Sunday, July 31, 2011

2011.07.29 - Mt Katahdin

This hike of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park located near Millinocket, Maine was a first for me in a couple of ways.  For one, it was my first substantive hike in the State of Maine.  Baxter Peak itself is about a mile above sea level at 5,267' and it is the tallest point in Maine.  Second, it was my first 'group' hike with eight of us in total attempting, and I'm glad to say, successfully completing this hike.  I am certain there are varying opinions on this however, personally I would argue that this is the most beautiful mountain in the Northeast (of those I've seen) and it is certainly the most beautiful I have climbed.  That beauty is primarily because of its rugged nature and shear cliffs making it a simply stunning venue.  Let me share a few facts:

Mount Katahdin (USGS name) is the highest mountain in Maine. Named Katahdin by the Penobscot Indians, the term means "The Greatest Mountain". Katahdin is the centerpiece of Baxter State Park: a steep, tall mountain formed from underground magma. The flora and fauna on the mountain are typical of those found in eastern Canada. Katahdin was known to the Native Americans in the region, and was known to Europeans at least since 1689. It has inspired hikes, climbs, paintings, and a piano sonata. The area around the peak was protected by Governor Percival Baxter starting in the 1930s. Percival first climbed Katahdin in 1920 and he decided then that this mountain and surrounding lands should be set into the public domain.  During his years in government he tried unsuccessfully to acquire the land from private parties.  When he later retired from government he successfully acquired numerous parcels from timber companies and deeded them to the State. 

Over a 33 year period the wealthy Baxter purchased and donated over 200,000 acres.  He insisted that the land remain unimproved in any way including the building of any additional roads.  To this day the State has lived up to that promise and both pets and firearms are prohibited from the park and the park has but a few dirt roads.  

Another interesting point is that Katahdin is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, and is located in a stretch known as the Hundred-Mile Wilderness.

With Baxter State Park located nearly 5-hours north of our home, our group all arrived Thursday afternoon and stayed at the Big Moose Inn, Cabins & Campground (yes, they have it all).  Other than a few campgrounds, Big Moose is the closest lodging to the entrance of the park.  Sue, myself and our nephew David all stayed in a cabin located directly on the shores of Lake Ambejejus while others in our group stayed in the campground and inn.  The entire group gathered at our cabin for simple yet wonderful dinner on Thursday evening.  It was a bit of a pot luck arrangement and the food and desserts were simply awesome.  We did the same the following night after our hike.  I cannot tell you how enjoyable those dinners and fellowship were. 

At 5:00 AM on Friday morning July 29, 2011 we awoke to prepare for our adventure.  We wanted to be certain those in neighboring cabins knew we were leaving early for our hike so as we fried some sausage and eggs we made certain to set the smoke alarm off on three separate occasions.  I'm guessing those around us were not very happy.

Our group departed the Big Moose Inn and headed for Baxter State Park at 6:00 AM.  It is an eight mile drive to the park entrance.  Access to the park is strictly controlled and only a limited number of vehicles are allowed in each parking area each day.  Those coordinating our trip had planned well in advance and we had our parking passes in hand so the entrance was quick and simple.  I understand that lines of vehicles can form waiting for any remaining passes which are handed out on a first come first served basis at 7:20 AM.  Once past the entrance the road turns to dirt and we proceeded another eight miles to the Roaring Brook Campground parking lot (and trail head).  We began our hike at about 7:00 AM.

I will share the rest of our adventure and tell you more about our group as I share the images and photos below. 

Note:  You can double-click on any image to enlarge it.

 Our plan was to take the 'easiest' route to the summit of Baxter Peak.  That trek involved following the Roaring Brook Trail a distance of 3.3 miles to the Chimney Pond Campground and Ranger Station.  This was an easy climb with only a 1,400' elevation gain.  The campground sits adjacent to, of all things, Chimney Pond.  In several of the photos you will see later, note the pond located at the very bottom of the mountain.  That is Chimney Pond.  The image above is our actual track from my GPS and the image below is that same track overlaid in Google Earth.  At the campground we would take the Saddle Trail to the summit of Baster Peak.

About .1 miles into our hike we reached a trail sign that made for a great picture of this eclectic group.  Left to right: Phil, Sue, Leslie, Russ, David, Patrick, Ray (dat's me) and Scott.  This was an amazing group ranging in age from 16 to 70.  I should be so lucky as to be able to hike this mountain at 70.  Phil, I remain impressed!  My nephew David has hiked with Sue and I a number of times but not yet in 2011.  He and Patrick, who has never hiked any substantial mountains, were real troopers as they completed the hike with nary a complaint.  Russ and Phil were the most experienced hikers having long ago completed all 48 4,000 footers in NH and Russ has even hiked Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.  I guess my having climbed Mt. Major in Alton, NH is not all that impressive after all!  Scott and Leslie are extremely capable hikers who have the capacity to leave any of the rest of our group in the dust.

 This is a great photo taken by Scott as we crossed a bridge over a brook.  In the background you can see our ultimate goal.

 The photo above as well as the next few photos that follow are from a viewpoint we reached.  It was not clear to us at the time whether we were looking at Katahdin but I am reasonably certain now we were instead looking at the North Basin (as opposed to the taller South Basin we would later see, the summit of which is Baster Peak).

 A picture of David taking a picture.  I couldn't help myself...

 Scott or Leslie caught a great shot of the Masse family taking a break.
 We pass Lower Basin Pond.

 Sue (above) and Phil (below) take a break.

 A photo across Dry Pond towards what I believe is the Hamlin Ridge.

 Our first real views of Mount Katahdin across the South Basin.

