Tag Archives: Baxter State Park

The summit marker on West Peak, in the Bigelow Range in Maine. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Hiking 4,000 Footers in Maine

Although Maine does not have the highest mountains in the US, there are 14 Maine mountains that are 4,000 feet or higher. I never thought too much about climbing them; I just went hiking to nearby mountains, and over the years I have climbed all but two: Mount Redington, that does not even have a trail, and North Brother, in Baxter State Park. As many times as I have been hiking in Baxter State Park, Katahdin or Russell Pond always seemed the preferred hikes for our family or hiking group.

The first 4,000 footers that I climbed were Sugarloaf and the Bigelow chain, West and Avery Peak. It was many years ago, and I was an 11 year old Girl Scout at a Girl Scout camp in Readfield, Maine. One of the first days at camp, our counselors set us down in front of their tent to discuss badges, and we prepared to earn the Hiking Badge. Every day, rain or shine, we would go on a hike to prepare for our big adventure. We would walk out on dirt country roads until one of the counselors thought we had gone far enough, then turn around and run back. None of the girls that I knew had any experience in hiking and certainly no running or track! On some of the hot, humid days it was quite exhausting, and we all stumbled into camp and headed straight to our cots in our tents to rest. We carried canteens, but while running back there was no stopping for a drink.

After a couple of weeks of practice, we gathered in front of the counselors’ tent to see if we had made the list to go on the big adventure, and they told us what we needed to bring in our packs. The next morning we were loaded into two vans for a long drive to Stratton, a valley between two mountains, both on the Appalachian Trail. Here it had been arranged that we would stay in private camps: these belonged to families and were used as ski lodges back in the 50s, when ski areas were just beginning to be developed. This was free lodging for us, and we cooked group meals together on wood stoves. We did little beyond hike, cook, eat, and sleep.

After an early breakfast at our camps, we hiked Sugarloaf. I remember it was the highest mountain I had ever climbed, and it was a sunny, hot day. It is the second highest mountain in Maine. I don’t remember any complaining, but I think the girls were all tired. The counselors thought it would be a great idea to have us jump into a mountain stream. That was another new experience. The water was rushing down and it was frigid cold. No one wanted to do it. Everyone lined up, and one by one each jumped in on a countdown, and we pulled each other out. We were shaking and our teeth rattled on the way back down. The camps were not heated, but we built up the fires in the wood stoves and all helped to fix dinner.

The next day we were up before dawn, built the fires in the wood stoves, fixed breakfasts, packed day packs with food, and off we went to hike the Bigelow Range. This was much longer hiking day and much harder climbing. We were young girls and it was an adventure. It was 13 miles, as we had a long hike to the base of the range, then up and across the Bigelows from West Peak to Avery Peak, then down and out to the trailhead. No one got sick or was injured. I don’t remember the counselors giving the girls much praise, but we formed our own cheering squad and supported each other.

On that first excursion, I had hiked three of the highest peaks in Maine: Sugarloaf, the second highest mountain in the state; Bigelow West, the seventh highest, and Bigelow Avery, the ninth highest; they were all over 4,000’. I earned my hiking badge that summer, and I gained a great respect for hiking and the effort it takes to achieve goals.

I didn’t hike any high mountains again for a few years, but I skied on the top of the snow fields at Sugarloaf and Saddleback Mountains. It is a beautiful sight on a clear winter day. The views are magnificent and the air pristine and clear.

It is an awesome experience in any season to hike these grand mountains and experience nature at its finest. Now that I have hiked twelve of the fourteen 4,000’ peaks in Maine, my goal is to finish the last two.

(posted October 27, 2015)

Madelyn Given finishes her hike of the Appalachian Trail!

Baxter State Park: Appalachian Trail Part 2

To my surprise, the park ranger at Katahdin was expecting me. Crank, Boss, and Spammy had told her to watch for Madelyn from Maine: she would be coming soon. Two weeks earlier, near Bethel, Maine, I met two day hikers who were friends of this ranger and apparently told her to look for an AT hiker, Madelyn from Maine. They had given me a bag of great snacks to keep me going that day. The word spreads quickly on the AT Trail!

There is a neat system for northbound thru-hikers when you check in at Katahdin Stream Campground. You leave your heavy pack and you pick up a light day pack to use for the difficult last day of hiking. There is a small campsite reserved for AT thru-hikers, out of sight at Katahdin Stream, and I spent the night there. That evening a young couple arrived and we all shared the last night talking about our experiences. The next morning I left alone while the others were sleeping. I went to the ranger station, signed in the log book—August 7th, 2009 for the AT Trail—and donned the borrowed light day pack. Without my heavy pack, I made good time. I headed up the Hunt Trail on that clear sunny morning, knowing that my husband would be driving most of that day to pick up my heavy pack at one end of the park, then drive to the other side to meet me and welcome me home.

The trail follows Katahdin Stream for a while, crosses over a bridge, and heads straight up to the caves and then the boulders on the Hunt Spur. I did well until I got to the boulders: I couldn’t find any white blazes, and it was very difficult to climb up this granite face of mass boulders. After finally finding a few handholds, I maneuvered my way past this place, and then it was manageable and leveled out to the Tableland. The views in all directions were spectacular that morning, as 2.4 miles are above tree line. The tableland is a true plateau; at a junction is Thoreau Springs at 4, 636 feet. It is named for Henry David Thoreau, who climbed this mountain in 1846. He loved to hike in Maine, and wrote extensively about his experiences in the Maine wilderness.

