Day 180 – 5.1 miles to Baxter Peak, Mount Katahdin at 2189.1. The End.

An epic final day, summitting Katahdin and rescuing a stranded hiker.


My alarm woke me at 5am and I set about getting ready in the dark using my phone light as usual. I knew I would be starting the hike in the dark so last night I had put my headtorch in the tent pocket to be handy, not a place it not normally resides. After hiking for several months you can’t help but develop incredibly refined habits and practices to be efficient. So my brain forgot the torch was in the tent as that required conscious thought not really possible at 5am. After completely packing up my tent I soon remembered. Sigh. I took all my gear over to the picnic pavilions to save further disturbance to Mercury and Minion (Stefan was already up and packing) and spent 15 minutes finding the darn torch in a comedic scene with the tent literally draped over my head and shoulders. By the time I was ready it was 5:50am and I set off. 10 minutes later it was light enough to stash my torch in a pocket. Hilarious.

The first mile of the 5 is super easy in the forest. The incline gradually increases until 2.8 miles in when you break above treeline and it becomes exposed technical climbing. I reached this point at 7:30 and marvelled at the incredible views that are quite literally left, right and centre.
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Now it was time to collapse the trekking poles and stash them in my pack. The next 0.7 miles could simply be described as “the difficult bit”. It’s a bit like Mahoosuc Notch, only vertical. Several sections use rebar (metal staples) to assist you and it’s best not to look out or down at any time. Trying to forget the consequences of falling I actually enjoyed the challenge at times and made good progress. I would not want to do this section if it was wet. Here is a comment on this section from a user of the Guthook app.
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After 3.5 miles I reached The Gateway when the trail flattens somewhat as it crosses The Tablelands for the final 1.6 miles, a rocky climb along a knife edge-like spine but it’s not dangerous in dry weather.
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Stefan caught me up at The Gateway and we hiked together towards the summit.
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We agreed that was the hardest two-mile section on the AT but now we could see the famous sign on Baxter Peak and we motored along the final stretch. Finally, at 9:20 on Day 180, after 2189.1 miles, I had reached the summit and the end of the trail.
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Alone at the top (a group had passed us earlier coming down having made it up there for sunrise) we took each other’s traditional summit sign photos.
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We then admired the views all around.
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Including the Knife Edge “trail”.
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Although it was a clear and sunny day the wind at the summit was strong and cold and after 45 minutes I was losing the feeling in my face so decided to say goodbye to Stefan and head back down. I returned to The Gateway, now passing hikers on their way up every few minutes, and took a left to take the Abol Trail.

This trail isn’t too far away from the Hunt trail so I could look to my right and see where I had climbed earlier.
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The initial descent was only slightly easier than the Hunt Trail and I made sure to take my time and concentrate on every step. Mercury had slipped on a gravelly bit and cut up his leg and indeed those nice-looking parts were really deceptively treacherous. After 30 minutes a group of 3 or 4 people crossed me, coming up, and one man told me they’d left one of their group lower down who had decided not to continue and were hoping “a crew” would be coming down that could escort her down. They said they were staying at Daicey Pond campsite which was not where I was headed – I didn’t know if the Abol Trail branched at some point. The whole interaction was weird for several reasons, not least that no-one else would likely be down from Baxter Peak for a long time as I was coming down so early (two other people coming up couldn’t believe I had already summited). Anyway, they were joking about my accent and laughing so I didn’t pay any of it much attention and continued down.

It was only about 10 minutes later that I found a lady sitting on a boulder who asked me if I could help her. She was having a minor anxiety attack and couldn’t face going either up or down. Tired legs and a loss of confidence had stranded her. Actually, her group (of cousins, I found out later) had stranded her. One of the rules of hiking is, “start as a group, finish as a group” but they clearly hadn’t read the rulebook. I said of course I would help and she asked if I had much experience. Smiling inwardly I replied, “I’ve never hiked this trail…but I did just complete the 2200 mile Appalachian Trail.”

This was sufficiently comforting so I carried her trekking poles (we were still some way away from tree line so they wouldn’t be useful for a while) and we set off, carefully descending one step and handhold at a time. I showed her some technical tips to hike safer and stayed right in front to catch her if she slipped or fell. But she was a good hiker, she just needed some help and confidence and to take her time, not always possible in a group.

Her name was Lydia, a former Air Force medic from Augusta, and this is her still above treeline – the steep view down is lost a bit in pictures but it’s an intimidating section.
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I noticed that it was about an hour after I met Lydia that another hiker came down so she could have been stuck there for a long time if I hadn’t come by. Once we got below treeline and could actually walk we were able to chat and relax more and we had a fun time together. At one point we passed a trail crew (most of the trail is new after being re-routed this summer due to a landslide) who told us they were relieved a helicopter was bringing water to their base camp as they are here for 18 days.
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We reached Abol Campground at 1:30pm and both used the outhouse with much relief. I still had to walk 2 miles back to Katahdin Stream Campground to get my pack and the only shuttle into the nearest town, Millinocket, which would leave at 3pm. But for a short while I hung out with her at the ranger station on some comfortable chairs and both of us enjoyed being done with our hikes. Lydia was a delightful hiking companion, it was an absolute pleasure to spend time with her and in many ways I’d found this episode more satisfying and meaningful than my earlier summit. (Also, being called a hero isn’t exactly unpleasant!)

Part way along the dirt road back to Katahdin a lady drove by and offered me a ride. She was on her way to meet her husband who had hiked the AT after leaving the military as part of the Warrior Hikes program. They would be seeing each other for the first time since March. This is a day and a place that regularly sees momentous stories.

