Baxter State Park – Mount Katahdin Loop

I woke up several times in the night because it was raining, which didn’t bode well for the weather forecast saying Tuesday was the best of my next three days. Although my alarm was set for 4:15, I was unable to go back to sleep after 3:15 and stayed up reading instead. I debated taking this as my rest day between big hikes, as initially planned, but I had no way to get an updated weather forecast before the rangers put it out at 7:00 and I would already need to be over to Roaring Brook if I was going to climb Katahdin today. I made the decision to drive over there early anyway, and the rain did stop before I got up to do so at 4:15.

I broke down my gear as little as possible, threw everything in my car, hit the privy, and started the 90-minute drive to the other side of the park. I needed to be past the gate by 6:00, when they opened to day users, in order to make sure I got a day use parking spot. I wouldn’t be able to get into my campsite until later in the day to make use of that parking spot.

There were just a couple of other cars out that early in the dark. Eventually, the sun came up as I drew nearer to Roaring Brook. I was one of the first cars in the lot and I took my time waiting for the new weather report at 7. I ate breakfast, read my book, and slowly made lunch and refilled my pack for the day. By the time I was ready, the lot had mostly filled with others doing the same thing and using the few privies one last time, which were quite rank.

The ranger was out on the porch when I went to check the weather and sign in. Today did still look to be beautiful, although the mountain was currently in the clouds. There was a steady stream of hikers signing in and heading to the trail so I knew this would be a vastly different hike than yesterday’s Brothers loop.

I got moving at 7:25 up the Chimney Pond Trail but quickly made a turn onto the Helon Taylor Trail. I was feeling good and started passing a few people on my way up. I would like to assume that this big mountain in the middle of nowhere calls people who really enjoy the mountains and understand how to move through them respectfully. Instead, I passed a very recent pile of human shit on the edge of the trail, and soon after saw someone vomiting on the edge of the trail. His friends didn’t seem concerned and inferred that once he got it all out, they’d keep climbing. Humanity is the worst.

Moving past my annoyance, the trail started getting rockier and soon broke treeline. I collapsed my trekking poles and put them on my pack since I knew I’d need my hands a lot more in the near future. I could see the ridgeline trail disappearing into the clouds but as I kept getting higher, the clouds seemed to lift a little with me.

The wind was blowing hard sometimes, and nonexistent at others. I tightened my hat strap to keep from losing it as I picked my way up the boulder jumble that was the trail. I love hearing the wind on the trail, but unfortunately, I could also hear the next hiker’s cell phone blaring music. As I got closer, I could hear the older man tell the younger man to shut it off until I passed. I thanked him for shutting it off but pointed out that I could hear it much farther away than that and most people don’t climb mountains to be inflicted with some stranger’s musical taste. I have played music like that myself in the past before I knew better. I don’t like confronting people, but you don’t get past ignorance if no one tells you what you’re doing is wrong.

Although moving fast, the Helon Taylor Trail took me longer than expected, although I didn’t know it would be quite that difficult either, picturing a woods trail for most of the ascent. I made it up to Pamola Peak at 4919′ and stopped for a snack and to commiserate with the other hiker there that we were in a cloud and had no view of the Knife Edge Trail to come. I was hopeful that the cloud would lift though and I moved ahead onto the Knife Edge, which is a thin ridge whereon you climb up and down the boulder jumbles as you make your way to the highest summit of Mount Katahdin.

The Knife Edge surprised me with an immediate vertical descent and then matching ascent that felt more like rock climbing than hiking, but that may have been the most difficult part of the whole trail. I moved through it with confidence and continued to pass people, something that almost never happens.

I’ve been hiking a lot this summer, but I still usually feel out of shape and slow. Maybe it’s because I usually hike with friends who are a lot faster than me, but I often feel that way even hiking solo. Today, I felt strong and surefooted. Boulder jumbles tend to take me forever to get through as I reach out with my trekking poles to make contact on the next rock, and then make sure I have the perfect foot placement before shifting my weight. Without trekking poles, I tend to take even longer. But for some reason, today I was able to look ahead and pick out my steps with confidence.

