The alarm went off at 4AM. Somehow we made it out of the sleeping bags and we were driving by 4:15. Baxter State Park only allows a limited number of cars each day. Once the parking lots are full, the gates are closed. I had heard horror stories of people getting in line at 4AM and still being turned away. It was a Monday, so I thought we'd be in good shape, but I didn't really know. At the very least, I figured that getting an early start would do us some good.
We arrived at the park at 4:30 and we were the first ones in line. Surprise! We dozed in the car until 5AM, when the ranger opened the gates. We paid our $8 entry fee and headed for the Roaring Brook trailhead. We then had bagels and got our gear together. We stopped at the ranger station and registered, but the ranger wasn't in yet. By 6:15 we could stall no longer and hit the trail.
We hiked the Chimney Pond trail a short distance before turning onto the Helon Taylor Trail. After much discussion, Christy and I had decided on the most difficult route. All of the trails to Katahdin are tough, but we wanted to do the Knife Edge. The Knife Edge is advertised as a mile long traverse that is 2-3? wide with sheer drops on both sides. The idea of it made me nervous, but prevailing opinion in some circles is that you haven't really done Katahdin until you've hiked the Knife Edge. At the very least, it would be a unique experience. No other mountain in the east compares to it.
The Helon Taylor trail climbed steadily up through a spruce forest. After a mile we reached a clearing with views up to Pamola, the western summit of Katahdin. After that, the hiking became a matter of climbing boulders. Some areas required hand over hand climbing, though it wasn't particularly tricky. We reached treeline after 2 miles and were already sweating. Ahead of us, the rocky slope of Keep Ridge climbed abruptly to Pamola. Beyond it, we could just glimpse the Knife Edge.
We scrambled over boulders for more than another mile. The route was steep and difficult, but we finally reached the summit. From the top we could see South Basin and Hamlin Ridge to the north, the Knife Edge ahead of us, South Peak and Baxter Peak across from us, and a hundred lakes in the distance. It had taken us 3 ½ hours to cover the first 3.3 miles. This was in line with the average hiking time, but I hadn't expected it to take us this long.
We enjoyed a nice break before gathering our courage for the Knife Edge. The trail started out rough. We crossed a boulder field and reached a sheer, 80' notch in the ridge. It was pretty much straight down, but the ever present blue blazes went right down the rock face. We worked our way down slowly before reaching a spot that required turning around and climbing down. This was nerve-wracking but not as bad as it looked. We reached the bottom of the notch but still had to climb out. Ahead of us, the blazes ascended a series of ledges to Chimney Peak.
Usually I have more trouble going down places like this, but not in this case. The climb up was difficult. There were two spots that required finding hand and foot holds. At one spot I had to pass my pack up to Christy (who is much better at rock climbing) who was patiently waiting for me. I followed her moves and made it to the top. From there the narrows began. It wasn't really as narrow as advertised, but the walking was very difficult. There was no real path, just a pile of boulders. Basically we rock hopped for the next mile, moving from rock to rock but avoiding the sheer drops on either side. We were moving very slowly, as it would?ve been a bad place for a misstep. After some time we climbed steeply again, pulling ourselves up through the rocks. We reached South Peak, where I proposed an early lunch. It was really buggy though, so we decided to continue to Baxter Peak.
This part of the traverse was easier but still very rocky. We reached the highest point on Katahdin and the terminus of the Appalachian Trail right at lunch time. Of course, everyone else in the park also arrived there at the same time, so it was a bit like Disneyland. There were people everywhere, of varying experience and ability. Of course, most of them hadn't come across the knife-edge. That mile had taken us a humbling 2 hours and 15 minutes. The hike from the parking lot had taken a total of 6 hours! At least the descent would be faster.
We spent a full hour on the summit enjoying the incredible views. It was pretty cloudy, but the weather didn?t look threatening. By 1:30 though it was time to head down. We continued on the main ridge, heading down into the Saddle. This stretch of trail was still rocky, but much easier. We reached the saddle, and began our final challenge of the day. The Saddle Trail begins by descending a steep rockslide. This was tricky with tired legs. We kept at it though, and eventually reached treeline. Here the trail passed through a rocky gully. Although we were going down, the descent was still slow. It sprinkled a bit, but the storm we feared never developed. We reached an area of dead balsams that was reminiscent of Mt. Mitchell. We then crossed a stream and reached the shelters and bunkhouse at Chimney Pond. I would have loved to camp at Chimney Pond, but it had been reserved far in advance. We walked out to the pond, which sits in a cirque amid the high peaks of Katahdin. I had finished all 4 quarts of water that I had packed. I filled a quart bottle with a built-in filter that Christy had given to me for my birthday. We had a nice break there as the sky cleared.
