I’m guiding two clients on their first experience in Baxter State Park. Their request was to take them someplace where they would not see many people. In Baxter State park, if you walk away from Katahdin rather than toward it, you will definitely leave the crowds behind. In our first four days in the Park, we encountered more moose than people (5) , hiking north out of Roaring Brook to South Branch Pond.
Our last night found us camping in lean-to #12 at Abol Campground where I enjoyed my first time sleeping in my newly purchased “used’ Honda Element. I pivoted the two folded rear seats against the sidewalls, opened the sunroof and windows and viewed the stars through the glassed panel above my head. The car easily allows me to stretch out my full length Neo Air XLite mattress. Gaspedal was in his new REI solo tent, so Rokrabbit had the lean-to all to himself.
Drying shirt at Abol lean-to
“Multipurpose piece of birchbark, Uncle Tom”
Abol was the first campground that I encountered way back in 1970 when I was a newcomer to Baxter. Packing a week’s worth of food and gear in early June, the snow was so deep up high that the Saddle Trail was still closed. Back then, it was considered macho to carry big pounds. Now, you are considered a dweeb if your pack is big and heavy. The scene from the movie Wild where Reese Witherspoon is so over loaded that she is unable to lift her pack was not that unusual back then. My pack that day weighed 65 pounds, when my sidekick Kevin Weir and I labored up the Abol Slide on that June morning. As tough as the ascent was, our decision to cross the Knife Edge and then wind our way down the Dudley Trial to spend our second night at Chimney Pond left us in even tougher shape. I had blisters; we all did all the time. I continue to be blessed by making the moving from MA to ME in 1973. Since then I have returned to Baxter many dozens of times, where wild forest and bogs trump gift shops and smartphone charging stations. “Forever Wild” is the real deal here.
But today, I’m ascending an improved version of that Abol Trail. In the 1850s, Abol was the route Henry David Thoreau used in his failed attempt to reach the peak. A rock slide sent car-sized boulders down Abol Trail in 2013. The rockslide forced Abol Trail to be closed to hikers since the 2014 season until it reopened this July. Abol is your choice for the shortest route to Baxter Peak from a roadside trailhead. The trail formerly utilized the prominent Abol Slide. From Abol Campground to Baxter Peak (one way) is now 4.3 miles, with 3,900 feet of elevation gain. Abol joins the Hunt trail ( A.T.), intersecting it at Thoreau Spring, before becoming more moderate for the final mile to Baxter Peak.
The relocated section of the trail uses the ridge to the west of the slide and provides a steady, but steep ascent with excellent views.
First leg of the reroute ( note red survey tape still in place)
Water is limited after the first mile, with the trail fully exposed after 2.5 miles. I reached into my pack for sustenance, in the form of a shot of B12 and jerky.
B12, caffeine,and jerky works
The new trail veers off to the left of the base of the landslide. The path is so fresh that there is soft cushiony tread underfoot for at least half this switch backed portion.
New stone stairs on reroute
Initially, you walk in a long, relatively straight line to the left, one that is moderately ascending. Eventually you reach the first turn and then bear up toward the right, still on a mild to moderate incline. The switchbacks become increasingly shorter while the degree of ascent begins to steepen.
Note spongy tread
Eventually the trail works through close boulders and ledges, and it was clear that the trekking poles had to go in my pack.
It is precisely these surprising and spontaneous challenges that keep me coming back to the most wild State Park east of the Mississippi. The fresh blue blazes were shiny, and at times, necessary in order to discern unblocked upward movement.
There is a wicked uphill ending after the new detour returns to the main Abol Trail at the top of the old rock slide.
All hands needed
Here you need to get into serious upper body action. I was sorry to leave a light pair of gloves at home. Granite is tough on the palms and fingers.
Eventually you clear the lip and arrive at the edge of The Tableland, a surprisingly flat and expansive treeless domain that just happens to have the summit of Katahdin lifting up a bit over a mile to the right.
There was a good crowd on top of the mountain when we reached the top.
Here’s my AT tattoo that links me to this place.
As above, so below
It’s been a heck of a hiking season for me this year. For the whole month of June I was able to walk 250 miles along the Portugese Camino with my wife and hiking partner, Auntie Mame. I finished this week long Baxter trip in mid-August. Last week, I was able to successfully complete a guided trip through all of Maine’s Hunded Mile Wilderness.
There’s still more Baxter to come in the next month! The Fall season is the best time to be walking through the technicolor leaf extravaganza, and I’m heading back for another week of hiking some lesser known Baxter trail with one of my my perennial backpacking pals. And there is a long October holiday weekend return to Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps.
[ I’m a Licensed Maine Guide who offer a limited schedule of guided backpacking trips in Maine as well as custom trips for individuals and small groups. Check out Uncle Tom’s Guided Adventures to learn more about my angle to guiding backpacking adventures and review the 2016 season’s offerings. ]