Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Katahdins (Baxter & Hamlin)

The two major peaks of Mt Katahdin;   Baxter (5268') and  Hamlin(4756') :   09/04/13

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These were the first two 4k peaks of a 4 day trip to Baxter State Park for my last three New England 4 thousand foot  peaks (NE4Ks) as well as putting 3 peaks in the bank for my New England Hundred Highest (NEHH).   I held off on doing Baxter State Park until most of the summer crowd and bugs were gone but before it got too cold. The park has been known to shut it roads down for the winter as early as Sept 15th.

The following is a blow by blow verbose description of the 1st 2 days of the trip that probably is only of interest to myself.  Jump down to the photos and captions for the  short version.

Day 1 Tuesday, Sept 4, 2013:

·         Drove from RI to Baxter State Park (BSP), Maine (410 mile drive to the gate - supposed to be ~7 hrs took me ~8) BSP is 330 square miles of very rural land, donated to the state of Maine by one of its former (very rich) governors under strict guide lines that it remain undeveloped; no paved roads, no machinery other than autos (not even chain saws), no dogs, no logging, no running potable water or wells. etc. etc.  
·         Drove 14 miles up a winding narrow gravel road (Tote Rd) ~ 14 miles from the gate with speed limits of 10-20 mph  which are needed so you have time to put one set  wheel off the road when approaching another car.
·         Claimed a bunk I had reserved and dropped off a mattress and some gear at the Nesowanehunk (pronounced “Sowdehunk” by the locals) campground bunkhouse (BH). The 4 bunk BH was empty, as expected since I didn’t see any other reservations for the next 3 days.  Not bad, my own private cabin for $11 / day.
·         Drove back to the gate almost hitting a large moose on one turn – luckily she was traveling the same direction. I didn’t really come close to hitting her but she gave me quite a start as a rounded one turn and this huge black animal was trotting right down the middle of the road. All within a second (as I’m locking up the brakes in the gravel), my mind thought; ” what’s this guy doing riding this huge horse down the middle of the road?”, then,” oh, there’s no rider it must be loose from somewhere?”, then; “Duh!, you’re in BSP Maine, this is a Moose!” . The huge female moose politely pulled over and stepped a few feet into the woods. I grabbed for my camera but when I looked back up she was gone.  I’m assuming it was a female because of no antlers and I don’t think they start shedding them until early winter, but by its size I would have thought it was a bull moose
·         Then another 8 miles from the gate  on another winding narrow gravel road to the hiking parking lot at Roaring River  Campground (CG).
·         At about 15:30 I started up Chimney Pond (CP) Trail to CP Campground.  I got rained on in a flash storm half way up.  I can’t say that I had no warning because there was a lot of lightning followed quickly by load thunder, but being stupid and a procrastinator, I waited for the rain before pulling off my pack and digging out rain gear, by which time I was pretty much soaked. I stayed hunkered down under an umbrella (yes, I do sometimes carry an umbrella in my pack) until the worst of the torrential down pour was done - then continued up the now flooded trail. 
·         ~18:30 I arrived at Chimney Pond CG (~ 3.1 miles, per my GPS:  ~1530’ elevation gain.)  I checked in at the ranger station there and told him of my intension to go up Dudley trail the next day and hike to both Baxter and Hamlin peaks.  Seeing that I am not in the greatest of shape (obviously overweight, an inhaler hanging off my pack and still very winded from the easy hike up to CP), he tried to persuade me to go up Saddle trail or at least Cathedral  trail to avoid the Knife’s Edge and warned me that a hike to both peaks might be too ambitious.  That was actually the reason I had reserved the CP BH for 2 days; in case of bad weather or if I had to take two one day hikes to do the two peaks.
·          Claiming the next to last available bunk at almost full 12 man CP BH, I said my hellos to the other residents, heated up some dinner, and started separating out my packs for the stuff that was to stay at the BH. I had carried my large backpacking pack up to chimney pond to carry my sleeping bag, food and stove for the night, but also packed my lighter day pack to hike the upper trails.  As I was packing I realized I had left all my dry socks at the other BH and mine were soaked from walking through a trail that had turned into a stream.  One of the other hikers was nice enough to offer to lend me a spare dry pair which I could return if we met up later at the BH, or I could just keep them as his contribution to my finishing my NE4K peaks.   Hikers are such a nice people.
Day 2, Wed Sept 5, 2013
·         Up at 03:00, I quietly finished packing my day pack, heated some coffee & cooked some oatmeal in the common room before anyone else was up.
·         04:00 I signed in at the CP ranger station and started up Dudley trail (of course) to Pamola peak (1.4 miles, 2000 ft elevation  gain, 3.3 hrs).  Dudley is probably the steepest and hardest marked trail to use to get to Baxter from Chimney Pond even without the infamous Knife’s Edge.   I didn’t want to have to post in my blog, like I’ve seen others do, that I really wished I had done the Knife's Edge  when I had a chance. 
·         Dudley trail is a steep Boulder climb and I have to say, at that point, the most technically “difficult” scramble (almost a rock climb) that I have done so far.  N. Tripyramid slide was probably “harder” for me because I was in worse shape then, but technically I think Dudley beats it.  Also I was doing Dudley in the dark via headlamp.  That wasn’t really a factor though, the route up through the boulders is well marked with blue blazes, and my headlamp was sufficient to see as far as I needed.  I do have to say that whoever laid out the route with the blazes had kind of a sick sense of humor putting blazes on the middle of huge vertical rocks when there were obvious easier paths to take around them.
