When my cousin, Carl, twice my age, hatched the idea of going to Maine, specifically Baxter State Park, specifically with the idea of cilmbing Katahdin, I started packing! At age 13, facing a boring summer of farm chores and little else, what would you expect? With only a modicum of difficulty, we wrangled permission from The Folks and began making preparations.
Preperations for Climbing Katahdin
Preparations included furbishing Carl’s “Old Town” canvass canoe (gross weight 80,000 lbs empty) and drawing up a list of food, clothes and Miscellaneous for the Big Adventure. “Preparation” did not include Carl giving specifics about Mt. Katahdin.
For me, it was a mountain. It was a road/camping/hiking trip with my favorite relative, going somewhere I had never been to do something I had never done. Who needs details under those circumstances?
The day we left arrived slowly enough and off we went; the “Old Town” canvass canoe (80,000 lbs empty) strapped to the top of Carl’s old station wagon. Woo-hoo! Only 604 miles to go!
Actually, it was a tad more since we had to make the requisite stop at L.L. Bean’s for “supplies”. The side trip to the store-with-no-locks made for great memories: “the boots”, backpacks and“dehydrated” foods and off to Roaring Brook Campground, trailhead to Chimney Pond and The Great Mountain!
Somewhere, Carl gave me some Katahdin basics: 5,280 feet, “Greatest Mountain”, named by the Penobscot Indians, Chimney Pond, Baxter Peak, Knife’s Edge… That last one caught my ear. “Why is it called ‘Knife’s Edge’” — “You’ll see when we get there” came the understated non-reply.
No biggie! I didn’t care if Katahdin was named by the Penobscot Indians, Cleveland Indians or Washington Redskins. We’re in Maine with only 200 miles to go!
Setting Up Camp
After checking in at the Roaring Brook Ranger Station, we grabbed a lean-to and set up camp. (Note: the Roaring Brook facilities have changed dramatically since 1958! Back then, only the Ranger had a cabin, running water came from Roaring Brook.
There were no “pools”, fountains, Wi-Fi or other “comforts”. This was camping, dammit! Be happy you had an air mattress!) I got the fire going, Carl secured the car and canoe (80,000 lbs empty) and broke out the packs of dehydrated food (I’ll spare you my customary cuisine critique).
Next morning, breakfast was Mostly Dissolved Tang, Instant Yellow Stuff Resembling Scrambled Eggs, Raisins and Half-Bad Instant Black Coffee.
Packs packed and canteens full, we left mid-morning for Chimney Pond at the base of the The Great Mountain. The plan was to make an easy hike of it, get accustomed to our packs, the terrain and stop along the way to absorb the flora, fauna and a Moose Surprise!
Carl’s canoe (80,000 lbs empty) mercifully stayed back at Roaring Brook awaiting the later portage to Russell Pond. Strolling into the Chimney Pond campground that afternoon, I got my first up-close look at Kahtahdin. I’d say it was “breathtaking” but that word is sooo overused.
Morning and time for the Big Climb!
With Carl leading the way (he had done this several times), we started up. What “Trail” we took, I don’t recall. I was watching Carl, trail markers and the view! Most every other memory has been washed in time – except our arrival at the Knife’s Edge. It was judicious of Carl not to have provided details when asked 300 miles ago! For a First Timer, crossing the top of Katahdin on a path of jagged rocks no wider than my boots gave “daunting” a bad name. Sheer drops on both sides didn’t help someone with a latent case of “High-drophobia”! Between 2nd and 3rd thoughts, Carl goaded me into stepping forward, following his lead.
Things went well for 50 feet when a cloud covered everything. While only moistening the rocks, it limited the view of the drops left and right. This was a Good Thing!
Unfortunately, the cloud prevented us from seeing two women approaching from the opposite direction until they were almost upon us. Now what? On a knife’s edge that barely accommodated size 12s, how would we navigate this mile-high passage?
Trauma often prevents clear but paralyzing experiences from getting a foothold in one’s memory so as to haunt you forever. In other words: I have no clue how we pulled this off – but we did, as proven by my presence, writing of the experience despite a damp keyboard.
So! On to Baxter Peak for raisins, water and million-dollar views. (The cloud moved right after we cleared the “Edge”); then back to Chimney Pond where dehydrated foods rivaled Mom’s best cooking, kicking back trading memories of the climb.
Katahdin Area Lodging
Despite my trepidations above, a hike up Mt. Katahdin must be on your Bucket List – including the challenge of the Knife’s Edge. Trust me: it takes more guts than stamina. But self-satisfaction combined with the memory of those views makes for a lifetime achievement not available any other way.Your Camp Katahdin Team can make it possible.
A great basecamp for your next climb, our Denney Lodge sleeps 15 and our updated 1800’s Farmhouse sleeps 8 comfortably with all the amenities from home. They also have ATV and snowmobile trails, no license needed pheasant hunting, a private shooting pavilion and more. Read more here: