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