Hiking Mount Katahdin
We are fresh off a hike of Mount Katahdin! Located in Maine’s Baxter State Park, this 5270ish-foot peak (the surveyors can’t decide) is an absolutely incredible, intriguing and beautiful BEAST. The highest peak in Maine and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, Katahdin is the longest hike I’ve ever completed in one day – 12 hours, 13 miles.
10 of us drove all day on Sunday to reach our campsites at Katahdin Streams Campground. Half of us friends, half of us having never met before. Cell phone reception disappeared the minute we entered Baxter State Park, and I think we were all feeling pretty psyched about that. Once together, the fun of camping life commenced – pitching our tents, playing with fire, eating Cheese-Its in the wild…! There were some rumors that the group wanted to attempt the Knife Edge trail on Katahdin, and I made the mistake of watching some YouTube videos the night before. Eeek! My eyes were watering as I watched that one, but as we chatted around the campfire together Sunday evening, I got myself more and more mentally prepared.
We left the campsite at 5:15am and drove about 45 minutes to the start of our trail. We set off! The first few miles were fairly chill with excellent views to stop at, sweet little bridges over the brooks, and nothing too strenuous that we couldn’t all chat. This brought us to the Chimney Pond Ranger Station and a massive amount of wind blowing across the open land! It was immediately apparent that we would NOT be hiking the Knife Edge after all. It’s sheer cliffs off either side of a sometimes 3-foot ridge would be too dangerous in those conditions. After a quick chat with Ranger Bill, we decided to head out on Hamlin Ridge Trail up to Hamlin Peak, Saddle Trail over to Baxter Peak (the highest), and back down Saddle Trail to Chimney Pond for our descent. Looping around through Hamlin was going to add a bit of time to our day, but we kept hearing it would be totally beautiful as well – and it was incredible!!
The group began to separate out into two groups from there, and after Hamlin Peak we were five and five. Safety in numbers! The conditions were howling and foggy – unfortunately not too many views to be had. The rocks on Hamlin were quite slippery, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about my knee/ACL approximately 3 times per minute.
We ate our PB&J and snacks, and began the traverse over to Baxter Peak. After a slight wrong turn, we found ourselves climbing directly upwards on Cathedral Trail for about a half mile to the peak. I mean clinging from rock to rock, pushing off sideways from a rock while NOT looking at the cliff to my other side, etc. In the end, I used my arms so much on this 12 hour day that my feet and legs weren’t nearly as achy as a typical hike might be. Anyway, we made it to the peak! What a huge accomplishment we felt! Again, we couldn’t see too far around us and we were soaked from the fog, but reaching the very end of the Appalachian Trail was damn cool!
Saddle Trail took us back down the whole way to Chimney Pond, but I’d suggest a name change to something like “Slide for your Life” Trail. It was straight down, loose rock that had obviously suffered a major landslide restructuring by the mountain itself only a short time before. Wheeeee! (you can’t tell from the photo, but most of this trail is accessible by bum only)
Even still, as I speak of the treacherous trails and weather up on the mountain, perhaps nothing felt quite as painful as the final 3 miles from Chimney Pond to the parking lot. Miles 10-13 for the day, hours 10-12, and I spent most of this time sharing the misery and hallucinations with Daunielle. We kept saying “that wasn’t there before!”, and “this isn’t looking familiar”… and we both locked in on a hut and parking lot that really resulted in just another little bridge across the brook, and more than a mile still to go. I had been staring at “stay on trail” signs all day, but all I really wanted to do at this point was walk on the vegetation – the very soft vegetation (don’t worry, I didn’t). Katahdin is nothing if not rocky!
At the base, Lisa was brilliant enough to pack some Gatorade with tequila, and others drank their Baxter Brewing Co. beers! We eventually made our way back to the campsite to ready a warm fire for the rest of our friends. We may have been tired for our evening celebration, but brunch the next morning was epic!
I’m left with such an intense love for Baxter State Park – how could this “only” be a State Park? Gary fished along the river on Tuesday before our departure home, and the trek brought us even further into the woods. There is endless recreation to be had along the way, with ponds, rivers, trails, picnic areas and rustic campgrounds. All while the ridge line of Katahdin towers in the distance. I can’t wait to go back!