From Chimney Pond it was 3 uneventful miles out to the car. This would have been a nice trail, but we were so tired we were numb. We passed the Basin Ponds and descended two more steep areas. Finally we crossed a bridge over Roaring Brook and we knew we were getting close. We reached the parking lot at 5:30, 11 hours and 15 minutes after we had started. This was easily the longest time that I had hiked in a day. We headed back to camp to bathe and nurse our bruises. From there, it was on to Millinocket for lobster. Katahdin was an amazing hike, and one I'd like to do again. Next time though, I won't be going across the Knife Edge. Actually, I?d really like to do some backpacking there. Of course, I'll probably need to plan the trip more than 4 days in advance to get the necessary reservations.
We slept great Monday night except for being awakened occasionally by the loons. I awoke around 8 on Tuesday and the first sensation I noticed was the soreness in my back and arms. I can't remember ever having a sore upper body after a hike. I suppose there's a first for everything. My legs weren't sore, because they were numb. I literally had no feeling in them at all. I got up to make breakfast, and nearly did a header getting out of the tent. I stumbled over to the picnic table and sat down. Christy followed me, and offered to make breakfast if I would gather blueberries. I thought this was a great deal, until I realized that it would involve walking. I stumbled around in the meadow behind our campsite and brought the blueberries back just in time to add them to the pancakes. We had them along with eggs and sausage and didn't feel the least bit guilty about it.
We took it pretty easy on Tuesday. We did go down to the office and rent a canoe though. We took it out on Millinocket Lake and paddled around for a couple of hours. It was a pretty lake, although there were homes along the lakeshore. Most of them were hidden in the woods though, which left the lake with a natural look. In the distance, Katahdin towered over us.
We found an island and stopped for lunch. We ate and sunbathed before I explored the island. I was surprised to find a cabin hidden in the woods. Surprise! Even the islands are private property. Oh well, we only borrowed it for a couple of hours. We returned the canoe and hung out on the beach. We were too tired to do much swimming, but it was nice to relax in the sand with a book.
That evening we went out to search for Moose. We got directions from the lady at the Inn. We drove out the Golden Road, which is a paved but narrow road owned by the local paper company. In fact, all of the surrounding land is owned by the paper company, so of course it's seen it's share of logging. I was pleased to note that they seem to log only small parcels, unlike some places which are clearcut and left in ruins. Of course they OWN the land, so they have an incentive to take care of it.
We drove out to some ponds and bogs which seemed like good moose habitat. Unfortunately, the moose weren't home. We drove all the way to Abol Bridge over the Penobscot River. There's a nice campground here and a beautiful river. We had time to kill, so we drove down a bumpy dirt road along the river. We reached a pair of "falls", which were really just major rapids. The road then continued away from the river. We eventually reached a gate, and my map indicated a pond just a short distance away through the woods. We decided to stretch our legs a bit and bushwack to the pond. I started down one side of a stream, while Christy explored the other. My path ended quickly and I returned to the road. I followed her into the woods.
She only had a brief headstart on me, but the brush was thick and I couldn't see her. I called out to her, and she yelled back from somewhere ahead. I pressed on, hoping to catch up to her. I reached a small pond, but there was no sign of Christy, or of moose. The main pond was still ahead, but the brush became impenetrable. Where was my girlfriend? I called again, but there was no response. I was getting worried, but I thought maybe she had doubled back. I decided to head back. If I didn't find her at the car, I'd regroup and resume my search.
I hurried back, but got no response to my calls. Finally I was nearing the car when she responded. I made it out to the road, and she wanted to know where I had been. "I was following you", was my response. As it turned out, she had never gone into the woods. She had continued up the road picking raspberries. I don't know how she had sounded as if she were ahead of me. It must have been a trick of the woods.
