In this Aug. 27, 2016, file photo, the sign marking the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail atop Katahdin in Baxter State Park. Credit: Christopher Burns / BDN

Seven months after taking up hiking, a legally blind Portland woman accomplished a feat that challenges even the most experienced: hiking Katahdin.

Sara Nicols conquered the 5,269-foot peak with her friend on June 12, according to WGME. Following behind, Nicols watched her friend’s bright colored gaiters, which acted as a guide amongst the brown and gray dirt and rocks.

After five hours of careful climbing, Nicols and her friend reached the top.

“I could somewhat see when her foot would go up or down to see where my next step was,” Nicols told WGME. “All of Katahdin can be overwhelming, but if I just slow it down and take it one step at a time and focus on enjoying it for each step, I’m able to do it.”

Nicols was diagnosed with Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, a disease most common among young people that leads to vision loss. While on a beach trip seven years ago, she first noticed the symptoms.

“It slowly but quickly progressed to a larger and larger blurry spot in that one eye and then it transferred over to the other eye,” she said.

Within a month, Nicols was legally blind.

The Portland native struggled at first to cope with the “devastating” loss of eyesight, struggling to adjust to a new way of life, she told WGME. Slowly, she learned to manage the new lifestyle.

Seven months ago, Nicols overheard her friends talking about hiking, piquing her interest. She hadn’t hiked often before, but that didn’t deter her — Nicols went to L.L. Bean and bought a pair of hiking boots soon after.

She began the hobby with short hikes, building her stamina through four-mile hikes and summiting 4,000-foot summits before attempting Katahdin.

“I didn’t think I could do this last year. I didn’t think I could do this five years ago,” she said.

Nicols plans on climbing all 67 of the 4,000-foot mountains in New England, she told WGME.

Matt Berg

Matt is a senior at UMass Amherst, studying journalism and history. Before joining the Bangor Daily News, he was the managing editor of his student newspaper and interned at the Boston Globe.