I sorted out my pack, got the shuttle into Millinocket and checked into the Katahdin Inn motel. I took a pizza and a 6-pack of beer back to my room, put my feet up and reflected on the end of this adventure.

In this final week alone I hiked 120 miles and the iPhone Health app says I walked more than 320,000 steps.
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I hadn’t found the meaning of life, the universe and everything on this 16th September (I haven’t forgotten: 42) but I feel greatly enriched by the experience and highly privileged to have been able to embark and eventually complete the whole trail. It wasn’t exactly easy. I tried my very best to complete as pure a hike as possible.

I may even have learnt a few new things. I know that a “can do” attitude isn’t enough on this trail; you need a “will do” attitude. And while some people say that hiking the Appalachian Trail builds character, it does not. Hiking the Appalachian Trail reveals character.

I met some wonderful and inspirational people on this hike, both hikers and people around the trail. I found much to be encouraged by in many young Americans. Most people are kind, helpful, humble, generous and supportive. Maybe the AT, and the hiking community in general, has a higher concentration of such people but I doubt it. I think the trail just gives people the right situation to be able to express these qualities that exist in most.

I won’t do it again but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

55 thoughts on “Day 180 – 5.1 miles to Baxter Peak, Mount Katahdin at 2189.1. The End.

  1. congratulations. wow–your posts were so fun to read and the final ones–they really reminded me of my final AT days. bittersweet for sure. Really like what you wrote here

    :”And while some people say that hiking the Appalachian Trail builds character, it does not. Hiking the Appalachian Trail reveals character.”

    and “Maybe the AT, and the hiking community in general, has a higher concentration of such people but I doubt it. I think the trail just gives people the right situation to be able to express these qualities that exist in most.”

    Thanks Sparky–it was great meeting you in 2014. wondering–you won’t hike the AT again, you say–how about any other long distance trails?

    Cheers!,
    Birdy

    1. Bittersweet is indeed the word. I enjoyed the final few days but was also ready to be done. I’m not even going to think about another thru hike… at least not for a while! Couch-blazing for me for a bit!

  2. Dude – I find myself unfeasibly pleased to know you’ve not only made it but also joined the proudly-held hiker-in-shining-whatever brigade :)

    Thank you for posting every mile on here – loved “sharing” it all.

    Look forward to celebrating when you’re back :)

    P.S. Posting this from Alberta…there’s some pretty special hikes up here…just in case you feel the need to keep going ;)

  3. Thank you for this lovely thoughtful blog and for sharing the adventure of it all. Followed you last year and now. Got a little teary at this last post. Hurrah! (BTW I’m a random American hiker who’s done the JMT but not much else. Congrats!

  4. I can’t tell you how incredibly proud of you I am. You are a hero anyway in my eyes, but to not only finish this momentous achievement but to rescue a damsel in distress and to do it all with such insight and compassion. Incredible! Tirimisu for you Wednesday!

  5. I’m so excited for you and proud of you. I know firsthand how much planning, dedication and focus went into your achievement and how much you deserved it. You’re just knocked the entire All Blacks team down into second place of my hero list. You’re inspirational. X

    PS Save some of your mum’s tiramisu for me!

  6. Fantastic effort, its something you will reflect on the rest of your life. I have enjoyed reading your posts while sitting on the train going into London.

  7. Well done Sparky!
    I knew you was going to complete it this time, you had sufficient positive mental attitude. Looks like you met some good old, and young, hospitable yanks along the way. Hope to to see you back in the gym soon discussing your next adventure.
    PT Nick.

  8. look forward to hearing all about it when you’re back in London. Pop over to Victoria for a beer with me an Dom. Dom is buying.

    Well done!

  9. Having followed you last year and then throughout your journey this year I feel like we all know you. Congratulations on an amazing accomplishment but even more for being an awesome human. Happy Trails Sparky

  10. Congrats! I started following you on your first go, and I’m glad to see you at the finish! Well done. I’m glad you had a good experience. Cheers to many excellent adventures in your future!

  11. Yo bro, Absolutely brilliant ! So pleased for you that it all worked out so well – an amazing achievement. Steaks are on me when you get back – cant wait to hear it all first hand .

  12. Congratulations!
    I liked reading about your interaction with Tough Love… we hiked together for a bit outside of Hot Springs. He was an interesting dude…and a strong hiker!

  13. Congrats buddy and well deserved rest now. Those views at the top are amazing and the last two hundred miles have gone so fast!! Looking forward to hearing more about your adventure when you get back.

  14. Sparky! I’ve been hiking and knew you had to have finished this week. I was excited to get to town and read your final couple of days. Big smiles over here and I’m just so happy for you and that you were able to make this life experience happen. Your ending was just splendid as you deserve and I hope you print this and your 2014 journal out to have it as a keepsake. Blog2Print is what I use. Sending you a big hug and congrats!

  15. Hey Sparky! I’ve been followed your blogs from the outset and as a fellow Brit who has been dreaming of doing this remarkable hike for years now you have given me great insight into what to expect day after day. I expect you’ve a sadness it’s all over! I know I did when I hiked the SWCP. Best of luck chap. I’ll miss your blogs that’s for sure.

  16. Thanks for sharing your journey. I have enjoyed reading your blog and charting your progress. It has been one of the best walking blogs on the net. Well done for the blog and well done for the walking. Cheers

  17. Sparky! Congrats. I’ve also followed you from the beginning (as suggested from Wired). I’m so happy to have witnessed your resolve, and humor! The wit that comes through in your writing is masterful, and engaging. I have enjoyed it far beyond the expectations I placed upon a hiking blog. Thanks for your resiliency, and most of all, thanks for sharing it with us. Blogging daily is a lot of work, but know that it is much appreciated. We are all richer for having followed along your adventure!

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