Mount Katahdin has rightfully earned its reputation as one of the hardest mountains in the Northeast. M and I hiked it last week, planning about a 7-mile day. We got up at 7 to read the weather forecast on the Ranger’s cabin, and hiked the 3.3 miles to the Chimney Pond campsite in the south basin. We dropped off our tent, sleeping stuff, clothes, and one of our packs. Around 10am, we started up Pamola trail. It was 1.3 miles and 2000 vertical feet up that trail to our first peak.

Katahdin map

What we learned is that the trail up Pamola is perilous, windy, totally exposed, ridiculously steep, and covered with pointy and scratchy boulders. We rock scrambled at a 45 degree angle hundreds and thousands of feet above the foothills for nearly three hours. Yes, that’s right, it took us three hours to climb a mile and a third.

At the peak, we reconsidered our options. We were tired. No, wait, we were exhausted. We agreed that it very likely had been the hardest hike of our lives, and it was shorter than the distance from our house to Boston Common. Coming up was the most notorious stretch of trail on Katahdin: the Knife Edge. It’s a rocky trail about three feet wide at parts the follows a sharp ridge between Pamola, Chimney Peak, South Peak, and the top of the mountain: Baxter Peak. After some math, we took the optimistic route: continue the plan.

We started heading to the opposite side of the peak, and then we saw it. Not just the Knife Edge, but the first hurdle on it: the Chimney. A 200 foot precipitious drop that we needed to rockclimb down and then the same on the other side to get back up. But we weren’t ready for it. We tried a couple different ways down, struggling against tired muscles. We sat staring at it, weighing our other options. It cut a deep groove directly between Pamola and the rest of the peaks, so we couldn’t go around.

We were beaten by Katahdin. We turned around, heading back down Pamola trail, and the whole way down we had to hope we wouldn’t fall off the pointy and scratchy boulders.