Monday, July 30, 2012

The Knife Edge, Mt. Katahdin, & Hamlin Peak - 7/22/12

Here we were, July 22nd, the day after crashing down the Penobscot River all day on whitewater about to hike one of New England's best day hikes, Mt. Katahdin and the Knife Edge. Its always fun going to a new place, with no idea of what to expect. It was a hot, but beautiful day. Our friend Mike had secured a Day Use Parking Reservation for Roaring Brook. We got there at about 8AM, which was one hour later than when DUPRs are held until they are filled by first come-first serve. But, the ranger said that there was one space left, and we'd be able to go in. We almost were turned away, which I could not believe. Then we had to pay the entrance fee of $14. Jeesh, pretty difficult process for my liking, especially for New England. The one space remaining was barely wide enough for Mike's car, and since we had to park there, we came back to the car after the hike, he was left with a nice scratch on his door! It was an awkward start to the morning, but we carried on.

So we geared up and started up the Chimney Pond Trail. This trail was a slow gradual ascent with good-sized rocks, which didn't necessarily make it an easy 3 mile walk in to Chimney Pond. As you get closer, the woods open up, and there are a couple of spots you pass along the way with views up to the ridges.

Once we made it to the Chimney Pond area, we took a break for about 20 minutes. There are outhouses, and an open-air gazebo-like structure, and places to sit down. Curious red squirrels ran about. After some gained energy, we were ready to hit the Dudley Trail. I knew it was steep, but I was pleasantly surprised at the effort I was immediately exerting to ascend this trail. Wow, this is climbing a mountain, and this is the stuff we like.
Bill climbs the Dudley Trail 
Up we go on the Dudley Trail - What fun!
About halfway up the Dudley Trail the views began to open up, and immediately we realize this is one helluvanawesome climb, especially when we looked back at the view and out of the ravine. What an amazing backdrop for an ascent.
Sharp pointy rock on Dudley Trail 
Looking down to Chimney Pond with Hamlin Ridge top left  

The final approach to Pamola Peak is very similar to that of Mt. Washington, in my opinion, with large boulders forming a "rockpile", which I thought were slightly more challenging than Washington. We made the summit, where several people sat taking a break. The summit is not very large. Pamola Peak is an unranked 4000 footer, and marks the beginning of the Knife Edge if you are ascending it to Mt. Katahdin. We took a few moments to refuel again before starting the traverse.
Pamola Peak 

Mike and Nicole descend the Chimney between Pamola & Chimney Peak 
This is the climb up to Chimney Peak once you get down from above
The climb between Pamola and Chimney Peak might be one of the toughest spots on the whole traverse. This required some focus, slow and careful movements, and keeping your body close to the rocks. A heavy pack here could be a recipe for serious injury. For someone short like me, this section wasn't a walk in the park, but it was exciting being completely exposed to a 10-30 foot fall, where injury would almost be certain. Still, there were families with young children doing this, but I'd say this route so far was very difficult. I would say from the start of Dudley and all of the way Katahdin that if you miss a step or are not paying attention to every single step, even a minor slip and fall could cause serious lacerations or broken bones or worse depending on the fall. The rocks are extremely sharp.

At the top of Chimney Peak, we could see thunderheads coming over from the West, which is where they generally come from on Katahdin. The ranger at Roaring Brook also informed us that there was a good chance of storms. Thankfully, one thunderhead after the other simply passed us by with no loud cracks or people scrambling. There is no question that the Knife Edge is a difficult trail. To me, it was not as crazy as it sounds or looks, but you must be focused. The trail varies a lot from sharp rocks that you have to jump over and use both of your hands to flat ledge that is very close to the edge. Most of the way you can look left and then right and just see down on both sides of you (see video below for this perspective). I love hiking ridge lines, so I was right up front leading the way and having a blast.
Bill traverses the Knife Edge
The Knife Edge hiking towards Baxter Peak 
The Knife Edge from Baxter Peak - Photo by Mike. W. 
Chimney Pond Knife Edge
Once your more than halfway across, the difficulty decreases slightly, and now it becomes more like climbing to the summit of Mt. Washington, but with more of a dramatic view. The stand-up AT sign and very large summit cairn of the tallest mountain in Maine were now not too much further. Although me and my brother were slightly ahead of our friends on the way across, we slowed and we all reached the summit together. For the occasion and success of an exciting weekend, a sweet shot of some Glenlivet Whiskey was enjoyed by all. We enjoyed the summit, as others were, for about 20-25 minutes taking photos and a break.

