I was happier than a kid at Christmas when I stumbled upon a couple of nights open at the bunkhouse at Chimney Pond in Baxter State Park for the first week of July! Our original plan was to go to Baxter in August, but since I was slow to get the reservations for camping in the park, the week we wanted was not available. Not one to give up, I started looking back a week at a time in Baxter’s online reservation system, and lo and behold, I found a a few openings at Chimney Pond. That was perfect, as my son and I wanted to hike both Baxter and Hamlin Peaks and Chimney Pond was a perfect starting point. Further investigation turned up two nights for a lean-to at Katahdin Stream Campground. The next morning I was on the phone with Baxter State Park, and I got the reservations! Now all we needed to do was get there and enjoy it.
June 30, 2014: Day 1
After a six hour drive and a few stops, we entered Baxter State Park. A quick stop at the Togue Pond gatehouse to checked us in, and we were on our way up the Tote Road to Katahdin Stream Campground. The Tote Road was an experience, it was narrow, unpaved and the speed limit was 20mph. Two cars can pass each other, but it takes each car pulling very close to the edge of the road. It was late afternoon by the time we got settled in our lean-to, but we still had plenty of daylight, so we went up to Daicey Pond to paddle around the pond in some kayaks. It was a pretty nice experience, with perfect views from the water right up to Katahdin itself. When we were done, it was time to make a campfire, have dinner and get ready for the next’s day adventure.
July 1, 2014: Day 2
The next morning dawned and we were up and ready to hike North Brother, one of the peaks we wanted to hike during our time in the park. We drove another eight miles or so up the Tote Road to the trailhead for the Marston Trail. We were the first ones there, and we found out later, the only ones there for the day. The hike wasn’t really too hard, alternating steeper sections with flatter sections. The trail was wild and beautiful with many very dense spruce sections complete with heavy moss. Soon we were at the junction with about a mile to go to the summit and our last steep section in front of us. We headed on up, and soon the trail was much rougher and even the spruce seemed more aggressive, crowding the trail. Thankfully, we were rewarded for our efforts by popping out into some scrub with great views all around. Just a few more minutes of hiking and we saw the summit sign! We quickly headed up and enjoyed a nice break on the summit, taking the views out to Mt. Fort, South Brother, Coe, Doubletop and of course, Katahdin.
Done with our break, we headed back the way we came. As we descended, the afternoon became hotter, muggier and buggier! We quickly got back to the car and off for some relief! We brought along swimsuits and towels, so we headed further up the Tote Road to the ledges, a series of ledges and pools in the river, which are popular for having some fun and cooling off. The water was cold, but refreshing and felt pretty good after a hot hike. We still had daylight and time before dinner, so we headed to Kidney Pond for another paddle around a different pond. This pond was a little harder to paddle as the wind had picked up, but we still had a great time. After a long day, we headed back for another campfire and dinner. We also had to do some reorganization, because tomorrow was moving day up to Chimney Pond.
July 2, 2014: Day 3
We were up at dawn again, and headed out for the drive over to Roaring Brook to start our hike into Chimney Pond. The drive took just under an hour, because we had to drive back to the Togue Pond gatehouse, and then up to Roaring Brook Campground on another road. The drive was nice, and after some breakfast and last minute packing, we started the 3.3 mile hike to Chimney Pond, where we’d stay for the next few days. The hike wasn’t too hard, nicely graded, but still there was an elevation gain of 1400 feet up to Chimney Pond. The footing was easy in some short stretches, but for the most part was pretty rocky. We made nice progress and by mid-morning we were at Chimney Pond and checked into the bunkhouse.
We ate a snack, then packed up a day pack, which we had brought along with our larger packs so we wouldn’t have to take a big pack up Katahdin, and set out for Baxter Peak. Because we got a later start, around 11:15p, we decided to take the easiest route up, the Saddle Trail. All the trails from Chimney Pond to the peaks are relatively short, but make up for that by being steep. From Chimney Pond to the top to the Saddle Trail was only 1.2 miles, but was plenty steep, with a short slide section of .2 miles at the top. The slide section reminded us of the south slide of Mt. Tripyramid, with loose, gravelly sections and solid sections. Since we had hiked on this sort of terrain before, it didn’t bother us as much as some of the other people on the trail, judging by their comments.
Once on the tableland, the trail was similar to the trails above treeline in New Hampshire and we just followed the cairns, making sure not to trample alpine vegetation. After cresting several rises, we finally did see the summit, picked up the pace and were soon there. The famous sign was there, as well as a giant cairn. Baxter peak on Katahdin is the Northern Terminus for the AT, so we’d seen the sign in many photos and it was interesting to finally be there, standing in front of it. Maybe some day ‘ll be back, at the end or beginning of a long adventure!
We enjoyed the views, took pictures, helped others take pictures and then it was time to descend. The descent was, of course, easier, so we made good time all the way back to Chimney Pond. It was a good thing we did, too. I sent Cameron on ahead to the bunkhouse and I went down to the pond to get more water. While at the pond, I heard thunder (notice those dark clouds in the photos above?). I barely got back to the bunkhouse before it started to rain. It ended up being quite the thunderstorm along with a lightning strike quite close to the bunkhouse! Safe, warm, and dry, we thankfully made some dinner and relaxed for the evening.
July 3, 2014: Day 4
The weather didn’t look good when I went down to the pond to get water in the morning. The clouds were low over the ridge and the rain chance was 70%. We weren’t sure at that point we’d be able to go back up and hike to Hamlin peak. We made plans to explore Pamola Caves and then see what the day would bring. We hiked out to the caves and had fun in the lemon squeezer at the end all the while, keeping an eye on the ridge line.
The clouds eventually lifted, and back at the bunkhouse after hemming and hawing, we made the decision to make a run for it and see if the weather stayed nice long enough for us to get to Hamlin peak and to get back safely. We decided to use the Saddle Trail again, since we’d been up it one time, and knew what to expect for at least that part of the trip to Hamlin. We started out a little after 11:00am, and kept a good pace up to the top of the Saddle. We were able to see the weather beyond Katahdin from there and it looked good for the moment, so we headed over to Hamlin. Fortunately, the weather was very nice and we had a sunny summit. We were even able to see into the North Basin along with other views of the peaks around us. We headed back the way we came, quickly back down to Chimney Pond. We got settled in, started playing cards and in less than an hour another thunderstorm rolled through! Take about great timing both days! We were really thankful for all the good weather on our hikes.
July 4, 2014: Day 5
I awoke very early, just around dawn, and made one more quick trip down to the pond for water and a few moments of solitude to start the day. The sun was shining and the ridge was clear. The pond was still and reflecting the ridge above it. Back at the bunkhouse and less then an hour later, the clouds had descended to almost pond level and wouldn’t clear out for the rest of our trip. With nothing left to do, we packed up on were on the trail, headed down to the car. The hiked was mostly easy, even though the rocks were wet from the previous night’s rain. In less than 2 hours, we were back at the car and on our way home, having had a great stay in Baxter State Park.
It was great first trip to Baxter State Park and won’t be our last! We didn’t get to do any of the more “fun” trails, such as Cathedral or the Knife Edge on Katahdin, but we’re ok with that since we were generously blessed with good weather and safety. We can always go back another time and hike those for fun. Beside, as we found out from our paddling trips around the ponds, there’s more to do in Baxter than just hiking!