Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The many peaks of Katahdin 8/1/13

Working title: Amazing!

Peaks: Hamlin Peak, Baxter Peak, South Peak, Chimney Peak, Pamola Peak

Trails: Chimney Pond Trail, North Basin Cut-off, North Basin Trail, Hamlin Ridge Trail, Northwest Basin Trail, Saddle Trail, Knife Edge, Helon Taylor Trail

Mileage/time: 11.3 miles, ~4800 feet of gain, book time of 8:05, actual time of 12:26

Katahdin. Its name means The Greatest Mountain, and it certainly lives up to its billing. This was the mountain that started it all for me, more than 10 years ago, and I look back on it fondly. When I was asked last week, by my friend Heather, if I wanted to hike it with her, I couldn't say no. All I asked, was that we also include Hamlin. Since she's started working on the rest of the New England 4000-footers, it only seemed fair to get both in one shot. She stated right off the bat that she wanted to avoid the Knife Edge, but I'm getting ahead of myself, as usual.

The Wednesday Sleep Deprivation Special was in full effect this week. I got my gear ready, then went and played a couple rounds of disc golf with my co-workers. In reality, I should have taken a nap. So it goes. Further preparation ensued, then Heather ended up running late. She asked me if I'd done yoga before, which I haven't, and said there was a class in Portland at 3:30. I bargained with her, saying that I'd do yoga with her, if she did Knife Edge. We never did do the yoga class, since it was 90 minutes long, and we were already going to be arriving at her family's camp late... oh, and I hadn't slept! We stopped for dinner in Topsham, and then made our way north to Lincoln for the night, not arriving until almost 10pm. We found out the hard way, that everything up here closes at 9, or before. After meeting her father and grandmother, and chatting for a while, it was time to get not nearly enough sleep, before tackling the beast.

3:30am, the alarm goes off. No good can come of this. I woke Heather up, and we piled into the car and were on the road at 4. We stopped at a couple of stores along the way, so she could get food for the day, most of which ended up as extra weight in her pack. At the last store stop, I checked to see when the AT Cafe in Millinocket opened, and found that it had just opened for the day at 5am. Breakfast was to be had! The same waitress was working, and breakfast was delicious. I even walked out with a still warm squash (pumpkin) doughnut, that would be a fantastic on trail snack.

We drove out of Millinocket, and made it to the park gate just before 6:30, where several cars were waiting. The line moved quickly, and since I'd already made a day use parking reservation, we were all set, and soon were off to Roaring Brook. The parking lot was starting to fill up by the time we got there, and many groups were getting ready for their hikes. We readied ourselves, and I ran down to the brook to filter water for the day. Raring to go, we set off up Chimney Pond Trail a bit after 7:30.

After about 0.4 miles, I realized I'd forgotten two important things in the car, my regular glasses (I was wearing my sunglasses), and my bandanas (because I'm a sweaty bastard). I left my pack, and told Heather I'd be right back. Running back to the trailhead was fun, and I got puzzled looks from everyone along the way. I also managed to severely roll my left ankle. What a great way to start! Items retrieved, I jogged back up the trail, passing most of the same groups I'd passed on the way back down, and we finally got going again. Forgetting things is one, sure fire way, to warm up quickly!

Onward and upward we went, leapfrogging several groups along the way, some of which had individuals carrying no packs... concerning to me. We soon reached a short spur trail, and I insisted that it wasn't to be missed. The first of many views of the day presented itself.

Looking towards the North Basin
A short while later, we came upon another spur trail, and took it down to the shore of one of the Basin Ponds. The water was crystal clear, and the view, amazing.


Returning to the trail, we continued on, until reaching the junction with the North Basin Cut-off, which we took. This short trail was rugged, and didn't appear to get much use, though it was well marked and any blowdowns had been cleared from it. Baxter sure does a fantastic job with trail maintenance. Reaching the North Basin Trail, we had options. I convinced Heather to take the 0.2 mile side trip (it didn't take much). After some rock hopping, we popped out into the open, the grandeur of the North Basin spread out before us.

North Basin

Hamlin Ridge

Looking toward the Great Basin
Here we took a break in the sun, while clouds plied the skies above, on gusty south winds. Here, I ate my doughnut... it was amazing. Break over, we hopped back down into the woods, but only briefly, and made our way to the Hamlin Ridge Trail, which would take us back above treeline for most of the remainder of the day. While it started off mellow, the trail soon steepened, with some ledge scrambles, and much rock. We soon broke out of the trees for good, and the climbing kept on in earnest.

