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That was all it took, my parents would summit Mt. Katahdin with me to end my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. To say my parents were prepared for what I was about to put them through would not be accurate. They had all the proper supplies, they were ready for the cold that would inevitably meet us at the summit, they had trekking poles, snacks and water. What they did not have was the actual description of what the 5.4 mile ascent and 4.4 mile descent would have in store for them.
The Beginning is Deceptive
When you start the climb of Mt. Katahdin you are lured into a false sense of security. The first mile of trail is a somewhat straight forward ascent: the trail is mostly a well-used dirt path with the occasional rock or root popping up. At the beginning of the second mile we faced the first challenge or more appropriately the first warning of what was to come. We stood staring at the rushing river made more treacherous by the two inches of rain that had fallen the day before. Scoping out our route we removed our shoes. We ended up selecting a path comprised of mostly rock hopping with approximately eight feet of walking through the frigid turbulent water. I held my breath as I watched my mother plunge her bare feet into the water.
Don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall. I relaxed as my parents settled on the other bank. My turn.
The next mile of trail consisted of stairs and rock hopping over the rivulets of water running down the mountain. Still, the trail seemed it would be a cardiovascular exercise with forgiving terrain. That is when we ventured above tree line. We looked back over the valley at the breath taking views. We then slowly turned to see what would be our next three hours.
Had I failed to mention the two miles of straight bouldering? The next two miles would be hand over hand climbing, vertigo laced, steep technical hiking.
I lead as we started what would be the hardest part of the trek. The next two miles was strategic foot and hand placement with large vertical spans requiring a mix of pushing and pulling. Each one you needed to pause and consider where your body would end up, would there be a boulder where your head was going? These thoughts would become more and more important as the room for error shrank. A mistake was not a twisted ankle at this point it was a broken body part.
We approached a 90 degree, five foot tall rock wall with a crevasse down the center. At the top of the rock spanning the crevasse a foot long piece of rebar protruded. I walked up with my 30 pound pack on my back and attempted to lift myself. Nope. My adrenaline spiking, I looked at my dad and said “ I can’t do this with my pack on.” Once unencumbered, I was able to pull myself up to the slanted surface. Taking everyone’s packs I waited as my parents ambled up the anxiety producing sectio
Later my parents would describe this portion of trail with their thoughts “This is really hard, I am exhausted, I would not want to be doing anything else.”
The Last Mile
The last mile and half would prove to be significantly easier. The trail leveled out through a rocky plateau with nearly 360 degree views of the valleys around us. As we continued we looked out over the seemingly endless cloud tops engulfing the sky below us.
Being up this high always makes me feel small in the best possible way. “How much further?” My exasperated mother asked. “.5 miles, up those rock stairs” .5 miles that is how close I was to completing my 2,192 mile, 6 month journey.
It still hadn’t sank in. As we approached the famous summit sign I didn’t know what to feel. I looked at my parents as I reached out to touch the end.
“I can’t believe I did it” as tears started streaming down my face.
“ I can’t believe it.” We sat down and I grabbed out my much anticipated watchmacallit candy bar. “Mom I still have that letter you gave me that I wasn’t allowed to open unless I felt like quitting. Can I open it now?”