 We have now arrived at the Chimney Pond Campground.  If there is a heaven on earth, this could be it.  This photo and the next several are almost indescribable.  I guess they speak for themselves.  We are looking at Pamola (the left most peak in these photos), across Knife Edge (center).
The shear facade of Katahdin is evident in this shot.  The tallest point roughly in the center of this photo is our ultimate goal, Baxter Peak at 5,267'.  We are currently sitting at about 2,900 feet and have already been climbing for 2.5 hours.  We've barely begun.  Though distance wise we are well over halfway, the real climb will soon begin.  In the next 2.2 miles we will climb another 2,367 feet with some sections being extremely steep and challenging (at least in my book).

Sitting here and looking at what is ahead of us is a bit overwhelming.  Certainly it causes one to ask themselves if climbing this is even humanly possible.  I'm guessing that many novice climbers (and maybe some not so novice) get to this point and decide that the rest is too challenging, maybe even impossible.  Even I found myself needing to think about other things so as not to psych myself out about what lies ahead.


 We are well along the Saddle Trail after leaving Chimney Pond.  The trail meanders for some distance across a wooded area and then begins to climb rapidly.

Note Chimney Pond at the base of the mountain (difficult to see so double-click to enlarge).

 We have broken out of the woods and are now on the Saddle Slide.  This portion of the climb is very steep with grades approaching 40%.  What makes matters worse is that there is lots of gravel and loose stone and one needs to take care for the hikers that are below.

 Scott poses for a photo that brings many laughs to the group.  At this point the levity was important!
 The end of the Saddle Slide is in sight.  It was not however the end of our climb (not at all in fact).

 I believe the little blip you see just right of the Pamola summit is what is known as the Chimney.  The Chimney and the ridge beyond it (to the right) form what is known as the Knife Edge.  Portions of that mile long trail are said to be some of the most stunning found anywhere.  Some sections along the Knife Edge are only 2-3 feet wide with 2,000' shear drops on either side.  That trail is to be avoided in high winds.  A hike for me?  NOT!

 We have reached the top of the Saddle Slide.  It looks as though we are playing musical rocks looking for a place to sit and take a much needed break.  Take a look behind Scott at the steepness of the drop.  Yes, we just came up a section looking like that (to the immediate right)!
 Looking out across the South Basin from the top of the Saddle Slide.

 An even better shot of the Chimney.

 Off across the ridge is Baxter Peak (not in view).  Though this looks flat, it is not.  We still have another mile to hike and the rise is nearly 1,000 feet.  I for one found this to be the "longest mile".  It seemed that it would never end.  We needed to hurry as weather was beginning to move in but I lacked the energy to 'hurry'.  The best I could do was a normal pace.  The second half of this mile the trail steepened further to the summit.

We've ARRIVED at the summit of Baxter Peak.  YEE HA!  We were just in time as within minutes of our arrival we became completely socked-in amongst the clouds.

 Note Chimney Pond at the base of the mountain.  This is from whence we came and from where we experienced the stunning views of the South Basin.

 The Masse family takes the obligatory summit photo.  This peak marks the northern terminus of the Appalachain Trail and it is a mere 2,200 miles to the beginning of the Appalachian Trail in Springer Mountain, Georgia.  We would hike it today but we didn't bring enough water.  We were all amazed by the fact that we were some 330 miles from Mount Washington.

 Phil at the summit.  I want to climb this mountain again when I am 70 years old.  This one is for you Phil!

 Double-click on this photo and it will enlarge so you can read it.

 Members of our group as well as others on the summit line up for their summit photos.

Minutes later the clouds have rolled in and the views are completely obliterated.

 Here we sit at the summit of Mount Katahdin, the tallest peak in Maine and we are all amazed to find that we have a very strong cell signal.  Sue is on the phone speaking to another friend of our group congratulating her on her daughter's engagement.  Others are checking email and texting.  A mile up we have a signal yet at our cabin we had next to no service.  Go figure.  That said, it is very comforting to know that cell service is available should anyone get hurt or otherwise become unable to finish the hike.  Maybe that's why there is service??

 As the clouds continue to roll in we take our group photo just before leaving the summit.

 We are descending the summit and the winds are stiff.  My glasses are wet from the moisture in the air.  It is hard to imagine that we have nearly five hours left to go!

 We have completed the trek across the ridge and, after a short break, we are about to drop over the edge onto the Saddle Slide.

This elevation plot from my GPS shows the nearly 40% grade of the Saddle Slide.  Okay, I'll repeat myself; double-click to enlarge so you can read the data.
 Remember the stunning photos of Katahdin and its rocky slopes when were were at Chimney Pond Campground on the way up?  Well, this is what it looked like on our trip down.  The mountain was completely engulfed in clouds.

Thank the Lord!  We have made it all the way down.  This 11-mile hike took us exactly 11-hours (it was now 6:00 PM).  Wow, I was tired.

Now that I've written this blog post I will need to stand up from my chair at the computer.  Though I am writing this blog a full 2-days later, my quads will ache as I stand.  A simple reminder to me over the next few days of just how difficult this hike was.  I loved it though!  I would recommend Katahdin to any hiker.  Choose what trail you take carefully though.  Most are even more difficult than the route we took (much more difficult in some cases).



Anonymous said...

Excellent description. We plan to take Saddle Trail to climb Baxter Peak this weekend on August 02, 2014. Thank you for taking time to produce this super article.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your pictures and commentary about this trail. Some of our family hiked the Helon-Taylor Trail last year. It was awesome! My son is recommending we try this one this year. I forwarded your blog post to other family members. Thanks again!