The elevation gain from Katahdin Stream Campground to Baxter Peak is 4,188’, making it a difficult 8-9 hours of hiking. I reached Baxter Peak, top of Katahdin, at 10 am. There was no one there for a while and I wanted a photo or two of this great finish of my 4 months of hiking. Several small groups arrived, and someone graciously volunteered to take my picture, which you can see at the top of this blog post. It was one of the mildest, clearest days I ever experienced at the top. Later, coming down Saddle Trail, I encountered a thunder storm, but since I was off the massive tableland and below tree line, I was not threatened from exposure.

When I got close to Roaring Brook, I met up with friends who came to congratulate me. Then my husband had brought a cooler of food! I was ready to hit the road for a long ride home, and I wondered if home would seem strange to me. For me, I am glad that climbing Katahdin came last on the AT Trail. It is such an awesome, grand mountain that it is a perfect place to complete the Appalachian Mountain Trail, and I had walked home to Maine.

(posted October 6, 2015)

Friends through-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Madelyn Given among them (in middle).

Baxter State Park: Appalachian Trail Part 1

The last time I hiked Katahdin was a few years ago, at the end of my trek on the Appalachian Trail, as a northbound-through hiker from Springer, Georgia. It was also my greatest feeling of success when I climbed to the peak of Katahdin that beautiful August morning.

The first time I went into Baxter State Park, many years ago, our family was day hiking on the Daicey Pond Trail with my college roommate and her group of hikers. Coming along the trail at a good clip was a young couple, thin as two rails, with layers of dirt on them, passing us like we were standing still. My roommate called to them, “Are you through hikers?” They turned around, smiled, and hollered back, “Yes,” and continued on down the trail.

That was the first time I had ever seen Appalachian Trail (AT) through-hikers. I was so thrilled with their accomplishments that the memory stayed with me another 35 or more years, until I had an awakening one night in November of 2008. That awakening was so unusual and real that the next morning, I knew I was going to do the AT.

I knew no one personally who had accomplished this feat, but from November to March of 2009, I prepared in earnest. On March 27th I set out and hiked every day from dawn to dusk from Springer, Georgia, through 14 states, heading straight to Maine, to finish at the top of Katahdin. By the time I reached Maine I had lost 50 pounds, had hiked through a two-day blizzard with snow sometimes up to my hips, rain for days on end, and had many adventures with wild animals, too.

I had three AT friends I had met in Virginia and Pennsylvania: Crank, Spammy, and Boss. The photo at the top of this blog post is of Crank, Spammy, me and two other thru-hikers at Bigalow Mountain lean-to in July; Boss is taking the photo. We had spent much time together and we were hoping to finish together at the top of Katahdin. They had bought plane tickets to fly home after completing Katahdin, but as they hiked closer to the AT finish, they realized they had miscalculated the time it would take to get there. They had to do one all-night hike to make their flight home. At this point I decided that was not for me, and we said our farewells after the Bigalow Range.

The last time I was in real civilization before entering Baxter State Park was in the tiny town of Monson, Maine. I stayed overnight at Shaw’s Boarding House, enjoyed a big meal, and bought supplies to last me for six days. Even though I was hiking alone, and I would be entering the 100 Mile Wilderness at dawn, I was confident I would complete the trail.

I hiked alone, rarely meeting up with anyone. I was ahead of most of the northbound hikers that season. I encountered rain, a muddy trail with roots to fall over, and a bunch of mountains to climb. I had to cross streams, several gorges, and a wide river. I crossed one rushing gorge by holding on to a cable over my head, but as I inched across, one foot got caught under a rock. My arms were tired from holding onto the cable, I had a heavy pack, and the water was frigidly cold, but I had to do something. I let go with one hand, took my trekking pole and wedged it under the rock, and pried the rock far enough to get my foot dislodged. I made it to shore and collapsed. I was trembling, but I couldn’t stop for long, as I had to move to warm up again.

I camped out by a lake one night, a swamp another night, and set up my tent in a lean-to, as I was the only person there. The last night I set my tent up in the middle of the trail, since there wasn’t a soul anywhere nearby, and there was no other dry place to set it. In the middle of the night, a moose walked by my tent. I was too tired to even move inside the tent. It stopped, sniffed, and lumbered off down the trail.

When I came out of the 100 Mile Forest I crossed the Abol Bridge. It had taken me only four days. I had hiked 2,153 miles and now I had less than 20 to go. There was a campground where I stayed the night before entering Baxter State Park. I was on cloud nine with happiness that it would soon be over, yet thrilled that I had experienced the adventure of a lifetime.

I had cleaned myself up at the campsite, got up before dawn as usual, and walked into the woods following the white 3”by 6” blazes. I was ready for an easy day through the Park to Katahdin Steam Campground. I had hiked less than a mile when I fell off a slippery log and landed in muck, becoming completely soaked from my neck down. I was so mad that I had finally gotten cleaned up that morning, only to spend another day totally covered in muck!

I met up with some day hikers near Daicey Pond, and they were awestruck to meet up with a through-hiker coming from Georgia. The older man in the group had fallen and was bleeding from his scalp. The family was more interested in me than taking care of the elderly grandfather with blood running down his face. I saw one person had a bandana around her neck. I suggested they tie that around his head, which they did. The idea had not seemed to occur to them. I took a minute to talk with them and wish them a pleasant walk, and then I checked in with the ranger at Katahdin Stream Campground.

(posted September 29, 2015)