After our first day in Baxter Park, Hans and I awoke at five the next morning to get an early start climbing Katahdin– Maine’s highest peak, the end of the Appalachian Trail, and the centerpiece of the park. For most day-hikers, a wicked early start is necessary because the park limits the number of cars that can come into the park for hiking Katahdin– they’re very strict about this, and I’m pretty happy about their efforts to control crowding. Luckily for us, camping inside the park gave us a shorter drive to the trailhead and favored status for parking in the morning.
We arrived at Katahdin Stream Campground, where the Hunt Trail begins its epic ascent. This would be my third time climbing the Hunt, which is one of the hardest climbs on the Appalachian Trail and without a doubt the most entertaining. Some day I’d love to climb the trails on the east side of the mountain, but for iPhone app purposes I had to hike this trail one more time. You’ll never hear me complain about climbing that trail, though.
We started early, and were soon passed by the through-hikers we’d met yesterday. They were all in high spirits, beginning what proved to be an epic end to their epic journeys. The sky was crystal clear, the views long, barely a hint of haze in the far distance. We popped above tree line in no time, and had terrific views for the rest of the day. Soon after breaking above the trees, my favorite part started, with a two-mile-long rock scramble that sometimes seems more like technical rock climbing than hiking.
It was a sunny Sunday in the middle of July, so the crowds on the mountain were more than I was used to, but compared to popular mountains like Washington, Monadnock, Mansfield, and Lafayette, I guess we had a pretty small crowd. Plus, the views were far more wild than those of any other major mountain in the New England. The town of Millinocket was barely visible in the dense forest, and otherwise there was practically no sign of human habitation as far as the eye could see. Just huge tracts of forest, giant lakes, and some distant mountains on the horizon.
After a nice, long break at the summit, looking far into the northern forest and out to mountains that I hope to climb next summer, we took the Abol Slide Trail to the bottom. There are no easy trails on Katahdin, but the Abol trail is notably insane. It follows an old rock slide from the top of the Tablelands down to near the bottom of the mountain, descending over 2000 feet in less than a mile– a real knee-breaker. We ended the day relatively early, pleasantly exhausted and more than a little sunburned, and once again were passed out in our campsite before the sun hit the horizon.