Difficulty: Strenuous, though Saddle Trail is consider by many to be one of the easiest trails to the summit because it is fairly gradual and leaves hikers less exposed compared to the other trails.
How to get there: Travel on I-95 to Exit 244. Turn west on Route 157 and travel through Medway, East Millinocket and Millinocket. Bear right at the three-way intersection after the second traffic light in downtown Millinocket. Bear left at the next “Y” intersection, staying on the main road, which goes by many names, such as Baxter State Park Road, Lake Road or Millinocket Lake Road. Eight miles from Millinocket, pass buildings and Northwoods Trading Post on the right. Continue another 8 miles on the paved road to Togue Pond Gatehouse, the south entrance of Baxter State Park. After registering at the gatehouse, bear right onto Roaring Brook Campground Road, a narrow, dirt road that ends in 8 miles at Roaring Brook Campground. Use the day-use parking lot if you are not camping in the campground (which requires a reservation). The trailhead to Chimney Pond Trail is located at this campground. Stop at the ranger station to sign in. Chimney Pond Trail (3.3 miles) will lead to Chimney Pond, where Saddle Trail begins.
Information: Mount Katahdin, at 5,267 feet in elevation, is the tallest mountain in Maine and just 13 feet under a mile in height. Located in Baxter State Park, the mountain consists of a group of summits, of which the highest is Baxter Peak. This peak is also the northern terminus of The Appalachian Trail. To the Native Americans, Mount Katahdin was known as “Kette-Adene,” meaning “the greatest mountain,” according to the sixth edition of the book “Katahdin” by Myron Avery, published in 2009.
There are several trails to the summit of Mount Katahdin, and each one has its own character. From afar, Saddle Trail can be seen rising from the Great Basin, a reddish path of rosy granite. Some hikers dislike Saddle Slide because of the loose scree that can be frustrating and dangerous to traverse. Other hikers prefer Saddle Trail to the other trails up the mountain because Saddle Trail is fairly gradual and sheltered from bad weather. Generally, rangers suggest hikers take the Saddle Trail on rainy days. From Chimney Pond, the Saddle Trail is 2.2 miles to Baxter Peak, which is marked by a large sign and giant cairn.
From Baxter Peak, hikers have several options to return to Roaring Brook Campground. They can return to Chimney Pond via Saddle Trail or Cathedral Trail; then take Chimney Pond Trail to Roaring Brook Campground. They can also opt to hike 1.1 mile across Knife Edge, a narrow ridge, to Pamola Peak; then take Dudley Trail or Helon Taylor Trail back to Roaring Brook Campground (Dudley Trail returns to Chimney Pond and Helon Taylor joins with Chimney Pond Trail close to Roaring Brook Campground). Knife Edge should only be attempted in good weather. Wind, rain or ice can make this route extremely dangerous.
Personal Note: I focused on Saddle Trail in this “1-minute hike” because on Friday, Aug. 20, I hiked Saddle Trail to Baxter Peak with the 2012 Maine Youth Wilderness Leadership Program, sponsored by Friends of Baxter State Park in partnership with The Chewonki Foundation. It was a rainy day, so the ranger at Chimney Pond suggested we hike up Saddle Trail because it is more sheltered from the elements than the other trails. We also descended Saddle Trail. In time, I plan to write about each route up Katahdin separately, as each trail is truly a different experience.