Author Archives: Craig Bailey

The Katahdin Hiking / Camping Experience

As published in The Windham Eagle…

This is the third article in the series covering Mount Katahdin and the adventure experience one group recently had.

On September 27, a group of 8 departed Raymond, for Baxter State Park, a 4.5 hour drive into the Northwoods of Maine. It was a beautiful, crisp fall morning with the leaves just beginning to turn. There was much anticipation in all members of the group, some of whom hadn’t been to Baxter State Park, let alone seen Mount Katahdin up close and personal.

After driving about 3.5 hours Katahdin finally came into view as the group passed through Dolby Flowage, a beautiful vista between East Millinocket and Millinocket. Still over 20 miles away, Katahdin stood majestically on the horizon. It was this very view that drove the father of this group’s guide to make the decision, back in the ‘70’s, to live in Millinocket and raise his family of 3 boys.

After another 30-minutes the group entered Baxter State Park via the Togue Pond Gatehouse. Here, one checks-in with park rangers, which includes providing an emergency contact in the event any unfortunate incident befalls the group while in the backcountry. In addition, outta-staters pay park entrance fees. Fortunately, this group had Maine residents in each vehicle, resulting in a no-fee entrance.

Upon completing the last leg of the road trip, about 8 miles into the park, the group arrived at the trailhead to Chimney Pond, located at the Roaring Brook Campground. The importance of making reservations was obvious, as the parking lot was nearly full with day-hikers and overnight campers.

The eager group exited the vehicles, placed final articles in their backpacks and began the 3.3 mile trek into Chimney Pond: a gradual ascent on a trail mostly covered in rock, with an elevation gain of 1,460 feet.

During the first leg of the hike one experiences the constant sound and sights of Roaring Brook, which runs along the trail. Further along are several wooden bridges, constructed by park staff, enabling the crossing as well as beautiful views of the crystal clear brook, rushing over granite rock exposed by nature millions of years ago.

Hiking, with fully-laden backpacks, weighing between 30 and 45 pounds, resulted in frequent stops along the trail to rest briefly, hydrate and make adjustments to gear, alleviating the minor to moderate pain experienced.

After 3 hours and 15 minutes, the group arrived at the Chimney Pond Campground and made their way to the bunkhouse, a very nice structure (by backcountry standards), capable of accommodating 10 adventurers on a year-round basis.

IMG_0035

The Chimney Pond Bunkhouse

Once each person claimed their bunk, the group enthusiastically set out to explore the area and refresh their supply of drinking water, directly from Chimney Pond.

IMG_0038 (1)

Drawing water from Chimney Pond

Shortly after finishing dinner, consisting of freeze dried meals, a Park Ranger stopped by. The friendly, courteous and service-oriented Ranger welcomed the group, shared useful information (such as an up-to-date weather forecast) and offered to answer questions to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

On the following morning, members of the group made their final decision, in terms of who was hiking to the summit vs. those deciding to spend the day relaxing and exploring the area around Chimney Pond.

A hike to the summit starts with checking in at the Chimney Pond ranger station, by writing the name of and number in the group, trails to be hiked and time of departure, on the registration sheet.

For the ascent, the hikers chose the Cathedral Trail, the shortest, yet steepest ascent to the summit. Almost immediately, the challenge of the impending climb was obvious, as hikers began the process of clambering over boulders, large and small, on the 1.7 mile journey to the summit, representing an elevation gain of 2,353 feet. Given the group’s early start, it was clear that other hikers descending at this time had turned back, not being prepared for the challenge presented.

After 2 hours, the hikers arrived at the summit, with only a few other adventurous individuals present. At this point, the magnitude of the climb and surrounding area was realized, given the vast view one can only experience from the mountain-top. The powerfully gusting winds resulted in near-frigid conditions, with the potential to knock an unsuspecting person to the ground. 

Attempting to put on a poncho, as cover from the brief rain shower, resulted in it being completely shredded by the wind.

IMG_0059

Evan and Aaron Bailey on Baxter Peak

The Saddle Trail was chosen for the 2.2 mile gradual descent to Chimney Pond. Compared to Cathedral, this was much more forgiving, albeit still a challenge, completing the 3.5 hour round trip to/from the summit.

To educate the group and keep things interesting, the guide facilitated a trivia contest about Baxter State Park, Mount Katahdin and preparedness, awarding prizes useful in such a setting.

After another night’s rest the group prepared for the descent, which included ensuring the principle “leave no trace” was followed. This entailed sweeping the bunkhouse and scanning the surrounding area, picking up anything not occurring naturally.

As with the ascent, the group encountered numerous, friendly hikers of all ages and walks of life on the descent: each pausing for a brief conversation about the absolutely outstanding beauty, all a guise for the rest each person desperately desired.

On completing the descent in about 2 hours and 40 minutes, the group, gratified with their accomplishment, quickly ditched their backpacks, seeking the soft cushioned seats in the trucks. 

It should be noted that the severe knee pain experienced by the guide, on the descent from a day hike on a comparative “baby mountain”, several years ago, did not recur, even while carrying a heavily-laden backpack! The recommendations to avoid knee pain, shared in the prior article, had paid off!

