A Trip to Baxter State Park, 6.30-7.4.14

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.

The park tote road in Baxter State Park.  Yes, you can put two vehicles on this road!

The park tote road in Baxter State Park. Yes, you can put two vehicles on this road!

Cameron paddling on Daicey Pond, with Katahdin in the background.

Cameron paddling on Daicey Pond, with Katahdin in the background.

Our lean-to at Katahdin Stream Campground, which was came complete with a picnic table and fire ring.

Our lean-to at Katahdin Stream Campground, which was came complete with a picnic table and fire ring.

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.

Beautiful, but very dense forest along the upper portion of the Marston Trail leading to North Brother.

Beautiful, but very dense forest along the upper portion of the Marston Trail leading to North Brother.

Cameron on North Brother, taking in the views toward Katahdin.

Cameron on North Brother, taking in the views toward 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.

The ledges, a fun place to cool off after a hot hike!

The ledges, a fun place to cool off after a hot hike!

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.

The bunkhouse at Chimney Pond, our basecamp for the next few days.

The bunkhouse at Chimney Pond, our basecamp for the next few days.

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.

Cameron heads up the Saddle Trail toward the headwall.

Cameron heads up the Saddle Trail toward the headwall.

Some of the more solid sections of the slide on the Saddle Trail.  The top is just ahead at the blue sky.

Some of the more solid sections of the slide on the Saddle Trail. The top is just ahead at the blue sky.

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!

The sign on Baxter, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

The sign on Baxter, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.

View from the sign toward the Knife Edge Ridge and giant cairn on Baxter peak.

View from the sign toward the Knife Edge Ridge and giant cairn on Baxter peak.

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 trail to Pamola Caves is just off of the Dudley Trail.  This is part of the Dudley Trail, a fun section of boulder climbing!

The trail to Pamola Caves is just off of the Dudley Trail. This is part of the Dudley Trail, a fun section of boulder climbing!

Cameron squeezing through the caves at the end of the trail to Pamola Caves.

Cameron squeezing through the caves at the end of the trail to Pamola Caves.

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.

At Hamlin Peak!  This peaks finishes the three peaks we needed to bag in Baxter State Park for the NE67.

At Hamlin Peak! This peaks finishes the three peaks we needed to bag in Baxter State Park for the NE67.

At Hamlin Peak, with the Knife Edge Ridge and Baxter Peak in the background.

At Hamlin Peak, with the Knife Edge Ridge and Baxter Peak in the background.

Panorama from Hamlin Peak.

Panorama from Hamlin Peak.

View down into the basin from the top of the Saddle Trail.  Chimney Pond and the buildings down there are easily seen.

View down into the basin from the top of the Saddle Trail. Chimney Pond is easily seen.

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.

Chimney Pond and Katahdin, very early in the morning.

Chimney Pond and Katahdin, very early in the morning.

This is the pavilion right on the trail as you approach the Chimney Pond area.  I include this photo to show how low the clouds have dropped.  This photo was taken maybe an hour after the one above!

This is the pavilion right on the trail as you approach the Chimney Pond area. I include this photo to show how low the clouds have dropped. This photo was taken maybe an hour after the one above!

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!

Early morning panorama of Chimney Pond and Katahdin.

Early morning panorama of Chimney Pond and Katahdin.

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10 thoughts on “A Trip to Baxter State Park, 6.30-7.4.14

    • Thanks for stopping by, Rich! We definitely made some memories, as you did on your trip to Baxter. Glad you enjoyed it as much as we did.

  1. You always seem to really make the most of every trip! Thanks so much for sharing. It sounds and looks like it was a fantastic adventure! Baxter is a beautiful place!

  2. Thanks, Kris! Yes, we do try to make the most of our trips – we never know if we’ll be able to back. Of course, we hope so! Baxter is truly a beautiful place and worth the effort to make the trip.

  3. Awesome Summerset! Doesn’t get much better than this, does it! Trails and locations that are new to you and Cameron, stunning views, good weather!

    And thanks for the memories! Did a similar adventure, many, many years ago. Your report brought back some fond memories.

    John

  4. No, it doesn’t get much better than that, John! It was a truly great adventure. You’re welcome for the memories. I always find it interesting to read about other’s treks to places I’ve been and get their take on it.

  5. Summerset,

    Glad to read that you and Cameron had a nice outing to Baxter State Park. Chimney Pond has got to be one of the best places to camp. Nice light on your morning shot and panorama from Chimney Pond. Don’t worry about not getting the Knife Edge or Cathedral, starting from Chimney Pond at 11:15 would not be great, especially since you ended up getting rain and thunder later in the day. If its threatening like that, you never know when it will strike, and there’s no easy retreat on Katahdin. On a day I was camped at Katahdin Stream, the forecast called for 50 percent chance isolated thunderstorms, so I just climbed the owl that morning. Sure enough, at 3 pm, tstorms hit Katahdin and I got to watch a stream of soaked scared hikers come down around dark, one group was on the summit when it hit and they said they thought they were going to die.

    Did the upper bit of the trail up North Brother before treeline still have a horrible root obstacle course suspended 2 feet off the ground? I was the only one to have used the trail for a couple of days when I did it (solo, midweek). Only bear and coyote prints for recent travelers. Somewhat surprising for a 4000 footer.

    There is definitely more than just Katahdin up there too– quite the amazing wild area that feels like a national park without the red tape and tourist concession stands. Or paved roads. My car was never so dusty as after 5 days of driving the tote road!

    John

    • Good to hear from you, John! We had a great time!

      I got lucky on that morning shot of CP – of course, I was up really early – funny story for another time. Not too bad, for an iPhone and not a “real” camera! The clouds just rolled down the slope so quickly, that anyone not up early missed out. We were very fortunate with regards to rain, especially with two late starts, hence the reason for quick and easy, well at least relatively “easy”. 😉 The other thing is that you can not see the incoming weather behind Katahdin until you gain the ridge, so there’s no telling whether it will be fine to hike on or if a hasty retreat will be involved until you get to the top. Better for it to be down an easier trail! Yes, we saw some pretty drenched hikers coming back to the bunkhouse both days we were there.

      Yes, Marston trail to North Brother in the upper let’s say, .3 to .4 before tree line is quite a mess, complete with running water, root jungle-gyms and face slapping spruce. I was surprised, too, we were the only ones on the trail for the day, it was mid-week, and only one guy soloed the day before. One of the older rangers did seem pleased that we were going to hike North Brother in addition to Katahdin, as the majority of people just hike K.

      My car was super dusty, too, but because of the rains while we were at CP, when we came back to Roaring Brook, it was all clean!

  6. Hi Summerset,
    I was thinking about you and remembered that you kept a hiking blog. Glad to see that you are having a great time hiking! Of course the big surprise for me was to see the photos of Cameron. Holy cow, he’s an adult now! Guess it’s been longer since I last saw you than I thought. Hello to the whole family!

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