First order of business: go to the ranger station to check in. He gives us a number: Subaru and I are thru-hikers 406 and 407 this year. Looks like the weather could go either way today. There is a bit of cloud cover at the summit now; that could burn off in the late morning or stick around and generate precipitation. I guess we'll see.
We hit Katahdin Stream Trail a little after 7 am. The first mile or so is fairly easy; mild climb, mild rocks, mild roots. We cross a bridge, see that last privy on the trail (and I don't have to use it. *sigh*), and then the trail turns to follow alongside Katahdin Stream. We pass some pretty waterfalls, stop to take some pictures. We are leap frogging with a couple groups of day hikers, falling ahead or behind whenever we stop to take photos or have a snack.
Once we emerge above treeline, we see near vertical rock faces with meandering white blazes. This is not going to be an easy climb! We scramble up rock faces, hand over hand with our poles tucked in the packs. Sometimes it takes a few minutes of searching to see exactly what the intended route is; sometimes it looks near impossible until you look a little further to the right and --behold!-- a white blaze next to a crevasse that looks do-able.
We come to a section with a rebar handle built into the rock. The rebar is so far above my head, I need to step up onto a rock in a crack in the rock face in order to stand of tip-toes to barely grasp the rebar with my arms overhead. I have no idea how I'm going to get up. I back off, let Subaru go first. He grasps the rebar, doe a semi-chin up, and puts his foot up to shoulder level to place it on another small nub or rebar. From here, he is able to muscle up to the next level of rock face. Now it's my turn. It climb back up on the rock in the crack, stretch to grab the rebar, and place my other foot on the rock wall. By pushing backward, I'm able to lift my left foot off the rock, wedge it back into the crack a few feet higher, and then lift my right foot up to head level where I place it on the rebar nub. Now, between my hands on the rebar, my right foot on the rebar, and my left foot, which I have inched up the crack another foot or so, I can heave myself up, like performing a kip maneuver on the bars in gymnastics. I scramble up onto the rocks hands and knees, wondering how the heck I'm going to get back down.
The trail continues in this way, rock scrambles, crawling on my belly, grabbing onto rebar, searching for white blazes. The cloud cover continues, the temperature is in the low 60s. It's good weather for hiking. Not hot, but not wet, either.
After continuing in this fashion for 2 miles or so, we come to The Gateway: the terrain levels off and we once again are rock hopping through a stream bed. The clouds have gotten thicker here and we find ourselves in a dense fog, bordering on a light rain. We take out our rain jackets and continue on.
The last mile was not steep. It was not difficult. It was not treacherous. But it was long. We kept thinking "Oh, right over this ridge!" only to see another ridge ahead. Isn't that always the way? But gradually, eventually, finally, we saw that iconic sign marking the summit of Katahdin; the end of the Appalachian Trail.
Of course, we still had to get down.
I'm happy to report that unlike every other mountain on the trail, the descent from Katahdin was actually easier than the climb. It took just as long, but it wasn't as taxing. That rebar section? Way easier going down. Those sections where I cut through the trees on the way up? Could totally scramble down. I was using my arms just as much -- no, more -- than my legs. But it felt good. I felt strong. On the way down, I felt like I had accomplished something.
When we once again reached The Birches Campground, we were pleased to see that Funkytown had arrived! They were having a big cookout and invited us to come over and get some sausages and beer. They were going to summit tomorrow and guess who else? Roadrunner! He ended up at the campground one day after us. So we took a little time to hang out and eat and trade trail stories.
Back in Millenocket, we went to the cafe to sign the ceiling tile, grabbed some food to go, and hit the road for Massachusetts.