Saturday, October 19, 2013

Katahdin Climb

Thru-hiker "Belch" took this photo of us on the summit.
Having worked as a hiking guide, outdoor blogger, and  New England adventurer, I am frequently asked,
"Have you hiked Katahdin?" 
I usually blush and mumble "No, but I really want to." 

Mt. Katahdin is the tallest mountain in Maine and arguably one of the most exciting and challenging climbs in New England.  So when my adventurer guide friend, Sarah, asked if I wanted to join her on her first Katahdin climb, I jumped at the opportunity...and into her Civic.  From the complicated permitting process, to the epic climb up to the Abol trail, to the night hike down the Hunt trail, we loved our adventure from start to finish. 

Fall leaves were vivid in Northern Maine

Here is how to recreate this adventure...

Adventure:  Katahdin Climb, Baxter State Park, ME. 

Getting there:  One of the reasons I'd never adventurered to Katahdin before is, it is a looooong drive to get there.  Mt. Katahdin is located in Baxter State Park.  It was a five hour drive from North Conway, NH.  To get there, take I-95 in Maine to Millinocket.  From here, follow signs to Baxter State Park.  Since we couldn't secure camping reservations inside the park, we camped at Penobscot Outdoor Center which is located just a few miles out of Millinocket and only two miles from the South entrance to Baxter. 

Trail:  There are multiple trails to Baxter Peak (highest peak on Mt. Katahdin).  You need a permit to park at the trailhead to any of them.  As a result, Sarah and I were at the mercy of whichever
Up Abol Trail/
trailhead permits were still available three days before our hike.  Originally, we wanted to hike Saturday and include the treacherous "Knife's Edge" into our adventure, however, due to our last minute planning, the only reservations available was on Sunday at the Abol campground trailhead.  We showed up at the park entrance at 8 am with our reservation in hand.  Unfortunately, we failed to read the fine print, and found out that after 7:05 am, all parking reservations were given away to other visitors.  NO!!!!!!  Fortunately, the hiking gods were smiling down on us, because there were just two permits left - this time for the Katahdin Spring campground and Hunt trailhead.  We grabbed our spot and headed to the trailhead.

heart cairn - photo by Sarah Audsley
Wanting to try a loop, we parked at Katahdin Spring and walked/hitched a ride down the 2 mile road to the Abol campground trailhead.  We signed in at the trailhead and headed up the Abol trail.  This trail is amazing!  After a half hour through the birch forest, we reached the slide.  Here, we spent 2 hours climbing up rock and boulder - ascending 3,000 feet in only 1.3 miles.  The climb gave us beautiful views of the valley below and through a bank of clouds to the plateau.  We took a break for lunch at the junctions of Abol and Hunt, then continued onto the Hunt trail/AT for the last mile to the summit of Baxter Peak.

The views were AMAZING at the summit.  On one side we got views of Chimney Pond, Owls Peak, and the Knife's Edge, and on the other, an ocean of clouds.  We were welcomed by a rowdy group of thru-hikers who had just finished their 6 month trek along the AT.  It was wonderful to see them celebrate the end of their journey and join in on the merriment. 

Sarah enjoys a snack break at the summit.  Looking at knifes edge.
After thirty minutes of summit awe and celebration, we descended on the Hunt trail back to our car.  This trail is one of the longer ones from Baxter peak (5.2 mi), and includes a technical 3 mile stretch down a rocky and exposed ridgeline.  The views were amazing as we lowered ourselves onto large granite boulders.  We caught the sunset as we dropped below tree-line into the forest where we finished the last couple miles in the dark - using our headlamps to find our way.  By the end of the hike we were exhausted and happy.  The day was a wonderful adventure filled with excitement and beauty. 

Hunt Trail/ Last mile of the AT

Difficulty Level:  Strenuous and Challenging!  The Abol trail was steep and challenging with many large boulders and straight up. The Hunt Trail was technical with large rock steps.  The Hunt Trail was also highly exposed and would be dangerous if the weather was bad. 

Distance:  + 9 miles. 11 hours including breaks.


Summit of Baxter Peak.  Photo by Sarah Audsley.
I think my biggest piece of advice is follow the first rule of Leave No Trace:  PLAN AHEAD AND
BE PREPARED!  This comes down to planning way in advance for trail and camping, bringing proper gear, knowing your route, and your capabilities.  If you follow this, you are bound to have a great trip.

Trail Permits - Reserve your permit in advance (you are allowed up to 2 weeks prior). Camping permits can be made up to 4 months in advance.  We were lucky to obtain a parking spot reservation with only one day's notice but didn't get the trail we wanted.  Read the fine print!  You will lose your parking permit if you don't get there by 7:05 am!  This happened to us and we were soooo lucky that we still got to hike!

Camping at Penobscot Outdoor Center

Camping - We didn't reserve in time to camp in the park, but we really enjoyed camping at Penobscot Outdoor Center.  The campground offers wooded, lakeside tent site, cabin rentals, and canvas tent rentals. They have hot showers, bathrooms, and free canoe rental.  The price was right (13 dollars a person per night) and was only 2 miles from the park's southern entrance.  Great place!

Hiking - This is a really challenging hike.  In fact, Sarah - an experienced guide - said it might be the most challenging hike she's ever done.  This is because the large rocks and steep elevation gain makes it just take a long time.  It's not good for someone who has bad knees or inexperienced. 
Hunt trail near summit

Gear - It's a long hike.  Bring plenty of water - I drank three liters and it was a cool day!!  Summer, I would need even more.  Bring lots of food, protection from the sun (lots of exposure on the hike), first aid kit, compass, map (and knowledge of how to use it), layered clothing, and a head lamp. 

Mt. Katahdin was an amazing experience.  Sarah and I experienced thrilling hiking, outstanding fall weather, and unforgettable views. 

Looking up the Hunt trail.

Please leave comments and questions below!