Highest Mountain in Maine and the Beginning of Appalachian Trail
The Saddle Trail from Chimney Pond rises steeply through scrubby spruce and rocky slabs to Baxter Peak on the Katahdin Cirque at 5,267 feet, the highest point in Maine
The 5.5 mile trail begins first at Roaring Brook Campground twenty miles north of Millinocket, Maine in Baxter State Park. There is no other way to get here but by private car and if one arrives early enough, he should find parking available for up to forty or so cars. The starting point of the Chimney Pond Trail (3.3 miles) is at 1,467 feet above sea level that takes the hiker to Chimney Pond at 2,930 feet above sea level where one begins the Saddle Trail (2.2 miles) to the summit. Hikers should sign the trail register at the trail head back in Roaring Brook Campground and indicate that you will take the Saddle Trail at Chimney Pond.
Katahdin means “The Greatest Mountain” in the Abenaki Language
The best times to climb Katahdin are from the very end of May through mid-October. Be aware that it can snow up on Mount Katahdin (meaning “The Greatest Mountain” in Abenaki), during every month of the year, and during the summer months it can be quite rainy. The worst time to climb this mountain would be from mid-October through most of May. There are no man-made hazards on the trail but the hiker should be wary of highly variable weather from snow to rain to fog to wind with but a few entirely sunny days. Once the hiker is under way, she will enter dense forests of birch and spruce trees.
Possible Moose and Black Bear Sightings
The 3.3 mile woods hike up to Chimney Pond (nestled within the glacial cirque of Mount Katahdin) goes through a dense stand of black spruce forest where one might encounter a moose on the trail. Let the moose take its time getting off the trail. This section of northern Maine does house black bears, white tailed deer and bobcats as well. While walking through the aromatic forests, the hiker should listen for the melodious warbling and chirping of warblers, thrushes and chickadees.
Striking Views of Katahdin With Its Three Peaks (Chimney, Pomola, and Baxter Peaks)
As the climber finishes hiking over the last very rocky portion of the trail to Chimney Pond, he will be afforded striking views of the Katahdin Cirque that forms a semi-circle around the pond. Baxter Peak is the highest to the west and Pomola and Chimney Peaks (both a little above 4,900 feet) rise eastward. It is a good idea to take a rest at Chimney Pond and eat some snacks and drink some water because the last 2.2 miles up to 5,267 foot Baxter Peak will be strenuous.
The Saddle Trail is Very Steep and Rocky
The Saddle Trail gains over 2,300 feet in a little over two miles. It ascends straight up through a dwindling forest until the hiker seems like a giant walking through scrubby spruce trees of the krummholz (tree line). Deep within the scrub are many trickling springs of ice cold water that are potable. As the climber emerges from tree line, she will encounter almost immediately a quarter-mile long rock slide with big pinkish slabs of rock (the trail marked with blue stripes from here to the summit) that require extreme care and caution to climb over.
Henry Thoreau Wrote in The Maine Woods (1864) that Katahdin Remains Unfinished Once one is on top of the rock slide, she has only a half mile to go to reach the Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail (over 2,000 long down to Georgia) on top of Baxter Peak. Thoreau wrote in his third essay (“Ktaadn”) contained in The Maine Woodsthat the top of Katahdin remains an unfinished part of the globe where one is “robbed of his divine faculties” so vast is the landscape.
Once the hiker stands at the very summit of Baxter Peak, if it is a clear day, she should be able to see the Saint Lawrence River up in Canada and the distant hazy Atlantic Ocean. Directly westward stretches Moosehead Lake. The hike can take up to a whole day with a vertical gain of 3,800 feet. Bring sufficient water even though the climber can sip from the fresh springs at treeline. There are no restroom facilities on the Saddle portion of the trail above Chimney Pond. You can pick up a map from the Baxter State Park Visitor Center or download the Katahdin Lake Quad from the USGS web page.