The Maine Outdoor Adventure Club
ventures into Baxter State Park (BSP) at least once a year to partake in the amazing hiking in the area too far out of reach for just a day trip. For those of us that are working on our list of New England 4000-Footers
, this is a chance to knock 3 peaks off the list (North Brother, Hamlin Peak, and Baxter Peak). This year, five hikers attempted to summit with four of us attaining said goal. Ages ranged from twenty-one years old to those in their mid-fifties. Three had hiked together before and ascended Baxter together while the fourth to summit did the last few miles to the peak on his own. Of the four that summited Baxter peak, one went on to bag Hamlin in the same day.
Tips for before the Hike
- The Hunt Trail is an awesome trail, but those who are vertically challenged may become easily frustrated due to the height of the boulders to the top. I recommend ascending with someone in tow to give you a knee or shoulder if you are on the short side. Inclimate weather would prove treacherous, so be prepared for anything.
- If you decide to conquer this peak on a weekend, be prepared for a lot of people on Baxter. There were 50 college students on the trail when I was there and they all had to have their picture taken by the famous sign on top. During the week, including Fridays, there are very few people in the park and it is easier to summit without encountering hundreds of hikers.
- Getting into the park on the weekend is also significantly more difficult. We encountered one particular hiker who had asked a ranger when they should be at the gate. He was told 4:00AM and he should be fine. He arrived at 3:45AM and was the 18th car in line. Most of the parking areas were filled up by 7:30AM.
- It should go without saying, but be prepared for drastically different weather on the peaks because of the higher elevation and because it is above treeline for quite some distance. We encountered a number of inexperienced hikers that did not seem to be prepared at all for a hike of this magnitude.
- If you get a late start, the last few miles up through the rocks will take longer due to the bidirectional foot traffic. If you start early, as most people do, then you will be going with the flow for the majority of the hike up as well as down.
Our Hike to the Peak
We lucked out and had gorgeous weather with crystal clear blue skies and hardly any clouds at all. The wind was quite significant up the Hunt Trail, but it died out as we reached the tableland. Sometimes the white blazes were harder to spot due to weathering and the rocks that they were painted on, but this was more prevalent on the way down the trail than on the way up. In a few locations there were rungs or hooks in the rock to assist with the ascent. I have rock climbing experience and found it to be quite useful when conquering the more reachy scrambles.
The tableland was a welcomed break from the scrambling and provided amazing views of Baxter peak as well as the rest of Katahdin and the surrounding mountains. Staying on the designated trail is particularly important so as to preserve what vegetation is up there. We noticed ice in most of the pools of water. Be prepared for a large amount of foot traffic. As was said in the trip tips, be prepared for a crowded peak. Although the views are great, we only stayed at the peak briefly before descending slightly to eat our lunch and take a bit of a break. We followed book time and peaked in exactly four hours. Following our lunch, the two other hikers that I was with chose to descend via the Hunt Trail while I opted to move onto Hamlin peak to bag it for my 4000 footer list.
The Quiet Hike to Hamlin
If you enjoy the solitude and peaceful aspects of hiking and the crowds on Baxter are not your cup of tea, then I highly recommend making your way over to Hamlin peak. The trail itself is covered with skree about the size of your fist. It was very shifty and looked as if it had just been put down in the not too distant past. I took my time so as to avoid injury and I recommend the same method. The ridge walk is entirely over rocks except for a small portion through some scrub over towards Hamlin. I summited Hamlin in about an hour and a half and found myself to be the only one there for about five minutes before some fellow peak baggers (two gentlemen) came up. The views were incredibly and the lack of other people made it a much better peak than Baxter. The only people that typically summit Hamlin are those that are trying to bag their 4000s or more serious hikers than those simply out to hike Katahdin.
Descending Katahdin via Hunt
After my brief stop on top of Hamlin, I descended the mountain via the Baxter Cut-Off trail to the Hunt Trail. The Cut-Off had evidently seen very little use considering the number of hikers on the mountain. I did not encounter another hiker until I was on the Hunt Trail again. The Cut-Off follows a contour line and therefore was fairly flat and easy. There was some bouldering, but nothing like that encountered on the Hunt Trail. The exposed route made the views quite amazing and seeing Baxter peak the entire time was awesome.
Once I was back on the Hunt Trail I noticed that the wind from during our ascent had died down and changed direction. This meant that going down was much easier for me than it was going up aside from the few slides and long drops during which I had to trust that the ground was under my feet. I made good time coming down and made it all the way from Hamlin to the trail head at the base in just under 4 hours.
By the Numbers