on the summit by myself for almost forty-five minutes to an hour and still I was the only one there. I felt a sense of accomplishment, yet not as elated as one would expect. A lifestyle that I had grown to love, and a feeling of freedom that came along with it was about to come to an end. I had done something many people just dream about, yet now that I faced the reality of becoming a regular member of society, the thought of having done the trail becomes a dream, a dream that was real, yet now in the past.

I was at the top, by myself, in a fog.

After about forty-five minutes, the clouds miraculously began to dissipate and an opening appeared. Immense! What Grandeur! The view was breathtaking! The view back toward the Tableland, and in the other direction….the Knife Edge! The sharp dropoff was produced by glacial action during the ice age. With the help of the self timer on my camera, I took pictures of myself while sitting near the sign indicating Springer Mountain to be 2100 miles south. I made a toast to myself with my congratulatory A & W Rootbeer that I had carried 110 miles from Monson, Maine specifically for the occasion.

Suddenly other hikers began to arrive from many different trails. I asked one of them to take a photo with my camera of me standing proudly in victory at the summit. Later, Rich arrived, then mobs from other trails. I found it rather strange, but the first thing that they all did upon arriving was to stake out a spot and begin eating, just as I had. Butch and Rob eventually showed up with their one pack between the two, and I congratulated them on their accomplishment as I had for Rich earlier. Butch and Rob had started one month before I had started in Georgia.

The sky remained clear for quite a while as everyone ate.

The clouds began to drift back in and I decided to go back down … once again - by myself.

I stood at the summit, turned around, and faced the white blaze that had once been the last blaze of my journey. Now it had been transformed into the first blaze continuing my journey through life.

Ending thoughts and the journey home.

Gonzo! Appalachian Trail Journals ©1983

From the Beginning

For more information about other trails including the Appalachian Trail:

Peak to Peak Trail and Wilderness Links
Peak to Peak Trail and Wilderness Links