·         There was a thick low under-cast when I started which I quickly rose above and was able to stay just ahead of for quite a while.  But then it caught up as the sun rose and surrounded me in a thick London Fog.  So much for views from Pamola.
·         At 07:20 I finally reached Pamola peak(4919’)  still in the fog along with 15-20 knot winds that had been picking up since I started.  There is a sign there that says not to continue to the Knife’s Edge in bad weather.  Is no visibility with heavy winds considered bad weather?   I did hang out at Pamola for a while hoping the fog would continue to lift and I called home for a weather update. (The only place you can get Cell service within BSP is near the peaks with a direct line of site to Millinocket.)  My wife said that NOAA said that Baxter was presently sunny with calm winds.  RIGHT!  At any rate I wasn’t about to go back down Dudley or way down Helon Taylor trail only to have to hike back up to  Chimney Pond. There was really never any question.  I started out on the Knife’s Edge to Baxter Peak; 1.1 miles ,  350’ elevation gain.  Sounds easy, right?
·         Shortly along the initially easy trail the blue blazes quickly disappeared down a near vertical cliff. This is what I think is called “The Chimney” it’s a sharp  gap that is visible in the ridge profile from miles away (see pics) and goes nearly vertically down  ~100 ft from Pamola then back up another  ~80 foot vertical wall to Chimney Peak.  This quickly became my newest most difficult scramble (and really was more of a rock climb then a scramble). My pictures don’t really capture the difficultness (is that a word?) of the Chimney and following Knife’s Edge because of the fog and the fact that there was no one else on the trail to gain a perspective.  As it turns out Chris Dailey (also from RI) was with a group that followed after me that day (up from Roaring River via the Helon Taylor trail) He has a blog that has excellent photos of this section as well as the rest of the day’s hike.  His photos are quite large and uncompressed so it may take a while to load on a slower machine but well worth the wait;  (the chimney pics start near his 30th picture)
·         I crawled (literally at most times) at a snail’s pace along the Knife's Edge in 20-30 knots of wind with three out four limbs always firmly attached to the mountain. I  following the blue blazes as best I could, but at times when the "trail"  went right over the peak of the spine I tried to side skirt it either on the lee side (with less wind) or the windward side (where the wind was blowing me into the mountain rather than off).
·          09:55 Baxter Peak (5268’), the fog was just starting to lift when I reached South Peak then Baxter Peak .  Several "AT through hikers" had just finished the 2,000+ mile Appalachian Trail (AT) and were mugging up with the famous Katahdin sign that marks its North End.
·         Saddle trail & Hamlin Ridge trail from Baxter to Hamlin 2.6mi (include 0.4miles on wrong trail). This is a very easy almost level, section called the table top  which in the high wind reminded me of a wheat field (see pics to see what I mean).
·         13:00 Hamlin Peak (4756’). Spectacular views of Pamola, Chimney, Baxter, & North Peaks, the two basins, and the Knife’s Edge.  Most Katahdin hikers only go to Baxter and don’t realize what they are missing from a relatively easy hike from Baxter to Hamlin. North peak is not on any lists but it looks like it would be a great ridge hike for another day.  Not sure if there is a direct route down from there though.
·         Down Hamlin Ridge & North Basin cutoff back to Chimney pond to pick up my other pack and gear. (2.1 miles).  Hamlin Ridge is another boulder hike but not too bad, even going down. Some of the lower parts of the cutoff trail were still flooded though.
·         16:08 Back at Chimney Pond CG.  I signed in at the ranger station then took ~ 0.5 hours repacking my gear. The gentleman that lent me his socks was there but was fast asleep. My own socks were dried by now and I offered (to his wife) to swap them out, but his wife said not to bother and congratulated me on finishing two more peaks on my list.
·         16:36 Back down Chimney Pond trail to Roaring River trail. The trail was a lot drier now but there were still a few flooded out sections.
·         19:15 Back at Roaring Brook TH.  Today’s hike:  10.3 miles, 15.3 hours. 
·         Back at Nesowanehunk CG  ~ 1100 after a slow drive to the  gate,  a 10 mile drive downtown (Millinocket) for beer and a sub from Subway  then back to the gate & another slow 14 miles to Nesowanehunk CG.)  I’m starting to realize why it’s a lot easier to get reservations at Nesowanehunk compared to Roaring River campground. Technically they close the gate at 10pm and campers are supposed to be in by 8pm (not sure why). But the ranger at the gate said that as long as I was back by 10,  I’d be okay, and if it was later I could probably improvise and get by the gate (wink - wink). I also went out the gate to get cell phone service to give my wife a ring.  As I found out from the ranger at the gate, there is a dirt off-road section 1 mile on the left past the painted rock where most people can get cell service. That section of the road is nicknamed "the phone booth".   When I returned back to the bunkhouse, it had 1 other hiker sleeping in it.  I wanted to start a fire to dry off some more gear, but it was after quiet hours so I waited until morning to do that and to repack for the next day’s hike


