Mt. Katahdin, Hamlin Peak: Take Two on The "Greatest Mountain"
After Saturday's Katahdin debacle ended without us conquering Hamlin peak, Todd, Clark, and I were determined to tag the summit before the weekend was over. Sunday was predicted to bring nicer weather, with mostly sunny skies and a high of 68 degrees. We were excited to pack up camp and hit the trail early, finishing with enough time to make the long drive back home. As I've come to learn over the 48 hours I spent in Millinocket, ME, things don't always go as planned and you definitely can't trust weather forecasts.
Luckily when I bought permits to hike Katahdin I secured two days at our preferred parking area just in case of unforeseen complications. Because of my directional challenges on Saturday, we utilized the second Roaring Brook permit on Sunday to hike Hamlin Peak. After parking and making sure we had all of our gear, we started the day on Chimney Pond Trail.
This trail was such a nice way to start the day, especially with our bodies aching from our adventure the day before. This trail was mostly comprised of soft, cushioning dirt, a nice break from the unforgiving granite we had become so accustomed to. It was only a very slight uphill grade, and there were some beautiful bog bridges and boardwalks over babbling brooks crossing the trail. We made good time along this stretch warming up our legs.
After about two miles we came across one of the Basin Ponds that sat at the base of our nearing uphill climb. It was beautiful and riddled with whitecaps letting us know that it would probably be a windy day above treeline. We had felt the breeze throughout the hike, but looking up we knew that things would be more intense as we continued our climb. After double checking the map, we turned onto North Basin Cutoff and started the rocky ascent to treeline.
Before we knew it we hit treeline on Hamlin Ridge Trail and mother nature started showing us she was boss. Although yesterday had been rainy and cold, the wind had stayed tame, so when we were hit with the strong gusts it brought a different challenge. Not only was it windy, we had quickly ascended into a sea of clouds. The dewy air blasted us with sneaky water droplets, so although it wasn't truly raining we were quickly soaked.
The terrain had returned to its rocky state, but thankfully it was a bit less steep and wider than the Knife Edge the day before. I was glad that I had switched to waterproof trail runners with much more advanced traction so that I could easily scale the boulders without slipping. Although the terrain was similar, it didn't feel as high stakes because there were only a few places where a fall would spell disaster compared to yesterday's endeavor.
As we climbed higher and higher the wind became more and more brutal until I couldn't even hear myself breathing. There were very few large rocks to seek shelter towards the end. The last quarter mile to the summit of Hamlin Peak was relatively flat, but tough going with the wind pushing back at us with every step. The visibility was only a few feet, but we pushed on until we reached the sign marking the summit. After a quick celebration of Todd's completion of the New England 67 list, we hustled back down the ridge as fast as we could to get out of the brutal conditions.
The descent was less difficult than I had anticipated, with my change in footwear changing the downhill experience completely. We scurried from rock to rock until we got low enough to be out of the wind, and then we took it easy on the way back down. By then my knees were hurting pretty badly from all of the rocky descents they had faced this weekend, so getting back to the cushy dirt path of Chimney Pond Tr was a relief. We all chatted on the way back to the trailhead, appreciative that the car would be waiting for us at the bottom this time. When we got down I was relieved that we had been fortunate enough to tag both Katahdin peaks, but a little sad that my time in Baxter State Park had been so limited.
Hamlin Peak was a lot more enjoyable for me than Baxter and just as exciting. It was a fun hike that had a little bit of everything from the varying weather to the different types of terrain we experienced throughout the hike. At the end I thought about going over to grab North Brother since it was only noon when we finished. Realistically that probably would have been pretty miserable especially with the drive back that night so I'm glad I didn't do it. Looks like North Brother will be just one more reason to get back up to Millinocket again soon!
Mt. Katahdin, Hamlin Peak (4,756 ft) via Chimney Pond Tr, North Basin Cutoff, North Basin Tr, and Hamlin Ridge Tr [8.8 mi, 3480 ft, 5:10].
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