Basin Ponds from treeline
The ridge has a couple of "false summits" along the way, but the views into the North Basin and the Great Basin are unmatched, and more than makes up for the strenuous climbing.

The Tabor Wall

Hamlin Ridge

Great Basin and Chimney Pond
We climbed steadily, the ridge starting to drop away steeply to the north, and the crest of the summit was in view.



Soon enough, we reached the summit, and took in the views. Not another soul around, an oddity for Katahdin. It pays to take the path less traveled.

Hamlin summit

The North (Howe) Peaks

The Brothers over the Northwest Plateau

Barren, OJI, Doubletop, and Coe
Hopping the 0.2 miles down to the Northwest Basin Trail, we ran into the first group we'd seen since leaving Chimney Pond Trail. They had missed the turn for the Saddle Trail, and decided to backtrack to it, instead of going down Hamlin Ridge. We ran into one solo guy during our descent to the Saddle, and the views continued to be fantastic.

The Owl and Barren

Saddle Trail
Reaching the low point, we started back up, running into many groups on their way down. I found a small urn, maybe 2 inches tall, placed on a rock right next to the trail. It's best to leave the dead where they lie, so I didn't touch it. What a place to have a part of you interred.



The summit was upon us, and true to form, it was crowded. That, and Heather got her first up close view of the Knife Edge. We settled in on some rocks just behind the summit sign, and ate. I brought up two coconut waters, and I think it may have been the highlight of her day. Contemplative, we took in the scene.

Knife Edge

The Traveler

South Peak

Granite spires


After a while, we were ready to press on, but which way? Heather had been contemplating the Knife Edge, and started asking people. Long story short, there was a 50/50 mix of opinion, and my repeated phrase, "it's not as bad as it looks", won her over. I may have embellished here and there, she says I lied to her... semantics. Either way, we started across to South Peak. Beyond here, we would lose a bunch of elevation, and the ridge would begin to narrow.


Slowly, as she foretold, we worked our way down from South Peak, running into a group or two coming the opposite way. They offered a smattering of encouragement, with a bit of discouragement, though I tried to help, Heather eventually told me to not talk, and then to not talk about the trail. She was doing great, though the gusty southerly winds weren't helping matters.




After being passed by a group of 3 kids and 2 adults, we came upon Chimney Peak, and the end of the edge was in sight. This part, unfortunately, is the crux of any hike over the Knife Edge. Cresting over the summit, and starting down the other side, we saw them in the col. Heather yelled down to them, asking how it was. Their reply was full of sarcasm and derision... "sketchy, super sketchy". As they took off, bypassing Pamola, they yelled up, "good luck". That pretty much did it for Heather. She'd been doing so well up to then, and they just sucked the confidence right out of her.

In the end, we made it to the bottom of the chimney, but Heather was done, and rightly pissed at the group ahead of us. She followed the herd path to the south of Pamola, while I scrambled up to tag the peak.

The last scramble

The Traveler from Pamola
Meeting back up on the trail took a little while, as the herd path ended, and a jumble of loose rocks confronted Heather on her way around Pamola. Helon Taylor Trail seemed to go on forever, and wasn't much of an enjoyable descent, though the views for a lot of it helped matters. The sun at our backs created an interesting effect, as rays of light shone through the clouds and came down above, and on either side of us. Neat effects nature!


The slog towards treeline continued, and once below it, the trail didn't get any easier. The sun waned, and it grew dark. Headlamps came out, and before long, the sound of Roaring Brook could be heard, and we saw a headlamp moving through the woods. Our journey was nearly at an end! Back to the lot just before 9pm, and good news, we weren't the last group off the mountain!

The drive back to Lincoln ensued, and I was so beaten, that I passed out pretty quickly... with dinner, but with no beer. The next day, I was up early with the rain, and after waking Heather and retrieving her things from my car, I set back off to civilization as I know it.

Thanks to Heather for allowing me to join you for these peaks, and thanks to your family for their hospitality!

Now it's time for some fun outside of my comfort zone. Tomorrow (8/8), I'll be headed to New York for a few days of celebration, and a bit of Adirondack hiking. Report when I return!

2 comments:

  1. Sweet! And wild!

    NY is purty - I am here for a couple days, south of the ADKs though, closer to Berkshires I think. Looking forward to your reports!

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