Mt. Katahdin, Maine Wednesday October 2nd, 2002 - While most of the entries on the trail log note the large number of people on Katahdin, my wife and I found very few fellow hikers and plenty of empty parking spaces.
In fact the only thing negative thing about our trip was an encounter with a self appointed ranger "wanna be" here forever to be known as "Ranger Rex" who at 6:30AM felt it warranted our being chastised as inconsiderate bums because we were taking up two parking spaces.
Keep in mind it's dark and the spaces are un-marked. It may have been the New Jersey plates on our rented Chevy Blazer but, being from North Carolina with family in Lincoln ME the last thing we are is inconsiderate. So not wanting Ranger Rex to work himself into a state we backed into a smaller space.
Our route to Baxter Peak was simple enough... Chimney Pond then Cathedral Trail and return via the Saddle and back down to the Roaring Brook Parking Lot.
According to Rex the park would fill up fast so we got our butts in gear and moved out ahead of what we assumed would soon be a horde of hikers.
I carried a couple of cameras plenty of water the perquisite flash light and some sandwiches.... Would someone please tell me how sandwiches packed carefully on top of everything else end up flatter than tortillas in the bottom of my day pack?
The hike to Chimney Pond (3.3 Miles) is a great walk in the woods ... beforehand we read all of the warnings about Bear and Moose and that the Cows with Calves were somewhat agitated with the number of hikers.
But the only wildlife we saw was the much feared North American Chipmunk (tamias striatus). Alarmed at first we moved carefully around our encounter. Carefully watching for any signs of aggression we noticed his bulging cheeks... he had obviously made a fresh kill of nuts and thankfully was in no mood to tangle with us swift travelers.
At Chimney Pond we found a half a dozen hikers milling about. The weather was pleasant enough for shorts and a light shirt. A check of the Park Weather Forecast gave a windy outlook with a chance of late afternoon thunderstorms but temps in the mid 60s-70s so figuring we'd be down before 3 we made a go of it.
After a short trek through the woods the trail starts upward and it's not long before Chimney Pond is shrinking in the background. Most of the route is an easy free climb with wonderful views and many places to take a break. There are a few areas where it's a big enough reach that my wife needed a boost. As we worked our way up the wind began to increase and the clouds started to darken.
Just after the second cathedral the wind began to howl as the clouds rolled over the top of Katahdin and cascaded down the face of the mountain. We climbed the rest of the way taking breaks not from the climb but seeking shelter from the wind. The clouds, mist and wind made for an impressive sight as the valley below disappeared from sight only to have the clouds lift to again and again to revel Chimney Pond below.
This is not a climb for the weak at heart. But it's a great workout as long as you remember that you are on the side of a mountain. Once you reach the end of the trail it's still .2 miles to the summit. The rock field seems endless as you wander around large and small boulders. At the summit we were welcomed with a burst of sunshine and the wind eased. The view from Baxter Peak is spectacular and well worth the trip.
We didn't see anyone on the mountain. Our return to Chimney Pond we found only a couple of hikers and not a sole on the way back to the Roaring Brook parking lot. The parking lot at 4:30PM was much the way we left at 7:00AM with less than a dozen cars and plenty of parking on perfect fall afternoon.
Our suggestion is climb Katahdin mid week during the fall avoiding the crowds. You will be rewarded with a great climb in the North Woods with amazing views. But be sure to park carefully to avoid any contact with Ranger Rex.
On the way back to Lincoln we stopped for a burger and a beer in Millinocket best cold beer and burger I've ever had in my life, before or since.