Four trails on Katahdin are included on the Wicked Wild 25. They are Abol, Hunt, Knife Edge, and Cathedral Trails. Technically, Hamlin Ridge is on Katahdin as well, but most folks tend to think of North Basin and the peaks around it as a separate mountain. All five of these trails are accessed from trailheads in the southern part of Baxter State Park. For specific directions to each trailhead, check my guide Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park or the park’s website. There’s a park entrance fee for folks from out of state. It’s best when climbing Katahdin to make a reservation. That way if you get to the park entrance by 7:00am, you have a guaranteed parking spot. On nice summer days, the parking lots generally fill up before 7:00.
My favorite route over Katahdin begins at Roaring Brook. You climb to Pamola Peak, then cross the Knife Edge to Baxter Peak. You return via Saddle Trail to Chimney Pond and then back to Roaring Brook. This loop is 9.6 miles. You can extend the loop by returning down Hamlin Ridge rather than Saddle (and picking up a second WW25 trail). This route is longer, but is very scenic and less crowded.
The climb up Helon Taylor Trail to Pamola Peak is gorgeous. Sure you climb almost 3500, but the open vistas make you forget all the work you’re doing. From Pamola Peak, you have a great view of Great Basin and the mountain surrounding it.
To begin the Knife Edge, you descend into The Chimney. To me, this is the only scary part of the Knife Edge Trail. You basically rock climb down to the flat floor of The Chimney, then rock climb up to Chimney Peak. Both climbs are nearly vertical in narrow chimneys with good holds. Once on Chimney Peak, you start the Knife Edge proper. This narrow arete of broken rock offers amazing views. The sides of the Knife Edge are nearly vertical, but you rarely feel like you’re in danger. There really aren’t any “no fall” sections.
The trail crosses the crenelated ridge, usually on the inside, looking down into Great Basin. You still get views to the south, though. Once I spotted a cow moose in a boggy pond in the saddle between Katahdin and Rum Mountain. Eventually, the ridge widens and you climb to South Peak, then Baxter Peak. The route trends uphill, but only gains about 300 feet in all.
I have to admit that most days I don’t stop on the summit. They’re usually just too many people. On any given summer day, about half the people hiking in the park are on Katahdin. The park does a good job of limiting access (by controlling parking) but it’s still doesn’t feel like wilderness. Especially with that one guy talking loudly on his cell phone. It is kinda fun in late summer to watch thru hikers complete their journey and celebrate in front of the AT sign.
The AT hikers arrived at the summit via Hunt Trail. This is the most direct route to Baxter Peak. It earned its place on the Wicked Wild 25 for two reasons. First, just above treeline the trail passes through a boulder field. There are several climbs that require iron rungs. You also have to traverse some narrow ledges. Nothing too dangerous. Just enough to get the adrenaline pumping. Second, the upper section of Hunt Spur below The Gateway is very steep. The ridge is narrow. When the wind is blowing—and it usually is—you feel like your going to fly off the mountain and land somewhere near Millinocket.
Abol Trail is actually the shortest route to Baxter Peak. The trail used to go right up a slide. This was the route Thoreau used to climb to the Tableland (where rain and wind forced him to turn back). Several years ago the park decided the route was too dangerous—the rocks moved and were unstable. The middle section of Abol Trail was moved from the slide to the steep ridge to its west. The net result was a hike with better views. There are also really cool weather-scultured rocks along the route. You still have the top section of the slide to deal with. It’s very steep and the boulders are large. You end up having to do a fair amount of rock climbing.
At the top of the climb, you reach the Tableland near Thoreau Spring. From there it’s an easy walk to Baxter Peak.
The last trail on Katahdin that made the WW25 list is Cathedral. This trail descends from Saddle Trail near Baxter Peak to the floor of Great Basin. It’s a steep drop with some exposure. The orange granite blocks are large—you repeatedly have to drop six feet or so. Much of it’s like a giant staircase. But because the ridge the trail follows is within the basin’s ring, you have a unique and unparalleled view. Many hikers say to never descend Cathedral, but that’s the only direction I’ve hiked it.
What about Dudley Trail? Dudley Trail has been closed for a couple of years—a landslide took out part of it. It’s supposed to reopen in 2020. I’ll decide then if the new route is worth adding to the list. It’ll certainly be worth hiking, but will it be Wicked Wild?