July 10, 2018
Destination: Cooper Brook Falls Lean-to Today's Miles: 18.90
Start Location: Carl A. Newhall Shelter Trip Miles: 2131.20
It didn’t rain overnight, which was nice. I executed my typical early morning exit and started the climb up Whitecap Mountain.
This would be the last climb of any real mountain I would undertake (3650 feet) until Katahdin, and also the first time I would see Katahdin, if the weather permitted at the summit. I was excited about this. I also wondered if I would even know which mountain it was! Turns out it was easy - there is a white arrow and a letter “K” painted on a rock at the north summit viewpoint indicating where to look. Katahdin also stands alone, so it is not hard to pick out, versus other mountains that seem to be peaks connected to other peaks. I made good time up Whitecap. There were stone steps leading up the mountain, and down, in parts, once again illustrating that the Hundred Mile Wilderness is not really rugged at all. In southern Maine we would have had to climb up sheer rock and slip and slide our way down. It was really nice to get a break from that!
When I saw Katahdin, things started to get real. I already had a plan to summit on the 14th, only 4 days away, but my routine was largely the same. I wake up, hike, see beautiful things, eat, sleep, and do it all again. I had not yet seen the end point. It was still a ways off, but it was very real. I was excited and wanted to text my wife a photo of it, but couldn’t. I later found a fleeting signal on the south side of the mountain and was able to get a few texts out to her, but then that mysteriously disappeared as well. I was lucky to have good weather and views on Whitecap as I had heard it might rain today. I left the summit with purpose in my legs - simply to walk north. I’d tell you how I felt seeing Katahdin for the first time, but the truth is, other than nervous excitement, I didn’t feel much yet. It was four days in the future and I was doing what I had set out to do - living in the moment.
I had some more ups and downs to navigate, but I got to the lean-to relatively early (2:30). I was really looking forward to an early day because I wanted to catch up on some journal writing as well as take a swim and clean my clothes. My AWOL guide said there was a good swimming hole right in front of the shelter, and boy was there! Cooper Brook cascaded down a series of drops into a deep pool directly in front of the shelter. It was gorgeous, and I regretfully forgot to photograph it. When I got to the shelter, I came around the corner and saw it was filled with about 12 girls who looked to be college aged. Of course...a camp.... I said hello and then read and signed the shelter log. The tent sites by the Brook looked full, but I had passed overflow tent space a few hundred yards south. Those spots had no view though, so I asked the girls if they knew of any spots just past their tents. Hey said there was one left! I was excited and ran to see, and sure enough there was plenty of space for my tent. I pitched camp and got settled, and then headed to the stream to rinse out my clothes and swim. On the way, the girls stopped me and asked if I was thru hiking, how long I had been on trail, and have me some twizzlers. Yum! I thanked them and set about getting in the water. I took off my shirt and tried to wring it out in the pool. It was pretty nasty and was starting to develop a large hole on the lower back from my pack rubbing it. The hole was about the size of a teacup saucer. I laid it out on a rock to dry, along with my buff that I would use as a towel, and went to the edge of the water to find a place to ease in. The first thing I saw on the edge of a rock was a leech. Great.... I wanted to wash badly enough though, so I went around to the deep end of the pool and jumped in. It was crisp, but not freezing. I could just barely touch the bottom with my toes. It was a nice, sandy, gravelly bottom - not gross and muddy. I saw that the girls were contemplating swimming st the shallow end, testing the water and talking about leeches. I had the pool all to myself! I swam around and enjoyed the beautiful cascade view. A southbounder came into camp earlier, and I saw her up on a rock working on cooking dinner. She will soon become a machine with that routine!
After swimming for a bit, I decided to get out of the water and dry off. I still had to dry my clothes as best I could - I would be hiking in them tomorrow. I got out of the water and went to talk to the southbounder while I dripped dry. As I went over to the rock I was sitting on, about half of the camp girls started stripping off all of their clothes. They took off ALL of their clothes, right there! They weren’t trying to hide anything either! Honestly, it was pretty awkward. I had no idea how old they were, I was trying not to look (but I’m only human!!!!), their camp counselor, who looked to be about 26, was just standing there, and meanwhile this was all happening behind the southbounder who was talking to me. I tried to focus on her face.... At one point I was mid sentence talking with her and the girls in back started stretching in the water and I just said something like “I’m sorry, I’m sure you know there are a bunch of naked girls behind you. I think I should just go to my tent now.” She laughed and commented on the situation herself with her own facial expression. Now I had a challenge though - my shirt and buff and flip flops were over by the girls, fortunately by the half that were still clothed. One of them looked at me with something like embarrassment, and then pity in her eyes. I just grabbed my stuff and put my head down and went to my tent to change. Wowzers! Seems like the Hundred Mile Wilderness has a little bit of everything! I journaled in my tent and ate some snacks, and then hours later resurfaced for dinner. I took my food over to the shelter to eat. The girls had packed out the shelter. The counselor was sitting on a rock and I sat on another nearby. She asked me if I wanted shelter space, but I told her no, the rock would do. All of the girls were making some kind of bracelet and singing songs in unison in the shelter. Were those friendship bracelets?? Maybe I had misjudged something here. “Excuse me,” I said. “What age range is this group?” The counselor gave me what I decided was a sarcastic look, but may have been a dirty look or may have been nothing, and said “16 to 17.” Oh. Ooohhhhhh. Oh boy. Nothing like having naked minors running around camp. Great..... all it would take would be one ranger to see that, or one careless pee outside my tent and the permit to summit Katahdin wouldn’t be the only registration list I would end up on! I ate as fast as I could and went back to my tent to go to bed. As I lay there falling asleep, I could hear the latest pop hits resounding from the shelter in chorus. This will be a fun story to relay to my wife....
What an odd day! I was grateful for my first glimpse at Katahdin, grateful that the weather held out, and grateful for such a cool shelter and swimming hole, circumstances aside. Tomorrow I would wake up early to hike to Wadleigh Lean-to, 21.5 miles north.