Tag Archives: Katahdin

Madelyn Given on Knife Edge Trail, on Mount Katahdin in Maine.

Adventures on Katahdin: Part 1

Every trip to Baxter State Park led to some adventures. Every hike on Katahdin was not a successful summit for all members of our group. It was an effort to prepare for several days of wilderness hiking, proper footwear, clothing, supplies, food, and camp gear. It was always disappointing when a member had a problem. On one trip, a nice day turned violent. By the time the rest of our small group made it above tree line and the plateau, it began to snow. It was 4th of July weekend and there was warm weather 4,000’ below. The children had jeans, tee-shirts, and windbreakers, but they were getting cold quickly—yet we were close to the summit and all wanted to reach the top, which they could now see ahead. We found a few large rocks, huddled the three children together, and unwrapped a space blanket to wrap around them. As I was unwrapping it, the wind ripped it in half in a matter of a few seconds! Nevertheless, we managed to cover them for a few minutes, got them hydrated, and then off we went at a good pace. It wasn’t too long before we reached the summit, now in complete cloud cover. We then retreated at a steady, non-stop walk down the gradual plateau, then down to below tree line. Hours later we were back at our campsite: well, tired, and happy for an adventure on Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine.

From the first trip to Katahdin I learned much more about this grand mountain. One place, Knife Edge Trail, was the most spectacular feature of the mountain. It is a 1.1 mile narrow arête between South and Pamola Peaks. It has no equal on the Appalachian Mountains. For many years I avoided that trail, as people told true stories of people crawling on their hands and knees across it, and in bad weather and high winds it is extremely dangerous. In some places a person can stand astride both sheer cliffs on right and left with a thousand feet on either side. The vertical drops are impossible to negotiate without equipment and no blazes are necessary. There are only three ways to go: forward, backward, or straight down! After a number of trips into the park and many years of hiking, I did this trail on a few occasions. At the top of this blog post, you can see a photo of me on Knife Edge Trail. The views are magnificent and the experience is very rewarding.

One of the strangest trips to the summit came one year during a reunion with old college classmates and their families. Several of my friends were not physically fit enough any more to handle the hike, but a marathon runner and his high school daughter from the west coast wanted to do it. I said I would go up with them, and we took off on the Saddle Trail, the most gradual and easiest route; but no route is that easy or that short on Katahdin. We all carried day packs with a sufficient supply of food, water, and extra layer of clothing. The mosquitoes were terrible! We hadn’t gone very far, but they kept taking breaks and complaining aobut how difficult it was. I said I would go slowly, but I couldn’t stand to stop because the mosquitoes would attack like a black cloud upon us. Going up was difficult, and the constant barrage of “How much further?”, “Are we almost there?”, and “this is so hard,” made me more tired than the actual climbing.

One major rule while hiking is never leave anyone behind. I kept the small group together; either we all continued up, or we could turn around and all go down. One wanted to quit, while the other wanted to go on to the top. I took the backpack from the high school student and carried two packs almost from the beginning of the climb. We continued on up the steep trail; they were sweating and stumbling. Somewhere near the tree line, the marathon runner man tripped and broke his glasses, which were all steamed up from perspiration. From that point on, I carried his pack also, and we moved very slowly. We did summit finally! Then we hiked at a snail’s pace while I assisted the poor man down with bad vision to the safety below, and hours later, we trudged into camp. It was the most exasperating hike on Katahdin I ever made!

Being physically prepared is a must: Katahdin is no easy climb. Every year, people get lost and hurt, but the rewards of wilderness hiking greatly outnumber the risks if you are careful, well-prepared, and let nature be your guide.

(posted September 15, 2015)

Mount Katahdin in Maine, photographed by Madelyn Given.

Hiking in Baxter State Park: Russell Pond

There are many adventures hiking the trails of Maine, especially in Baxter State Park. Sometimes our small group would elect not to climb Katahdin, but spend a few days hiking in other places within the park. One of my favorite places was the hike to Russell Pond. It is 7.1 miles one-way from Roaring Brook Campground, at least a five-hour hike, and with children, we always planned to stay one night at the bunkhouse or lean-tos at Russell Pond. It is primarily a valley trail, with several ridges northbound between Katahdin and Russell Mountain. The biggest challenge on the trail is crossing Wassataquoit Stream, a large mountain stream. After a period of heavy rains, this can be a very dangerous crossing. It also has very slippery and sharp rocks, and with a heavy backpack, it is quite an experience. The water is so cold, even in midsummer, that your feet and legs are numb by the time you reach the other side. Years ago we didn’t have crocs, but survived; now it is easier. One time one of the children slipped and their pack had to be retrieved downstream. We were very careful with the youngsters and no one was ever hurt.

     We often encountered deer or moose while hiking this route, which is a lovely scenic trail. You can see one of my photos at the top of this blog post. We passed Sandy Stream Pond, then Whidden Pond, both great places to spot moose or deer. The trail flanks South Turner Mountain and then ascends towards Russell Pond. Along this section is a house-sized boulder called a glacier erratic. Sometimes our group would take a snack break here under the protection of its gigantic overhang. There are a few brooks to cross and plenty of water along the trail. Each trip we would try to learn a few facts of nature, and recognize types of ferns, lichens, and trees.

Several trails merge at Russell Pond, making it a fun place to meet other hikers taking different trails. Northwest Basin leads directly from the summit of Katahdin (a long and arduous trek), Wassatquoit Lake Trail is a very long trail through a large portion of the park leading to Nessowodnehunk Field Campground (another entrance far from where we entered), and Pogy Trail is another long trail coming from South Branch Campground, also quite far from where we entered the park.

After our hike into Russell Pond, we would usually do short day hikes to Wassatquoit Lake or to the Lookout Trail, where we had a high enough elevation to get a decent view and to see Katahdin from the Little North Basin. Those who wished to fish enjoyed going far into the wilderness for a few brook trout.

One of the worst nights for want of sleep was encountered in the bunkhouse at Russell Pond. It was a rather small building, divided by a partition, and our group shared one half, while another party had the other half of the bunkhouse. There was a woodstove for heat and cooking. But the mice had inhabited the building in force. One person was on patrol, keeping the critters from running over the sleeping children, and people used whatever was handy—including hiking boots—to bat them away. The banging went on all night, as the mice tried to find the food, which had been hung in bags tied to the rafters. In the morning, everyone came out of the bunkhouse completely exhausted. We stayed in lean-tos every time after that stay.

Despite the mice that one year, Russell Pond has been a favorite place to hike and stay. It is wild nature at its best. The forest is pristine, and it is far from roads and civilization. It rests the soul and sooths the mind. She soothes my cares.

(posted September 8, 2015)

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)