Winter Climb of Mt Katahdin with the AMC

Mt. Katahdin 5,267 ft.
18.0 Miles, March 10, 2012
Wes Chapman
Mt. Katahdin from Abol Stream atsunset
Mt.Katahdin (The Greatest Mountain in Penobscot Indian)
Mt. Katahdin is the tallest mountain in Maine, the northernterminus of the Appalachian Trail and one of my favorite Hills on the planet. Ifirst climbed Katahdin in 1963 at the age of 8, and I have climbed it at leasta dozen of time since – but until last weekend, never in the winter. Themountain is a 400 million year old hunk of granite – much harder than thesurrounding rock, and a superb place to study glacial geomorphology. Katahdinsits in the center of Baxter State Park, a 200,000+ acre wildlife sanctuary andpreserved natural area donated originally by Percival Baxter, a former governorof Maine. Governor Baxter was a native son of Maine, graduate of BowdoinCollege and Harvard Law School, and the scion of a prominent Maine family witha significant timber fortune.
The Skull on Katahdin from StumpPond
Baxter was a great example of a vanishing breed – theNortheast Republican. Fiscally conservative and socially relaxed, Baxterbelieved in the power of the individual to contribute to society as a whole,and Baxter park is his crowning achievement, with Katahdin perhaps the crownjewel. He bought the Mountain for $25,000 in the Depression, and assembled therest of the land for the Park by 1933, donating it to the State with theproviso that it “…shall forever be used for public park and recreationalpurposes, shall be forever left in the natural wild state, shall forever bekept as a sanctuary for wild beasts and birds, that no road or ways for motorvehicles shall hereafter ever be constructed thereon or therein.” And so it istoday – much to the delight of the wild beasts and climbers alike.
Percival Baxter with his dog GaryOwen
Sunrise on Katahdin from Stump Pond
Baxter was a bit of an eccentric, and had the flags at theState House flown at half-mast to note the passing of his beloved Irish setter,Gary Owen, stating, “His spirit lives on and through him.Dumb animals the world over will be treated more kindly and mercifully.” It wasalso reported that he commented on the obvious superiority of Gary Owen to anumber of his political rivals, but not for attribution.
Up theHill with the AMC  
At the suggestion of my old pal Rudy Azim Rawcliffe, we hadbeen planning to climb Katahdin on March 3 in an Appalachian Mountain Club(AMC) led expedition, which was mercifully postponed for a week due toinclement weather – 100+ mph winds and driving sleet.
We joined a band of 9 brothers (the one sister couldn’t makeit) in Millinocket Maine for an altogether too brief overnight, followed by a3:30 am launch at Katahdin on March 10th via the Abol Slide Trail. Whata difference a week makes. We had enjoyed a week of unseasonably warm weatherwhich left the trail solid ice, but really fast. This was a headlamp time ofday, but a nearly full moon provided all of the light that most of us needed onthe 5 mile hike into Abol Campground. Rudy had suggested that we get our handson some drag-sleds to take the weight of our packs on the 10 miles of hikingoff the Mountain. He borrowed one from a friend, and I made a very stylish sled– fit for Sargent Preston himself – from a sale item at EMS and some PVC pipe.
Rudy prepares his sled in thepre-dawn at Abol Trailhead
Despite years of climbing all over the northeast, this wasthe first AMC led hike for either one of us – and we didn’t know what toexpect. We were both contacted a couple of times by the trip leaders, Jeff andSpencer, and got our equipment and expectations lined up. It turns out that Spenceris a Dartmouth ’01 environmental sciences major, getting a PhD at U Maine in forestry.His wife is a Dartmouth ’02 geologist, and they live with their two year oldson in Hampden, our old hometown – we had plenty to talk about. These guys dida terrific job, and it was a lot of fun climbing with the entire team – the hookis set for AMC led hikes. We’ll be back.
The hike in is fairly flat until about 2.5 miles from AbolCampground, where you start to gain some elevation and come to Stump Pond wherewe got some nice views of sunrise over the Mountain. From the campground, it isjust over a mile to the start of Abol Slide Trail, which is steep, faces south,and was a long sheet of frozen snow and ice. The slide is about 2,250 feet ofsteep climbing, but very direct and quite a bit of fun.
A steep climb up Abol Slide
Spencer (L) and Jeff (C) at a breakon the approach
Rudy on Abol Slide
Wes climbing the Slide
Above 2,500 feet, most of the vegetation is red spruce and lesseramounts of fir trees. The red spruce readily hybridizes with black spruce inthis part of the country. One particularly interesting phenomena are thedevelopment of waves of vegetation, called fir waves. These are caused by winddestruction and very slow regrowth patterns, and have been studied in a limitednumber of places including Katahdin and Mt. Fuji in Japan.
Fir waves on South Brother Mt. seenfrom Mt. Katahdin
Slides on Doubletop Mountain
Mt. Hamlin from Baxter Peak
The Team at the Summit
Spencer at the Summit – Preparing fortakeoff
The summit was sunny, the views tremendous and the windsfrom the West at 10-15 mph – all together delightful. You can putatively seemore lakes from the summit than any other place on earth – and I remain to beconvinced otherwise. The trip down was fast and uneventful – the best kind. Welanded back in Millinocket at Ruthie’s Restaurant and Terrace Motel – the besteats in town and tremendously entertaining conversation with Ruthy and herdaughter.
Jeff and Spencer did a great job putting this trip together,the climbing team was terrific and the weather was about as good as it gets. Itmay be possible to spend a better day on a more iconic mountain, but not if youare from Maine.
Adios from Katahdin
Wes Chapman
Written by Wes Chapman

5 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    March 01, 2014

    Good view of Doubletop. Wes on Abol, Moose cove in background


  2. Avatar
    March 03, 2014

    Great shots! going next Tuesday to do the same route. ? how many hours round trip.



    • Avatar
      March 03, 2014

      John, About 12 hours round trip. The biggest swing factor is the trip in and out. Bring a sled – its easier on the way in and a fun ride on the way out. Good Luck! Wes


      • Avatar
        March 03, 2014

        Thanks were doing 2 nights Monday and Tuesday then Wednesday to Tuckermans for a attempt at Washington. Being 14 years older than the rest of the group ill be the slow one 🙂 ages 11 45 44 and old guy me 58.

        It will be a blast hope to have weather as good as yours. Did last July.



  3. Avatar
    October 21, 2015

    Did you know Donn finder got lost up there