Day two started early, with plenty of loud snoring through the night in the bunkhouse. After a while, I gave up trying to sleep and just made breakfast and packed for the day’s hike up Katahdin. Tom’s and my luck held strong– there were some clouds up top when we started up the Cathedral Trail, but mostly plenty of sun and blue skies.
Like most trails up Katahdin, the Cathedral was more akin to bouldering than walking, with just as much use of hands as feet. The nice thing about starting at Chimney Pond, though, is that we had all of the approach out of the way– rather than start with three miles of walking along fairly even hiking trails, we got started with the climb immediately, and poked out above the trees within minutes. Climbing the boulder field gave us instant views into the basins of Katahdin, and east to the Turner Mountains.
As we approached the final ridge to Baxter Peak, the alpine zone spread out before us like a vast tundra transplanted from somewhere in northern Canada. Clouds broke over the western side of the mountain, shrouding us in fog sometimes and other times leaving us with the longest views in the state. Another bonus of starting the day at Chimney Pond was that the summit was almost deserted when we arrived– just two through-hikers finishing their journeys from Georgia, soon joined by two more. We enjoyed the views and the company for half an hour at the summit, with never more than half a dozen people in company. There was no noisy crowd, just a bunch of people thoroughly stunned by the magnificence of the setting.
This was my fourth time to Baxter Peak, but this time I was finally about to do something else besides go straight back down. Our next path was across the infamous Knife Edge to Pamola Peak. As the name implies, the Knife Edge Trail walks along the sharp ridge between the two peaks, with a nearly vertical drop into the Great Basin to the north and a similar drop to the south. The pictures tend to look much more dangerous than the reality, since there’s plenty of space to walk, but a missed step and a tumble off the side would make a very bad end to your day. As we walked the mile of trail, we passed at least thirty people going in the other direction. It seems we had chosen well in our route, avoiding any serious crowding. By the time we reached Pamola Peak, it was completely deserted. We had some fine solitude to go with our views of the Maine woods before heading back down.
There’s so much that is amazing about Katahdin. Beyond just the incredibly difficult trails to the top, the immensity of its alpine zone, and the fact that it towers so high above everything around it– it’s also a remarkable testament to the human spirit. First, the fact that the mountain and park were protected so thoroughly by one strong-willed individual shows some of the most amazing foresight imaginable. It’s worth reading a bit about what Baxter State Park really is, since it’s not technically a State Park.
Then there’s the fact that so many people actually visit the summit, despite (unlike New Hampshire’s, Vermont’s, and Massachusetts’s high peaks) the lack of an easy, motorized route to the top. It turns out that if something is worth visiting, people will actually go through the hard effort required to visit it.
After a long day of not many miles, carefully stepping from one jagged rock to another, we ended at Chimney Pond again. Tom’s friend, Chris, joined us at this point, and we enjoyed a chilly, crystal clear night far from the “other world.” I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You can find Tom’s account of the day here…