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Mount Katahdin, Maine (5,267')

The approach to Baxter State Park, home of the highest point in Maine, Katahdin, is not straight forward.  The road crisscrosses many used and abandoned mining roads.  The GPS was not any help and unfortunately we missed a turn.  Rather than backtrack, we took a route approaching the park from the west that was not well maintained.  In fact it was in very poor repair.  Racing down the road was not a great option, but I didn’t have much of a choice since the clock was ticking.  We pulled into the gate with about 20min to spare.

Lucky, we were not.  Upon arrival, we found out that the park personal had screwed up our booking and had us at a campground on the opposite side of the park from the trail head despite clearly communicating this on the phone at the time of the booking.  Normally I would assume this was accidental, but I soon discovered that an outrageous “campsite change fee” would be required not just for one night, but for both.  I will try hard not to launch into a diatribe about my feelings regarding how horribly corrupt, mismanagement of Baxter State Park.  After hearing one horror story after another online about the place, I experienced it firsthand.  The fact that after the change fees, campsite fees, out of state fee, and entrance fees, the 30 hours or so I would spend in the park would cost $96 is the nicest thing I can say.  The entire park was a donation so that the wilderness could be preserved for the public to experience.  The park is operated by a selfish, self serving organization that not only limits access, charges outrageous fees to pad their own paychecks, but has arrested dozens and dozens of individuals for “trespassing” on a land donated for public access.  I soil my trip report with this information only to prepare those who plan on visiting it and inspire someone capable of initiating change.

After a solid nights rest, I awoke with one question on my mind.  Was Stephenie going to join me for this hike?  The 20 mile hike in the Adirondacks had taken a lot out of Stephenie.  One day of recovery was not enough.  With more foul weather in the forecast, she had decided the night before that she was not likely going to join me.  I had accepted that and was prepared to hike the mountain alone.  It certainly wasn’t my first solo climb and more than any other mountain I was looking forward to this one. 

Katahdin is remote, rugged, prominent, and beautiful.  Stephenie informed me that she was not going to hike.  Although I was disappointed, I was excited that I could sleep an extra 30min since I would no longer have to break camp before we set out.  I too was exhausted.  After the extra rest, we headed to the parking lot where we could share a nice breakfast together.  Food has to be kept in vehicles since bears are also present in the park.

While eating and getting ready, Stephenie started to change her mind.  She examined the scene in the parking lot which was now packed with people due to Baxter State Park policy.  To limit public access, the park only allows a certain number of vehicles to enter the park each day.  Line up at the front gate as early as 5am to be one of the lucky few granted access on the weekends.  The parking lot goes from silent to packed in the matter of 15minutes.  I personally find it exciting that such a diverse group of people are interested in enjoying the park.  Men, women, old, young, and of many nationalities were spread out before us.  Steph figured if all these other girls and older folks could climb this mountain she could too. J

I was very excited to hear she would join me.  Only a few logistics stood in our way before we could set out.  I instructed her to eat breakfast and gear up, while I took my breakfast back to camp to break it down.  After less than a 30min delay I was back and we were soon on our way.

The park is beautiful.  I can see why it is popular.  The trail winds through a beautiful hardwood forest, crossing many streams and rising steadily.  We took our first break near another group doing the same and something quite amazing happened.  One of the ladies soon asked, “Excuse me, aren’t you Stephenie Steitzer?”  Amazed, we soon found out that part of the group was from Kentucky.  They had been climbing together for decades and some were also trying to complete the 50 State Highpoint challenge.  Stephenie had been appearing regularly on a political program called Comment on Kentucky while a political reporter for the largest paper in Kentucky, The Courier Journal.  We broke bread and shared stories and continued on our way, only to reunite again on the summit.

Another hour or so into the hike and we arrived at a spectacular lake at the base of the mountain.   It was time to refill water and enjoy another snack.  From the vantage point of the lake we could clearly see the Knifes Edge trail and the standard route we planned to take.  Despite cloudy conditions, so far the weather was holding out.  Due to the poor forecast and our tired condition, we opted for a safer and easier approach.  I would love to return to the park someday to traverse the Knifes Edge and see more of the park.

The climb from the lake continued through a forest that became increasingly less dense as the trail became steeper and more rugged.  Soon we had climbed out of the tree line and were working our way up a very steep, slightly exposed section.  It required some remedial scrambling ability, but was a cakewalk compared to the conditions on Marcy.  At the top of the saddle, we stopped for another break before continuing up the ridgeline.

The ridgeline was long and tiring for us, being at the end of such a long trip.  I don’t think it would pose much trouble for anyone in decent physical condition.  We worked our way up under the motto of slow and steady.  Before long we were at the summit.

At this point our luck finally changed.  The clouds broke.  The sun was shining.  The weather was wonderful.  We took some pictures with a small Kentucky Flag our new friends had brought with them.  One of their traditions was to enjoy a 1oz bottle of KY bourbon on the summit.  Lucky us, they had brought an extra they were willing to share.  Since the weather was nice we stayed on the summit for over an hour.  We had a nice lunch, took pictures, and talked to a group of climbers who had just completed a 6month hike on the Application Trail.  They seemed divided on the issue of recommending the hike from Georgia to its termination point on the summit of Katahdin, but shared and excitement and enthusiasm to have completed it that few experience in life.  At one point, they even stripped down to super hero briefs to take pictures.  I guess a 6 month hike will make a person do strange things.  J

The weather was soon overcast, but never really let lose a strong rain.  We arrived at camp happy to cook up a nice dinner and enjoy the campground.  The next morning we broke camp early and headed to check in at our hotel.

Before arriving at the hotel, we stopped off at a “Lobster Pound” along the way.  It is the place fisherman drop off their lobster catch before they are resold and distributed to local restaurants and beyond. This particular one had an incredibly unusual lobster with a blue shell! 

The hotel was amazing and highly recommended to anyone wishing to visit the region.  Although are room was not yet ready, they allowed us to head down to the pool and hot tub.  Oh man, did our bodies love relaxing in that hot tub.  After checking in, we stopped at a local winery for a tasting followed by diner in a nearby town.  A romantic evening, great food, rest and relaxation, in a truly beautiful destination were exactly what we needed at this point on the trip.

The next morning we were headed to Boston to visit some friends there.  I am not afraid to admit we had more lobster for lunch the next day.  Sure we ate lobster at 3 consecutive meals, but we were in Maine and it seemed rude not to. J

Boston was one of the last major US cities I had never visited and always wanted to.  My friend Barry met us at another friend, Rachel’s house before we head out for the evening.  Rachel was an instructor at one of the local sailing clubs.  She took us out for a sunset sail on Boston Harbor on one of their midsize vessels.  We saw the sites and then tied up to a dock to enjoy some great bands playing at an outdoor music venue.  Actually it was some a couple of my favorite bands at the time: Beach House opened for Vampire Weekend.  We couldn’t see the act, but enjoyed some wine, snacks and great music before heading back to the marina. 

 

Map of US HighPoints
KEY: States: Green - summited, Yellow - attempted, White - Not visited
Dots: Green - State Lowpoint, Red - State Highpoint

 

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