Katahdin is an outdoor marvel tucked away inside the heart of Baxter State Park, located outside of Millinocket, ME. The name originates from the native Penobscot Tribe, and means “The Greatest Mountain”. The summit is known best as the northern terminal of the Appalachian Trail (AT), a world renowned long distance hiking trail. It spans 2200 miles from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, ME. Although a significant number of hikers who summit Katahdin are AT thru-hikers. There are still plenty of outdoor enthusiasts who day hike the mountain.
Now, having hiked throughout the Adirondack, Green, and White Mountains I can personally tell you, this is the most rugged mountain on the east coast of the United States; so in order to have a smooth and successful hike proper planning must be done. In this blog, we will give you advice on what bring and how to approach the mountain. Additionally you will follow two Three Rivers river guides (Willy and Bart) up the most difficult route on Katahdin.
On any summit hike it is a great idea to plan what materials you’ll bring with you along the way. You want to be prepared for variable conditions especially during shoulder seasons like May and October. At the same time you want to make your pack as light as possible to make the hike more enjoyable. Here is a general pack list from Baxter State Park Authority for a day hike up Katahdin which can take about 8-12 hours in total.
- Navigation: Good topo map of the area.
- Sun Protection: Glasses and sunscreen.
- Insulation: Extra layers, and a good wind/waterproof shell.
- Light Source: Headlamp or flashlight.
- First Aid Kit: The park is remote and help can be hours away.
- Fire Source: Matches, lighter, or flint and steel.
- Repair Materials: extra shoelaces, tape, or sewing kit.
- Nutrition: Food extra than you need in case your hike gets extended.
- Hydration: At least 2 quarts of water per person.
- Emergency Shelter: E-blanket is best and lightest.
Other than bringing the correct gear and supplies, a hiker also needs to select the proper hike in accordance with the group’s abilities. If unsure, start from Roaring Brook parking lot and speak with the park rangers. They are extremely helpful and knowledgeable of the area, and can provide the best advice. The route that is profiled in this blog follows from Roaring Brook to Chimney Pond, up Cathedral, across Knifes Edge, and down Helon Taylor. This is the steepest and most exposed hike currently possible in the park, due to the closing of the Dudley trail due to a recent landslide.
The loop hike that Willy and Bart took is about 9.5 miles from start to finish, and gains about 3,800 ft in elevation. After leaving Roaring Brook you will follow a blue trail blaze for the entire day. You will work your way up to Chimney Pond a beautiful crystal clear pond at the base of Katahdin. Normally the water from here is also potable, but rangers still advise to purify it just in case. From Chimney Pond going up Cathedral can be an amazing experience.This is the steepest trail on the mountain, and is more like a boulder scramble that goes above tree line. Throughout this 1.5 mile trail there are plenty of amazing views off cliffs that overlook the park. However don’t let the distance fool you this is such steep trail that downhill travel is prohibited. So hikers best be committed to the route. At the end you will soon reach the ridge line of Katahdin. After that it is only a short stroll to the summit of the mountain.
Congratulations!!! Once on top of the summit, you are now at the highest point in the state of Maine at 5,267 ft. Be sure to take your time and embrace your experience up here. There is also an 86 year old plaque that tells the story of the park’s creation. In short, the land was set aside by former governor Percival Baxter, and a trust fund was created to preserve the park for future generations to enjoy. Also in your time at the summit, it is likely that you’ll encounter a few thru-hikers starting/finishing the trail. Bart and Willy encountered 5 groups in the 45 minutes they spent at the summit. After that though, it was time to embark on the Knifes Edge.
Now this trail is the flagship route on the mountain. It’s only 1.1 miles long, but has some of the best views and steep drops that a hiker can as for. At times the narrowest parts of the trail can become less than 2 feet wide. On your way across to Pamola Peak there are spectacular vistas of the park and other recreational spots such as Chimney Chute, a popular ice climb or ski in the winter time. Once you reach Pamola Peak (named after the Penobscot god believed to protect the mountain), the decent back down into the valley begins. Here one follows the 3.3 mile Helon Taylor trail down to Roaring Brook Parking lot.
Once you’ve made it back down safely be sure to sign out on the hiker log at the ranger station. You can then make your way back to town in Millinocket. During the summer months if you’d like to get much needed food, feel free to by Boatman’s Bar and Grill: Millinocket right by the airport. You’ve finally finished an adventure up Katahdin. A truly beautiful and pristine natural resource that the people of Maine hold near and dear to their hearts.