The Knife Edge 8/5/11
The Knife Edge
Baxter State Park / Pamola 4919' / The Knife Edge / Baxter Peak 5267'
Chimney Pond Trail / Helon Taylor Trail / Knife Edge / Saddle Trail
Roughly 9.6 Miles 4000' Elevation gain
Dennis, Kevin, Laurie, Mike, Rick, picked up Kit and Kat along the way (Wendy, Mike and Steve also crossed the Knife Edge this day, but we didn't meet up)
My long awaited return to Baxter. It had been twelve years since my first and only trip in '99. At the time I (we) were pretty green in the mountains. We made it to Pamola, but took the Dudley Trail down to Chimney Pond in the heat and the bugs. This time I was almost thwarted by the weather again, but outlasted it. It poured Tuesday as I reached Millinocket, but let up enough to let me set up camp when I reached Bear Brook in Baxter State Park. I stayed the week with a great bunch of fellow hikers and we shared food, stories and good times for several days in camp as we waited for the rain to subside.
Rainbow at Sandy Stream Pond
White-fringed Orchid Platanthera blephariglottis
On Wednesday we attempted to hike despite the rain in the hope it would clear. No such luck. We hiked in to Chimney Pond in hopes of turning and heading to Hamlin, but we were soon soaked and instead had some lunch at the pond and headed back to camp. Most of my gear was soaked, so I spent the next day or so trying to dry out my boots and backpack just in case the rain stopped and we got to hike. Late Wednesday afternoon it cleared and I took a short hike along the Nature Trail at Roaring Brook where I found a somewhat rare orchid in the bog. From there I hiked over to Sandy Stream Pond in hopes of spotting a moose. I didn't get a moose, but I did get a rainbow. I took it to mean the rain was done and maybe we could hike next morning, but it wasn't to be.
Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
It rained all night Wednesday and well into Thursday. With no hiking to be done I attempted to catch up on some sleep I had missed the night before, but that didn't work out as the road crew decided to grade the Tote Road and the noise was to bothersome to allow any sleep. It did clear a little, at least it stopped raining enough to go out on a pond drive. I made quick stops at Helon Taylor Pond, Togue Pond and Stump Pond, again in search of moose or deer, but I knew it was pretty much the wrong time of day to be looking.
Undercast on the Helon Taylor Trail
Friday had looked to be the best day weather-wise so most of us turned in early Thursday night in hopes of setting out in the morning. Friday morning broke damp and gray, but there was no rain. In small groups we set out at different times and with different trails and objectives in mind. I set off with Dennis and Mike, our goal was to climb the Helon Taylor to Pamola, cross the Knife Edge to Baxter Peak then down to the Saddle. From there we would decide if we would continue on to Hamlin.
Baxter Peak from Pamola
The Knife Edge from Pamola
We started out in a misty, humid forest, but we soon climbed right up and out of the clouds. As we began to get our first views the scene was amazing. As far as we could see to our south and east we looked out over the tops of the low hanging clouds. To our northwest Hamlin drifted in and out of the clouds and almost directly to our west and straight ahead the summits of Pamola and Chimney Peak rose before us. We soon arrived at the summit of Pamola where we got our first good looks at the Knife Edge and across to Baxter Peak.
Undercast from Pamola
Crossing the Knife Edge
Down to Chimney Pond
We met up here with Rick and Laurie, and Kit and Kat joined us here for our trip across the Knife Edge. I stood at the edge of the descent from Pamola and thought, "It's all new territory from here." Down from Pamola we started to the bottoming out about fifty feet below, across a short flat area and then began the ascent of Chimney Peak. I had heard that this was the worst part of it all, but I withheld that judgement until I had gotten across the whole way. Ther e were some difficult spots where I had to pull myself up and over, but nothing beyond my capabilities.
Looking Back Along the Knife Edge
Most of the crossing was more scrambling and stepping around and over rocks than anything like hiking and I stopped often to snap pictures and just to look around and try to take it all in. An oft repeated message about this hike is that photos cannot do it justice, and I was sure mine would be no different. The scale of your surroundings while out there, the thought of the steepness and shear drops from the cliffs, the prayer for angel's wings, the threat in the back of your mind of sudden wind or weather all comes into play as your senses try to consume the incredible vastness that surrounds you. You push on, planning each step carefully so as not to become a permanent part of the legends surrounding these peaks.
Immature Bald Eagle Haliaetus leucocephalus
Looking Ahead Along the Ridge
Time seemed to become unimportant as I crossed this wild, broken ridge. It was neither moving forward nor backward. It seemed to stand still as the earth spun on its axis, lifting me up from Pamola, and then gently laying me back down on Baxter. Clouds drifted in and out of this timeless realm like thoughts processing through my mind, until suddenly, there he was before me, hanging like a spirit on the wind. An immature Bald Eagle rode the thermals up from Chimney Pond, up and up until he reached the top of the Knife Edge. He circled over my head once and then disappeared on the wind as secretly as he had appeared.
