If you are going to go Maine, you might as well make the most of it

Peak Summited2019 Mount Katahdin
Type of HikeDay hike
TrailheadChimney/Helon Taylor at
EncounteredFall foliage, Ripe berries
Road ConditionsRoad suitable for all vehicles
Bug StatusBugs were not too bad
Snow ConditionsSnow free
Trail ConditionsMinor obstacles posing few problems
Additional Informationhttp://www.gotag.life

Maine is five hours from where I live, so I figured, if I am going to hike to Katahdin, I should check out some more of the park. When's the next time I'll be up here?  Well, now that I've been, probably sooner than I thought before the trip:-)

I took Chimney to Helon Taylor to Knife Edge to Saddle to Northwest Basin to Russell Pond, arriving back at Roaring Brook Parking/Campground where I started.  It took about 3.5 hours to summit with about an hour of that spent on the Knife Edge.  The rest of the hike was spent on the 16 miles of Saddle, Northwest Basin and Russell Pond over 7.5 hours.  Total time was was 10 hours 39 min and distance was 21.45 by GPS.  This included some running.

The trails offer a variety of settings from windblown rocky peaks to enchanted forrest-like moss covered rocks and downed trees to a picture perfect calm lake with a soaring mountain behind to babbling (and roaring at times) brooks with mini-waterfalls around every corner.  This is in addition to every Appalachian hike in the NE where you know you will find rocks on rocks on rocks.  Big rocks on bigger rocks and then lots of little rocks to fill the space between.

Before hiking Katahdin, it is advised that you make a parking reservation ($5) and if you are from out of state, each person needs to pay $15 to enter.  If you make a reservation,  you need to be present before 7:05, because that's when they start to give away parking spaces to those who didn't have a reservation.  On busy weekends, the chances are slim to none that you can get into the park without a reservation. Another option is to camp.  Also keep in mind that the park hours are 6am to 8:30pm.  I ran into a guy on the trail that had a camping reservation the night before, but got there at 9pm:-/.  Also, the line builds up at the gatehouse.  I arrived in line at about 6:45 and didn't get to the gate until 6:58.

The speed limit is 20 mph in the park and it took around 20 min give or take to get to Roaring Brook campground from the gate.  Worth noting if daylight time is tight.

There are outhouses at the campground, but no water stations so bring all you can or a way to treat the water.

After checking-in at the Ranger station and chatting for a bit about the conditions, I head up Chimney (about 0.1 mi) before veering left onto Helon Taylor (which I have been told is pronounced just like Helen).  Helon starts with rocks and roots, but pretty easy to navigate. It had rained the night before so it was a little wet and marshy in some areas.  There is a solid elevation gain, with two sections where the trail levels off and even descends a tiny bit.  At about 2 mi in, it starts to open up.  The views are amazing.  It being late Sept. the leaf colors were starting to pop.

You might think you are on the Knife Edge, towards the end of Helon Taylor with the way the landscape is starting to look.  The drop off on either edge starts to get steeper and the rocks/boulders bigger.  For this section I highly recommend gloves – with grips would be great.  The rocks up there are what I would describe as “grippy” BUT, they are like sandpaper.

Helon Taylor intersects with Dudley and Knife Edge at Pamola Peak.  Dudley is currently being worked on and is not an option for a descent should you look at the Knife Edge and change your mind.

The Knife Edge, in my opinion, lives up to its reputation.  It is intimidating and if you were to let yourself get carried away with “what if” thoughts, it's going to be a very difficult if not impossible trek.  The day I hiked the winds were forecasted to be between 25 and 35 mph.  It felt like more than that when I was on the north side of the edge . In some parts it felt like my beanie was going to come off.   All that being said, I think the first 1/3 mi to include that first drop and then the chimney plus a few more challenging parts are the worst of it.  The last 2/3 I thought were similar to the end of Helon Taylor.  Bouldering before going on this trail might be helpful.

Baxter Peak was busy with folks coming from the Hunt Trail (AT) , Saddle Trail and the Cathedral Cut-off.  It was cool to see some of the folks finishing up their thru hike.  It's also a cool peak in that on one side it's almost like a sheer cliff and on the side a gentle slope with grass waving back and forth in the wind.  Very cool sight.

Down Saddle to Northwest Basin is all exposed and full of all kinds of rock sizes.  A beautiful decent with a view of Hamlin and Katadin with Pamola Peak in the distance.

Once the Northwest Basin Trail leaves the Hamilin Ridge Trail, you can see it is one that not too many traverse. Despite this, above the tree line the blazes and cairns are easy to spot. Near where the trail hits the first of two major descents the trail converges with a downhill stream. If it hadn't rained the day before, it would likely just be wet and slippery with leaves and moss. It is extremely slippery for about a half mile. When the trail starts to level off, you find yourself at Davis Pond. This is an excellent place to take a picture as you are looking straight up the side of a mountain – but don't stay in one spot too long as the bugs will come get you.

The trail makes a sharp turn to the left and slightly uphill where you will travel on beams of wood off and on until you get to Lake Cowles. This was a tricky part as the trail seems to end, but really it was submerged. Perhaps it was because of the rain, but I would expect that normally, at a minimum you will have to do some rock hoping. However, you might want to prepare to trek through the water directly across the lake to get back on the trail.

Shortly after the lake crossing, you start the second major descent, although this one is little easier because the water flow runs parallel instead of in sync with the trail for more of the descent. When the grade decreases again you'll travel go about a mile until your next water crossing. This is another tricky area where I had trouble locating the trail and/or blazes. If I remember correctly, I crossed the stream from one bank to another three times over maybe 30 yards. It required some rock hopping and I also ended up going in the water.

After the water crossing, the trail runs somewhat parallel to the Wassataquoik Stream. The trail has many marshy and stream-like sections as well as several smaller stream crossings. Around a half mile out from Russell Pound and after you have passed the intersection with the North Peaks Trail, you will cross the entrance to a pond (more rock hoping or wading). Overall, this section of the trail is pretty easy going as long as you don't mind getting wet and the marsh.

Russell Pond Trail is a pretty consistent undulating trail. There were numerous stream crossings with three of them being what I would consider major. Going south, the first two happen within a mile of each other. I assume the water level was higher than normal and swifter than normal due to the rain and may be traversed by rock hoping normally, but when I crossed, I got in the water, leaning into the current and choose my steps carefully. The water got down to 2.5 ft deep where it was easiest to cross and some sections were swift enough that a misstep would take you downstream in a hurry. Be prepared to get wet if you take this trail. Also, the water is very cold. I appreciated it, but it is worth mentioning that my feet were numb for a while after.

Before getting to the end of of Russell Pond, there is an excellent place to take a picture of Katahdin, reflecting on Whidden Pond.

Less than a mile after, you will find yourself back at Roaring Brook.  Don't forget to sign out at the rangers ledger and turn in your registration at your gate.  Also, in regard to timing, remember that the gates close at 8:30, which means leaving the campground closer to 8 if you want to get out.

The loop was a challenge, but so rewarding in all its beauty and lessons.  It was cool to be in parts of the park that not too many other people get to, too.   Happy hiking!

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