Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Breathtaking trip up and over Hamlin Peak on Mt. Katahdin

Worried about an approaching storm, Austin and I woke up at 5 a.m. to begin our ascent of Mt. Katahdin. We knew that rain was on the way eventually, but that was the extent of our knowledge. The South Branch ranger was gone when started our trip, the Russell Pond ranger was training the whole time we were at that site, and there’s no ranger at Davis Pond, so there was no one to get an updated weather report from. We didn’t know what to expect.

I picked my way around an annoying stream that had rerouted to the path and made my way up a somewhat steep route in the woods. Then treeline broke and I saw that the sky was clear. We could see for miles across the park. There were no signs of urbanization to disturb the beautiful view, just miles and miles of forests, ponds and smaller mountains. The sight took my breath away.

View of the basin of Mt. Katahdin from Hamlin ridge, coming down the
trail from the peak.
And then the wind took my breath away. After navigating over a boulder field, we emerged on the plateau and were immediately met with powerful gusts of wind. We were walking head-on into them. They must have been close to 40 mph. The wind was frigid too, so we bundled up with our GORE-TEX jackets, winter gloves and hats.

My camera is blowing in the wind -- I was so grateful for
that GORE-TEX jacket!!
We pushed against the wind and made it to the rock pile marking Hamlin peak. We could see the marker for Baxter peak standing tall in the distance. Then it was time to go down. The wind was still pounding as I began the steep descent down the exposed Hamlin trail. Now the wind was at my side, and it would push at my backpack and threaten to topple me over. Sometimes it was so ferocious that Austin and I would both stop in our tracks and sit down on the granite to avoid being pushed off the steep ridge. Straps on my backpack whipped so violently that they hurt my cold face. We crouched behind boulders to get shelter from the gusts when we needed a break for water or a Clif Bar.

The whole thing was exhilarating. Hamlin has been my favorite Katahdin trail so far because of the way it drops off on both sides, offering gorgeous views of Katahdin’s basin and north peak on the left and the cathedrals, Baxter Peak and Knife Edge on the right. I was enamored by the views the entire time. 
Knife Edge
Even though I had been worried about having a 30-pound backpack on some of the more technical spots, I found I had quickly adapted to the pack. I even used it to my advantage by swinging it with my body for momentum.

Finally we were below treeline and sheltered from the continuous wind. And before I knew it, we were at Chimney Pond. This campground is partway up the mountain bordering the small, alpine pond. The sight of the steep cliffs of Katahdin over the pond amazed me, especially since the last time I visited the fog was so thick that you couldn’t tell there was a mountain there. You could see the detailed outline of the cathedral rock formations along Cathedral Trail, as well as the Knife Edge ridge backdropped by an overcast sky.
Katahdin over Chimney Pond
We met Austin’s parents and gratefully feasted on the food they carried in. The next day, we took the 3 mile path to Roaring Brook campground to spend our few remaining days relaxing. I didn’t want to leave. I was sad to think that the next time I’ll be there will be (hopefully) October of next year, after a successful trek along the Appalachian Trail. After that memorable week, I was both confident and eager for this challenge.

Another moose at Chimney Pond campground!

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