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Backpacker Magazine – August 2012

The Other Way In

Hike to life-list hot spots without waiting in life-list lines. These under-the-radar trails deliver everything but the crowds.

by: Brendan Leonard

Hermit Trail (photo by Laurence Parent)
Hermit Trail (photo by Laurence Parent)
Cottonwood Lakes Trail (Chris Werner)
Cottonwood Lakes Trail (Chris Werner)
Angels Landing Trail (Scott Mansfield)
Angels Landing Trail (Scott Mansfield)
John Muir Trail (Londie G. Padelsky)
John Muir Trail (Londie G. Padelsky)
West Face Gully (Timothy Piya Trepetch)
West Face Gully (Timothy Piya Trepetch)
Rainbow Falls Trail (Kurdistan/Shutterstock)
Rainbow Falls Trail (Kurdistan/Shutterstock)
Huntington Ravine (Paul Rezendes)
Huntington Ravine (Paul Rezendes)
Mt. Katahdin (Michael Kormos)
Mt. Katahdin (Michael Kormos)

Mt. Katahdin
Baxter State Park, ME

X    Trade route Hunt Trail, Saddle Trail
→   Sneak route Abol Trail
Key stats Nine miles (one-way), 4,000 feet of elevation gain
Off-radar cred “This bouldery gash isn’t a trail by traditional standards,” says park naturalist Jean Hoekwater.

Climbing to Katahdin’s 5,270-foot summit is a rite of passage for Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, New England peakbaggers, Thoreau fans (he climbed it in 1846), and anyone who wants to test himself on the granite monolith. As AT pioneer Earl Shaffer said after he reached the top, “Already I knew that many times I would want to be back again—on the cloud-high hills where the whole world lies below and far away.” None of the routes winding up and between the four glacial cirques on the mountain’s flanks is secret, but you’ll find the fewest people on the Abol Trail. It’s the most challenging, naturally, so bring your scrambling skills for the Abol Slide (slabs and talus exposed after a 19th-century avalanche), and strong quads for the 4,000 feet of elevation gain.

Do it From the Abol trailhead 5.8 miles from the Togue Gate at Baxter State Park, follow the blue-blazed trail through the spruce forest for 1.5 miles, and enter the bottom of the Abol Slide. The steep jumble of boulders and scree continues for more than a mile up Katahdin’s daunting south face, having poured down the mountain in a great avalanche in 1816. Move carefully up the stairstep-like rockslide, mindful to not dislodge loose rock onto hikers beneath you. As you gain elevation and escape the trees, watch as the view of the forest floor opens behind you—and as the boulders of the steep Abol Slide disappear over the edge into the trees below. At the intersection with the AT, exit the Slide onto the football-field-size Tableland and scope the rest of the route one mile along the ridge to the summit. There, you’ll get 360-degree views of the green carpet of trees pocketed with lakes far below, including Chimney Pond, nearly a vertical-half-mile down to the northeast. Descend the gentler, knee-friendly Appalachian Trail/Hunt Trail and walk the road 1.5 miles back to the Abol trailhead. Skip the Abol Slide if showers are in the forecast.

Get there From Millnocket, drive 17 miles northeast on Baxter State Park Rd. to the Togue Gate. Take the left fork and drive 5.8 miles to the Abol trailhead.
Map Buy the BACKPACKER PRO MAP
Permit None; trailhead parking is limited. Reserve one of the 16 parking spaces ($5, two weeks or less prior to date for non-Maine residents; starting April 1 for Mainers) at baxterstateparkauthority.com. Unreserved spaces will be filled first-come, first-serve as soon as the Togue Gate opens at 5 a.m. Alternately, camp at the Abol Campground (reservations fill up three months in advance).
Contact (207) 723-5140; baxterstateparkauthority.com




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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star

READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Back in Colo
Jan 28, 2014

I've done the Hermit trail 3 times. Twice to the river on a day hike. It's a long day, but you earn your burger at Beaver Street Brewery (in Flagstaff). I also enjoyed the Boucher trail. If camping permits are available, you can loop Boucher to Hermit. We did this with a stay at Boucher campground, looped over to Hermit rapids via the Tanto trail and then an extra night at Hermit campground.

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Jan 24, 2014

Beautiful scenery minus the crowds means less chance of other hikers finding you if you need help but it can still be a safe and enjoyable hike. Why? Because you read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) before you hiked off-trail. A MUST READ for hikers who love to hike where others don't! Learn essential day-hiking skills, including items to pack, how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass, and how to get rescued. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn't need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Hike Smart and STAY ORIENTED. This book is a fast, easy read that will definitely make hiking off the beaten path safer and more enjoyable! Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart on Amazon.

Star Star Star Star Star
AZ Hiker
Jan 24, 2014

Beautiful scenery minus the crowds means less chance of other hikers finding you if you need help but it can still be a safe and enjoyable hike. Why? Because you read Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart (Amazon) before you hiked off-trail. A MUST READ for hikers who love to hike where others don't! Learn essential day-hiking skills, including items to pack, how to navigate your way with and without a map or compass, and how to get rescued. Learn to stay found by using a compass and paying attention to your surroundings. A compass doesn't need a signal or batteries and works in all types of weather but you need to know how to use it and this book makes learning how to use a compass easy. Hike Smart and STAY ORIENTED. This book is a fast, easy read that will definitely make hiking off the beaten path safer and more enjoyable! Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart on Amazon.

Star Star Star Star Star
sierracanon
Jan 23, 2014

Did this Whitney from the south trip in a all on-trail version several years ago. Went over Cottonwood Pass, through Rock Creek, Crabtree Meadow, and out through Whitney Portal in three days. A good alternative for those who are not comfortable with extended cross-country travel.

imjackhandy
Aug 16, 2012

If you have to take the Rainbow Falls trail take it down and not up. Not a lot of views on this trail but the falls are spectacular. I recommend the Bullhead trail up and Rainbow Falls down. It'll put you out at the same parking lot.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/imjackhandy/sets/72157609867058824/

Nick
Aug 16, 2012

I just got back from a very similar trip where we came down from tenaya lake stayed need sunrise lakes then did clouds rest then staying at the john Muir trail connection. Only had to get up at 4am the make the 2.5 miles to half dome where we beat the sunrise by half an hour and had the entire summit to ourselves for the sunrise. The weather could not have been more perfect. This is the only way to see half dome.

David Dickey
Aug 16, 2012

I did the short hike 3 times last April. The crouds don't get up early so if you start early the hike is croud free. That seems like a easier way to beat the crouds than to spend $39 and 19 miles of hiking. The main point is that it is not that crouded and the last half mile (the chained part) is crouded the same no matter which way you do the hike.

Phil R.
Aug 16, 2012

Did approximately this hike before they started requiring permits to go up the cables. If you want shorter hiking days, consider taking three nights. One additional night at Upper Cathedral Lake is worth considering. Then the second night at mentioned in the article is OK. Consider a third night camped at at Little Yosemite Valley...it is a large backpackers campground, but we enjoyed it. When hiking out the last day you can choose the John Muir Trail or the Mist Trail. The Mist Trail has some wet steps, but you pass by two amazing water falls. You can also consider taking a hike to Clouds Rest. That would add another day.

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