Today’s blog is from Eric Chen, a rising 8th grader and member of Troop 507. Thank you Eric for being a part of this weekend and taking on the challenge of Mt. Katahdin for me!
So, my pack is full and ready to go, and we’ve registered at the trailhead. We are going on a 10 hour, 13 mile hike to the summit of Mount Katahdin. It is the tallest mountain in Maine, at 5,267 feet. This is literally my first real mountain summit, so I’m really going big to start off my hiking career. I also haven’t exercised in a while, so we’ll see how this turns out. We are doing this hike for one of our Boy Scout troop leaders, who was diagnosed with ALS in October of 2016. He is hiking the last 600 miles of the trail, from Massachusetts to Maine to raise awareness and funding for a cure for ALS. I am so excited to have this opportunity!
The first hour comes fine. The trail hasn’t gotten too steep yet, and my stamina holds up. It’s still warm enough not to wear any other layers, but I can tell it won’t be like this for long. Here’s our trail profile:
At the start of this hour, the only difference from the first hour is that there are many more larger rocks to climb over. I have already gone through half a bottle of water out of three full ones, but I think I should be okay for now.
Now the trail starts to be much rougher. It’s kind of like stairs, except each stair is tilted and three feet high. My dad didn’t have a pair of hiking shoes, so thank goodness he got a pair last minute. Without hiking shoes, your ankles would really get it.
The road is very difficult now, and involves you using everything you can, arms, legs, hips to get over some obstacles. We have already passed the treeline, but it isn’t a particularly sunny day, so the sun isn’t the most of our worries. I have already gotten a cut and reopened one of my other cuts, but there’s only a little bit of blood. But the view, wow! We are eye to eye with the clouds, with rays of sunlight searching for a gap in them to shine on the ground below. Our group, which consists of nine people, is separating slowly, the stronger climbers going ahead and the rest staying with the group. I’m kind of in the middle. I haven’t had anything to eat yet since the start, which is surprising considering I usually eat a lot of snacks even when I’m not exercising. Well, not a lot, but more than nothing.
Now the real risk kicks in. One bad move and you’re over the edge. It’s gotten so bad that they had to put some iron bars to use as foot holds. I have already had to get help from others to pull me up some of the boulders since I’m not tall enough. I am actually more nervous about falling at this point than anything else. But it’s still amazing. I didn’t think this is what I signed up for. I thought it was going to be a much much smoother climb, but instead, I get this:
And that isn’t even close to the worst of it. I don’t know why I even thought that this would be easy. We are summiting a mountain, not a stepstool! My backpack is also really starting to get in the way. Every time I lean forwards to grab onto a handhold it falls over my shoulders and covers my eyes, which isn’t good if you like seeing.
Also, since we are in the clouds we can’t really see where we are going. Like, we can see about up to 50 feet away, but nothing else, so we have no idea what is to come later on. All we know is that we are going to hit a tabletop region soon, which is flat, hence the name “tabletop”. Afterwards, it’s just another scramble up to the summit! We are so close!
We finally make it to the summit! Honestly, I was expecting a little more than what we got. It was quite anticlimactic, for me at least. I think it is partly because we could barely see anything because of the clouds. It is basically a blizzard, but with water vapor. We don’t have a real lunch, so we snack on some stuff that we brought. I was hiding behind a rock to get shelter from the wind. The wind is actually the thing making it cold and unbearable. Without it, I think I would have been fine with just my sweatshirt.
So, after we finish taking a bunch of pictures and stuff, my dad and I go back to clean up our trash, and that’s when things get messed up. Apparently, the group forgot to do a headcount before they left, so my dad and I were left at the top of the mountain. We figure out eventually that they had already left, so we went back along the path that we came to find them, or so we, or I, thought. The fog was blurring my vision, so in the distance, I thought I see a silhouette of one of our group members. I don’t even stop to check which path it was leading us down, I just went. So, my dad and I stay on this path for a while, and I soon feel that something is wrong. The path is different than our previous one, and there was a large boulder that definitely was not there before. It is now that I knew for sure that we went the wrong way. First, I tell my dad. We have a couple choices. One, keep heading down the path that we were on and have them pick us up when we get to the bottom. Two, return to the summit and go down the other trail. Or three, go on a side trail that would eventually intersect with the trail we were supposed to be on. We choose to go back, since we had only gone half a mile down the wrong path, I felt like that was the best choice. I really didn’t want to risk going down this trail, because I had no idea what we would be in for.
I was really feeling the nerves then. I knew we weren’t, but I felt as if we were completely lost. The wind and fog definitely helped set the scene. I actually got to the point where I was reassuring myself by trying to make myself laugh. Anyone up for some Bear Grylls commentating?
We finally make it back to the top. The whole thing only took us about 30 minutes, the down and back. I felt really guilty about leading us into this mess, and mad at myself for not checking the trail sign before we left. At least we were on the right trail now.
20 minutes after leaving the summit for the second time, we meet a woman that had seen our group pass. They must have told her about us missing because she asks us if we were Max and Eric, then proceeds to tell us where our group was waiting. We thank her, and I finally felt that weight come off my shoulders. At least we were heading the right way.
Meeting back up with them was the most awkward. They tell us that people told them that we were on the Knife Edge. Ohh! So that’s what the Knife Edge was! Apparently, if we had gone further down the trail it would have looked like this:
Good thing we didn’t go down that way.
Hour 7 – 9:
There’s honestly not much to say about going down. It was certainly hard, and the front of my shoes kept bending my toenails back, but it’s hard to describe the process of going down. Well, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, right?
The last hour was most definitely the hardest hour, for me anyway. We came down the mountain a different way we did when we went up, so when we got to the base, we were still two miles away from where we parked our cars. Those two miles were the fall of me. At first, I am glad that we had some flat road we could walk on. It felt like a bunch of rubber bands had been squeezing your legs, but now they were finally being released. Halfway into the walk, I am starting to feel more of a burn in my feet, but it was still tolerable. The last quarter mile was like if I dunked my feet in a bucket of tacks. I don’t even know why they hurt so much. I couldn’t really limp either because both feet were hurt, so that would make no sense. I was actually on the verge of just sitting down on the gravel road to rest.
When we finally made it to the cars, I was so frustrated at the pain that I immediately threw my stuff in the car and took off everything surrounding my feet. This was definitely a challenging experience, one that involved patience, strength, teamwork, and quite a lot of encouragement. It really opened my eyes to the persistence and determination of the hiking community, and even more so to everybody that’s helped Rick and followed him on this journey. Just thinking about what I just did really puts all the other times I complained that my leg hurt, or my foot hurt to shame. The Walk for Hunger doesn’t even look so intimidating anymore. This might even kickstart a hiking tradition for me, but we’ll see about that.
Of course, lastly I would like to congratulate Rick for completing this journey. The patience and determination needed to finish this task is basically immeasurable, but you did it.
I would also like to thank everybody for giving me this opportunity and helping me throughout the whole climb. Thank you all!