Last October I wrote about our unsuccessful attempt to summit Mt. Katahdin. As difficult and tiring as it was, David and I both loved the expansive views of the tablelands on the Katahdin ridge, the deliberately undeveloped and unspoiled wildness of Baxter State Park, and the idea that this year we would have time to fit in a trip to hike Baxter Peak, the highest point of Katahdin, almost any time, given our plans to leave our jobs.
After the summer we’ve had, any plan we make, like the three days we just had at Baxter State Park, that we’re able to keep, is a gift. Tropical storm Irene whipped the bad weather out of the Northeast over the weekend, and we had clear, dry skies (except for a bit of rain which woke us up pinging the top of the tent Tuesday night) for our trip.
We set off Wednesday morning to climb Baxter Peak by the Chimney Pond and Saddle trails, reportedly the easiest way to get to the top. As we drove north, I talked with a friend who hiked Katahdin in July, and she assured me that once we got up to Baxter Peak via the Saddle Trail, we’d want to do the Knife Edge, the trail over a serrated ridge of Katahdin with steep pitches of rock and cliff off to each side. Anyone who hikes Katahdin talks about the Knife Edge, as it presents the most exposed alpine hiking in the east. As we made our we up the tough scramble of the Saddle slide, I couldn’t imagine a need to do any tougher hike.
And then we made it to the top. Katahdin is a tough mountain to climb, but it’s glorious, and just getting to the top was glory enough for me. Looking at the Knife Edge made me dizzy. There were a number of hikers at the peak who had arrived around the same time as us, who were heading on to take the Knife Edge as part of their route down. “I can’t imagine looking at that and wanting to hike it,” I said to one couple. The young woman said back, “I can’t imaging looking at that and not wanting to hike it.”
The hike down, even on the Saddle and Chimney Pond trails, was plenty hard enough for us. Eleven miles, eleven hours of scrambling up and over boulders, stepping around roots and rocks, and navigating a gnarly, uneven trail. On the long hike out the Chimney Pond trail, I started counting my steps, just to keep myself moving and keep my mind occupied with something other than a focus on how much my feet hurt. It was 1,500 steps from when I started counting until I finally came to a trail junction a tenth of a mile from the campground.
Yesterday morning, in the campground, we talked to two people who got back to their tent sites after 10:00 p.m. One man had done the Knife Edge with his daughter and it took them over 15 hours to finish their hike. As I said to another group of hikers on Baxter Peak, “Getting to the summit of Katahdin was on my bucket list. Doing the Knife Edge isn’t.”