Chimney Pond sits at 2,914 feet, on the north side of Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park in one of the most dramatic natural settings anywhere in Maine.
Spruce, fir and birch – stunted by poor soil and harsh weather – surround the pond, except for the east shore, which is a rugged slope of boulders. Monstrous walls of granite, basalt, rhyolite and sedimentary rock rise with breathtaking steepness from the sparkling waters, culminating 2,354 feet above on mile-high Baxter Peak. The great arms of Dudley Ridge and Cathedral Ridge bookend the view and form the South Basin, the most spectacular cirque of the Great Basin, which extends north to Hamlin Ridge.
Tucked into trees just north of the pond is Chimney Pond Campground. Established in 1938, it is the oldest campground in the park and one of just two in the vast Baxter backcountry, Maine’s largest wilderness area. The campground is accessible only by way of a winding 3.3-mile hike from the trailhead at Roaring Brook. Nine lean-tos and a bunkhouse provide primitive overnight shelter for a small number of hikers. Water is from the pond and there are several privies. An old cabin houses a ranger, who keeps an eye on this precious chunk of real estate, part of the enduring gift of former Gov. Percival Baxter.
About this time last year, I received an email from a friend. A spot had opened up on a trip to Chimney Pond and he asked if I would like to join a group of 10 guys for a couple nights in the bunkhouse, where there would be whiskey, cigars and spirited cribbage. Given that it had been much too long since my last visit to the pond, and with a mild penchant for all three of those indulgences, my answer was quick and easy.
And a few weeks later, on the last day in September, I found myself happily headed up the Chimney Pond Trail to join the boys, the requisite supplies stowed in my backpack.
Before the hike, I’d spent a couple days rambling about the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area just south of Baxter Park, and then scampered up Katahdin on the newly rerouted Abol Trail. I was a mite tuckered. So, when I arrived at Chimney Pond late morning after a pleasant two-hour hike, I had little desire to do much of anything except enjoy the beauty of the place, to read, poke around nearby, sit and stare at the mountain and enjoy some good company. A perfect plan, if somewhat by default.
Over two days we spent many hours hanging out at the octagonal day shelter in the meadow on the edge of the campground, occasionally chatting with passing hikers. I explored the network of trails around the shelters and bunkhouse. We even managed a jaunt over to Blueberry Knoll, in the North Basin at the base of Hamlin Peak. But mostly I enjoyed time down at Chimney Pond, perched on this comfy rock or that, always with a magnificent view.
From the Saddle and the ramparts of the Cathedrals, I could trace familiar paths to the apex of Baxter Peak, where I imagined AT thru-hikers celebrating the end of their monumental journey. Over to South Peak and along the jagged route of Knife Edge, the most spectacular, exhilarating 1.1 miles of hiking in the East, to the pinnacle of Chimney Peak. And beyond the striking notch of the Chimney, the peak of Pamola – named for the god of storms in Abenaki mythology – with the head of a moose, the body of a man, and the wings of an eagle.
The nights were filled with chill air, bright stars and whistling winds. Long, deep sleep, too, with the aid of ear plugs. Finally, after one last look around, we hiked out, reluctant but refreshed and pleased to have gotten to know and love Chimney Pond all over again.
Chimney Pond is open for summer camping until Oct. 15. Make a reservation and go experience the sublime wildness for yourself amid the autumn colors. Of course, there’s always winter; that camping season starts Dec. 1. Visit baxterstatepark.org for more information.