Katahdin Baxter Peak - September 17, 2023

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Rhody Seth

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I made the long drive up to Baxter State Park by myself from Rhode Island, meeting my friend Pete at the gas station right off I-95. Oof, that's a haul of a drive. Hadn't been to this area since I was passing through on the way to the last Maine Phish festival in 2001. Pete and I planned to have lunch at the Big Moose Inn before heading into the park but it turned out it wasn't open yet which would provide fortuitous. Having never been to Baxter before, I found it an interesting experience coming in through Millinocket. It hardly feels like there are mountains nearby since the elevation is so gradual until you get close to Katahdin. The dense forest provides few views of the mountains within.

Hurricane Lee passed east of Maine the day prior and the tree folks had already done stellar work of clearing several large trees that had fallen on the road to Baxter. The 8 miles of dirt road to Roaring Brook campsite were wonderful compared to the choppy mess we recently experienced on Glacier's Going-to-the-Sun road (there the initial 9 mile stretch was being redone to lay lines and every day brought different conditions). We arrived at Roaring Brook at 4:15.

The weather was absolutely splendid for this driving day. Unfortunately more rain was forecast for the next two. Standing outside Big Moose Inn, I had said we should just go for it and hike Katahdin today, with the forecast so dreary for the remainder of our trip. After all, we were staying at the bunkhouse there next to the trailhead. What's a little night hiking between friends? Pete had initially laughed it off but by the time we reached the Roaring Brook campsite, the seed I planted had taken root. He got out of his truck ready to make a go of it. That was all the prompting I needed. We quickly got our packs ready and were on the trail by 4:30 PM.

We passed several groups heading down as we made our way up the Chimney Pond Trail. They didn't mention anything about the water levels to us which was just as well- if we had known we may have thought better of this idea. There was a good amount of flooding and more than one dicey crossing but we made it through fairly dry. We kept a good pace and were hoping that we would reach the summit not long after sunset. At the Chimney Pond campsite the ranger seemed a little dubious of our hike and asked probing questions to make sure we had the necessary gear. We signed the logbook at the ranger station there and continued on, dealing with a few more water crossings.

Then we were at the bowl, looking up at the steep craggy walls of Katahdin. Pete had really hoped to do Knife Edge on this trip but it was not to be. Instead we choose the Cathedral Trail, all giant boulders and scrambling. Poles were pointless here and I stowed them soon enough. I really enjoyed this trail - there were definitely some tough lifts and a few times I opted to divert from the blazed sections which seemed cruel in there difficulty. I found easier routes. As we ascended it was clear we were losing the race against sunrise. A gorgeous sliver of pink and orange lit up the ridge and I imagine it would have been stellar if we were higher up. The wind began to cool us off and as dusk settled, seeing became difficult, especially for Pete.

Once darkness fell in earnest it got much easier. I had a bit of unease climbing up there in the dusk but now that my world was limited to the spot of my headlamp, I felt better. It's interesting how that works. We saw another headlamp way down below in the bowl - apparently we were the only crazy ones hiking at night. Soon the boulders ended and we were hiking on loose stone and not long after that we reached the summit. It was cool seeing the Katahdin sign I've seen so many times, especially since we were alone in the dark. It would have been sweet to have caught the sunset but we were probably 30 minutes too late.

We planned to take the Saddle Trail down - it's trailhead was about a mile away from the summit. The wind died dramatically as we left the peak and it was a really pleasant, quiet experience being up there. Almost as soon as we hit the Saddle Trail, we were welcoming by streams of water also using the trail. It required care to descend this way with all the wet stone, though I still think it was better than going down Cathedral, however dry that may have been. I hadn't thought bugs would be an issue on this trip but suddenly they were all around us, drawn by our headlamps. They seemed to think my nose a cave.

By the time we reached the Chimney Pond campsite, the joy of this hike was all but gone. Pete had lost his sunglasses only to find that someone left them at the ranger station - a happy development. The rest of the hike out was tiring as we navigated those tricky water crossings in the dark. With less than a mile to go, I opted to switch headlamps though the other one wasn't much better. This ended up being a major mistake. Attempting to skirt a muddy patch at speed, I did not see a sawed off tree poking out of the woods. I ran into it full bore with my left thigh and the pain was great. After a minute I began moving again with a significant limp and knew I bruised it badly. It would prove to be a real problem for the rest of the trip (it still isn't great now, a week later).

We made it back to our cars at 10:45 PM. A few minutes of relaxing, a change of clothes and then we quietly entered the bunkhouse with our sleeping supplies and settled down for the night. Hopefully we weren't too loud. There were a few other people there but they woke us up when they made an early exit so I suppose it evened out in the end.

 
I didn't even realize you were allowed to night hike in Baxter. I thought that was essentially a concession that you might be camping in an authorized area. I never thought to ask a ranger about it. There are many cool peaks there that I would love to catch a sunrise or sunset on..
 
I didn't even realize you were allowed to night hike in Baxter. I thought that was essentially a concession that you might be camping in an authorized area. I never thought to ask a ranger about it. There are many cool peaks there that I would love to catch a sunrise or sunset on..

Yeah he didn't have a problem with it - more just concerned that we knew what we were getting into and had the right gear. He did confirm where we were staying that night and our pack size probably suggested we weren't looking to camp up there.
 
Yeah he didn't have a problem with it - more just concerned that we knew what we were getting into and had the right gear. He did confirm where we were staying that night and our pack size probably suggested we weren't looking to camp up there.
Excellent. That's good to know for future trips.
 
Nice trip report as always. I climbed Katahdin's summits traversing the knife edge in the 80's and never felt the need go back. It's a bit too regulated for my taste.
 
Nice trip report as always. I climbed Katahdin's summits traversing the knife edge in the 80's and never felt the need go back. It's a bit too regulated for my taste.

Yeah the drive alone makes it a place I'll rarely get to (same with the Adirondacks) but I didn't make it over to Hamlin Peak on this trip so I've got at least one more drive ahead of me to BSP.
 
Yeah the drive alone makes it a place I'll rarely get to (same with the Adirondacks) but I didn't make it over to Hamlin Peak on this trip so I've got at least one more drive ahead of me to BSP.
Gated parks just require planning and that is not my strong suit, lol. I decide most of my hikes in the Whites on the drive up. I don't blame you for going back for Hamlin, I was lucky and traversed both in one day, we had good weather. I would like to repeat the Knife edge, but I never go without my dog, so that will probably never happen.
 
IMHO BSP without climbing, The Traveler Loop, Double Top, The Brothers, Baxter Pamla and Hamlin, the Northern Peaks and the NW Plateau down into Davis Pond is just an incomplete experience. Sort of like someone climbing Washington and claiming they have "hiked the Whites". Seven days in the park should knock them all off.
 
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