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The Maine highpoint is located in the sparsely populated center of the state. One afternoon I stopped at the nearest small town, Millinocket, where I bought a hot dog from a curbside vendor and sat down to eat on a bench in their city park. The charming small town atmosphere made it feel like I had gone back in time 30 years.

Gaining access to Baxter State Park, where Mt. Katahdin is located, is a pain in the neck. You have to get up early in the morning and wait in line at the gate. They have strictly enforced quotas on the number of vehicles they will allow in. I agree with their intentions to limit human impact on the park, but I don't agree with their first-come first-served policy. It seems that some kind of reservation system would be more fair. In addition, you would think that a park with such emphasis on preserving the wilderness experience would have well-maintained trails. Quite the opposite is true. The trails are in deplorable condition and suffering from extreme erosion. In spite of that, this is an area of exceptional beauty.

I planned to hike up via the Helon Taylor and Knife Edge Trails. I was carrying a guidebook and map and was prepared to make a last minute decision at the top as to which way to hike down, but I got hooked up with some fine folks on the uphill leg who persuaded me to join them down the Saddle and Chimney Pond Trails.

Heading up the Helon Taylor Trail you soon leave the eroded trails of the lower flanks behind as you head into the high country. Here the setting is rugged and dramatic as you clamber up and over granite balds and boulders. The famous Knife Edge Trail lives up to its reputation as the hikers inch their way along a ridge in places only wide enough for single file progress. The final approach to the summit is a hop scotch over jumbled boulders.

A lone threatening cloud dispersed as we approached the summit and we took a well-deserved lunch break at the top along with about 40 other hikers, including some Highpointer Club members. Although it had been a little warm and buggy at the lower elevations, we had perfect hiking weather in the high country and spectaular vistas from the ridgetops. There is a tower of stones at the top. One experienced hiker said the tower used to be tall enough that the top of it would be exactly one mile above sea level. For whatever reason it was obvious that it was not that tall now.

Heading down the other side of the peak we decended gradually down a high meadow. At the point where the trail dropped off the edge of the high plateau, trail erosion had caused an ugly landslide. Working our way down that we eventually arrived at the very picturesque Chimney Pond. After leaving Chimney Pond the trail was again badly eroded and not as scenic.

The total hike, including lunch, took about 7 hours. Driving out of the park I was fortunate to see a gangly moose cow and calf saunter across the road. The next day I still had enough energy to do a 9-mile loop at nearby Gulf Haga. It's a worthwhile side trip when in the area if you can spare the time.