Did I mention that I’m afraid of heights?
Today was the most terrifying, difficult voluntary thing I’ve ever forced myself to do one claw at a time. (Note: It’s only voluntary on the way up; once you’re up there, there’s no choice but to climb back down.) The Gateway section… a mile almost straight up. And not ‘fall a little bit’ up. This was freaking ‘fall to your death’ up. Rock climbing up. And that was sandwiched between two miles of rock scramble, some of it insanely steep.
I crawled today. A lot. I was too scared to stand up. And I came back down mostly on my tail (deliberately).
Still, l made good time: On the trail at 8:00 AM, reached the summit at 1:15, then checked back in at 6:30 PM. Nobody was passing anybody else today.
That mountain makes you work for it.
The weather was perfect, albeit ungodly hot. The storm god took a tribute in water. Hikers sprung leaks in water bottles, lost their caps, forgot to bring a water bottle. Me, at the beginning of the hard part… I was behind a day hiker (there were a lot of those), an elderly lady who looked as terrified as I was. There was a ledge, too high to climb, with a metal handle driven into the rock. She finally managed to get up onto the ledge and then it was my turn. The climb up had been difficult, but this defied logic. There was no physical way for a short person to get up that rock. Then I spotted the tiniest foothold. I tossed my pack up onto the ledge (a little daypack on loan from the ranger station) and got one foot on the metal bolt. The dayhiker said, “Do you need some help?” “No, thank you” I said. “I’m good.” And don’t you know, she grabbed my pack anyway? And dragged it out of my reach, which dislodged my water bottle and sent it halfway down the mountain. Disaster.
She said, “Oh, do you need to get that?” Wrong answer, lady! YOU needed to get that. But she didn’t offer, and I couldn’t figure out how to get down from the ledge. “I’ll get it on the way down,” I said.
And she reached for my pack again! I had visions of my poles going airborn. “It’s OK. Just leave it,” I said, directly. But I think she was running on adrenaline autopilot. I think she was beyond simple hearing.
I didn’t see her again. I don’t think she made it up. But now I had a big problem. I had only 24 ounces of water, and no extra bottle to carry more, all the way up. And today was hot. (Somebody else picked up the bottle. I’d have had an ongoing big problem if I hadn’t tossed a pair of 1-liter bladders into my pack on impulse. Those will get me to Monson.)
But I lived. I did drink 24 ounces of untreated spring water because the mountain kept blowing over my treatment drops and I was desperate. It’s probably OK, though. But some Aqua Mira was wasted, and now I’m concerned that I won’t have enough for the Hundred-Mile Wilderness. We’ll see.
I’m still shaking and aching. I had to put on a knee brace about halfway down. Every joint in my body is sore, and for the first time I have a little bit of jelly leg. And arm and wrist and elbow issues; I literally had to haul myself up the mountain, and my arms haven’t been getting any kind of workout.
But I climbed Katahdin. I did it! Scared shitless and crawling on my hands and knees, hugging rock faces and trying not to look down. 🙂
On the way back, a mile from my campsite in the darkening forest, I almost ran right into a deer. She was calmly walking across the trail and looked at me without even a hint of panic, not a flicker of tail. Stately. She was much calmer than the Shenandoah deer. After a minute, she just turned and sedately finished her crossing.
Now I’m alone in this shelter, for now, sleeping in my bug suit so I don’t get eaten alive. The bigs are fierce and terrible. They were bad even on the summit. And here where I’m sleeping (in the open air), there’s a creek 20 feet away. Mosquitoes. I have a bad bite on my right eye, same as before. What is it with the eyes? I have armor there!
I have the shelter for two nights. I’ll probably sleep as late as I can tomorrow (I’ve only been getting a few hours a night for the last few nights, and there were those long drives in there), then I’ll see how I feel in the morning. If I’m badly sore, I might rest here. If I’m not, I’ll get a late start and take a short day to ease back into it (which is ridiculous; I climbed Katahdin!).
Funny. NOBOs have to make the climb to finish. SOBOs have to make the climb to start. I flipped, so there’s no inherent reason to keep climbing. You have no idea how often I thought, “This is insane. I don’t mind being somebody who did the whole trail except for Katahdin.” But I did mind, I minded a lot, so I forced myself up another six inches, climbed another boulder, and didn’t look at anything but the rock under my fingers. Which had a deathgrip.
And so it begins. Hiking home!
By the way… that Katahdin sign? Huge! Much bigger than I’d imagined. Or maybe it just seemed that way because the climb was so hard.