Monday, November 17, 2014

Knife Edge Crossing

Kelly crosses the Knife Edge Trail on Mt. Katahdin, ME
Last year, I hiked Mt. Katahdin in Maine over Columbus Day weekend.  For my first ascent, my friend Sarah and I took the steep Abol trail up and the long Hunt Trail (AT) down.  This year, I decided to tackle it again - this time taking a stab at the infamous Knife Edge Trail to the summit.  This narrow and exposed ridge line has a reputation for one of the most challenging hikes in the Northeast, and was on my bucket list as a "must- try". My sister, Kelly, agreed to conquer the mountain with me.  It was an amazing adventure.

Here is a peek at our adventure...

Driving into Baxter State Park
Abol Campground, Baxter State Park
Permits - Baxter State Park requires visitors to have a permit to enter, stay, and camp in the park. Maine residents get dibs on early reservations.  Read your reservation carefully.  Day reservations must be claimed by 7 am on the day or they are given away.  Camping reservations ensure your spot for the day as well as a parking spot.
 Reservations can (and should) be made ahead of time.  Even trying one month ahead, we did not get our first choices on campgrounds.  Try MULTIPLE months prior to ensure you get your site.  Rules and cost about reservations can be found HERE or by calling park headquarters at (207) 723-5140.

Lil' Abol Falls near Abol Campground
Camping - We arrived at Baxter State Park on Saturday mid-day.  It was about a 5 hour drive from southern New Hampshire.  I had made reservations to spend our first night at Abol Campground.  We arrived at Abol, set up camp, and took a few small hikes around the park - Lil' Abol Falls and Elbow Pond.  These were pleasant short hikes with awesome views.  The second night, we spent at Roaring Brook Campground.  This is where we hiked to-and-from our Katahdin climb.

Both Abol and Roaring Brook Campgrounds had roomy, nature sites with fire pits.  There is no running water available.  Campers can treat river water or drive in their own. Firewood can be purchased from the camp ranger.  Outhouse/Privy toilets are available as well.  We stayed in a tent site at Abol and a lean-to site at Roaring Brook.  Both were spacious and comfortable.  I highly recommend the campgrounds.

On the Summit of Mt. Katahdin

Route - The goal of our trip was to tackle Mt. Katahdin from the Knife Edge trail.  This notorious trail is a highly exposed 1 mile stretch of ridge between Pamola Peak and Baxter Peak (highest point on the mountain).  This ascent should only be attempted under fair and dry weather conditions.  During October, while it felt like fall at the base, it was winter above, so adequate cold-weather gear was an additional necessity besides water, food, map, compass and first aid.

Kelly and I got up at 5 am, packed up at Abol campground and drove to the other side of the mountain.  We arrived at Roaring Brook Campground, in the dark, at 6 am.  After securing our packs, and signing into the ranger station, we were on the trail by 6:30 am - just as a sun was rising.

Cold summit of Mt. Katahdin
We took the Helon Taylor Trail up.  The trail was rocky and moderate as it ascended through the woods.  At 2 miles we passed the treeline and were rewarded with amazing views of the fall foliage below.  Rocky slab made for a tiring but still-moderate climb.  At 3.3 miles we summited Pamola Peak (4,902 ft).  This peak gives views of the Knife's Edge all the way to Baxter Peak.

The Knife Edge begins by steeply descending onto the base of the "Chimney" - a rocky point along the relatively smooth ridge-line.  From here, the climb just gets harder.  And it is...A CLIMB!  All extremities were needed to then climb up and then back down the steep outcrop.  In addition to the technical climbing (no ropes or anchors available), the exposure makes the experience that much more harrowing.  I'll be honest - I was terrified during the chimney portion on the climb.  After the first half mile, the trail becomes less steep but still very exposed.  Although scary, this trail awards its climbers with the most amazing views on the mountain and peaks.  From Pamola Peak, the Knife Edge is 1.1 miles to Baxter Peak - the summit of Mt. Katahdin (5,269 ft).

Looking over the Knife's Edge, Mt. Katahdin
It was a relief to reach the summit. The peak was crowded with hikers.  We took a photo at the iconic Mt. Katahdin sign and ate a quick lunch.  The cold weather, crisp wind, and sweaty clothes made us both cold, and it was uncomfortable sitting for long.  The year prior, I had worn a light sweatshirt and spent over an hour on the summit on the same weekend.  Now, ice and frost covered the rocks and alpine plants.  Its was a harsh place.

From the summit, we continued onto the Saddle Trail.  This 2.2 mile section took us to Chimney Pond junction.  The trail started with a gradual descent across a plateau.  Afterwards, a steep 0.2 mile section took hikers down what essentially is a slide.  Although less-technical than Knife's Edge, this section was still challenging and strenuous.  Watch for falling rocks.  After the slide, the trail became moderate once again, eventually leading us to the Chimney Pond and camp.

"Easy" part of the Saddle Trail
The Chimney Pond trail took us the last 3.3 miles back to Roaring Brook.  This easy- moderate trail
travels through Maine woods wilderness.  We hoped to see a moose, but alas, they stayed in hiding.

We returned to Roaring Brook Campground at 3 pm.  In total, our 9.9 mile hike took us nine hours.  It was great to get back, set up camp, eat some dinner and crash for the evening.

The next morning, sore and happy, we packed up and returned to New Hampshire.  We had achieved our goal.

Katahdin Views
Advice -

- Book your reservations WAY in advance!   We originally wanted to spend the night at Chimney
Lake near entrance of Baxter State Park
Pond Campsite, but a month in advance was not enough to get a spot - even on a cold fall weekend.  

- Know the rules about parking and permits.  Last year, I lost my reservation because I entered the park after 7:30 and my permit had been given away.  Check the website and rules!

- Be prepared for all kinds of weather. Last year I wore a light shirt and summer hiking pants.  This year I was donned in full ski gear.  Bring multiple layers of clothing and remember - Cotton Kills!

- Bring plenty of water or a way to treat water in the park.  The water source is the local streams and rivers and should be treated to prevent water-born illnesses.

- Don't count on Millinocket meeting all your shopping needs.  It is a small town and does not have many amenities.  You can only buy firewood in the campgrounds ($3).  

- Watch the weather.  Knife Edge can result in a deadly climb if attempted at bad weather.  Check in with the Rangers for up-to-date trail conditions before you climb.  

- Explore other parts of the park.  The lakes, waterfalls, and hardwood forest is incredibly pristine and beautiful!

A great hike up Mt. Katahdin
Please leave comments and questions below...