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Backpacking Baxter State Park torturous terrain

I wrote a piece after backpacking a grueling trail in the Great Smoky Mountains a few years back referring to the Swallow Fork Trail as my “daddy.” The terrain was not so difficult, but the trail slowly gained elevation for four miles. This was like Chinese water torture, but when backpacking Baxter State Park, I found a trail even more difficult.

Backpacking Baxter State Park

Backpacking Baxter State Park after a brutal climb up the boulder fields

Related: Swallow Fork Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains is my daddy 

Backpacking Baxter State Park from Russell Pond to Chimney Pond

It was a ten mile day from Russell Pond to Chimney Pond. The first six miles to Davis Pond were pretty non eventful, and I made decent time. The only difficult part was a somewhat tricky river crossing of Wassataquoik Stream. The trail was full of roots and rocks and was never easy, but for the most part, the first seven miles went quickly.

Related: Hiking Baxter State Park day one from Roaring Brook to Russell Pond

hiking Baxter State Park

Backpacking Baxter State Park from Russell Pond

Baxter State Park trail

Even when the elevation was gentle, the trails at Baxter State Park were strewn with with roots and rocks

Northwest Basin from Davis Pond

This all changed on the other side of Davis Pond. I picked up the Northwest Basin Trail and started gaining elevation. Elevation is tough when hiking, but it makes it even tougher when the trail is uneven. When the Northwest Basin started to climb it went straight up the mountain. There were no switchbacks, and if not for the blue blazes, the trail would have been difficult to follow. This was because the trail was so steep that it went in places it would have been unbelievable to go. I kept thinking, that cannot be the trail as it went right up a rock face only to have a blue blaze emboldened right at the top.

Baxter State Park hiking

When the trail started to climb it went up precipitously

After scrambling through the trees up cliff faces, I came to a pond. I could see Mt. Katahdin and the ridge above. I was not sure where the trail would go. I was hoping it plateaued for a bit before making the last push to the top.

Baxter State Park Maine

More climbing up rock faces at Baxter State Park

Climbing up a boulder field

The trail instead went straight up through the boulder field above me. If I thought the trail went in unbelievable places before this, it even got more treacherous. The boulders got so steep that I was going virtually straight up. I was grabbing the rock above me with my hand while pushing off below me with my walking stick (see the video below).

Northwest Basin Baxter State Park

Boulder field hiking up to Mount Hamline on the Northwest Basin in Baxter State Park

The only good thing was the boulders were lichen covered and provided good traction as it was not wet. The tread on my hiking boots griped the rocks securely. I never slipped off a rock although I did struggle at times to keep my balance. Since the danger was so great if I fell backwards, it just was not an option, so I focused on moving up. If I lost my balance, I made sure to fall forward.

Mt. Hamline Baxter State Park

Relieved to finally be up to Mt. Hamline

Slow going up to Mt. Hamline

I finally made it up to Mt. Hamline, which was above the treeline at 4,720. I was only 500 feet below Mt. Katahdin, but I was not going to summit today. My plan was to descend down to Chimney Pond and try  to climb Katahdin the next day.

Baxter State Park

Looking back at the terrain I worked so hard to climb up from while backpacking Baxter State Park

Incredible view

The view atop Mt. Hamline was sensational. I could see the Allagash Riverway slightly to the west. In just a couple of days I would be looking back at  Mt. Katahdin from our first night’s camping site while paddling the waterway. I could also look up to Katahdin as well as the rugged landscape I just climbed up from.

Baxter State Park

Finally reached the top of the ridge. Only 500 feet higher to the top of Katahdin.

Allagash River Baxter State Park

Allagash Wilderness Water seen in the distance

Mt. Katahdin

Mt. Katahdin taken from the Allagash Wilderness Waterway only three days later

Saddleback Trail down

The Saddleback Trail down was a replay of the Northwest Basin Trail going up. Going downhill at a steep rate like this is not as physically demanding as climbing up, but it is awkward and still difficult. I was exhausted after the climb up, so I had to be very careful not to loose my footing going down.

Mount Katahdin

So close to summiting Katahdin. In fact, I did most of the difficult work. Unfortunately, did not have enough daylight to complete on this day.

Chimney Pond Campsite

I finally stumbled into Chimney Pond Campground with my headlight on in almost complete darkness. It took me another 15 minutes to find my lean-to campsite. There was a sign for every tent and lean-to except the one I was staying at. I finally figured out where it was and collapsed on the the wooden platform. I was too tired to cook, so I ate nuts, granola bars, and dried fruit for dinner and passed out.

Baxter State Park

Amazing view of Baxter State Park

Hiking in to Roaring Brook Campground

The next morning I was still beat up from the 4.2 mile climb and descent over the boulder field ridge. A blanket of clouds covered Katahdin. I decided I was not up to climbing Katahdin today either. There would have been no view. I saw enough from Mt. Hamline the day before. The view could not be much better from another 500 feet up, especially when shrouded in fog.

Chimney Pond Campground

Backpacking Baxter State Park – My lean-to at Chimney Pond Campground

I hiked in the three miles to Roaring Brook Campground and reunited with my car. I drove towards Millinocket to get some hot dogs and ice and camped from my car at Nesowadnehunk Campground to complete my Baxter State Park experience.

Baxter State Park hiking tips

  • If you are hiking up to Katahdin or up the ridge to Mt. Hamline, do not take a tent. Make sure you get lean-to reservations and leave your tent in the car. The extra weight is a killer.
  • Take advantage of the $1.00 an hour canoe rentals at Russell Pond and elsewhere. It is $8.00 for the whole day.
  • I would hike Katahdin first from Roaring Brook when you are fresh if I were doing it over again.
Backpacking Baxter State Park

Fog rolls over Mount Katahdin as seen from the Chimney Pond Campground

For information on planning your own hike in Baxter State Park. Check out the park online.

Adventure on!

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One Response to Backpacking Baxter State Park torturous terrain

  1. travelboulder November 16, 2017 at 5:49 am #

    Great pictures. good job Ted Nelson …:-)

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