Painted rock 1 mile befoire BSP

 a few people wadding in the stream along side Tote Rd. - they said it was freeezing cold.
4 man bunk house at Nesowanehunk campground (in BSP).  Sign on it says "Cozy Cabin"

Inside Cozy Cabin:

Even had firewood in the bin.


Start of Chimney Pond trail, parking was not a problem this time of day.

Views along Chimney Pond Trail:
a lot of recent bridge work over rivers and flooded sections of the trail

The roaring river. If you could hear my videos you'd understan how it got it's name.

first view of Katahdin along the trail

Got caught in a short down pour that got one set of clothes drenched before i could put on rain grear.

now flooded trail.

more bridges

Note the tree with the blue trail blaze in the middle of the river.
I think this river must have broke loose into the trail.

Chimney Pond Bunkhouse, 12 bunks in 2 rooms (behind the brown curtains) and a large common room with a wood stove, cooking table, and picnick table and 2 propane lamps.  These were taking with a flash after I got up at 0300 and started getting ready to hike before anyone else was up.

Rangers Station at Chimney pond, signed the log saying I was hiking up Dudley trail

Start of Dudley trail taking with a flash.

I started up the steep Dudey trail at 0400 by headlamp



A sandy ledge part way up -  almost seemed like beach sand -
pobably great place to hang for a while with great views in the daylight.

Typical view of Dudley trail (sorry7 about the blur) which is really a huge boulder slide. I think I can say this is the most technically challanging trail I had been on yet (but I hadnt yet reach the 'Knife's Edge"   At this point It was starting to get light out with a low overcast below me (undercast), that was rising and catching up to me.