This was my 2nd ME 4000-footer, and Bill's first. Mike had attempted Katahdin three times previous but never reached the summit because of weather. This was a fulfilling hike for he and Nicole and good practice too. The next day, they left for out West to hike Mt. Adams at 12,281ft and visit with friends in Oregon.
Approaching Mt. Katahdin from the Knife Edge 
Mt. Katahdin, Baxter Peak - Highest peak in ME - 5268' 
Mt. Katahdin summit plaque 
My 50th New England 67 peak! - Mt. Katahdin 
Hamlin Peak and ridge from the Saddle
After Baxter Peak, it was questionable as to whether or not Hamlin Peak would get bagged on this day. Tiredness was taking over, and it was now into the later part of the afternoon, and thunderstorms would be more and more likely every minute. On the way down from Baxter Peak at the junction with the Saddle Trail, it was discussed and agreed upon that me and Bill would go for Hamlin Peak and meet up with Mike and Nicole on Chimney Pond Trail or back at the car. They decided to descend at the Saddle Trail. It was also a trail Mike has been twice or more before, so there were no concerns splitting up. We agreed upon an approximate time for me and my brother to get back, and that plan estimated that they would only have to wait about a half hour at the car at the most. Off we went.

The hike down from Baxter Peak and over the saddle was fun and was undoubtedly the easiest part of the hike. It was like being on the south-eastern slopes of Mt. Washington except with a different view, and more remote view. There was a little elevation gain going up the other side, but the trail winds towards the back side of Hamlin Peak, and after a signed junction, and a right turn, you're just steps away from the summit sign.
On the summit of Hamlin Peak - 4756' 
From Hamlin Peak, the chimney between Pamola and Chimney Peak 
The difficulty increased again a bit on the descent down the Hamlin Ridge Trail. The ridge remains exposed for a long distance before descending into the trees. The views in front of us were incredible and we could see right into the Northwest Basin on our left. From time to time as we looked back, the sun and clouds put on a show. There were shadows in front, and behind us the sun's rays protruded through the puffy white clouds, almost as if it was some sort of sign from above. We descended very quickly and actually passed Mike and Nicole at Basin Pond (on the Chimney Pond Trail), where they had stopped for a dip, so we were back at the car waiting for them.
Descending Hamlin Ridge Trail 

White Admiral Butterfly that allowed us to get close
This was a fantastic hike, and it lived up to everything I expected. It is truly a classic and one-of-a-kind, just like a Franconia Ridge Traverse or Bonds Traverse is. I highly recommend this loop for anyone working on the New England 4000 footers. Anyone going on this hike should have some experience crossing boulders using all four points of contact and be able to lift your leg to your chest and pull yourself up over a rock. Although the Dudley Trail is not the steepest ascent, its definitely a climb (not a hike) from the start.

Hike Stats
Trails: Chimney Pond Trail, Dudley Trail, Knife Edge, Saddle Trail, Northwest Basin Trail, Hamlin Ridge Trail
Distance: 13.1 mi.
Elevation Gain: 4,443 feet
Book Time: 10hrs 10min


  1. Very cool, the video is awesome. Certainly not for those who get freaked out about that sort of terrain, but a great experience for those that enjoy it!

    1. Thanks Summer - Despite the fact that its not as high as the Presidentials, the drop offs sure make up for that!

  2. Congrats on your 100th post! I wish you luck in finding your camera. I once lost an Olympus tough 8000 in a stream only to find it the next day; and it worked. Those are tough cameras. I am eventually going to pick up the new Olympus like you did. I brought my Canon G 12 on my last hike and it was annoying to have to baby it which I don’t need to do with the tough camera.
    I didn’t know you used the Olympus for your Tucks climb, were you literally holding that thing in one hand and the ice axe in the other?! Wow!

    1. Hi Grant - The Tough is awesome. I hope to try again next time I'm over near Jackson. It's well off the trail, since I had lost the trail, but it would make for a great story someday if I found it and got the pictures I never got too see. For the Tucks climb it was strapped to my left shoulder strap and chest strap on a small Gorillapod.

  3. I missed this when you first posted it (since we were in the mountains for a week :). Just a fantastic hike and an awesome account and pictures! This one has been on our radar for several years and we're hopefully going to get it soon. We're spending a week in Baxter week after next and just can't wait! Your account has given me another get perspective on what to expect. I'll remain nervous about the Knife Edge until the end, but Nat is determined to drag my butt over it. I have to say I think I'm looking forward to the lowlands and being surrounded by mountains as I am to being on the summits. Such an amazing place!

    Looking forward to your next adventure...


    1. Thats OK Mark, Hope you had an awesome Seek The Peak! I wanted to do that, but I already had this one planned well in advance. Katahdin was such an awesome hike because of the terrain, but I agree, I'm just as curious about the rest of Baxter and places like the 100 mile wilderness. You guys will do just fine. We'll be headed up again soon this fall a few times for the rest of the Maine 4000 footers.

    2. Seek the Peak was amazing (as was the rest of the week). I watched the Knife Edge video last night after posting the comment (couldn't view on my iPad when first reading the post). I sure hope some of those spots are not as narrow and precipitous as the video makes them appear. Yikes!! Nat just kept saying "turn that thing off - you're making yourself crazy" as I kept saying "holy crap!!" during most of it. I know I'll get through it fine once we're there.

      I've been going through the Baxter map and other people's photos and trip reports this afternoon. So many amazing spots! This is definitely going to take multiple trips ;-)