It is Friday, the 8th day of our trip in the Northeast. We spent the night in Franconia, New Hampshire at the suitable Best Western Hotel. Our plan is to be in Bath, Maine to meet friends at our 11:00 am designated time.
As we depart, we know we are about to pass one of New Hampshires most famous spots – the location of the old man in the mountain. Remember the state quarters? New Hampshire put the old man in the mountain on their quarter. He was the profile of a man that was naturally carved into the side of a mountain by glaciers near Franconia Notch. He was discovered in 1805, and was the subject of stories, poems and songs. From the stories of this rock outcrop, the phrase, “God makes Men in New Hampshire” became popular. Unfortunately, he began cracking in the 1920s, and even after substantial shoring up, he finally gave way in May of 2003, crumbling down the mountain, losing all resemblance of a face. When we drove by the spot from which you can see him, there wasn’t a man to see. Just hills.
We drive 20 minutes and hit the town of Lincoln. As we cruise through town we see that Flapjack’s Pancake House is opening. This place is yet another great find in what seems to be the middle of nowhere! The restaurant is cute, the waitress is snarky (in a nice way) and there is a toy train cruising around the perimeter of the restaurant near the ceiling. After a very big, and tasty breakfast we are off, headed down the Kancamagus Highway. This is a really pretty drive, which twists alongside rivers, through forests, and passes through small towns. All I can say about the name of this highway is only someone from New Hampshire can pronounce it correctly. It is a bit like Kang-ga-may-gus (starts like Kangaroo but without the roo).
After 3 hours drive on the small back highways of NH and ME, we pull into Bath, Maine. Bath is a cute little town that is dominated by the US Naval Shipyard. Don’t let that stop you from visiting as this is a prime example of an American small town. In Bath we meet up with my good friends Tim and Faye, and they treat us to a cruise on their boat along the coast of Maine. It is a spectacularly sunny warm day and the air is clear. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to see a little bit of the Maine Coast – and I was so happy to see my friends and catch up. Best of all, we stopped at a Lobster Dock to grab fried lobster, fried clams, steamed lobster and french fries! What a great day!
This made a really nice detour in what would have been an all driving day. A shout out of thanks to Tim and Faye, they made our top highlights of the trip. We eventually got back on the road and headed to Millinocket, Maine where we had lodging arranged at the Big Moose Inn.
The Big Moose Inn was a great surprise. It was a gem hidden in the remote Maine forest. The Hotel is filled with nice antiques and well appointed with comfy beds, clean rooms, a great bar and fantastic food. I would highly recommend staying here for a romantic weekend or for a base camp with style should you choose to hike Katahdin yourself. We spent Friday night on bar stools listening to local musicians play and sampling a few beers & great food. In reflection, this may be one of the best days of the trip and we didn’t even hike!
I had read about Baxter State Park extensively on line: When the park was deeded to the state, it was done so on the requirement that it remains remote. There are no services, camping is tent or lean to only. Toilets are outhouses. In addition, the popularity of the place (Mount Katahdin is the termination of the Appalachian Trail) has forced them to limit camping and parking permits to keep the number of people down. Its a real “Catch 22” for the parks – more people means more money, but also means potentially losing that remote feeling.
2 weeks ago to the day, my alarm went off at 4:30 am on the west coast to make sure I got up and made parking reservations: residents can make parking reservations well in advance, but out-of-state visitors are limited to 2 weeks in advance and it is first come, first served. I was successful in getting that parking permit and I have it in hand this morning. Other online reports suggested arriving at the entrance gate by 4:30 or 5:00 am due to the normally long line. I also knew that after 7:10 am the park considers all reservation holders as no-shows if they haven’t already arrived. At that point they start to give away the reserved parking spots (first come basis again).
4 am on Saturday morning came early. The weather is perfect, sunny and cool. We are up, we are dressed, we are stumbling down to the dining room for coffee (and yes, even at 4:30 am someone at the Big Moose Lodge is up and making coffee and breakfast for hikers that want to get an early start). It takes us a full half hour to drive from the Inn to Baxter State park’s entrance gate. When we arrive at 5:30 am, we are the 25th car in line. The gates open at 6:00 am so we have some time to kill. Soon, there are 25 + cars behind us in line.
We are parked by a scenic lake, and even though we heard a moose, we never saw one. At 6:00 am the line started to move and we slowly made our way to the gate, handed over our pass, and headed to the Katahdin Springs trail head parking lot. It’s not close to the gate, and after a long slow 15mph drive, we park and prep for the hike. We are on the trail at 7:00 am along with a lot of other hikers.
The first 1.2 miles were delightful. Other than the crowds, we were finding this “strenuous” trail downright easy. Then the climbing started somewhere around mile 2. At first it was a normal mountain elevation gain up rocky trails with tree roots trying to trip you. Then we started climbing a boulder “staircase” of over 100 steps – I stopped counting. The staircase ended into the side of a boulder that we had to climb up and over. And that is when the hike got harder. At the “Gateway” you are scrambling – that is using both hands to pull yourself up and steady your feet as you scale giant boulders. The following pictures attempt to show this. In the second picture, Kerry has her hand by the “White Blaze” trail marker painted on the rocks. In the 3rd picture, try to see the 4 white blazes… in the upper center of the pic. And finally I got some people in there for perspective.
After what seems like a mile, but is actually only about a half mile, we are up and walking over the first saddle. Now we have cairns to follow, as well as a roped off trail.
And when we reach the summit, there is a party. Literally 50 + people are on the summit having lunch, along with the chipmunks and the bees/wasps and little beetles, and the birds. It was a tough climb, and we sat for a good while and celebrated.
Then we had to face the fact that we had to hike back down. If this trail sounded a little intimidating on the way up, well, lets just hope that heights don’t make your knees week, because this is one hell of a hike back down. I have to admit that this was a very crowded trail. On the way back down we hit a section of the trail where we were completely alone and could not hear the stream – and I thought for sure that we were lost. We were not lost and just needed to go a little further to reach both the stream and other hikers.
Mount Katahdin is Ranked 22nd of the State HP’s, at 5,268 ft above sea level. It is located in Baxter State Park near Millinocket, ME. The Hunt trail head sits at 1,078 ft for a total elevation gain of 4,195 ft (most of it up boulders). The round trip distance is 10.4 miles. It took us 3 hr 50 min to ascend to the summit, and 4 hr 15 min to hike down. Total round trip hiking time was 8 hr 5 min. We spent 40 min at the summit. There are no amenities along the trail or at the summit. Bring 3 liters of water, bug spray, a hat, clothing for a sudden change in weather, lunch and extra food. I highly suggest wearing long pants and hiking boots rather than shorts and athletic shoes. The trail is great, just follow the white blazes . The only bugs we had issues with were the small beetles and wasps at the summit. On the weekends, this is a very crowded trail. Check into the Baxter State Park website to ensure you know the rules and regs, and try to get a Day Use Parking Reservation (DSPR) in advance.
Back at the Big Moose Lodge, we cleaned up (oh – it was a steamy day!) and topped off the day with burgers and beer. And, so concludes another great high pointing trip. Mount Katahdin marked my 23rd State High Point. We already have the next high point in planning – Kings Peak in Utah. Stay Tuned and Happy Trails!