has been a somewhat mysterious eastern presence to me for the past
decade or so. Not long after the beginning of my eastern mountain
explorations, I would occasionally come across a reference or an
anecdote about Katahdin. They were always high in their praise,
and, initially, I never really knew why. However, over the course
of years and months I came to understand what made this eastern
mountain different from all others.
Baxter State Park
Mount Katahdin lies in
the state of Maine. More specifically, it lies within Baxter
State Park, a wilderness preserve created out of the generosity
of one Percival P. Baxter, a former governer of the state of Maine.
He stipulated that the land be preserved as "forever wild",
and the current park management has certainly tackled that mandate
Mount Katahdin is unique among eastern mountains in several ways. It stands virtually alone in a vast sea of deep Maine northwoods. It, unlike the vast majority of the eastern peaks, shows the effects of recent alpine glaciation (that is to say, valley glaciers). And unlike all other eastern peaks, this alpine glaciation has occured in an extensive enough way so as to create narrow, sharp ridges. Being a lover of such terrain, and being so starved of it here in Eastern North America, I have been drawn to this peak for years.
Back in 1998, a group of us tried to scale Katahdin, but being unaware of Baxter State Park's very restrictive entrance rules resulted in us being forced to climb another much less interesting and lower peak in the park.
While thinking about a way to experience the brilliant fall foliage and climbing something other than an Adirondack peak, the thought of Katahdin once agrain crossed my mind. A couple of checks about rules, entrance requirements, and current conditions, it became apparent that we had one shot for a climb of Katahdin - and that was the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend. It didn't take much to convince Markus - over the years, he had also had the thought of climbing this peak.
We weren't sure about what trails were open (Baxter tightly controls trail access based on their assessments), but we were going to try for any way up that was open. And if we were lucky, we'd get to try the infamous "knife edge" route.
Anyway, enough words - you came here to see pictures, right? well, view onwards!
Stunning Fall Foliage
Although many were busy over the Canadian Thanksgiving day weekend, Pu also happened to be free and very willing to come along. The drive down was uneventful, if a bit long. Along the way, splashes of brilliant fall colors were everywhere.
Hidden Springs Campground
We stayed at the Hidden Springs Campground just north of Millinocket, Maine. We wanted someplace outside of the park, but also a spot that was not too far away (this trip was last minute and Baxter's campgrounds are frequently booked way in advance).
Baxter's rules are such that the park's gates are closed to dayhikers during the night, so it isn't possible to just drive in when you want. Additionally, they have a day hiker quota system: more than a certain number of cars at a given trailhead and no more are allowed in. This is what happened to us last time, and I was very determined to not let it happen again. So the plan was to be AT the gate, waiting, at 4am. Breakfast was to be made waiting in line at the gate, rather than at our campsite.
We arrived at the gate at about 4:10am... and believe it or not, there were about 10 cars already waiting at the gate! Still, this looked pretty good for us, since at the Roaring Brook parking area (where we want to park) there is space for many tens of cars.
We expect the gates to be opened at 6am, but in fact the park service opens them at 5, and we have to hurredly pack up our on-the-road breakfast and get ready to sign in. At the gate we get our spot at Roaring Brook (yay) and also find out that although "not recommended", the knife edge route is open. Awesome! Here we come!
It isn't long before we are at the Roaring Brook campground with a pile of other eager hikers. Now knowing what is open, we hatch a plan to hike a fairly ambitious route : Chimney Pond, up to Pamola Peak, across the knife edge to the high point on Katahdin, Baxter Peak, then down to the saddle between Baxter and Hamlin, then up to Hamlin peak, then down Hamlin ridge to rejoin the Chimney Pond trail. A maximum of scenery awaited us, to be sure!
At the Roaring Brook trailhead ranger station, we are required to register for a second time (the first was at the entrance station). We are asked if we are going climbing, and we reply no (this often happens since on our hikes we almost always are carrying more than others - food, clothing, water, emergency supplies, so our packs are bigger).
Slipping behind the Mountain
Not wanting to underestimate this hike, and never having been on this mountain before, we decide to make as good tracks as possible on the trail to Chimney Pond, our first destination. It is still night time, so with pools of headlamp light ahead of us we dash up the trail, passing several groups of slower hikers. We reach the first viewpoint just as morning starts to brighten. In the growing twilight, we are presented with our first panoramic view of the Katahdin Massif. It is a starkly beautiful place, with huge swaths of terrain above a very low timberline. We can see the North Peaks, Hamlin Peak, and a little itty bit of Baxter peak itself poking out from behind Pamola peak. And as an added bonus, the almost full moon is setting behind Hamlin peak. Wondrous!
Markus and North Peaks ridgeline
Basin Ponds in Early Morning light
We are making excellent time, and it isn't long before we arrive at the Basin Ponds, where an even better view of the North Basin and Hamlin Peaks await. The day is dawning clear, warm, and beautiful. We couldn't have asked for a better fall day.