A large overhanging boulder called "Index Rock"
 Chris  Dailey has a good picture of this rock taken from a distance

Undercast and wind caught up to me. The Index is behind me.

I finally reached Pamola Peak at the start of the Knife's Edge. The sign behind me says "DO NOT HIKE THIS TRAIL IN BAD WEATHER"   Does 25 knots of wind and no visibility qualify as bad weather? 


From Pamola the trail (blue blazes) continues along a short ridge then seems to drop straight down into the gap. The fog lifted just enough to get a quick peak of the upcoming scramble up to Chimney peak on the other side. As I said in my long narrative, to see really good pictures of this area see Chris Daileys site at:

Climbing down the pomola peak side of the gap in the wind was a bit scary, and I took it real slow.

Down at the  low point between Pamola and chimney peaks  the wind was funneling through at what seemed like over 30 knots.

Looking South from the gap. equally unvisible. I took a long time in this gap, procratinatining about starting up the Chimney.

Taking one of many breaks going up toCchimney peak, you can just make out the signs on top of Pamola on the other side of the gap.
First almost view of the Knife's Edge west of chimney peak

misstepping here would be catastrophic.

along the ridge the sun kept trying to poke through the mist but usually it was gone by the time iIgot set for a shot.

Still no visible sign of South Peak or Baxter Peak but its trying to lift.

Following shots of the Knifes edge are taking as the fog was lifting.

My best shot of the day. The left ridge is Dudley trail.  The gap between the left two peaks is the Chimney.
TheKnifes Edge after the fog lifted
Looking North to what I thought might be Baxter but was South Peak.

South Peak

Another view back at the Knife's Edge

Cairn just South of the Katahdin Sign  (this may be the actual peak), #65/67 NE4K

  The famous Katahdin sign which marks the the Northern end of the Appalacian Trail. This sign has been kissed by hundred of Northern bound through hikers.  I had to wait until after a couple of AT finishers got through making love to it to get this picture. The bottom line say's Springr Mt, Georgia 2183? [miles]. Evidentley the Katahdin sign is replaced every 10 years because of wind damage and intial carvings.
The hike from Baxter to Hamlin peak is fairley easy over an almost flat area called the table land. "Amber waves of Grain"

The best part of hiking to Hamling Peak are the amazing views of Baxter, The Knifes Edge and the Chimney.

more of the table land.

approaching Hamlin

Hamlin Peak, #66/67 NE4K.  The wind seemed to have picked up even more here.
Later I heard that it was hit 40+ knot gusts at points on the mountain. I think the max I was in was probably closer to 30.

I think the Hamlin peak sign is about ready to be replaced. Thats North peak in the background.

Looking toward ridge to North Peak.
North peak doesnt quite fit the requirements to be on any of the peak lists I'm doing but looks like it would be a nice hike.

Looking down into the valley between North peak and Hamlin.
Breath taking views of the Knife's Edge from here. I'm so glad I decided to hike it or I would have been having regrets now.

I only took this pick to remind myself that these trails, unlike the other New England trails I've been on,  have hardley any mud, even after rain. Most of the dirt is more like sand or gravel and doesn't turn to mud. this is one of the few muddy spots I saw.

I can't stop myself from taking pictures of this majestic moutain. But it is hard to capture how impressive it is in person.
Looking NorthEast  again from Hamlin Ridge
 { no picure}
Back at Chimney pond to pick up my overnight gear and sign in at the ranger station.

Heading back down chimey pond trail toward roaring Brook campground
logs piled up for bridging work over flooded sections

Typical split log bridging over flooded areas.
Back at Roaring Brook Camp Ground parking area 07:10PM . Still 25 miles back along a narrow winding road to get back to my bunk house at "sowdehunk" but also a 10 mile trip past the gate for cell phone service, beer and a sub sandwich.


 A plot of elevation vs. time of my two Baxter State Park hikes. Note that the first 3 hrs of the Katahdin hikes is only to Chimney Pond on day 1.  Also note the excessive time taken at Mt Fort on the Brothers loop hike. Time is elapsed time.  (yea i know, Paloma is ispelled and I have way too much free time)


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