We made it: days 128-133

Day 128: Monson to Long Pond Stream, 14.3 miles
Day 129: Long Pond Stream to mile 2109, 19.3 miles
Day 130: mile 2109 to Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to, 21.1 miles
Day 131: Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to to Nahmakanta West Beach, 21 miles<span
Day 132: Nahmakanta West Beach to Abol Pines Campground, 23.6 miles
Day 133: Abol Pines Campground to Katahdin!, 14.7 miles

Total AT Miles Hiked: 2189.8       Miles left: 0!

IMG_9755We managed to sleep in until 6:20am at Shaw’s Hiker Hostel in Monson. We tend to not stay at hostels for a few reasons. Generally, we feel we get more value for our dollar spending our money in town on an inexpensive hotel versus two bunks or a private room in a hostel. In the hotel you always get your own room, a private bath, and usually it is clean and breakfast is provided the next day. At hostels private rooms rarely have their own bathroom, cleanliness is not guaranteed, and neither is breakfast. Most hotels we stay in are around $70-90 dollars on the trail, whereas for both of us to stay in a hostel it could range from $50-$80.

That being said, the rare hostel comes along that interests us, and Shaw’s in Monson is one of them. Monson doesn’t have any hotels, and we wanted to take a half day to prepare ourselves for the 100 Mile Wilderness. We had called the day ahead to reserve a private room, and they told us to just call from the trailhead when we arrived and they’d come pick us up. Sure enough, once we arrived and called, they were there to greet us in a few minutes. They offered us a complimentary soda or beer when we made it back to the hostel, and showed us around. While the room was basic (there was a bed, a fan, one chair, and blinds), it was clean. We were happiest of all with our decision at breakfast the next morning, where we had a full plate of eggs, home fries, bacon, and blueberry pancakes. Our coffee mugs stayed full, and once we were done we were shuttled back to the trail. After that it was into the 100 Mile Wilderness!

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Little Wilson Falls

We didn’t plan to go more than 15 miles, and the terrain wasn’t too challenging, so we took our time enjoying the day. We passed by Little Wilson Falls, and stopped for lunch with Ketchup soon after. Ketchup is the only person we met since day two that started the same day we did, and we only just met him a few days ago! Funny how the trail works. We had planned on going to a shelter, but less than a mile before we crossed Long Pond Stream and saw a nice campsite on its bank. We decided it would be better than the shelter, and settled in for the night exactly 100 miles from Katahdin.

In the morning, we geared up for the Chairback range with its various peaks: Barren, Fourth, Third, Columbus, and Chairback. It’s one of the more rugged parts of the 100 Mile Wilderness, but we are well acquainted with most of it as we used to live less than a mile from the trail here when we worked for the AMC in Maine. Despite our familiarity with the terrain, it still took a good effort on our part to traverse the ten miles or so of mountains and make it down to the Pleasant River by 5pm. We had hoped to make it 5 miles further, but about halfway to the shelter we found a quiet spot by a creek and decided that that seemed like a nice spot to end our day.

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Third Mountain

I was excited for day 130, because we were headed for Whitecap Mountain. It’s the last formidable peak heading north on the Appalachian Trail. While it’s not quite all downhill or flat to Katahdin from there, by AT standards it might as well be! I’ve been wanting to climb Whitecap since I worked at Little Lyford. From there to Whitecap is about a 30 mile hike, which I never had the chance to do before. The climb up to Whitecap involved three smaller peaks before finally reaching the summit. From there we could see Katahdin partially through the clouds, and the end of our hike seemed closer than ever. The rest of our day was downhill then flat, and we made it to Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to for the evening. It rained a few times that day, but never hard, and we didn’t mind with Katahdin being closer than ever!

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Katahdin through the clouds.

The next two days went by quickly. The terrain was relatively flat, and was filled with clear streams, lakes, and good weather. Although we didn’t have many vistas, we were so close to Katahdin (and its the highest point int Maine!) that we caught impressive views of it throughout our days from the shores of ponds, with the occasional loon calling in the background. One night we had a quiet spot on the lake of Nahmakanta to call home, and our last night we camped on the Penobscot; which seemed very appropriately Maine. This last campsite was at Abol Bridge, located just off a dirt road next to a small campground store and restaurant. We still had one more dinner in our bags to eat, but we celebrated making 23.5 miles by 5pm with a cold beer and poutine at the restaurant before heading to our spot on the Penobscot.

