7/22/16 – 5 miles – Summit Day
After a restless night at the Birches we woke thankfully, to no rain. We fumbled around and made our way to the Ranger Station to drop off the gear we weren’t taking up. With a queasiness in my stomach, I signed the register and turned toward the unknown blackness that was the trail to the summit.
There were five of us The Spaniard, Apogee, Plyo, me and Darwin. We had made the decision the night before we would all stay together. The two different rangers that delivered warnings of severe weather forecasted for today encouraged us to stay at the Birches and summit tomorrow. If we had to summit today we were advised to get up early. We of course went for the second option.
I took the lead in effort to set a pace everyone could stick with. As we started climbing weather worries and the anxiousness to summit swarmed me. Somewhere along the line I kicked on the burners and when I looked back behind me I only saw two head lamps; we had lost Apogee and Plyo.
I continued on not knowing how far back they were or if they had decided to turn back altogether. We popped out of tree line hitting the first rock scramble and were greeted with a blast of wind and sprinkles; a reminder we were racing a storm. The Spaniard went up first finding the blazes amongst the boulders that directed us. I have not accepted much help from others along the entire trail making sure to rely on my own strength however today I accepted every hand The Spaniard lent out and every push Darwin gave. I had to get up this mountain before the storm hit and I wasn’t going to make it without help.
We topped the hand over hand section of climbing and hit a somewhat flatter section presenting more of a hopscotch slip in slide challenge. We glanced back to see the sun coming up and enjoyed the view for a second before heading back against the wind. We continued on a short distance before stopping to put on our warm layers. The temperature was rapidly dropping and the sprinkles were coming down more consistently. The Spaniard still kept the lead, Darwin followed and I tried my best to keep up. The wind was so strong at times I would be swept to the side of my intended route unable to keep my balance other times I leaned my whole body into it trying to push on. I could only occasionally glance up to from my feet squinting in the rain to make sure I could still see Darwin’s Orange rain-jacket. He caught my eyes once and pointed ahead, the sign was close.
I felt a rush of relief, the sun was up but you couldn’t really tell due to the grey clouds that had closed in on us. The wind continued to grow stronger and the sprinkles had developed into rain that felt like needles on my face. The sign looked like a toothpick but it was close enough to make out its profile; it was smaller than I had imagined. As we closed in the sign it never really seemed to get bigger. Soon it became clear, this was a mile marker sign; we still had two miles to go. My heart dropped and I felt sick. Weather conditions were only getting worse. I didn’t want to say it out loud but I wanted to turn back. All the alarm bells were going off, we were taking a big risk out here.
Darwin looked at me then looked at The Spaniard up head of us, then back to me. We were in the Table Lands. The rangers had told us about this point last night. If we couldn’t see the actual sign from here we were instructed to turn back. If we continued and the weather was bad we would put ourselves at extreme risk of exposure; we were pretty much moving lighting rods at this point. All these thoughts silently passed between us as our eyes were locked on each other. Darwin then turned away from me and towards where the sign was supposed to be and I followed.
I was terrified. It felt that we had covered so much ground but yet we still were so far away, how can this be? I thought of my family at home, Bowie, Roub and all our friends that had sumitted last year, would they have continued on? My eyes filled with tears I wanted to finish but was it worth it to put myself in this much danger to do so? Even if we made it to the sign we would still have to turn back to come down. I wanted to finish, to be done with this stupid trail. With every step I came closer to finishing but farther away from the safety of treeline. I understand now why people risk even death when close to finishing a goal they have lived and breathed for years. It’s so hard to turn away when you are so close to finishing. To fail at sumitting again, when we were this close seemed worth the risk.
The Spaniard hollered something. I looked up, and behind him I could faintly make out the sign, this time the right one. As we came closer, it got bigger. The Spaniard and Darwin motioned for me to lead, to be the first to summit. I moved as fast as I could up the rocky trail. The wind continued to toss me around to and fro but the rain had subsided for the moment. With a final push I arrived at its side and came around to its front. Not even really taking it in, I slapped its face. I wanted it to know my fear, my strength, to know I had finally defeated it. I slapped it hard and turned away getting a good look at the black clouds around me. I turned then to face it. Soaked with sweat and rain, the wind chilling my bones I took it in. “Katahdin, you big bastard you.” I finally made it.