Mount Katahdin 2012

The trip started back in March when the reservation request was sent to Baxter State Park. Margaret had been wanting to go since she was old enough to be allowed up the mountain. It was only through great luck that we ended up with two nights during the finest run of weather for the month. Sunday morning Phoebe, Sally, Margaret, and I were ready to go. We took a leisurely start with a stop at the grocery store for a few items and then Tim Horton’s for coffee and hot chocolate. The sky was absolutely clear with low humidity and a temperature in the 70’s.

We arrived at the park in the early afternoon and then took the bumpy dusty road in to the Roaring Brook Campground, tent site 21. First order of business was to set up our tents and then to make tea.

Ranger Bill came by to check us in. He took us to task for throwing egg shells in the fire pit and then cleaned out everything for us. We soon discovered that the animals here are quite keen to raid campsites, especially one cheeky chipmunk and a young buck.

After we settled in we took a warm up hike around Sandy Stream Pond, hoping to spot a moose. We saw no moose, but plenty of tracks. It was fun to do an easy hike and look over the mountains we would climb the next day. Back at camp we all went down to the Roaring Brook to cool our feet. Margaret bravely dunked, then we had more tea and ate our supper. The intrepid hikers settled down afterwards around the campfire reading and then to bed.

Monday morning I woke up at dawn and was wide awake by 4:30. The valley was filled with fog that we hoped to climb up out of. Shortly after 6:00 we entered the log and started the adventure. A short distance from the ranger’s cabin we turned onto the Helon Taylor trail up to Pamola. The trail starts up a long series of nice stone steps that wend through a hardwood forest. Heavy mist drifted through the woods

The trail gradually became steeper and the woods became dominated by evergreens. Now we were scrambling over roots and rocks. Whenever we stopped to rest the bugs would quickly find us, cutting the break to a few minutes. After about a mile we rose above the treeline and the fog was visible below us flowing up the valley and far off to the distance. Above us was clear sunny sky. One young male hiker passed us and then we had the trail to ourselves. Now the trail was only a pile of large rocks lapping up over the shoulder of the mountain. Panting and sweating we pushed ourselves on and soon thereafter reached Pamola (4919 feet). There we met an father-son team who came up the Dudley trail. We all took a rest, ate some gorp, and enjoyed the view. The knife edge and Baxter peak were laid out splendidly before us. There was only the hint of a breeze and the deep valley was still filled with fog.

Now for the truly exciting part. The trail over the knife edge is like a thin trace of rocky waves. We plunged in. Down off of Pamola to Chimney Rock the trail suddenly drops from sight and we had to ease ourselves down over the bluff with great care. In the narrow notch between the shear rock walls we took a photo session but the drop on either side just was impossible to capture. The climb up over Chimney Rock was equally vertical and we safely made it up and over the other side. The remainder of the knife edge was a series of rocky fingers and angular boulder piles, sometimes only just wide enough to place one foot on safe ground. As we approached South Peak the trail became all loose rock . Closer to Baxter Peak the trail meandered through and over boulders the size of the kitchen stove

And then we were there, at the peak after about 4 hours of hiking. We took a long rest to enjoy the view, to get pictures of the peak, briefly defy gravity and eat some sandwiches. Amazingly, we had the peak to ourselves for awhile,but we could see other hikers arriving from all directions. Including a work crew assigned to re-paint the blue trail blazes.

Once rested and with the hardest part of the hike behind us, we began the descent. We worked our way down onto the Tablelands, a pleasantly flat and even hiking terrain, and over to the saddle. The mountain on this side is a felsenmeer and the fist-sized rocks easily rolled underfoot. We kept the pace down to avoid taking an unwanted fall. The alpine meadow surrounding the trail was lovely and fragile and heath plants were in bloom. We however, we very hot, getting tired and being low on water wanted to get down into the cooler woods.

At the top of the Saddle Trail we waiting for an upward bound party to come up over the lip. The Saddle Trail follows a slide and the top end is vertical. In fact looking down, it almost seems impossible to negotiate. Anyway, over the lip we went and down the trail. Soon we were back below the treeline in impenetrable scrub alder and birch. But it gave us some shade. Eventually we came to a small brook fed by the melting snow higher up the basin. We took the risk to drink the icy water and refill our bottles (to no ill effect). At some point along here Margaret stumbled and twisted her ankle. We stopped so I could wrap it. She was sore but tough and we marched ahead down to Chimney Pond where we rested and marvelled at the heights we had just scaled.

We still had over three miles to cover before we made it back to camp. The trail was rocky and uneven, everyone’s knees and feet were tired and sore, but it was still a beautiful hike. The clouds had all cleared out and our minds were now turning to sitting in the cold stream water and cooling off. The miles passed with increasing slowness but then we found ourselves at the point of departure. We signed out at the ranger’s cabin and looked over the dozens of other names who were still out on the mountain.

Back at the campsite we changed and spent a long time cooling off in Roaring Brook. Then a supper of home-made baked beans and chili, lots of tea and hot cocoa, and maybe a nap or a read.

The next day we headed up South Turner Mountain after seeing a large bull moose feeding in Sandy Stream Pond. Of course we were traveling light so nobody had a camera! As we made ready to leave the park more clouds moved in and the mountaintops disappeared. Perhaps we did get the best days of the month. Photos thanks to Sally and Margaret.



  1. emily says:

    Someone needs to clean their lens! Cool story and hike report. I can’t believe it was that warm at the top. I’m wearing a wool sweater today at sea level, haha. I have never seen any alpine plants in Maine, I’m jealous of the trip! I hope to one day hike Katahdin since I was foiled by clouds one year and broken body the next. Felsenmeer – sea of stones. Very cool

    • John says:

      Well Emily, you are correct about the pictures. I forgot to bring a camera, Sally used her cell phone, and the shutter on Margie’s camera was malfunctioning. The images are not even close to the high standards usually seen here. Nonetheless, it was a great trip. When you are ready we will try again!

  2. Polly says:

    Looks so fun!! Can’t wait to see you guys in a few weeks. Nice work navigating the knife edge…maybe someday for me!

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