A glorious and surprising penultimate day.
It was only 4 miles to Hurd Brook Lean-To where I snacked and signed the register to indicate I had safely left the Wilderness, now only 4 miles away. Stefan caught up and passed on.
On the other side of the bridge is a store and a restaurant. We picked up 1 day of supplies and when the restaurant opened at 11am a bunch of hikers ordered our first proper food in a week. I had been fixated on a bacon double cheeseburger so was glad to see it was indeed available. I also got a pulled pork sandwich for eating tomorrow on the summit.
We covered the first 3.3 miles in just over an hour and took a long break by the impressive Big Niagara Falls, marvelling at the power of the water today and wondering what it would be like under non-drought conditions.
We still had no clear plan for where to spend the night so were nervous as we neared Katahdin Stream Campground at 4pm. We had wondered if Juergen would have taken the blue-blazed Blueberry Ledges Trail from Abol Campground, a big shortcut favoured by some of the other hikers that were there. There was no sign of Juergen as we crossed through the campground and approached the ranger station but suddenly someone inside called out, “Sparky!” and there was the grinning Mercury! He and Minion had summited earlier today and were camping here tonight as well before heading back to civilisation tomorrow. He kindly offered for me and Stefan to pitch in their site and out of nowhere the problem we’d worried about for days was solved. I was so happy I hugged him. Later the ranger Ed told us Juergen had called in to say he would arrive at 8pm, an hour after dark.
We set up and I prepared my day pack borrowed from the ranger station so I could leave my pack with them tomorrow. M&M gave us the inside skinny on the trail tomorrow and advised me to descend via the Abol Trail rather than come back down the AT on the Hunt Trail. It’s a bit safer and you get to do a loop rather than a simple out-and-back. Stefan intends to cross Knife Edge and hitch out from the other side of the park. I’ve already done that trail so doing the Abol Trail gives me a full set. We chatted around a campfire until dark.
The whole thing had worked out so well it was amazing. In fact the last days of the trail have gone so well I couldn’t have written a better story. Amazing campsites, beautiful scenery, fun hiking, great weather and perfect company. Even the weather forecast for tomorrow is literally perfect – 60s, clear and sunny. I am a blessed agnostic.
The plaque by our tent site, with words from Percival Baxter, summed up the significance of the moment perfectly.
“Man is born to die. His works are short-lived. Buildings crumble, monuments decay, and wealth vanishes, but Katahdin in all its glory forever shall remain the mountain of the people of Maine.”