The alarm went off at 1:15AM on the morning of my last day on the Appalachian Trail. It was kind of drizzly and foggy. I had a feeling that this hike to the summit for sunrise idea wasn't one of our best ideas, but we had gotten this far through blind optimism so there was no point in changing strategies now. Plus I had already packed up. So off we went into the dark.
Hulk, Icarus, and I were the first to sign in at the base of Katahdin that morning - obviously, since it was 2AM. The night was cold, damp, and dark. The only light came from our three headlamps bobbing around. The first couple of miles were pretty easy, and we were excited so we ran up the mountain as fast as you can when you can't really see much.
At 3AM we reached a spring where we stopped to drink some water and eat some candy. We knew that the difficult part of the hike was just ahead of us and the cold, wet wind started to make its way through our rain jackets. As we looked around we only saw darkness, fog, and one little spot tucked in the trees that was clear and flat and perfect for a tent. We took this as a sign that we should wait out the night for a bit. Icarus set up his single person tent and the three of us all crawled inside for refuge from the wind. We were quite close in there, and it was nice to be warm again. We set an alarm for 4:15AM and napped while Katahdin waited outside.
Katahdin - 1 : Us - 0
The alarm went off for the second time that morning at quarter past four, and it took everything we had to get ourselves to crawl back out into the darkness and carry on. But carrying on is all we ever did, so we did it once again. The trail got a little more difficult and little more fun. There were some boulders and rock walls we had to navigate, and we were having a good time. There were even some remarks of "I think it's getting lighter out" and "The clouds will clear up soon", but then we hit the tree line.
Above tree line you have no protection from the wind. This was a brutal wind. The strongest we had encountered on any mountain. We kept on going as the trail became much more rock climbing and much less hiking. I had to hold down to everything on me that was not tied down to keep it from flying away. I was physically blown around a couple times. Icarus was leading the way up the mountain. At one point he pulled himself up over a boulder and was immediately hit with a wind so strong he was forced back down. At that point we decided it would be a little too crazy to continue the most difficult rock climbing of the entire trail while the wind was pushing us around. We were so close, but we went back down below tree line and waited. Again.
Katahdin - 2 : Us - 0
So at about 5:45AM we found a spot shielded from the wind and hunkered down with each other and various snacks. We waited another hour and a half until we could really see some light filling the sky and we could see patches of clear sky. Then we waited another half hour just to be sure. Katahdin wasn't going to beat us three times. We set off for a third time vowing that nothing would stop us this time. We got up over the trees and and the wind was still roaring, but the sun was burning away the clouds and we could see Katahdin in front of us. The next one and a half miles were impressive. It was us versus the rocks and wind. The sun was helping us and the views motivated us to get higher and higher, above the clouds.
We triumphantly made it up over the climb and onto the table. Through breaks in the clouds we could see the summit. So close. A mile maybe. There was nothing between us now. We walked across the moonscaped Katahdin table as the clouds completely began to disappear below us. We climbed up one last little rocky stretch of mountain and as we crested a the hill we saw it. The Katahdin sign that marks the summit of Baxter Peak and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The end. It froze me in my tracks just as I saw it do to every other thru hiker that I saw that day.
We walked the last 100 yards together and touched the sign. We were the only ones up there. I broke out the mini bottle of champagne that morning at 9AM and enjoyed being at the top of the world with no one else around but the people I loved most.