As published in The Windham Eagle…
This is the first article in a three part series covering Mount Katahdin and the related adventure experience one group recently had.
The tallest mountain in Maine and the centerpiece of Baxter State Park was named Katahdin by the Penobscot Native Americans, meaning: “The Greatest Mountain.”
Mt. Katahdin results from glacial activity which occurred over 400 million years ago.
Governor Percival Baxter, heir to a large real estate and fish canning fortune, purchased the land surrounding the mountain and deeded it to the people of Maine. Now known as Baxter State Park, with over 200,000 acres of wilderness, the park’s mission is to be left as wild as possible. There are no paved roads, gas stations, or electricity in the park.
“Man is born to die. His works are short-lived. Buildings crumble, monuments decay, wealth vanishes. But Katahdin in all its glory, forever shall remain the mountain of the people of Maine.” – Percival Baxter
Mt. Katahdin, boasting a height of 5,267 feet at the Baxter Peak Summit, is also the Northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. In 1967, Mt. Katahdin was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.
There are numerous trails to hike to the Baxter Peak summit and as reinforced on the Baxter State Park web-page, with an “…elevation gain of around 4,000 feet. This is a very strenuous climb no matter which trailhead you choose. The average round trip time for a Katahdin hike is 8-12 hours.”
A great approach to breaking-up this strenuous journey, and spending more time on the mountain, is to hike into the Chimney Pond Campground and enjoy a relaxing stay communing with nature and fellow hikers. From there, on day two, adventurers can hike to/from the summit and then spend another night at the Chimney Pond Campground, before returning to the trailhead on day three.
Chimney Pond is one of the most popular campgrounds in Baxter State Park and one of two backcountry campgrounds in the park. The campground offers nine lean-to’s, a ten-person bunkhouse, outhouses and a Ranger Station. More importantly, those relatively few individuals who visit this remote spot will experience absolutely outstanding views of raw nature including the pristine waters of Chimney Pond.
One might ask “Can I fish in Chimney Pond?” The answer is, “Sure, you can try, but you won’t catch anything.” The reason: Chimney Pond freezes solid in the winter; no fish can survive that.
The most direct route to the Chimney Pond Campground is via the Roaring Brook Trailhead. This is a 3.3 mile hike, with an elevation gain of 1,425 feet which starts with a gradual ascent and then becomes a moderately difficult hike.
From the Chimney Pond basecamp a few trails are available to hike to/from the summit.
The Saddle Trail is the most gradual ascent to / descent from the summit, with an elevation gain of 2,353 feet. Considered strenuous, this is a 2.2 mile hike in which hikers should expect to encounter difficult footing.
The Cathedral Trail is the shortest ascent to / descent from the summit, also with an elevation gain of 2,353 feet. Considered very strenuous, this is a 1.7 mile hike in which hikers should expect very steep climbing over rock buttresses.
True thrill-seekers would not want to complete this journey without trekking across Knife Edge. Taking this route as a return from the summit involves two major stages.
First, traversing Knife Edge, which is a 365 foot descent from Baxter Peak, considered a very strenuous hike. As reinforced on the Baxter State Park web-page, “This route is completely exposed and several people have died or have been seriously injured while attempting a traverse in inclement weather and/or high winds.” This results from the fact that some spots are as narrow as 4-feet wide, with 2,000 foot drops on each side.
Once the trek across Knife Edge is complete, hikers then take the Dudley Trail back to Chimney Pond campground. This is another very strenuous hike of 1.3 miles, with a descent of 1,988 feet.
And, finally, the return hike to the Roaring Brook Trailhead can be accomplished on day three.
Regardless of the routes taken, one is sure to experience one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, accessible only by those willing to put forth significant effort to get there.
The next two articles will cover preparing to hike and camp on Katahdin and finally the actual experience one group had in doing so.
Craig Bailey is a Reporter for The Windham Eagle, Registered Maine Guide and owner of Maine Adventures, LLC. To learn more visit: www.MaineAdventuresLLC.com.