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.
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.
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.
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.