Baxter / Katahdin in Autumn, with an NE 100 finish: Day 2, Katahdin

Help Support


Feb 28, 2012
Reaction score
New Boston, NH
... continued from Day 1: Sentinel Mountain

Day 0 - Intro + Basecamp

Day 1 - Sentinel Mountain + kayaking on the pond

Day 2 - Katahdin
- Drive to Roaring Brook campground
- Hike up to Pamola via Helon Taylor Trail
- Knife Edge to Baxter Peak
- Saddle + Northwest Basin trails to Hamlin Peak
- Descend via Hamlin Ridge + Chimney Pond trails

Day 3 - Coe / South Brother

Day 4 - depart for home

DAY 2 - Katahdin

GPS Track:

Photo Gallery: on Facebook (no account required)

We arose early to make the 20-30 minute drive around the southern side of the park to Roaring Brook Campground, the main starting point for most who hike Katahdin. We saw a coyote along the way, likely one of a small family living in/around the Kidney Pond area; they're attracted in particular to the apple trees there. We'd make a big loop of all the main summits in a clockwise direction: Pamola, Chimney Peak, the Knife Edge to South Peak, Baxter Peak (the high point and northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail), and Hamlin Peak. Brett and I, along with friends Mike and John, took the same route up several years earlier but skipped Hamlin, instead descending via the very steep Cathedral Trail.

The Helon (hee-lawn) Taylor Trail starts just 0.1 mile from Roaring Brook along the Chimney Pond Trail, and is currently the only route to the southern end of Katahdin's south ridge. Baxter State Park (BSP) closed the Dudley Trail in 2016 after a rock slide obliterated a lower section of trail above the Pamola Caves; they're working to re-route the trail around this section and should have it open again next year.

With temps still pretty high, we were hot but making great progress up toward and above treeline, and along Keep Ridge to the summit of Pamola. Breezes were more frequent above treeline, but never too strong. Bright, mostly sunny skies combined with the wind to provide us optimal conditions for this hike. As we progressed, we could see the Knife Edge ahead, and sweeping views to the west over the various lakes (including our own basecamp). To the east we could see Hamlin and its ridge, the Howe peaks and their ridge beyond that, and the Basin Ponds and North Basin areas in front; stunning views by any standard.

But it would only get better, the higher we went. Once atop Pamola (4919'), the magnificence and outright dominance of Katahdin made itself very clear. I believe this point, more than any in all of New England, is the most amazing mountaintop view in clear weather. With views across an along the Knife Edge to South Peak; the precipitous drops from the ridge deep into the South Basin and Chimney Pond area; and the steep drop into and rise out of the cleft between Pamola and Chimney Peak (4900') looking like a cathedral itself; and views back down Keep Ridge, the feeling is utter disbelief at how such formations could possibly occur without some higher, stronger being involved. More than a few awe-inspired cuss words and calls were heard, including from this writer.


On the Pamola summit, Knife Edge on left, Baxter Peak behind

Our wits back with us, we continued ahead, dropping sharply into and back out of the cleft between Pamola and Chimney peaks. It's like the two peaks were slammed together -- a slide drops steeply on either side of the cleft, something we'd see very clearly later in the day from Hamlin Ridge. Once atop Chimney Peak, we were on the Knife Edge heading toward South Peak, which lie just beneath Katahdin's high point, Baxter Peak. This time around, skies were clear, flooding us with constant amazement at what we were undertaking along this striking landscape. At points it honestly seemed unreal. While the Knife Edge doesn't feature vertical drops off it's narrow path, the drops are precipitous and extremely sharp (over 2000 feet down), and the trail narrows to as little as 2-3 feet in places, requiring care to keep sure footing. With higher winds, the going would have been much tougher.


The Knife Edge. Photo courtesy Brett William

Along the way, we crossed paths with several 2-4 person groups, some heading down from a sunrise hike, others going up. Two guys coming down had just completed their AT journey. Small world of small worlds, I came across Jimmy, a fellow Dyn/Oracle employee who was descending with a couple friends.

As we crested over South Peak, the high point of the mountain mass that is called Katahdin (a Native American Penobscot Tribe word meaning "The Greatest Mountain") loomed ahead. Baxter Peak, at 5268', is the tallest point on Katahdin and is the northern end of the Appalachian Trail (AT). We were bound to encounter AT hikers finishing their journey, and we weren't disappointed. Of the 30 or so people we saw on the summit while we were there, a good 10 or so finished their journeys that day; we looked upon them with reverence and true appreciation for the amazing task they'd completed.

After a more extended break on the summit (little to no wind, and perfect temps made it so very comfortable to sit and bask), we were on our way down the Saddle Trail toward the Table Land, a large, very gently sloping stretch between the back of Baxter and Hamlin peaks. When I hiked Baxter and Hamlin in Winter a couple years back with friends Michael, Monica, Liz, and Colin, this area provided a starkly different experience, very cold and windy in late December. It was refreshing to be hiking in such favorable conditions this time around!


We descended to the low point between the two peaks, toward the top of the Saddle Trail (our ascent that last time in Late December). We checked in with each other as a group and decided to continue on to Hamlin and down its ridge, as it would add just over a mile to the total and provide us with more time above treeline (i.e. cooler temps and far better views) and -- perhaps most importantly for those of us with knee issues -- a more gradual ascent back down.

A quick stop on Hamlin Peak, and we continued along and down Hamlin Ridge, a gradual but boulder-strewn ridge with a little less of a knife feel than earlier in the day. By this time, the group was in more of a contemplative zone, and we worked largely in silence to carefully navigate the route. We had a much rougher time in winter with this route, due to the ice conditions up high. This time, it was just a matter of working around some large steps down and around larger rocks and boulders.

Once down under treeline, the going was easy and straightforward. Temps were rising, but we were in the shade as the sun was leaning back over the other side of the mountain by then. We skipped a side trip to Chimney Pond and instead took the North Basin and North Basin Cutoff trails to join up with Chimney Pond Trail back to the car at the Roaring Brook Campground. At a bridge along the way that goes over Roaring Brook, we stopped and dunked our heads in the water - very refreshing.

We were on the mountain a total of almost 9.5 hours, down to the car by 6pm. The timing was good for us as we'd have some daylight left to make dinner and enjoy another fine sunset on the Pond. On our way back we spotted a moose (likely a cow, or mature female) walking along the road; this was the tallest I'd ever seen. Back at basecamp, we had leftover spaghetti/meat, plus some freshly-cooked steak tips, bread rolls and cheese, and more great wine hit the spot. Afterwards, some kayaked the pond again, others just sat and read. I sat at the shore and finally started reading Not Without Peril, a series of true stories about lives lost on Mount Washington and surrounding peaks. I also took out a Native American flute I'd started to learn how to play and mustered something hopefully resembling melodic lines.

This was a big day for everyone, for sure. But the biggest for me would be the next day, when I'd hopefully complete the New England 100 Highest peaks list with a hike up Mts. Coe and South Brother.

continue to Day 4: Coe/South Brother, a NE 100 finish ...

20170926_053109.jpg 20170926_113004.jpg 20170926_113831.jpg 20170926_121831.jpg 20170926_131057.jpg
Last edited: