Ascent of Katahdin on 2014-08-18

Climber: Brian Lamarsh

Others in Party:Mark
Date:Monday, August 18, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Elevation:5268 ft / 1605 m

Ascent Trip Report

We planned a 10 mile loop hike ascending the Helon Taylor Trail and Knife Edge Trail to Baxter Peak, the summit of Katahdin. For our decent we used the Saddle Trail to the Chimney Pond Trail. The total elevation gain was well over 3700 feet. Our start time was somewhat late at 8:20am, but hiking at a moderate to casual pace, especially on Knife Edge, for most of the trip and hiking steady for the last three miles brought us out of the woods around 7:40pm with 15 minutes of daylight to spare.

The Helon Taylor Trail is the quickest way up to Pamola Peak (4919ft.) where the Knife Edge Trail starts. This trail was moderately rocky with several short scrambles. Only 2 miles into the hike we emerged from the tree line on Keep Ridge. The ridge was quite exposed to the wind all the way to the trail junction at Pamola Peak. This was the point to decide whether or not conditions were weather permitting for the next 1.1 miles to the summit. If not, the Dudley Trail to Chimney Pond was an option to consider. With a calmer wind and broken cloud cover we decided to continue.

The Knife Edge Trail, 1.1 miles. Hmm, most people I have talked with agree that the toughest part is right at the start from Pamola. It is The Chimney, a roughly 30 foot free climb down to a narrow col then a roughly 50 foot free climb up the other side. My comfort feeling was low on the climb down. Reaching my feet over blind ledges hoping for a foot hold and wondering if I would need to use my upper body strength to get out of trouble made this the most difficult part for me. I believe Mark felt the same. Climbing up the 50 foot part was actually quite easy. As we continued the trail led along the apex of the arête up and down short scrambles. Most of the trail was at least five feet wide with the narrowest part only two feet wide. This part was about 20 feet long with a wall on the left and a vertical drop on the right. I found it very easy to traverse with plenty of strong hand holds. If you are afraid of heights you may consider this the worst spot. About two thirds the way along the trail is another section which is about 3 feet wide with a vertical drop on one side and a very steep slope on the other. This section is considered The Knife Edge resembling a jagged steak knife. One climber likened it to hiking over the top of the pipes of a pipe organ. Some people just casually walk over the top and others may use all fours in the sketchier sections here. I used mostly twos and a little fours here and there. After The Knife Edge the trail widened slightly and was relatively easy the rest of the way to the summit. Our traverse of the 1.1 miles of the Knife Edge Trail took a casual two hours and forty minutes. There is no need to rush this hike with the inherent hazards, besides it is absolutely beautiful to enjoy.

We began our decent using the Saddle Trail which passes through the high and baron Table Land. Though it is tempting due to being a shorter distance to Chimney Pond do not use the Cathedral Trail as a shortcut to descend. It is mostly hazardous loose rock and gravel. The second half of the Saddle Trail also descends using a rock slide, but affords much safer footing. It will reach Chimney Pond using adding an extra mile to the hike.

From Chimney Pond where there is a ranger station and camps we hiked the moderate to easy Chimney Pond Trail 3.3 miles back to our campsite.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3700 ft / 1127 m
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb
    Gear Used:
Tent Camp
    Weather:Drizzle, Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3700 ft / 1127 m
    Route:Helon Taylor Trail
    Start Trailhead:Roaring Brook Campground  1568 ft / 477 m
Descent Statistics
    Route:Chimney Pond Trail
    End Trailhead:Roaring Brook Campground  

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