The clouds lifted and descended multiple times while I crossed the Knife Edge. Other hikers commented that they preferred the clouds down so they couldn’t see the steep drop-offs on the side of the trail. I preferred the view and not once was I nervous or uncertain of my movements. It was an amazing experience.

I could hear AT thru hikers whooping with joy as they reached the summit and the end of their journey, but the clouds did descend again as I got close to the peak, so it was a surprise to pop over one last boulder and find the Baxter Peak summit sign right in front of me. Baxter Peak is the tallest peak of Mount Katahdin at 5268′ and I hadn’t been there since my own AT finish in 2013. I quickly got a picture and then sat to have lunch and watch the hikers coming up. But it was weird to be amidst all the finishing thru hikers and not be one myself or know anyone coming, so I decided to just have a snack instead and save my lunch for the next peak.

As I stood up to head down the Saddle Trail, the clouds once again lifted so I could get a look at the ridgeline I’d just traversed, and also see what was to come. It looked more like hiking trail than climbing ahead so I got my trekking poles back out to speed the way. Despite my recent confidence on the exposed boulder jumble of the Knife Edge, this gently descending trail featured fist-sized ankle-roller rocks that slowed me way down.

Once I moved onto the Basin Trail to start climbing towards Hamlin Peak, I stopped running into crowds of people and looked forward to a little more solitude. It was a gradual ascent, variously moving over big boulder jumbles and rocky hiking trail. I could see the mountains I climbed yesterday to my left.  The sun was out in force now, and I could feel it on the back of my neck, but I kept hoping for the clouds to come back so I could avoid applying sunscreen. I occasionally got my wish.

I reached the junction with the Hamlin Ridge Trail and turned up it to quickly reach Hamlin Peak at 4756′. I sat for lunch there and to chat with the couple of other hikers around. There was an absolutely beautiful view of where I’d come from, not to mention every other direction around me, so it was hard to leave the peak but eventually, I had to get moving.

The Hamlin Ridge Trail down felt like a mini-Knife Edge, with similar climbing in between little pieces of trail. If I had just committed to putting my trekking poles away, I probably could have moved through it much faster, but I kept them in hand and then had to juggle them around on the climb-y parts. I didn’t want to move fast anyway, as the views just kept getting better on the way down. With Chimney Pond at the base of Baxter Peak to my right and the North Basin to my left, it was a gorgeous descent.

I was happy to make it into the trees and escape the sun, however, turning onto the North Basin Trail and then the North Basin Cutoff. I sat for a moment for another snack and to enjoy the quiet of the woods.

Once onto the Chimney Pond Trail, which would take me back where I started, I had to stop again to enjoy the view at Basin Ponds. The water was clear and so tempting to swim in, but the thought of putting my sweaty clothes back on afterward deterred me from taking the time. I figured I’d go for a quick swim near my campsite once I finished hiking.

The Chimney Pond Trail is a wonderful, well-trodden path featuring big bridges, plenty of puncheon, and rock steps, but even the rocky parts of it were easy to move over. I swiftly made my way down along Roaring Brook and back to the ranger station to sign out of the trail at 5:25 after 11.1 miles.

I then checked into my campsite (Roaring Brook Lean-to #9, where all the dirt has curiously been raked), made a quick rice and vegetable dinner, also ate my extra sandwich from lunch and some cookies and fruit, and then turned in to bed before dark. The lean-to is a nice site, facing the brook, but unfortunately, the stench of ammonia and shit from the nearby privy is a little overwhelming. Hopefully, the wind changes direction soon to carry it away.


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  1. David Chandler June 15, 2020 — 8:10 pm

    Katahdin is more appropriate than Mount Katahdin.

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