Tag Archives: Katahdin

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)

Moose on Mount Katahdin in Maine. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Adventures on Katahdin: Part 2

Every time I went to Baxter State Park, we hiked one good hike either to Katahdin, Russell Pond, or other long trails. One time my daughter, son-in-law, husband, and I went to Russell Pond for a couple of days. Our loads got shifted and the food bag got left behind, but it wasn’t discovered until after we were preparing for our first evening meal after a strenuous day of hiking! We survived on snacks and water. We survived and learned our lesson: check your packs before taking a single step onto the trail.

We would take days off from strenuous hiking, go in to Sandy Stream Pond, sit on the big rock, and watch moose. I was never disappointed, as one or several will come out at almost any time during the day. We would take our car, go around the perimeter road, enjoy the views, stop at one of the waterfalls, and let the kids get cooled off in the mountain pools below the falls.

One of the craziest, scariest, and most irresponsible sights I saw was at Avalanche Field, a picnic area near one of the three entrances to Baxter State Park. Nearby was a town dump that was prone to black bear activity. As we gathered for ,lunch we saw a party of 4 teenagers standing around laughing and having fun. Unbeknownst to them, their toddler had walked away and was now at a distance, running towards a black bear, calling “Teddy bear…teddy bear.” The bear was slowly walking away from this running tiny child, until it came to a high cliff. It was trapped there, with only the toddler blocking its way. At our picnic table, we all jumped up, horrified at the scene unfolding. But we were further away even than the teenagers, who didn’t have a clue as to what was happening. A man sitting in a car closest to the situation got out of his car, ran to the toddler, scooped her up in his arms, and ran towards the picnic tables. We met him part way and told him the child belonged to the teens. The teens never seemed concerned, but the rest of us knew that child was very lucky that day.

Over the years I have been to Baxter State Park though all three entrances, coming from Greenville, Lily State Park, and Kokadjo on a private gravel road. It is slow going for many miles to Ripogenus Dam and the West Branch of the Penobscot River, but 54 miles from Greenville, you finally arrive at Abol Bridge. Then you must continue on the private Golden Road and enter the park at the Togue Pond Gate, 64 miles from Greenville. This tells you the park is surrounded by acres and miles of woods.

Another way to enter is by way of Pattern in Aroostook County, which is the northern entrance to Baxter State Park. Fuel your car in Pattern, 10 miles to Shin Pond, then Matagamon Lake, 16 miles across the bridge on the Sebois River. Continue on now 26 miles and cross the East Branch of the Penobscot River, then the Grand Lake Dam, a starting point for canoe trips down the rugged river, with many rapids and falls.

The East and West Branches of the Penobscot River combine to form one of the biggest rivers in Maine. The park is a mile beyond this dam, which is a 27-mile trip to this park entrance from the nearest small town. I have kayaked in this area of the park, and Travelor is the most well-known mountain in this area of the park. The third and the most popular park entrance is by way of Millinocket, off a major interstate, and it’s 18 miles from the park entrance: easiest, most popular, and closest to gas and supplies. Once you are in the park, you can settle down and let nature take hold.

One challenge in hiking different trails is to have a member of your hiking party volunteer to drive and meet the hikers coming down another trail at the end of a long hiking day. It takes an hour just to drive from one trail head to another, and no gas is available within the park. There are rangers at all the campgrounds and sign-in books for all hikers leaving on trails each morning.

Baxter State Park is a very strictly, carefully protected and maintained park, and therefore pristine and naturally wild and remote. For this I am glad.

(posted September 22, 2015)