Ascent of Katahdin on 2019-08-03

Climber: David Odenwalder

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Saturday, August 3, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Elevation:5268 ft / 1605 m

Ascent Trip Report

Tough hike. Abol Trail is the shortest, but it involves climbing a couple of primordial boulder slides - very steep. Probably could be done standing up, but I'd rank it a low class 3 scramble, frequently using hands to climb over boulders in the slides. Sometimes a 3- to 4-foot scramble. Poles were sometimes helpful, sometimes just a bother.

I was solo, but there were many on the trail at times - about 50 in the vicinity of the summit while I was there. I'm a slow hiker, so most of them passed me on the descent.

Wanted to recount my experiences with the access/parking passes. I had taken advantage of an unexpected business trip to the Northeast to knock out the remaining state highpoints in that region. The dates on my business trip were somewhat fluid, and had already slipped a couple of days - but I gambled that I would still be able to make it work on the weekend before returning home. I expected not to have to work on Friday 8/2, and at the time I made my travel arrangements, it was exactly two weeks prior to that date. So I went online to the Baxter State Park site, and looked for an available slot. I had already decided, based on a telephone call with a really nice lady at the office, that the Abol Trail was my best, easiest choice to gain the summit in the shortest time. It has already been noted, that Maine residents have first priority in getting the limited number of access passes available. I was lucky, and found there were still spots available at the two-week window - earliest chance for a non-resident to reserve a parking pass. Abol Trail still had parking places - some of the others already registered full. I paid the pass fee ($5) as well as the general park usage fee ($15) in advance with a credit card.
As the date drew closer, it became obvious that my work would extend into Friday, spoiling my intended trip. On Thu, I called the Baxter offices again, explained that I would not be able to use the pass for the following day. Once again, a very nice person said I could separate the use pass from the parking pass - hence, I assumed I would merely have to forfeit the parking pass and pay the $5 again when I had a date available. I had built a contingency into my flight schedule for just such a change - Saturday was still available, in case my work went over into Fri - which it did.
Leaving the worksite mid-afternoon Friday, I hoped against hope that I'd be able to get a parking pass early the next morning. Drove from Boston outskirts to Baxter arriving just before midnight. There was already a car or two near the entrance gate. Two young guys were in the process of setting up a tent - on the side of the road. They told me that they already had a pass, and were planning to hike one of the knife-edge routes. I did not make contact with the other car. At that time, I could have gotten into the line, and been the first at the gate the next morning. (The gate is merely a bar across the very narrow access road - the actual visitor pass booth is maybe a quarter of a mile or so past the gate.) I had once previously had a bad experience with insufficient sleep prior to a tough hike - and wasn't going to repeat that - so I found a place near the gate to pull off and sleep in the car. Didn't want to block the narrow access road. Turns out the place I pulled off is a "lawn" area next to a service building - but of course, I could not see that in the dark.
When I awoke - around 5 AM or so - there was a line-up of about a dozen or more cars waiting at the gate. I was really ticked - while I slept, it was quite possible that I had sacrificed my first-in-line spot to latecomers - and perhaps the long drive was going to have been for naught. Nothing I could do, but wait. By the time the gate opened at about 6 AM, the line of cars went back as far as I could see. After all, it was a mid-summer weekend. I was very doubtful about getting a pass. Car after car entered the park - I assume with a pass, while those of us without valid passes for that date were directed to pull off to the side of the road and wait just inside the gate. Again, I was resigned to having made the drive in vain. When one of the park officials walked by to talk to us, he sounded like it was pretty doubtful that we would get in.
A couple of minutes after 7 AM, the officials in charge started waving those of us who had been waiting forward. At that point, I think I was about the eleventh car in the line. One by one, we passed, and the officials directed us what to do. The fellows in the car ahead of me had fallen asleep during the wait, so I drove around them - I figured I had been at the gate before they arrived, so I didn't feel that I was taking cuts. The official asked me my plans - I told him Abol Trail. He wrote the date change on the pass that I had printed out (before I left home) - also the license plate of the rental car I was using - and waved me forward. I asked if I didn't have to pay for the parking pass, since the one I had was for a previous day. That's fine - he said and motioned me forward. No extra fee due. My greatest respect for the park staff - all very cordial, helpful, and friendly.
So here's what I learned.
- Unless you are a Maine resident, better book your pass as soon as possible (at two weeks prior to intended usage). Still don't be surprised if your chosen route is already booked.
- There are developed campsites - at least at the Abol Trailhead. Consider trying to book a campsite overnight for a better chance at getting in. (I think the gate closes at 10 PM in the summer, so better arrive prior to that.)
- If parking and waiting - don't pull off the narrow access road. Park right at the gate, in the road - even if you are sleeping in your car - and then set an alarm, so people around you don't pass you going in.
- If you don't get a pass, don't despair. There appears to be some latitude for stragglers - but better be in line by 5 AM or so, at least during the busy summer months.
- When buying your parking pass and usage pass online - a relatively easy process, even on the other side of the country - buy both together. If you have to change your date later, the usage permit isn't forfeited - and maybe not the parking pass either. Bring the printed form with you.
- When buying the pass, the website asks for the make/model and license number of the entry car. If you're renting and don't know that information in advance, use your own personal vehicle make and license - they will annotate the pass with the correct information at the gate. (At least that is what the office instructed me as of my purchase date.) If in doubt, call the state park offices - the folks are very nice and helpful.
Summary Total Data
    Route:Abol Trail
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Partly Cloudy
afternoon thunderstorms forecast, but did not have any issues with rain or lightning
Ascent Statistics
    Time:4 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:4 Hours 30 Minutes

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