Brandon Chase at the New Hampshire-Maine state line during his thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail in June. Although this picture shows sunny conditions, Chase said the tree-line conditions in the White Mountains were some of “the worst of my life.” PHOTO COURTESY OF BRANDON CHASE

MDI native completes AT thru-hike



MOUNT DESERT — When he found himself with some time on his hands this spring, Brandon Chase decided to cross a lifelong goal off his list.

When he was a young boy living in Mount Desert, Chase’s family would go on vacations to Baxter State Park. From the first time he went, he dreamt of climbing Mount Katahdin but was told he was too young.

Chase graduated from Mount Desert Island High School in 2005. He joined the Foreign Service and working as an information management specialist in embassies around the world. While in Africa, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the tallest mountain on the continent.

With several months to spare after returning from an assignment in Cyprus, he set a goal: He would complete a thru-hike of the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail and finish it at Katahdin’s summit.

“I had a lot of experience hiking Acadia and have been ultrarunning for a while, and I knew this was something I could do,” he said.

Chase began his trip on March 25 with a base weight of 13 pounds and 17 pounds worth of consumables. With a goal of completing the thru-hike in 100 days, he set out for Springer Mountain in Georgia to begin his trek along one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges.

He tried to keep a similar schedule for each day of the trip. He hiked for about eight hours after waking up at 6 a.m. Mid-afternoon, he would stop to eat and rest briefly. After about four more hours in motion, he would stop for the day and sleep.

Chase poses for a photo at Fontana Dam. The Appalachian Trail traverses the top of the 2,365-foot long dam, which links North Carolina’s Graham and Swain counties along the North Carolina-Tennessee border.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BRANDON CHASE

“There’s a network of shelters along the way for people to stay, but a lot of them were pretty full,” Chase said. “A lot of the time, I would just sleep in my tent for the night.”

Throughout the first 10 days of the hike, conditions were difficult. Nighttime temperatures during that stretch of the journey were frequently below freezing, and many of the peaks he ascended still had snow on the ground.

“My biggest goal then was just to get out of Georgia and North Carolina,” Chase said. “It certainly wasn’t an easy start.”

When Chase reached the Mid-Atlantic States, things got easier. From Maryland to Connecticut, he encountered fewer problems and was able to traverse much of the trail with relative ease.

That changed when Chase reached New England and the toughest part of the journey: Mount Washington. The roof of the White Mountain National Forest has long been known as a harbinger of the region’s weather, and Chase got to experience some of that for himself.

Significant changes in the weather weren’t so noticeable at the base of the mountain and below the tree line. But the last 1,500 feet were different. Wind speeds were gusting as high as 80 mph, and the intense rain and fog made visibility an issue as well.

“That was probably the only time in the trip where I kind of panicked a little bit,” Chase said. “All that’s going on, and there’s still snow on the ground in some of those pockets and crevasses. I had to take a deep breath and be extremely careful.”

Whereas the average hike to the top and back took him between two and three hours, Mount Washington took him about eight. He didn’t see anyone else making the hike until he was halfway back down the mountain.

“They have a shop up there at the observatory, but it was closed with nobody around anywhere when I got there,” Chase said. “That’s how bad the conditions were.”

On June 30, two weeks after topping Mount Washington, Chase made it to Baxter State Park. He had completed most of his journey alone, but this time, he invited his brother Colby to come from California so they could complete the final ascent together.

Brandon Chase at the top of Mount Katahdin, which is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Although he did most of the trip alone, Chase completed the final ascent with his brother, Colby.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BRANDON CHASE

As he stood atop Maine’s tallest mountain and the trail’s northern terminus, he breathed a sigh of relief and hoisted his trekking poles in the air as his brother took a photo to document the occasion.

Chase had reached the end of his journey. He had also beaten his goal time by three full days.

“It was a weird feeling because you’ve been on the trail for over three months, and suddenly, that’s it,” Chase said. “I was certainly excited to be finished, but I think it was also more a feeling of relief at that moment. I don’t think it felt impactful right away.”

Although much of Chase’s journey required extensive planning, there was one part of it that required pinpoint coordination months in advance. To ensure he stayed fed, his girlfriend, Veronica, sent him dehydrated food packages from Cyprus to post offices near the trail to arrive at specific times.

“That was really complicated because she was overnighting them from across the world to places way before I would get there,” Chase said. “I had to know where and when she’d be sending them and ensure I would get there in the right amount of time.”

Chase said his body held up well for most of the thru-hike with the exception of occasional irritation of his iliotibial (IT) band, a ligament on the outside of the knee that provides knee and hip flexibility. For the most part, though, he said he was able to power through it and keep going.

Now that his hike is complete, Chase has another week before he travels to Pakistan for his next work assignment. Even if he didn’t realize the magnitude of his three-month long journey right away, he does now.

“It’s really started to hit me in the week or so since then,” Chase said. “It wasn’t easy, but when I look back on it, getting through the hard parts and still beating my goal time is a pretty good feeling.”

 

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell is the sports editor at The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. He began working for The American in August 2016. You can reach him via email at [email protected]