Why Should You Do This?
Every hiker, rock/ice climber, mountaineer, peak-bagger ect, should add a night time ascent of Mt. Katahdin to their list of things to do.
Why? Let this picture speak for itself.
Mt. Katahdin, and the vastly protected natural wilderness surrounding it, provides a relatively simple, yet extremely rewarding vista of the sun rising on the east coast of the United States. Arriving on the summit to witness the first rays of light turn the night sky into a vibrant canvas of blue, orange, red and yellow makes you the first person in the U.S. to see the sun rise on that particular day.
I did this non technical hike/scramble 2 times in four days, mostly because the first time was hindered by a nagging cloud system hovering directly over the summit. The result was only a 10 minute window to witness the blue sky turn orange and red, but my buddy Nick and I were never able to see the sun come up over the horizon. I immediately planned another trip with a college buddy of mine, Zach, who had expressed some interest in going. The second time we were blessed with excellent weather, views, and overall experience.
The looming cloud system sweeping down the Katahdin massif. To the right was a small bit of color, but no sun. It quickly disappeared and we elected to descend down.
In terms of planning and logistics, Katahdin is an easy set up for the summer. All cars with a Maine registration get free admittance to the park, while out of state plates pay an easy $14 dollar entrance fee. So, the best way to do this is to get a partner who is from Maine; then (economically) blackmail him/her into using their car. This is a foolproof plan. It's then $15 per person to stay overnight on a campsite. I highly recommend Abol Campsite because it sits right on the Abol trailhead, a steep but direct route straight up the ridge line and onto the Tableland, followed by an easy 20 minute walk to the true summit, Baxter Peak. Chimney Pond is another great choice, which will lead you towards the popular "Knifes Edge" route, then to Baxter Peak.
Late June and all of July is the optimal time for this hike, the number one reason being the mosquitoes aren't as bad. Unless you have your own personal herd of dragonflies (I don't), you'll have to deal with them at camp. Don't let them deter you from your ultimate goal, however. Bring bug spray, tiki lights, douse yourself in mud, and start huge raging fires.
The best time to get into the park is during the early afternoon, that way there is time to set up camp and then do some exploring in the late afternoon. There are some great spots where you are almost guaranteed to find moose around dinner time. I've found Daicey Pond, a 15 minute drive from the Abol Campsite, to be one the best. The moose legitimately don't seem to care about humans, so prepare for a long hang out sesh with him/her if you stumble across one. You might also see a fox, deer, and black bears, among other things.
After all that exploring and a meal (not too heavy), Zach and I were in our sleeping bags by 8 o'clock. Two days previously I had left at 1 a.m. with Nick. We were probably there too early, but it was our first time and were rushing to make sure we made it on time. We left camp by 1 a.m. and arrived on the summit by 4:20. The second time, Zach and I left at around the same time, and we arrived at almost the same time. In both instances my partner and I were in really, really good shape. It's definitely important to plan accordingly, factoring in your current fitness level, your partners and weather, you'll be kicking yourself if you miss the initial sun rise.
We took the Abol route straight to the Tableland. Marked by blue blazes, it seems virtually impossible to get lost. After leaving the cover of the trees (in no more than 30 to 45 minutes), we were in the clear and could visually mark our progress by the light of the moon.
On both nights, we were able to turn our headlamps off half way up the ridge and let the moon guide us.
The Abol ridge line provides a very visible tree/shrubbery line to the left and right, while the path remains on loose scree and huge, sturdy boulders that you'll indefinitely be scrambling up. So if you've strayed into thick brush, you're off the trail. Very simple.
Some boulders require a bit of scrambling, but nothing that presents serious danger.
Once we reached the Tableland (Aprox.3 hours)
we followed cairns all the way to the top via the Baxter Peak trailhead junction. Our whole ascent was done using headlamps. Mine was made by Petzel, and it worked wonders.
Gear I Brought For The Summit Attempt:
- Patagonia long-sleeved baselayer
- Nike Dri-Fit t-shirt
- North Face 1/4th Fleece Pullover
- North Face water resistant khaki pants
- Glove liners
- 2 pairs of wool socks
- Hiking shoes
- 2 32 oz. Nalgene bottles
- Trail Mix
- Two cameras
It's important to remember that during the night hours your body is usually hydrated and does not require as much water as if it were day time. Despite this, you will
get dehydrated if you don't drink during the entire hike. Even though you won't be that thirsty (you really wont), or hungry, make sure to sip on water periodically and have a small bite. I didn't even dip into any of my food until the Tableland, where I had half of a cliff bar. I ate a few bites of trail mix at the top and sipped on water. For someone who usually needs 64 oz of water for a 6 hour trip, I used my resources sparingly. This was solely because I was travelling at night and my body clock had turned my metabolic rate down considerably. The same will apply to most who climb at night.
Be prepared for chilly conditions at the summit. No mountain is forgiving, even in the summer, so be ready. I was a bit chilly sitting around at the top for almost an hour, but the presence of the sun rays did seem to progressively warm the air around me.
Taken by Zach Sloan, looking out into the horizon. Zoomed in, notice the white, low lying clouds above the forest to the east.
I brought a tripod and two cameras to set one at an area where I could capture the continued rise of the sun. It worked out real well. I was able to get the views I wanted while sitting comfortably on a rock, toying with the settings, and snapping away. The sun rises quickly, so I made sure to have a small game plan in terms of what I wanted for pictures. What's so cool about the initial rays of light is how they stand out on parts of the mountain. My favorite picture was easily one that portrayed the clouds in the horizon, the incoming light shining down on the rocky summit and the large cairn signifying the highest point in Maine.
A single blue blaze humanizes this photo.
Making our way down the Hunt Ridge, we were blown away by the shadow the sun had cast down on the vast forest ahead of us. Right before our eyes, stretching easily three or four miles long was the shadow of Katahdin's two peaks. Of course, we couldn't actually see the peaks behind us. Just another cool trick nature has up its sleeve.
Our descent down Hunt was a long and arduous process for the first 30 minutes, as we were mostly scaling huge boulders that were carved and moved by Katahdin's glacial past. After it was straight shot down the ridge line, one that provided a scenic rest at Katahdin Stream Falls. It's a fairly large waterfall boasting an excellent place to dip your face or feet in to cool off, or grab some water if you're out.
Upon reaching Katahdin Stream Falls campground, where the trailhead for the Hunt route begins, it was a 3 mile walk down the Tote Road back to our Abol campsite. This walk can be treacherous at times because you're so close to campsite and you just want to crash, but going down the Hunt ridge is well worth the trip, the views are spectacular.
In the form of shadows, Baxter and Hamlin Peak stretch out into the forest for miles.
A night ascent of Katahdin is something all avid explorers should seek to do at some point. The views are spectacular weather permitting, and it provides a non stressful, fun trip that does not require you to be on your toes at all times looking for threats like crevasses or ice falls.
I'm planning on doing a winter ascent of Katahdin in the next 6 months, and I can't wait to report on it. Until then, I'll finish with one last photo.
Cairn & Sun
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