The alarm sounds at 4:30 am. Cold coffee in our thermoses gives us a perk as we drive down the dark, dirt roads from Abol Campground to Roaring Brook Campground in Maine’s Baxter State Park.
Taking the advice of the ranger at the campground, she recommended to be at the trailhead early. How early? “Don’t leave Abol any later than 5:45 am.”
Baxter State Park is a unique one as she explains that the park only allows cars in that match the number of parking spots.
Pro tip: Make sure to have a backup plan to hike alternative trails if planning on hiking to the top of Mount Katahdin. The ranger also informs us to pack-in and out our waste and to boil the water; there isn’t potable water at the campgrounds.
Roaring Brook Campground seems to have more parking available than the other two campgrounds: Katahdin Stream and Abol. This campground was my preferred one but was full by the time I made reservations.
The lean-to at Abol Campground was just what we need as we purchase firewood to pass time before going to bed. My chore for the night keeps me replenishing our water supply while Andy makes hiking bagel sandwiches and tends to the campfire.
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- Distance: 9.7 miles
- Elevation: 3,769 feet
- Estimated time: 8 to 10 hours
- Actual time: 7 hours and 16 minutes
- Starting point: Roaring Brook trailhead
- Ending point: Roaring Brook trailhead
Andy writes our hiking plans at the Roaring Brook station at 5:45 am: Helon-Taylor to Knife Edge and out Chimney Pond Trail. We do favor our loop hikes. The first part of the hike takes us up through the trees by way of headlamps for light until the sun is high enough to see. The sun is a ball of fire as we only get a few glimpses through the abundant trees. If only we had started hiking earlier.
The leaves start to show the colors of fall foliage. As we gain more elevation, the trees turn to thick brush until thinning out into the rocky alpine above. Clouds linger in all directions but the sun tries its hardest to poke through while lighting up the valley floor of yellows, oranges, reds, and greens with an occasional lake added to the landscape.
Outside of the protection of the trees, the wind starts to chill us to the bones. I add my buff and gloves to protect me from the wind and am ready for a squat stance when the high gusts nearly knock me off my feet. Andy and I take turns leading up Pamola Peak before the junction to the Knife Edge, a 1-mile exposed ridge to the summit of Mount Katahdin.
Hiking in a cloud of mist, we protect ourselves by ducking to the west side of the ridge. Early on the ridge, the crux, the wind tunnels through and has me holding tighter than normal onto my hand holds. The weather makes the ridge harder than it should be as the videos posted online make it look more extreme than the actual exposure. Don’t get me wrong, if you are afraid of exposed hikes, this variation may not be for you.
After what feels like a long mile, the ridge widens more as we approach the true summit. We join one other hiker and swap taking pictures of the momentous finish, you know the famous end of the Appalachian Trail if you were to hike it south to north. The weather continues to drain our energy as we agree to descend out of the wind before taking a nice, long snack break.
From the summit starting down, we start to see more people coming up the Saddle Trail from Chimney Pond. We encourage the hikers that look defeated that they have only a little further to go. Two young girls, probably around the age of eleven, mention they have a fifty-fifty chance of dying, which makes me chuckle to myself.
The trail slowly enters back into the trees and out of the alpine for shelter. The narrow, rocky trail leaves few places to stop and take a break without blocking the trail. We finally make it out of the cloud layer and are enjoying a nice stroll back to the parking lot. I’m exhausted at this point with little snack breaks and tired eyes. Chimney Pond boasts a beautiful alpine cirque not common in the East as I try to view the route still hiding in the clouds.
Every step down the rocky trail left my mild headache to be more of a nuisance. The last 2.5 miles feels like snails pace. Bridge crossings and a few sun patches lift my energy to get me back to the car. With the ranger’s recommendation of 10 hours for the entire trip, we finish in 7.25 hours with little breaks due to the weather.
I enjoy the celebratory beer from Maine Beer Company before the 6-hour drive to the White Mountains. Would I have enough energy to hike to the top of Mount Washington tomorrow?