Trip Report: Hamlin Peak

I was visiting Baxter State Park with my family.  It’s an awesome park, one of the first places that I felt overwhelmed by the mystery and magic of nature while wandering its moss-strewn paths.  Katahdin was also one of my very first real mountain ascents.  I can still remember the feeling of insanity walking along Knife’s Edge (possibly the most renown single mountain trail in the east) with mist on both sides knowing that I could easily fall to my doom.
On this trip, we happened to be camping literally as close as you can get to the trail up to Katahdin via the Appalachian Trail.  So naturally, I had to run up it.  Only this time, I decided to hit another peak up there that is also on my 4000 footer list.  I had never really been over to the North Basin side of Katahdin so I was curious.  Hamlin Peak is dwarfed by Katahdin but promises a bald summit and good views of both the North Basin of that range and the northern side of Katahdin.   Along the way, I remembered how awesome the climb up to Katahdin was.
I decided to only take 2 liters of water on this hike and bring the filter if I felt like I needed more.  I was planning an aggressive pace and the rain the day before promised good water sources.  I was also using my new Lifeproof phone case for the first time.
Trip stats
Distance: 12 miles
Elevation Gain: 4600 ft
Total time: 6.1 hours
Weight: 10 pounds (2L water, dried food, apple, tape, down + rain, phone, headlamp, water filter)
Peaks: Hamlin
New Gear: Lifeproof Fre for the Samsung S6
I signed in to the trail register at 5:45am.  There was no need to use my headlamp at that time nor the rest of the day thanks to the summer sun and full moon.  The start of the trail is a pleasant 1.1 mile walk up the Hunt Trail to the Katahdin Streams waterfall.  This is where the trail split off to go up to The Owl, a smaller, closer peak.  It’s also a popular “short hike” destination for families and less aggressive hikers.  There’s even a pit toilet there, which is somewhat a rarity at these types of destinations.
This sad picture is all I ended up taking
of one of the best climbs of my life.
I was too busy enjoying I guess.
Continuing up past the waterfall, you start a more typical mountain path ascent.  I would say the terrain is generally pretty easy as these climbs go, with good rock trail stairs at the steep parts and less rocky than most similar trails in the white mountains.  It continues this way for another 2.5 miles until it suddenly stops being so normal.  It gets very steep, very fast as you approach the Gateway and treeline goes away.
At this point, I caught up with a large group of teenagers who were with an organized group.  They had just finished the 100-mile wilderness and were capping off their trip with an ascent of Katahdin.  I followed them until just before the Gateway when they stopped to rest.  As I pulled myself past them, the cloud cover which had been ever present before suddenly dropped away and I was left with stunning views of the rocks I was about to climb and the cloud covered mountaintops off to the sides.  It was definitely an awesome moment.

Trail off the end of the earth.
Rolling mists over the mountains.

From there I continued onward and upward, abandoning any attempts to use my hiking poles and strapping them to my backpack.  I love my poles and I will use them way past the point where other people like to use them.  However, this terrain was completely un-poleable.  Most of the boulders required some form of hand holding or bracing to overcome, particularly as you approached the top of the climb to the Katahdin plateau.  By that, I mean it was and awesome climb.

The strange red gravel trail.

After I reached the plateau I broke into a jog to get to Thoreau Spring.  There I quickly snacked and sipped and took the much less used Baxter Cutoff Trail to head to the north.  The trail was flat and moderate terrain so I moved quickly across the tundra-like plateau until I got to the Saddle Trail intersection.  There the trail dropped steeply into the Saddle on a path made of man-made stone gravel I’m guessing that was dropped there.

The Saddle was a cool lowpoint in between Hamlin and Katahdin.  The winds whipped strongly while I was there and there was a steep drop-off down the Saddle Trail toward Chimney Pond Campground.   From there it was a quick climb up the other side of the saddle to the intersection with the Hamlin Ridge Trail that took me up to the top of Hamlin Peak, a gradual and anti-climactic final ascent.  Unfortunately, like most of my summits these days, the top was shrouded in clouds.  I spent about 15 minutes here, eating my apple and chatting with two hikers who arrived shortly after me.  But eventually we all gave up and moved on.  They were returning to Roaring Brook and I was heading back the way I had come to Katahdin Streams.

Coming back down the Saddle I was treated to my only real views of the whole trip.

A decent view of Hamlin peak from the Saddle.

Katahdin in the clouds, but that’s Knife’s Edge in the middle.
This picture is from the second time I came through
here, the first time all you saw was fog.
However, the trip was a blast overall if only for the amazing descent I had coming off the side of Katahdin through the Gateway.  I can confidently say it’s the most fun I’ve ever had on a hike, swinging from boulder to boulder on the top of the world.  I’d recommend Katahdin to anyone, even in a cloudy day, just for this section.

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