Madelyn Given, at the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine, with the kids who hiked all the way to the top!

Hiking in Baxter State Park

Over the years I have hiked a number of trails in Baxter State Park, which is home to Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine. I remember a few trails: Chimney Pond, Abol Stream, Helon Taylor, Saddle, Sandy Stream, Russell Pond, Hunt, Dudley and Cathedral. When I first climbed Katahdin, I had no idea the level of difficulty it entailed or the training I should have had prior to climbing. I suffered a lame and tired body after some of those hikes.

When my children were 7 and 9, we decided to climb Katahdin. It was our second year of hiking there; it was both a family event and a reunion with my college roommate. We decided to take the Cathedral trail, because from the nearest campground in the park, it was the shortest climb to the summit, Baxter Peak. My college roommate had led a group on that trail one year and said it was very doable and not to be concerned. The most important factors were getting an early start (at dawn), and hiking at a steady pace with no breaks.

The first part of our hike was from Roaring Brook Campsite, up the Chimney Pond Trail, to the Great Basin. We were familiar with this trail, having done it the previous year. It was a 3.3 mile hike below tree line to Chimney Pond, and we made steady progress. Our children were anxious to climb to Baxter Peak and boast of their accomplishment.

We stopped, sat on the rocks at Chimney Pond, and took in the view of the massive Great Basin in front of us. It is such a big horseshoe-shaped mass that the trails go outside this basin to the summit. It is a sheer wall of granite, beautiful and daunting. We had to get above this mass, several more thousand feet up, and walk on top of it, which is part of the top of Katahdin. I thought of my children and wondered if we should be doing this, but they were eager beavers and athletic. After a lunch break, we signed in at the Ranger Station at Chimney Pond, and we were well on our way before 12:30, the cut-off time for climbing above this point.

Now we were on the Cathedral Trail. It is a very steep climb, over three large rock buttresses that have many vertical fissures, which give the appearance of columns like cathedrals. It is almost all above tree line. There is an elevation change of 2,353 feet just from the Great basin to Baxter Peak. We were doing well, staying close together and walking at a steady pace, until we came to one particular buttress: this one had an overhanging rock, which everyone who was short in height needed a boost to climb up over. To look down, over a thousand-foot dropoff below, made me petrified. Never before or since has a knife edge, crevasse, or dropoff phased me like this one time. The children, spry and limber like monkeys, did great. I was the one holding up the group. Quitting was not an option, but I had the encouragement of everyone in our group. With their assistance, “place one foot here,” “now one hand here,” “don’t look down,” and “you got it,” I made it! I trembled for a while after, as I continued up the trail, and I never forgot that exact place.

We made it to the top! Once there, we had a snack and took the photo at the top of this blog post. I’m the woman on the right, with my daughter in the green jacket, and my blond-haired son in the middle, plus the kids who came with my college roommate. We enjoyed the great view from the tallest point in our home state. Our hike down was much faster, as it was easier than climbing up, and everyone was energized after reaching the top of the mountain. We arrived at our campsite before dark and enjoyed a campfire dinner, relaxing by Roaring Brook. We rehashed our adventure and listened to my college roommate tell tales about Katahdin.

(posted September 2, 2015)