September 26, 2015
We woke up early to a chill frosty morning, watching fog rise off the Penobscot River across from our shelter.
Today felt different from other hiking days. We finished the 100 Mile Wilderness yesterday and camped on the outskirts of Baxter State Park, home to Katahdin as well as some general ill will towards hikers. This isn’t strictly true and most of the park employees we interacted with were friendly, but the Park has some of the strictest and most snottily enforced regulations of the whole trail and in the past the Park manager has made rather negative comments about thru-hikers and darkly threatening things about kicking the A.T. out of the Park. We are the naughty neighborhood children that come along to spoil everyone else’s good fun.
Naturally, we don’t want to encourage that image and made sure to hike with respect to the park and its other visitors, which really is just the way we ordinarily hike. That didn’t stop us from making many snide jokes amongst ourselves.
Dealing with ‘The Birches’ is some of the funny thru-hiker business we encountered in the park. ‘The Birches’ is a campsite at the foot of Katahdin reserved for long-distance hikers. It’s the only place in the park you can stay without reservation, however, it is limited to 12 hikers on a first-come-first-serve basis. Rumor has it that any hikers who arrive after the 12 hiker maximum get sent 10 miles back to Abol Bridge.
The upshot of all this is basically a hiker competition. If there are more than 12 people planning to stay there, the fastest people win.
We didn’t think we would have any problems, but we hiked out early anyway, only after finishing our giant cups of hot coffee from the campstore, of course.
The 10 miles from Abol Bridge to The Birches were flat, easy and beautiful. The Park is really lovely and the trail crossed sparkling rivers and streams and wound around quiet, sunny ponds. Shortly after 11 we reached Katahdin Stream and the ranger station, registered, and dropped our packs off at the shelter.
We spent the rest of the day keeping warm in the sunshine and gazing up at Mt. Katahdin looming above. Having finally arrived all we could do was sit and wait, chatting with all the hikers returning from the top, excited and slightly somber, for most of them it marked the end of a long and all-consuming journey.
We went back to the shelter early and I lay bundled in my sleeping bag watching the light fade between the trees.
“This is one of the last night I’m going to fall asleep to this,” I thought, listening to the murmur of the other hikers and the crackling of a fire someone had started. The thought made me happy, relieved and terrifically grumpy. Ah well, transitions have a funny way of being like that.
Tomorrow we climb.
Today’s Miles: 9.9
Total Miles: 1,130.6 of 2,189.2