Hike Date: 21 June 2014
My family has a goal of reaching the high point in every state in the U.S. So far we’ve only done Mount Mansfield in Vermont (and we hiked from the visitor center, so we’ll have to do it again). This summer’s goal was to do our home state, Maine. Baxter Peak is the highest point in Maine, the 22nd highest state high point and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It sits in one of my favorite parks, Baxter State Park, which is the largest state park in New England and 4th largest in the country. The park was established with a goal of preserving the land in a natural state, so the trails are minimally maintained and there is a daily limit to the number of vehicles allowed in the park.
We arrived Friday afternoon and camped at a site we reserved at Roaring Brook Campground. This was the best way to guarantee getting into the park and having enough daylight to hike the mountain, which can easily take a seasoned hiker 8 hours so we knew we would need plenty of daylight. It also helped that we were hiking on the summer solstice. While checking in I heard other hikers discussing the snow that had fallen on the summit that day.
Always be prepared for winter-like weather when hiking above tree-line, no matter the time of year.
We had dinner and turned in early, so that we could wake up and get going early. The next morning I was up before the rest of the family so I got firewood and had a morning fire by which to stay warm.
We packed up camp and moved our vehicle to the day-use area. We started our big hike heading up Chimney Pond Trail. The trail was a moderate hike to Chimney Pond, a small pond that formed in the center of the horseshoe-shaped ridge of Mount Katahdin. About halfway up the trail there was a spur trail that led to a nice vista of the mountain.
We continued up the trail at a decent pace and took our next break at Middle Basin Pond. From the pond we had our first view of the saddle between Baxter Peak and Hamlin Peak, where the Saddle Trail exited the treeline and the ridge climbing up to Baxter Peak. After some trail mix and water we continued on.
We concluded the hike up to Chimney Pond and took a break in the day shelter. After the short rest we headed down to the pond for a view of it and Mount Katahdin. Chimney Pond is one of my favorite secluded locations. The pond is wrapped in an embrace by the mountain and across the pond you can see a small flat field (it is probably marsh). It would be the ultimate location for a log cabin (if not for being in the middle of a state park and visited by dozens of people a day). Unfortunately, panorama photos have a way of taking away the feeling of being surrounded and presenting the view at a distance. It is a must see in person.
We signed in at the ranger station and then began our slog up Saddle Trail. About a mile from the upper terminus of Saddle Trail we hit the Saddle slide. Saddle Trail is the easiest route up to Baxter Peak, but it is by no means easy. The slide is a mass of boulders with loose gravel between. Earlier that year a refrigerator-sized boulder slid loose on the Abol slide, closing the Abol Trail on its approach to Baxter for at least the rest of 2014. You could easily see the same thing happening on Saddle Trail. After many breaks and a whole bunch of sweat we made it to the top of Saddle trail.
So far the boys had done well. My older son led the charge and was often sitting on a rock waiting for us to catch up. My younger son was slow climbing over the rocks twice his size, but he had not complained yet and seemed determined to make it to the top (a huge improvement from last year when we climbed 3000′ Mount Blue and he said it was the worst day of his life). I was pretty tired but also determined to see my boys make it to the top of Baxter Peak. Unfortunately, my wife was exhausted and was feeling light-headed, so she stopped her hike near the Saddle Trail junction. She insisted that we continue to the peak, so I left her with her jacket, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and water.
We set up the one mile hike to the top of Baxter Peak. The trail was very rugged and continued over many false peaks before we got our view of the summit. Along the way people coming down from the peak congratulated me on bringing my sons all the way to the peak and even took pictures of my 7-year-old, amazed that he hiked all the way up himself. One large group even clapped and patted me on the back as we passed them.
We reached the chilly and breezy top and had our photo taken by the famous Katahdin sign.
We spent a few minutes taking in the view spread out around us, like the ragged ridge line of The Knife Edge:
And the expansive and water strewn Allagash Wilderness to the north:
We were soon chilly and found some shelter below large boulders and ate our lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. While we were eating we saw a young man complete his hike of the Appalachian Trail. Being only June he was very early. He said that he started in March. I didn’t ask, but considering that it was the Summer Solstice, I had the feeling that had began on the Vernal Equinox. 2180 miles in 3 months, that is fast.
Once we finished our lunch we headed down to meet back up with my wife. This began the slowest slog of the hike; waiting for my 7-year-old to navigate the tough terrain from the summit to the bottom of the Saddle slide. My older son went ahead to reach his mom at his own pace and I took in the view of the Baxter tableau.
We reached my wife and stopped for a break before descending Saddle slide. My younger son had worked very hard to hike down the mile of rugged trail from the peak without a break, so we figured he deserved one.
For me, descending the Saddle slide was the most nerve-wracking part of the hike. I basically hiked down it backwards with my arms out, waiting for my younger son to stumble. If we hadn’t spent so much time climbing the rocks on the back shore of our island and I hadn’t known how well he climbed rocks, we probably would have waited a few more years to do this hike.
The hike back to Roaring Brook Campground was long and uneventful. We stopped once again at Chimney Pond for our final snack and then made good time the rest of the way down. We got back to our car in just under 12 hours with plenty of daylight to drive out to another campground and set up camp. It was a long and arduous but total worth it. I could not have been more proud of my whole family and I look forward to more state high points in the future.
The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.
Elevation Gain: 3778′
Distance: 11 miles
Book Time: 7:25
Actual Time: 11:45
Wind: 10mph NW
Weather: Partly Sunny
“About the Trail.” appalachiantrail.org. Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Web. 30 July 2014.
“Facts About Mount Katahdin.” about.com. About.com. Web. 25 July 2014.
“Hiking Katahdin.” baxterstateparkauthority.com. Baxter State Park Authority. Web. 31 July 2014.