On September 25, 2016 at 5:45AM before the sun had risen I made my solitary ascent up Mount Katahdin, the final and foremost mountain of the Appalachian trail, the northern terminus. Once I stood upon the peak of this beast of a mountain my journey of over two thousand miles spanning the course of over 5 months would come to an end. Could this be real? Did I really hike that far? Did I really do all those things? HOW? These are questions that still to this day rack my brain constantly to this day.
I pushed hard into the cold morning up Katahdin hoping for good weather and sunlight. As I began to make the ascent of this 4000ft climb, I was excited and tired and cold and confused. Prior to this day, I had pushed a viciously hard week through the 100 mile wilderness. I left Monson, the last town before the end, doing a 25 mile day, then a 22, then 38, following a 26, putting me right at the base of Katahdin. I felt like a zombie walking along with no understanding of what I was doing the night before this insane climb. I was absolutely beat, physically and mentally I was done. I left my friends behind in my final push understanding that it was time to finish this beast of a journey I had started and to finish it strong.
I hiked and hiked this never-ending climb and as I started to get above the tree line I noticed the weather getting much colder, and the wind gusts increasing without as I left the protection of the trees. I broke out of the trees completely and realized I was completely in a cloud and that this hike was getting much more difficult than expected. I started having to climb up and over these massive rock boulders. It was fun at first. I had always heard Katahdin was a challenging climb but took that challenge with excitement, until it got colder. Much much colder.
As I made my way up and over boulders, climbing up the jagged side of Katahdin I start to become weary of the intense wind and the lessening protection I have against it. I would not lie to you that I have never experienced such strong winds in my life. I cannot say for certain how fast the wind was blowing that morning but I do know Katahdin typically sustains 45mph winds near the summit and the Park Ranger had let me know it was going to be a particularly windy day. Along such intense winds I start noticing that the rocks I am scrambling over have Ice on them. ICE. I figured I must be near the top so I did not think much of the worsening conditions. Unfortunately I was nowhere near the top.
The wind seemed to only get worse and so did the ice. With these icy, windy conditions, I started to get extremely cold and my pace up the mountain was slowing as I battled these elements. I stopped behind a rock to add another layer to warm myself. I had to put dirty socks on my hands as they were going numb and I did not have gloves with me. I took out my phone to try to take pictures yet my phone shut off due to the cold. I was able to snap some photos with my camera but it was with great difficulty as my hands were growing increasingly numb. I kept on, excited and focused, up the mountain.
On top of Katahdin there is a flat area nearly a mile long before the final summit called The Tableland. As I reached The Tableland I found a sign which I couldn’t read because it had so much frost on it (Photo Shown Below). I found it hard to keep my composure on this flat land because the wind was throwing me around so much and the rocks were slick with ice. The icy wind scolded me and realized I needed to put on pants. I could spare this ridiculous detail, but all I was wearing at this point was tights and my junk was so cold I was cupping it with my hand to try to warm it up. I finally stopped and difficulty put on an extra pair of tights and my shorts. It is extremely difficult to do anything while it is so cold, and so windy, so this was not an easy task to do.
I began to feel fearful of my hike. It was one of the few times in my hike where I felt like I was falling apart and in a way felt like I had put myself in danger. I did not expect the extreme cold and wind I was going to experience along with the intensity of the climb. I couldn’t even drink water because my water bottle had completely frozen. Here I was, on the cusp of victory, after pushing one of the hardest weeks and I felt like the trail was literally giving me all it had. I pushed hard, I was going to make it to that sign if it killed me.
I kept my head down and mostly covered as I slowly and carefully made the ascent up the final peak on Katahdin. After what felt like a lifetime I looked up and saw in the mist, THAT SIGN. The sign that has been on my mind every single solitary day since I began this hike. THAT sign that everyone knows. THAT sign that is the final marking for the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. I made it to THAT sign, in the windy, cold, frozen wasteland that was this mountain, after beginning my hike all the way from Georgia, a short 5 and a half months ago.
Upon catching the first glimpse of that sign I completely lost everything. Every emotion, every feeling, every experience that led up to this monumental moment came pouring out of me vigorously in a way I never expected. Tears bursted out of my eyes as I hiked the final steps to touch THAT dear sign. In solitude I kneeled before that sign and uncontrollably let it all out, I let out a scream at the top of my lungs. Everything that it took to get me here I let it all out. I was alone on Katahdin. I had won. I was standing atop the mountain that gave me its all but I fought back harder and I won. At that moment I became an Appalachian Trail thru hiker. At that moment, I was finished.