Grand Tour of Katahdin

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 45.90440°N / 68.9228°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Sep 11, 2004
My wife and I decided earlier in the year to go to Mount Desert Island / Acadia National Park on the Maine coast for our honeymoon. Living in Colorado Springs, we were interested in what the mountains of Maine were like so we decided to visit Baxter State Park for the last two days of our trip. We decided to attempt a summit attempt of Mt. Katahdin via the Hunt Trail which is the last 5 or so miles of the Appalachian Trail. After looking at the topo map and talking to a few locals My wife decided it wasn't for her and decided to drop me off at Katahdin Stream Campground and take the rental car back to the ocean for the day (She lived in California in San Luis Obispo for a year or so before we met and since the Springs is so far from the ocean she'd rather spend her last day at the ocean). This presented me with a great opportunity. Baxter State Park is very isolated and admitance is on a first come / first served basis so most people get there early for parking and have to do an out and back hike or chose between the Knife Edge or the Appalachian Trail. Because my wife was dropping me off, we didn't have to get there more than a half hour before the gate opened and she could pick me up at Roaring Brook Campground on the other side of Mt. Katahdin. This would allow me to hike the last five miles of the Appalachian Trail at a time when some northbound thru-hikers might be finishing and also to traverse the famous knife edge between Mt. Katahdin and Pamola Peak.

After saying good-bye to my wife and getting a 6:00am start, I realized that living in the thin air at around 6,800 feet above sea level in Colorado Springs was going to help quite a bit on the roughly 4,000 feet gain of the Appalachian Trail. The few folks who passed me were, you guessed it, thru-hikers. These folks are hiking machines after 2,000+ miles of hiking with a backpack. The first mile to the junction of the Owl trail was relatively easy with not much elevation gain. Shortly after passing the Owl junction the trail passes Katahdin Stream Falls, a beautiful cascade that was running at full tilt due to rain the day before. Immediately after the Falls the uphill started in earnest. The next 2.5 miles passing through the Boulderfield to the tableland area above timberline was very steep and involved a lot of scrambling with the only evidence of the trail in some areas being the white blazes painted on rocks. In Colorado much of this would be considered easy to difficult Class 2 hiking with a few moves that might be considered easy Class 3 with little exposure. Once at the tableland, the vast plateau above timberline, the hiking was much easier with a gradually incline between Thoreau Spring and the Mt. Katahdin summit. What a great hike! I can't think of a better way to end a 6 month thru-hike than this tableland approach with views that seem to go on forever.

After spending about a half hour talking with a few thru-hikers, two of them were younger women who broke down crying after touching the summit sign officially ending their 6 month epic hike, I decided to concentrate on the Knife Edge. This airy ridge walk/scramble is famous in New England and I was anxious to get started. It ended up just as advertised with tons of Class 2 scrambling with the route narrowing to a few feet in places with over a thousand feet of exposure on either side. In one area the trail crossed a cliff via a ledge that was maybe two feet wide and maybe thirty to fifty feet long. The drop off to the west was huge! The key was not to look down. The crux of the route on the Knife Edge is the Chimney. I had to down climb a Class 3 route maybe thirty feet to reach the saddle and then climb maybe another fifty feet of Class 3 route to exit the north side of the Chimney. Both of these Class 3 routes are not too bad if you take your time and the conditions are good. A slip on either of these areas could result in serious injury so please take your time and be safe. (For those of you from Colorado, the exposure is similar to the Keyhole Route on Long's Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park) Don' t be afraid to turn around if conditions are wet or icy. I was able to find pictures of the Chimney on the web ahead of time so if you are unsure if you want to attempt the Knife Edge do some research first. Once out of the Chimney I was on Pamola Peak. The descent down the Helon Taylor Trail to Roaring Brook Campground was steep but relatively uneventful after the Knife Edge. I was about two hours early to the end so I ended up striking up a conversation with a few nice New Englanders, one from Maine and one from Massachusetts, until my wife arrived. It ends up she had a close call with a bull moose on the interstate, just missing a collision.

I would recommend this area to anyone in New England and even to folks used to higher mountains out west as the isolation of Mt. Katahdin gives a different perspective and a nice "on top of the world" feeling. Five Stars!


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