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
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
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.