As we rose to the summit of South Peak the clouds overtook us. We hiked on through the fog on more level terrain towards the summit of Baxter. The summit brought things back into perspective, time again began to move, slowly, as we stood in line for our chance at a summit shot. Ravens played on the wind as we had a quick lunch. The crowd was somewhat annoying after touching the clouds, so we soon departed and left them behind as we made our way down the Saddle Trail to the Saddle-lands. At the trail junction I looked up at Hamlin, still shrouded in the clouds and decided my legs had had enough for one day. Going back for Hamlin gives me a good reason to return.
Across to Pamola
Descending Saddle Slide
We made our way down the Saddle Slide and on towards Chimney Pond. We stopped here again for more food and drink before setting off on the last leg of the hike, from Chimney Pond back down to Roaring Brook. The trip down can be taxing on tired legs as there is no good treadway and there is a lot of stepping around and over the still wet rocks along the way. I tried to break the trip up a bit by stopping at Basin Pond and the viewpoint, but by this time I was ready to be out. Upon reaching the parking lot we were met by Russ who had the bad news that another part of our party had fallen on Hamlin and had broken his wrist.
At Chimney Pond
Without hesitation Mtn. Pa headed back up the trail with Russ to meet those who had hiked Hamlin that day to do what they could to help out. MJ had been the first to respond to the accident, and helped keep him from going into shock. HH stood by with moral support. From our party Rick had gone on from the Saddle towards Hamlin, but met up with the other party on their way down. He applied his first responder knowledge to the injured hiker as others carried his backpack down. With his arm wrapped in a leg splint, he made good time down the Saddle Slide under his own power. We had returned to camp to share the news and help in any way we could from there. Upon his return he was soon loaded into his car with most of his gear from the week, and was off to the hospital. Report is he is doing fine!
Group at Chimney Pond
It was a sorry ending to a great day above timberline, but did little to mar the experience for most involved. Sad that somebody got injured, but in the big scheme, lucky that the injury was not worse considering the logistics and remoteness. Three cheers for the injured hiker who self-rescued and to those who helped him get down the rest of the way safely. Hikers helping other hikers is the number one rule of the back country. Injury could happen to anyone of us at any time, hopefully we will have as good hiking mates if God forbid we should ever need them on our journeys. So, aside from the injury, it was a great week topped by a great hike, and I hope it doesn't take me twelve years to get back there again!
Lots more pictures HERE:
Great pics & thanks for taking the time to share
Sucks about the rain early in your week, but looks like you got in some great hikes later in the week :)
That first shot at Chimney Pond is stunning... almost looks like something you'd expect out west in CA or something
Excellent photos and report Kevin!!! With so much rain in the beginning of your week, Mother Nature finally rewarded all of you with nice weather. I hope the injured hiker continues to do well. And I know photos cannot do justice to the grand views, but yours come pretty darn close. This hike is on my list for some day. Thanks for sharing with us! :)
These pictures are simply amazing, thank you for sharing and your report. I agree Snow Miser, these photos move Knifes Edge up the list for me, that's impressive.
I've gotta say, for people who love hiking in New England, this has got to go on their bucket list. Not only should it be on the bucket list, several trips to this area should be planned, but be sure to give yourself enough time to go and enjoy it. IMHO a weekend trip won't be enough to make it worthwhile.
Yes, I had to wait out the rain, but there is SO much more to see there than just this hike. Other hikes I would like to get done there would be Hamlin, and The Brothers which are on the New England 67 4 K list with Baxter. Then there are the Travelers, Fort and Coe, Doubletop, South Turner, and not to mention dozens of trails that lead to scenic ponds and vistas.
All I can say is GO!
The Knife Edge
I just went through your trip report and the complete set of images from your expedition to Baxter and the Knife Edge; many adjectives come to mind, all of them good, all of them overused, so I'll pick one and stay with it: compelling. I know you endured some wet days before your hike but the clouds took nothing away from your trip across the Knife Edge, some images are all the more exciting because of it. Several images with clouds and hikers truly capture the exposure of that crossing, but as you say, the scale has to be seen to be appreciated.
Your post brought with it a slew of memories, on my first visit to Baxter in 1986 I did this hike but in reverse: Saddle Slide, Baxter, Knife Edge, Pamola, and Helon Taylor return. My legs and arms felt like concrete and my eyes were locked in focus at 2 feet on the rock in front of me as I negotiated the short stretch between Chimney Peak and Pamola, and I felt visceral relief when it was behind me.
I thought I would end this with your own words describing the crossing of the Knife Edge, a description as fine as any that I can recall. It was a wonderful, and compelling, post.
Originally Posted by KD Talbot
Kevin all I can say is awesome report and the pictures are just stunning!!!
Thanks for sharing it with us.
Kevin, thanks for sharing, great pics.
Does anyone know what treeline is up in Baxter versus the Whites?
I DO appreciate the positive feedback, and I'm glad folks are enjoying the pictures!
@ Bill- I think it's still roughly 4000'. I'd say we had about 1000' of vertical to go when we left the trees going up Helon Taylor. Pamola is 4919'. Baxter is 5267'. On the way down to the Saddle I'd say we lost about 1000' when we hit the krummholz.