When we come to an edge we come to a frontier that tells us that we are now about to become more than we have been before. – William Irwin Thompson.
Hi! My name is Robert Winslow and this is a photo taken of me on the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine. The date is August 8th, 1971 and I had just completed my 130-day journey from Springer Mountain in Georgia along the entire 2000+ mile length of the Appalachian Trail.
Back then I was only the 36th person to have hiked the entire Trail in one year. Some folks do it in sections over a number of years and currently five to six hundred hikers complete it each year.
As I stood there on top of Katahdin it was a time of ending and completion and a time for new beginnings.
And now over four decades later, after recently retiring from teaching and leading photo tours and workshops, I have reached another ending and another beginning. Adventures, animals and images past and present will comprise this blog.
In a two volume book – no longer in print – Hiking the Appalachian Trail published in 1975 by Rodale Press I wrote about that last day on the Appalachian Trail.
Katahdin is without a doubt the most beautiful mountain on the entire trail, and the day I climbed it was one of the most memorable of my journey. The Appalachian Trail passes through Katahdin Stream Campground, which lies at the base of the mountain, 5.2 miles from the summit. There is a climb of 4,163 feet. Along the trail we had heard that it was necessary to have reservations to stay at the campground, and that camping was not permitted in the park outside of the campground. We had been told by hikers coming south that it was impossible to find a place to stay, and that if we showed up at the campground the rangers would throw us out. Mark, Jim Bruce and myself were not enthusiastic about being hassled at the campground, or for that matter even staying in it, so we didn’t. The day before we climbed Katahdin, we did our laundry and swam in the nearby Nesowadnehunk Stream. Then we stretched out naked on some boulders (we heard only two ladies scream all afternoon) and soaked up the first sun we had seen in over a week.
We camped that night a few miles south of Daicey Pond. In the middle of the night I awoke. The moon was almost full, the stars shone like diamonds. Almost automatically, since one of my hobbies is astronomy, I looked for an aurora borealis, but there wasn’t any. Jim was moving around. I sat up and poked him, “What do you think?” He shrugged his shoulders and we lay back down. A minute later he was jabbing me in the leg, “Let’s go.” We woke Mark and got ready. It was 2:30 A.M. We had to jump from rock to rock to cross a stream in order to get back on the trail. It then took us over two hours by flashlight to get through the swamps to the campground. We talked about the stars, Francis Marion, and how crazy we were, but most of the time we walked in silence.
No one was awake at the campground. We left our packs leaning against the flagpole outside the ranger station with a note saying we would pick them up that afternoon. I tied my jacket around my waste. Carrying sandwiches that had been made the night before, candy bars, water, and my camera, all in a stuff bag, we turned toward Katahdin just at dawn. After half a mile we no longer needed our flashlights. We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by a stream, and if I felt a little sleepy here, I was wide awake once we got above timberline. After a brief rest at Thoreau Spring I scrambled ahead, and then quite suddenly I was on the summit.
I had always known that I would reach Baxter Peak (Katahdin’s high point) and the end of the Appalachian Trail, but it was tough to comprehend, just as death is tough to comprehend. I wished that the Appalachian Trail would continue on. I did not want it to end. But why? Walking 2.000 miles from Geogia to Maine, fording rivers, climbing mountains, walking through rain and mud, carrying a 32- to 40-pound pack, watching clouds, and listening to the early morning symphony of bird and wind songs might be considered senseless acts – at least they serve no practical purpose. But back down there to the south someplace hidden in the trees, winding through the hills, and wandering over the horizon, was the Appalachian Trail and at the other end, 2,000 miles away, was Springer Mountain, Georgia, and in between lay a path of unforgettable experiences and wonderful beautiful people. This may sound foolish, but I walked the trail for the simple joy of it and if I gained anything it was the reaffirmation and the strengthening of my belief that despite all the hate, greed, and mixed-up priorities there are on this earth, it is still a fantastically beautiful planet that we live on. There is a constant poetry that flows through all of Nature, and if we open our eyes a bit, we can see miracles. It is an incredibly exciting world; I love it for what it is and am glad to belong to it.
A friend of mine, who is an astronomer, once told me that he had figured out that it was possible for us to travel through space in at least thirteen different directions at the same time. Through this timeless universe we are all relatively transient individuals. The Appalachian Trail had been my home for 130 days and at that moment on Katahdin it seemed like a lifetime to me. Everything that had occurred in my life prior to this hike seemed like it had happened in another incarnation. Standing along on the highest point in Maine, a monadnock, an ancient granite monolith sculptured by glaciers ages ago with timberline 2,000 feet straight down, I know what it was like to be tired at the end of a day, but I also knew that I would sleep soundly because of it. In a few minutes Mark and Jim would join me. It was 7:45 in the morning of another incredible day.
Hope to have you along for the journey. Just now the Winter sun is streaming in through my East facing office window. It is the morning of another incredible day.