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Carey Kish

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island has been adventuring in the woods and mountains of Maine for, well, a long time. If there’s a trail—be it on dirt, rock, snow, water or pavement—he will find it, explore it, and write about it. Carey is a two-time Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, Registered Maine Guide, author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast, editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), and has written a hiking & camping column for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram since 2003. Follow his outdoor travels and musings here, and on Facebook/CareyKish. Let Carey know what you think at MaineOutdoors@aol.com.

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Posted: June 28, 2014

Abol closure still leaves five great hiking routes to the top of Katahdin

Written by: Carey Kish

Mother Nature wasn’t in a letting-go-of-winter frame of mind this spring, keeping the trails on Katahdin choked with snow and thus closed for a bit longer than normal. But the warm June weather has remedied that situation and all the trails are open now, except for one.

Abol Trail is still closed, but not because of deep snow. Rather, a landside has created an unsafe situation for hikers on the upper part of the route. So the authorities at Baxter State Park have closed the path for the season while they assess the trail and determine how and when to safely re-open it. But that will take at least a year and perhaps more.

The Abol Trail is one of the most popular climbing routes on Katahdin, perhaps because it offers the shortest way to the top, 3.2 miles to Thoreau Spring on the barren and windswept Tablelands, then a final mile via the Hunt Trail, which is also the very last mile of the entire Appalachian Trail.

Abol is surely popular as well because it gets you up and out into the open fairly quickly, offering spectacular views from the Abol Slide south to the West Branch of the Penobscot river and beyond to the woods and mountains of the 100-Mile Wilderness.

Descending the Abol Slide on the Abol Trail. Photo © Carey Kish.

Descending the Abol Slide on the Abol Trail. Photo © Carey Kish.

Abol is the first trail I hiked to the summit of Katahdin way back when in grade school. A few years before that, like in the 1850s, Abol was the route Henry David Thoreau used to climb the peak, although I’m not sure he actually made it due to weather. It’s been awhile since I’ve read The Maine Woods, so I guess I should check that again.

Six hiking routes lead to the summit of mile-high Katahdin. Photo © Carey Kish.

Six hiking routes lead to the summit of mile-high Katahdin. Photo © Carey Kish.

I got to wondering about the Abol Trail late last summer, when my wife and I used it on the way down. Nearing Thoreau Spring we were hit with a bad storm and high winds that pelted us with large pellets of hail, beating into our backs and heads as we raced along. Rather than remain exposed to the storm on the plateau for a fair distance to descend the trail we came up – the Hunt Trail, we beat feet down over the lip on the Abol Trail and slipped, slid and stumbled our way down off the mountain.

The miserable weather notwithstanding, I noticed on the descent how bad the trail had gotten since I’d been up that way last. Everything seemed loose and slippery, and I remember skidding down long stretches of rocks and sand. And no matter how careful I was, I still managed to dislodge rocks and send them somersaulting downslope. It wasn’t a lot of fun and I was glad to get on to firmer trail down in the trees. And empty my boots and socks of all the gritty sand and pebbles.

That said, I wasn’t all that surprised when I heard the news of the Abol closure. I hope the park folks can find a way to repair the trail and make it safe for passage. But I wonder if that’s possible without a major re-route, something akin to what they did on Mount Coe (or was it South Brother?) a few years back, when the trail was moved away from the big slide that had just gotten really bad and potentially dangerous. Guess we’ll see.

Map of the network of hiking routes on Katahdin.

Map of the network of hiking routes on Katahdin (from AMC Maine Mountain Guide).

The Abol closure will put a little more pressure on the other five routes to the mile-high summit of Katahdin, one other from the west side and four from the east side of the mountain. Here’s a brief look at each:

Hunt Trail: Departs from Katahdin Stream Campground on the Park Tote Road and gains 4,169 feet on its 5.4-mile journey to the top. It’s the longest trail to the summit.

Helon Taylor Trail & Knife Edge Trail: Leaves from Roaring Brook Campground and climbs the open Keep Ridge to the summit of Pamola, then crosses the Chimney and snakes along the incredible Knife Edge to South Peak and then Baxter Peak. 4.7 miles, 3,779 feet of elevation gain.

Chimney Pond Trail: Departs from Roaring Brook Campground and climbs 3.3 miles to Chimney Pond Campground amid the towering walls of the Great Basin, gaining 1,425 feet en route.

From Chimney Pond you have three options for scaling the mountain:

  • Saddle Trail: Climbs the famous Saddle Slide to the broad saddle between Baxter Peak and Hamlin Peak, then turns south to reach the summit (2.5 miles; 2,354 feet elevation gain).
  • Cathedral Trail: Climbs directly up the rocky spine of the three “Cathedrals,” then joins the Saddle Trail for the last 0.2 miles to Baxter Peak. 2.0 miles; 2,354 feet elevation gain.
  • Dudley Trail: Climbs the northeast ridge of Katahdin past the amazing finger of Index Rock to Pamola Peak (1.4 miles; 2,009 feet), then continues on to Baxter Peak via the Knife Edge.

Any route you choose to climb Katahdin is, in the end, a fairly long and arduous one. Come well-rested and well-prepared for a full 8-12 hour day on the mountain, geared up with sufficient food, water and clothing for the excursion.

For hikers unfamiliar with climbing Katahdin, well, there are few things you really should know before you go. Check out the video I made with the AMC awhile back, “How to Climb Katahdin,” for some good tips.

Be sure to check with the Baxter State Park folks, who have lots of great information about hiking Katahdin, day use parking reservations—a must to avoid being disappointed, and camping.

Have fun and be safe!

Rock scrambling on the Hunt Trail, The Owl in the background.Photo © Carey Kish.

Rock scrambling on the Hunt Trail, The Owl in the background. Photo © Carey Kish.

The upper portion of the Hunt Trail, high on Katahdin's famed tableland. Photo © Carey Kish.

The upper portion of the Hunt Trail, high on Katahdin’s famed tableland. Photo © Carey Kish.

Katahdin from the west at Martin Ponds. Keep Ridge forms the left skyline, the Dudley Trail climbs the right skyline.  Photo © Carey Kish.

Katahdin from the west at Martin Ponds. Keep Ridge forms the center-left skyline. The jagged ridge of the Knife Edge is visible above. The Dudley Trail climbs the right skyline. Photo © Carey Kish.

Katahdin Stream Falls on the Hunt Trail. Photo © Carey Kish.

Katahdin Stream Falls on the Hunt Trail. Photo © Carey Kish.

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