In closing, the group unanimously agreed; it was near time to begin considering their next backcountry adventure.

Craig Bailey is a Registered Maine Guide and owner of Maine Adventures, LLC. To learn more visit: www.MaineAdventuresLLC.com.

Preparing for a Katahdin Hiking / Camping Adventure

As published in The Windham Eagle

This is the second article in a three part series covering Mount Katahdin and the adventure experience one group recently had.

A Katahdin hiking / camping adventure involves a great deal of advance preparation to ensure a safe and enjoyable excursion. The recommended starting point is the Baxter State Park website (www.baxterstatepark.org) which offers a wealth of information in this regard.

The preparation outlined here results from a group I led as we hiked Katahdin, spending two nights in the Chimney Pond bunkhouse.

ac53e8d4-7fa5-45ef-99a4-d61cb8b58f16.jpg

Ready to go: Julia Silva, Ethan, Aaron, Evan, Ian, Cindy & Craig Bailey

The first step (after the group has agreed to the challenge) is to make reservations with Baxter State Park, which can be done 120 days in advance. Since the Chimney Pond bunkhouse is in high demand one must be proactive to lock-in the desired date(s). 

Once reservations are made each hiker must ensure they are ready, from a physical standpoint, taking steps to minimize or eliminate common pains that may be experienced, which could hamper the journey.

To avoid foot pain, one should acquire a pair of lightweight, waterproof hiking boots offering excellent ankle support. That said, don’t try to break in a new pair of boots on a hike like this. Instead, wear them for many weeks in advance on practice hikes. Add to this a pair of thick wool socks for additional cushion. Finally, just prior to the trip it is important to cut one’s toenails to avoid chafing that could otherwise occur.

Another common pain to avoid is in the knees, which occurs primarily on the descent when the knees take the most abuse. Following are several recommendations, from professionals, proven effective with the test of time.

For those previously experiencing knee pain, doctors recommend Glucosomine Chondroiton. In addition, personal trainers recommend 2 exercises: glute bridges and quad stretches, for which information can be found online.

In addition to obtaining high-end hiking boots, a pair of trekking poles and knee braces provides a great deal of relief. And, finally, if knee pain is experienced on the trail, it is helpful to have on hand an anti-inflammatory like Advil or Aleve.

The final common pain to avoid is in the back and/or shoulders. This can result from a heavily loaded backpack (think 30-45 pounds) which will be lugged up and back down the 3.3 mile trail. To address this hikers should obtain a backpack with the proper support, where most of the weight is carried on the hips: not on the back or shoulders. Here, it is suggested the hiker visits an outfitter such as LL Bean to get specific recommendations on fit and function.

The final step is to do practice hikes, to try out new gear and confirm no foot, knee, shoulder or back pain is experienced.

In parallel with getting ready physically, one must determine the necessary equipment and provisions. The first consideration is Baxter State Park is a carry in / carry out park. As such, anything not consumed must be lugged back down the mountain.

Secondly, consider the bunkhouse has no electricity or running water. There are 10 wooden bunks (no mattresses), a wood stove, food preparation area, a picnic table and gas lanterns, with outhouses nearby. 

Given the itinerary (3 days / 2 nights) each person needs to “pack in” 2 dinners, 1 lunch, 2 breakfasts and lots of nutritional snacks. To minimize the weight and bulk, bring nothing requiring refrigeration, or in bulky containers, and acquire freeze dried food for most meals. To maintain energy levels, foods should consist of high amounts of carbs, fats and proteins. This is NOT the time to go on a diet.

Fortunately, there is a plentiful supply of water along the trail and Chimney Pond serves as a water source, all of which must be treated prior to consuming. As a result, each person should bring their own water bottle and treatment method.

Per Baxter State Park’s guidelines, those climbing to the summit of Katahdin must have a headlamp, space blanket, food and water in their day pack.

While there are other items to consider (change of clothes, personal hygiene, sleeping bag and pad, knife, fire-starter, trail stove, etc.) the above areas require the most advance preparation.

Upon finalizing the list of equipment and provisions each hiker should pack their backpack well in advance. Then, reduce and repack again, until each feels comfortable they have what is absolutely required – and nothing more.

Final considerations, prior to embarking, include reviewing the trails planned to be hiked, confirming the status of each on the Baxter State Park webpage. And, it is important to arrive at the trailhead with plenty of time to get started before the cutoff time. For example, in late September Park Rangers require hikers to begin their climb into Chimney Pond by 2pm. In addition, each member of the group must realize there is no rush up or down the mountain, acknowledging most injuries occur during the descent.

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 3.13.43 PM

Be Prepared!

In closing, the best advice to prepare for such an excursion is to make a list of necessities, then repeatedly walk through the days on the trail and at camp thinking of all the things that are (absolutely) required for a pleasant journey.

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.

About Mt. Katahdin

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.”

Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 2.59.15 PM

Katahdin, from Chimney Pond, with Craig, Ian, Aaron, Ethan, Evan & Cindy Bailey.

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.