Being the most direct access to Baxter Peak, the Abol trail has the reputation to be steep and relentless. Is this good or bad depends on your objective. The nearby
is less monotonously steep and offers wider views, but if you wish to see fewer Appalachian Trail through-hikers, or you just prefer a shorter and more challenging route, then the Abol will be your choice. It is possible to continue on from Baxter Peak to South Peak, the Knife Edge, and Pamola Peak, but if your primary goal is a day trip over the Knife Edge then you should consider the
, which also has easy road access.
The Abol trail was closed from spring 2014 to summer 2016 due to a rock slide that occurred in 2013. A new trail segment has been opened, which, before reaching the rock slide, will diverge to the northwest, making a traversing ascent before switchbacking along the rib that is west of the slide. The route is now slightly longer (3.6 instead of 3.2 miles), less steep (average 30% instead of 47% on the slide part), and slightly easier (less scrambling and firmer ground), but the most difficult part, the upper slide, remains unchanged. The GPS track on this page includes both the new and the old trail.
For some reason, BSP's website lists the Abol trail's length to be 3.4+1 mile, and this mistake is copied by various websites. Even the summit sign reads 4.4 miles to Abol campground. But it really is 3.6 miles. Don't just believe me, check your map.
The trail head is within the Abol Campground between lean-to 11 and 12, about 0.1 mile from the road (1300 ft elevation). The campground is on the perimeter road not far from the park's southern entrance.
The trail starts as an easy wooded trail
at 1340 ft elevation. On this lower section, the trail follows a streambed
as often as not. Gradually, the slope increases and the trees thin out just enough to afford partial views
At mile 1.4 and 2560 ft, the trail veers westerly just before the rock slide (once the route of the trail). This part is a jewel as far as trail engineering is concerned, and after the initial traverse, the trail switchbacks steadily up until the tree line. Above tree line, it is now boulder hopping-territory. The trail meets the slide (and the old trail) at mile 2.4 and 4060 ft. Hands get more and more useful instead of walking poles as boulders get bigger, but it doesn't get more than YDS II+.
At mile 2.6 and 4620 ft, the trail reaches the summit plateau
and flattens. It then intersects with the Hunt Trail by Thoreau Spring (not always reliable in late summer). The Abol trail officially ends here.
The Baxter Cut-Off continues north-northeast, avoiding Baxter Peak and instead providing a flat route to the eastern edge of the Saddle. Take a right on the Hunt Trail to bag the summit.
Nothing other than the usual New England weather gear.
Waterproof boots are a good idea though not really needed if you watch your step.
Some way to attach your walking poles to your bag to free your hands on the upper slide is nice.
There is no water after the first mile.
Check with the park rangers before planning a climb in shoulder season - when we were there in October, the rangers had closed the top of the mountain for a day due to a couple of inches of snow. The trail up the rock slide would be very slippery with only a little snow or ice. I've climbed other New England peaks in icy conditions using just crampons and poles, but I wouldn't want to try it on the rock slide: arrest could be a real problem. See below.
After 10 years of clean record, Katahdin saw three deaths in 2017. While two of them were due to medical events, one was the direct result of a slip and fall on the Abol slide during a winter attempt by an experienced hiker. With more distance, more elevation change, an overnight stay, and farther distance from civilization, Katahdin is as hard as mount Washington in the winter and certainly more engaged. Check weather, consider avalanche risk, and make contingency plans.
Most winter ascents are done from the heated Chimney Pond bunkhouse to meet ice climbing, mountaineering or back country skiing objectives, but for those who only wish to bag the summit, the Abol trail is the way.
Park at the Abol Bridge parking and walk, snowshoe or ski 4.7 miles (+720 ft) to Abol campground. Skiers may want to boot up and down one hill just before Abol Pond. Most parties will overnight at Abol campground and carry on on snowshoes. If previous users have not potholed the next section, skilled skiers may skin up to the base of the slide.
Consider going up the old Abol trail. It is faster to move up the snowed-in slide than the new trail (think chute vs switchback on mount Whitney). From where the new trail turns left (you went too far if you start traversing left), bushwhack straight off-trail for 300 feet until the bottom of the slide. Some faint blue blazes may still be seen. As you go up, the snow will lessen and you may have to scramble boulders on crampons, but this will happen later on the slide than on the trail (due to smaller boulders).
When there is a lot of new snow, the tableland and the slide may be skied, but the slide may well be at risk for avalanche.
On the way down, on the new trail, the snow may cover the boulders and therefore the blue blazes, so remember where the trail enters the wood. On the old trail, on the bushwhack at the bottom of the slide, it is safer to off-shoot slightly right.
Ice axe and crampons are mandatory. Consider a compass or a GPS for the off-trail part and, with a rope, for retrieving the slide in case a whiteout hits while on the tableland. Consider a shovel, avalanche safety gear and emergency bivouac essentials. Expect to be alone. The ranger station at Abol campground is not staffed in the winter.
In perfect snow, getting up and down the slide may be faster in the winter than in the summer. However, we had perfect weather (blue sky, no wind, 10F at summit) but poor snow conditions (thin snow, ice between boulders), and took 5.5 hours from Abol campground to summit and 4.5 hours back.