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Katahdin in the background, taken after we ate handfuls of wild blueberries. Maine!

The next morning we hiked into Baxter State Park, and traveled the 9.5 miles to the base of Katahdin. At this point, most northbound hikers choose to stay at The Birches (a $10/person area reserved for northbound hikers who have hiked at least the 100 Mile Wilderness), and then hike the 5.2 miles up (and then back down!) Katahdin the next day. Only 12 hikers are allowed to stay there a night, and there is a sign-in sheet just after the Abol Bridge so hikers know if the campsite will be full. Being that it was 6:30am when we passed by the sign-in, there were plenty of spots, but we felt confident that we could hike into the park, go up and down the mountain, and then find a ride into Millinocket before it became dark.

We made it to Katahdin Streams Campground around 10am, and took some time to register with the rangers and have a snack. After that, it was up the mountain. I had mixed feelings about finishing the trail atop of Katahdin. Unlike the PCT, where I had never been to the monument that sits at then order of Canada & the US marking the end of the PCT, I’ve been to the northern terminus of the AT. About four years ago Garrett and I hiked up Katahdin twice in one day, on our second “date.” We didn’t use the Hunt Trail, the route the AT uses, though. As a result, I was more excited about hiking the infamous Hunt Trail which the guide describes as “nearly technical,” than the actual summit itself. The trail didn’t disappoint. It started out gradually along Katahdin Stream, passed by a waterfall, and as it sloped up we seemed to quickly pop-up above treeline. From there we followed a spine of boulders, using our arms to pull us up and over stony obstacles, and taking in the breathtaking views of the surrounding area. 6243745872_IMG_3997Along the way we ran into some thru-hikers heading down who’d hiked into Baxter the night before. We congratulated each other, and scurried up to the tablelands where the trail levels out and it is just an easy one mile to the summit. We made it to the top, snapped a few photos, let it soak in and then headed the 5.2 miles back down. When we finished the PCT it really felt as if we had made it. We had our travel home after the trail all lined-up, and all that was left was to hike an easy 8 miles to the nearest road. The 5.2 miles down the Hunt Trail is anything but easy! All of those big boulders we had to pull ourselves up and over on the way up, we had to lower ourselves down. I was skeptical it would be easier than the way up, but Garrett assured me that it would be (and he was right!).  6243745872_IMG_4009

Once we arrived safely at the bottom of Katahdin, we got busy trying to get out of the park before dark. We waited on the road for about 15 minutes before the first car passed heading toward Millinocket, and they agreed to give us a ride to the gate as they were just going to a picnic area nearby. From there we walked about a mile before a pick-up truck full of people agreed to let us ride in the bed of the truck for the rest of the ride into Millinocket. They dropped us off on the outskirts of town, because in Maine you’re not allowed to ride in the bed of a pick-up truck (although you are allowed to ride a motorcycle without a helmet). Just as we were getting our bearings as to where we were, Terminator (another thru-hiker who had just finished, not the former governor of California or a futuristic cyborg) and his wife drove by and gave us a ride to the only open restaurant in town, as it was a Sunday. It was pizza, and it was delicious, and conveniently located next to a hotel. We checked-in, cleaned-up, and figured out how to get home the next day. Fortunately, it wasn’t too complicated; the hostel in town runs a daily shuttle to Medway 15 minutes away, where we were able to take a bus to Bangor, and then take another bus to the town next to where we live in Maine. Our friend Greg lives near the bus station, and he was able to give us a ride to Harpswell. We unpacked, and headed to our favorite lobster roll stand. Sitting there on the water eating lobster rolls and coleslaw was a great end to the day, it’s good to be home. We won’t be here for long though, we are taking off again in a week to visit our families and then we’re going to take advantage of the end of summer with a bit more backpacking. Apparently we haven’t had our fill, but first its time for some rest and beach going! More on where we’re going next, soon!

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waiting for a ride home

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