Wednesday, September 28, 2011

We made it!

After 169 days of hiking (5 months and 15 days), we reached the end of the Appalachian Trail! At 10:00am on Wednesday, September 28, we climbed to the top of Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin - screaming, giggling, and not believing our eyes.

After leaving Monson, Maine, we completed the "100-mile wilderness," which brought us many broken bog bridges and a few rainy days, but overall we had a wonderful time, and unseasonably warm weather. The nine-day stretch without civilization (or a shower!) was an appropriate and epic way to end our long trek. The wilderness plopped us into Baxter State Park, where the infamous Mt. Katahdin awaited us, looming in the distance.

Our summit day was gorgeous and clear - a "Class 1" day in Baxter-speak - and we made the ascent with old friends. It was a pure rush of joy and confusion, which we're still in the midst of processing...and probably will be for a while to come.

The climb up Katahdin is no picnic; it's commonly referred to as the hardest climb on the whole trail, and it's certainly the longest. But, the adrenaline rush that we felt going up made the rock-climbing and gymnastic aspects of it seem enjoyable. Coming down, on the other hand, was not quite as fun, but we were still grateful for good weather and incredible 360-degree views.

We're now resting up in Millinocket, Maine before traveling around the Northeast for a week or so. Lots and lots to think about and to be thankful for. We're thrilled to have finished, and are curious to see what happens next.

Thanks for following us and sending us encouragement along the way. Stay tuned for one final blog post, which we have decided to call "Our Hike, By the Numbers," an exciting statistical analysis of our trip. Ooo!

Love to all, and happy trails!

Lara and Zack

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Almost there...

From Zack:
"Howdy," from Monson, ME, the last trail town before the hundred-mile wilderness, Mt. Katahdin, and the end of our hike. We'll be heading into the next section, one of the wildest and most remote on the trail, with nearly seven days worth of food. Hoping to find the proper balance between enjoying the last week of this journey and remaining disciplined enough to achieve our goal atop the big mountain.

From Lara:
We entered Maine over a week ago now, and we're more than half-way done with the 281-mile state. We have had great weather over some gorgeous mountains (we've decided already that Maine is the "best" state on the trail), and some bad weather over some gorgeous mountains too (snow flurries - who needs 'em?). We're about to embark on an all-you-can-eat breakfast in Monson, then organize our food supply (more than we've ever carried) and hopefully put in a few miles today; it is, after all, the only day in the next week without a chance of rain. But, we'll handle they've said from the start: "No rain, no pain, no Maine!"

Keep an eye out for an enormous and more informative post in the next two weeks, and as Zack says, "If you've got the time, please send us good vibes!"

Friday, September 16, 2011

Maine. Hard to believe we started walking 157 days ago. Tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, we'll complete our 2,000th mile. I'll save the really sappy stuff for our final blog entry post-Katahdin, but we're already feeling a mix of nostalgia, elation, weariness and appreciation as we scurry through our final two weeks here in the great North.

We last wrote from Gorham, NH. Since that time we've traversed some of the most strenuous miles on the trail. On one particularly rough day we made it only 12.5 miles in nearly 11 hours of walking. Tomorrow we'll cross over the Bigelow range, our last "big" mountains until the end of the trail. Doing our best to retain focus and good spirits in this last stretch, despite the first inklings of cold weather (flurries and ice this morning at 4,000 ft. before Stratton).

See you soon,
Zack (and Lara)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What a week it's been! I apologize for all of the drama and confusing goings-ons in the previous blog. Last you heard from us, we thought we were stranded in Glencliff, NH "until further notice," or whenever the USFS decided to open the White Mountain National Forest. Along with our fellow thru-hikers, we melodramatically hypothesized that this meant we would be stuck in Glencliff for many days, potentially jeopardizing our trek. But! We awoke the following morning to find that the forest had been opened that very day.

Glencliff to Gorham, NH
Thrilled, we got a late start after sleeping in, and headed up Mount Moosilauke - our first real White Mountain, and our first hike above treeline. The trail was flooded and swampy at parts, but it was a beautiful day, and we didn't seem to mind. It wasn't until we had to hike down the infamous backside of Mt. Moosilauke that we had a bit of a wake-up call as to how hard the upcoming sections would be. (We had been warned, but somehow it's hard to believe all of the hype until you're there.) Crawling down the mountain, alongside a waterfall, I took a tremendous spill - a sign of many more to come. We got into camp very late that night, and realizing how slow our pace had become on these strenuous miles, we reassessed our schedule for the upcoming section.

Thru-hikers often have a "love-hate" relationship with the White Mountains. First of all, the "love:" they are stunningly beautiful, and much of the hiking is above treeline and over 4,000 feet, which is unlike anything we've encountered on the trail thus far. On a clear day, you can see for miles, over mountains and into the valleys below. For the "not-so-much-love" part, the terrain becomes incredibly difficult (more climbing and crawling than hiking) and at times treacherous, your pace slows (from 2-3mph to 1-2), the weather can change at any minute and become dangerous (Mt. Washington notoriously has "the worst weather in the world"), and because of the mountains' popularity, the places to stay are limited to expensive huts and pay campsites (thru-hikers are a thrifty bunch, so this is a particularly rough adjustment). Overall, we'll lean towards the "love" side of things, but many bruises and rain storms later, we certainly can see both sides of the coin.

Our first days in the Whites, we had excellent weather. Our views as we hiked along Franconia Ridge and up Mt. Lafayette were spectacular. We were on an hiking high, until we went up Garfield Mountain, where dreams go to die. Somewhere up the steep climb and down its vertical waterfall descent, my quad began to hurt very badly, and we stopped for the night at Galehead Hut after a slow and painful afternoon. If you're lucky, the huts offer a few hikers the opportunity to work for stay and food each night. We were able to stay at three different huts, and ate lunch at most of the others, making it possible for us to make it through eight days of hiking while only carrying four days of food (also a good thing because the road where we had planned to get out to resupply had been washed out in the hurricane and was closed).

By day four in the Whites, we planned to get off the trail to rest my leg, which didn't seem to improve. Yet, when we got to the road where we planned to get off, we changed our minds, I took some Advil, and we pushed on. At first, that seemed like a crazy thing to do, but ultimately, it was the right decision - we were able to get two more days of amazing weather because of it, and my leg seemed to heal with time.

We made it to Lakes of the Clouds Hut on Saturday night; located at the base of Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the northeast, it is the biggest and most popular hut in the Whites, packed every night of the week. We slept on the kitchen floor and headed out early for a clear morning on the summit. At 6,288 feet, Mt. Washington is something to behold, and is perhaps most famous for its high wind speeds (highest ever recorded) and horrible weather. Thankfully, we experienced neither, though once we descended, the mountain was once again shrouded by clouds.

It's hard to describe the beauty that we witnessed. We will post pictures when we can, and hopefully that will better convey it. The last two days have been on-and-off raining, causing many spills and slow miles, but we've persevered, met up with some old friends (Chimp, Domino, Whiskey and Holler!), made it to Gorham, New Hampshire, and found a cozy place to take a "near-o" at the White Mountain Hostel.

We have less than 300 miles left on the trail, and less than 20 until we reach Maine. We estimate - and hope - that we will reach Katahdin in just over three weeks. There are many variables, and the next 150 miles are considered to be very difficult and rugged, so we're not out of the woods yet, so to speak. But we're savoring our time with our fellow thru-hikers and trying to make the most of our last month.

Wish us good weather and less bruises!

Love to all,
Lara (and Zack)