Climbing
Snow/glacier/ice route, Non
Alpine climbing NCCS rating
Grade I
Elevation Gain
3,950.00 ft (1,203.96 m)
Distance
8.10 mi (13.04 km)
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Mount Katahdin and the allure of the beautiful and remote Baxter State Park are undeniable for thousands of people every year, but few dare to set out on the highest peak in Maine during the winter. The remoteness and red tape within Baxter mean that extensive prior planning is absolutely crucial to a safe and legal trip, but the reward is some of the most beautiful and incredible winter mountaineering in the northeastern U.S.

The Abol Slide Trail climbs the Abol Slide on the south aspect of Mount Katahdin. It leaves from the Abol Campground on the Park Tote Road (which is closed in winter), and leads to the Hunt Trail (AT), which leads to the Baxter Peak of Katahdin. The trail features steep snowfields, snowy boulder fields, windswept and ice-covered plateaus, and absolutely magnificent views. Although no climbing is required on the trail, the Abol Slide still demands comfort with many winter mountaineering skills, and the sheer remoteness of Katahdin makes the route a much riskier proposition.

In winter, most of the park roads become snowmobile trails. This includes the Park Tote Road to Abol Campground as well as the Baxter Park Road. However, the Golden Road is drivable, on packed and sanded snow (all-wheel drive highly recommended except for experienced drivers). This means that to get to the Abol Campground requires either an 11-mile snowmobile ride or ski from Abol Bridge, where parking is available, along the ITS 86/Katahdin Loop Trail and the Park Tote Road. All this can take several precious hours of winter daylight, especially with a group, so be sure to plan ahead.

Once at Abol Campground, the Abol Slide Trail leads uphill starting behind the campground. (Note that the bathrooms are sometimes open even in winter.) The first section of the narrow trail passes through beautiful forest, and requires snowshoes (ski skins could also work depending on the trail condition). At a bit before 2 miles, the winter and summer routes diverge, with the winter route passing to the right. They rejoin near a large boulder after 0.2 mile.

The first view up Katahdin is at around 2.4 miles, but the "peak" that is visible is actually just where the slide turns into the "Tableland" plateau. After around 1.5 to 2 hours of steady climbing, the trail reaches the bottom of the slide. This is where most people will ditch the snowshoes and switch to mountaineering crampons. At this point the trail simply leads up the slide.

Roughly the first two-thirds of the slide is covered with snow, which drifts up to several feet in some spots. (The snow collects in the slide over time.) An ice axe and mountaineering crampons are essential here. If the trail is not broken, simply follow the slide up toward the summit. There is a risk of avalanches here, although periodic rocky outcrops help stabilize the snowpack somewhat (check with the rangers for avy danger information). As the snowy section of the slide ends, a sign marks the transition to the rocky and icy boulder field. The boulders here are mostly windswept and exposed. There are only a few tricky moves on this section, and while there is no technical (read: vertical) climbing here, the terrain is very difficult and you must be very comfortable in crampons. This section can be a lot of fun to well-prepared mountaineers, and there really is not much terrain like this anywhere else in the northeastern U.S.

After 3.4 miles, the trail reaches Thoreau Spring, marking the end of the brutally steep ascent up the slide. Here, the Abol Slide Trail ends; a trail sign marks the right turn onto the Hunt Trail (AT), which now leads across the flat, windswept Tableland, an enormous plateau that offers your legs a bit of rest before the final summit push. On a clear day, the summit is in view from the entire Tableland, and views also stretch to the southern peaks. Although small wooden markers and cairns mark the trail, on a whiteout day (which is common) the trail can be difficult to follow, particularly once it begins to ascend the final stretch to the summit.

Once at the summit, look for the large summit cairn, but don't expect to take pictures with the famous AT terminus sign, as it's often buried under 6 or more feet of snow. Enjoy the 360-degree views from the highest point in Maine! Chimney Pond can be seen in the basin to the north. From Baxter Peak, the ridge stretches southeast toward South Peak, at which point the infamous Knife Edge leads precariously toward Chimney Peak and Pamola Peak.

From the Abol Trail, it is possible to do the Knife Edge as an out-and-back, which adds roughly 1.1 miles in each direction. Obviously, this is extremely dangerous, and should only be attempted in good conditions by extremely experienced mountaineers. The winds on the Knife Edge are funneled and accelerated, so they can reach 60 to 100 miles per hour even if the winds on Baxter Peak are mild. People have been blown off of the Knife Edge before. It is extremely narrow and becomes mostly iced over in the winter.

For the descent, retrace your steps down the Hunt Trail to Thoreau Spring. Be sure not to miss the left-hand turn onto the Abol Slide Trail (or you'll be heading to Georgia). The trail descends the steep boulder field before reaching the snow-filled slide. Much of this part is glissade-able (take off your crampons first!) and is a good place to practice self-arrests as well.

At the bottom of the slide, ski, bootpack, or snowshoe-ski down to the trailhead, and enjoy the trip back to Abol Bridge.

Baxter State Park operates under a very strict set of rules (especially in the winter), which necessitates getting a permit at least 7 days prior to your trip. The park rangers are willing to help you, so I highly recommend calling them for advice and help with planning. They can offer info on trail and road conditions, route suggestions, etc., and they are very helpful.

This trip can be done in a (long) day with a snowmobile if you are fit and well prepared. If you need to ski in, you will probably need to split it into 2 or 3 days; in this case, you need to get permission from the park to winter camp. Again, I recommend calling the park to discuss this well before your trip.

In terms of technical gear considerations, snowshoes, mountaineering crampons, and an ice axe are necessities. A helmet is recommended while above treeline. A rope would probably not be useful on the slide unless you are also traversing the ridge to South Peak or the Knife Edge. Emergency winter gear (sleeping bag, bivy sack, etc.) is also strongly recommended, as the weather changes rapidly and help could be 2 days away at best in many cases.

All in all, the Abol Slide Trail to the summit of Katahdin is a truly breathtaking hike with both fantastic views and some of the most interesting terrain in the northeast. With proper prior planning and fortuitous weather, the Abol Slide Trail is a trip not to be missed.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Winter
Spring

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Incredible views. Challenging terrain.

Cons

Very remote. Difficult logistics. Dangerous weather. Permit required.

Pets allowed

Not Allowed

Trailhead Elevation

1,312.34 ft (400.00 m)

Highest point

5,269.00 ft (1,605.99 m)

Features

Vault toilet
Geologically significant
Big vistas
Backcountry camping

Access

Hike-in

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

Yes

Permit self-issue on site

No

Primary aspect

South facing

Drinking water

Snowmelt

Location

Field Guide

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