We headed back, and stopped at all of the likely spots again. We still didn't find any moose. We returned to camp dejected. Christy had said that she wasn't leaving Maine until she saw one, and we only had one day left. We did grill salmon over the fire that night, which improved our spirits. We went to bed early, looking forward to returning to Baxter State Park in the morning.
We got up early Wednesday and broke camp. We planned to do another hike in Baxter, but decided to drive out the Golden Road one more time and look for moose. We saw a car pulled off by a pond and stopped behind them. Sure enough, far on the other side of the pond was a moose. Of course, it was so far away that it could have been an elephant for all I know. Christy declared that she wasn't satisfied with that, and I knew we were running out of time.
We drove over to Baxter and parked once again at the Roaring Brook trailhead. We made breakfast burritos at a picnic table there. Afterwards, we began our hike to South Turner Mountain. We hiked a flat easy trail over to Sandy Stream Pond. I had heard that moose were often seen there, so I figured it was our last opportunity. We hiked a boardwalk down to the edge of the pond. When we arrived, I saw a huge splash out in the water. Could it be? Nope, it was ducks. Then movement caught my eye near the shore. There were two young bucks grazing there. Then I scanned the far side of the pond. There she was, a cow moose, over near the far shore. She was a good distance away, but some other hikers let us borrow their binoculars. With the binoculars the moose was easy to watch. We stayed for quite awhile before resuming our hike.
We left the pond and began the trail to South Turner Mountain. It is a 2 mile hike, with a 2000' elevation gain. That wouldn't be so bad, except that the first mile is flat. That made the final mile incredibly steep. The trail went straight up without a single switchback. We climbed over numerous boulders before reaching a bench at treeline. From there, the trail went straight up a huge rock pile. I had experience more than enough rocks on Monday, but it looked like we weren't done. We climbed up and reached the summit. From the top we had great views of Katahdin, it's ridges, and basins. Below us we could see Sandy Stream Pond. From our perch we watched the faint dot that was our moose. Then, she was joined by a smaller dot. A calf! Of course, it had waited until we were high up on the mountain before coming out.
We stayed for a little while and enjoyed the views. It was the clearest day of the trip so far, and the scenery was outstanding. Eventually we headed back down, and the descent wasn't much easier than the climb. We returned to the pond for lunch. The cow moose was still there, but the calf was gone. After a leisurely lunch we headed back to the car. We stopped at Togue Pond beach for a quick dip before saying farewell to Baxter State Park.
We decided to take the scenic route to New Hampshire. Instead of returning to the highway, we took the Golden Road out past Moosehead Lake. We drove the dusty, now unpaved road through some truly remote country. Just when the drive was beginning to seem tedious, we nearly hit a young bull moose on the side of the road. He ran into the trees, and we only got a fleeting glimpse of him. I walked into the woods a short distance after him, but found only droppings for my efforts.
We drove on, but came across a stopped minivan a couple of miles later. I immediately looked around, and spotted another young bull Moose in a bog beside the road. We parked and grabbed our cameras. He was close to the road, so we were able to watch him and take lots of pictures. He didn't seem bothered by us at all. After awhile we drove on and left him in peace.
We drove by Moosehead Lake, which is large but beautiful. Our route than took us through a number of small Maine towns. First there was Greenville, then Skowhegan. Then we reached an interesting road sign. It said Peru to the left, and Mexico straight ahead. I understand this road sign is actually featured on postcards. We opted for Mexico, and found it to be a busy town. I was disappointed though that there wasn't a Mexican restaurant. I think I'd like to move back there and open Mexico Mexican Restaurant.
We drove on, and eventually made it into New Hampshire. We drove through the tourist town of Gorham and into the White Mountains. We passed below Mount Madison and then took a side road toward Twin Mountain. On the way we stopped at a scenic pulloff to view a spectacular sunset. We didn't stay long, as we were hoping to make it to camp before dark.
We reached the forest service campground called Sugarloaf right at dusk. At first glance, all of the sites appeared to be reserved. Luckily though, they were all taken for the weekend. We would be leaving Friday morning. We had our pick, and selected a nice quiet one that was nicely removed from the road. I set up camp, and Christy made her wonderful boboli pizzas. We enjoyed some beer and a nice campfire before heading for the tent.
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