Doubletop Mountain (north peak 3,489 feet, south peak 3,455 ft) guards the western edge of Baxter State Park (BSP), its tufted, twin summit ridge looming like the profile of a slumped, pudgy Dark Knight. The views of this signature BSP mountain are impressive, as its unique profile and steep drops make for a formidable photo over Nesowadnehunk Stream or from the rugged peaks to its east. On a sunny mid-September afternoon, I ascended it for the first time, using a challenging 7 mile out-and-back route from the parking area at Nesowadnehunk Field Campground, which took me about three hours and forty minutes.
The summit is also accessible from the south, sharing the trailhead for Slaughter Pond. I used the route from the north recommended by the book Hiking Maine’s Baxter State Park, which advised that the southern route included a South Peak descent that was among the “steepest trails in the state.” Portions of the trail are visible on the downloadable Kidney-Daicey map from Baxter State Park or the Katahdin Baxter State Park Waterproof Trail Map, but the Nesowadnehunk Field Campground is at the far northern edge of the popular Kidney-Daicey area, so that area is not shown in as much detail.
The parking area to the north is close to the Nesowadnehunk Field ranger station, where some tree work was in progress when I moved through. A bridge crosses the clear flowage of Nesowadnehunk Stream, where a belted kingfisher gave me a look, then moved south, giving a rattling cry. After crossing the bridge, the first quarter mile or so of Doubletop Mountain Trail was flat and straight, passing campsites protected by pines and birch. This mostly shaded trail paralleled the stream through moss and ferns, then began to wind up through the forest over a series of moss-covered brooks, the surface twisted with roots. An amazing variety of flowers and mushrooms lined the path.
At about 1.7 miles the trail became more hemmed in by evergreens, and I began to hear rushing water as the trail headed downhill, crossed Doubletop Stream, and then climbed steeply up the other side of the ravine. At this point, strap in for leg day, as the elevation increases rapidly, with some roots and rocks needed for handholds. Hiking with a compromised left wrist, I was forced to use my forearm as a hook. On this stretch, I saw a multi-generational family descending, looking exhausted in varying degrees, but in good spirits. I found myself periodically exhaling audibly with a chuffing sound like a puzzled bear, which seemed to help psychologically with the climbing effort.
Around 2.4 miles the trail leveled out a bit, becoming greener and a bit more manageable, a quiet ridge hike through an enchanted forest. The climb became steady again, but at about 3.2 miles, the trees thinned out and I could begin to see the views to the east of the valley bisected by the Park Tote Road. Here I saw the last people on my hike, a descending couple who seemed surprised to see another hiker this late in the afternoon. Iron rungs and one last rocky scramble completed the climb to the taller North Peak, opening on truly dizzying views of O-J-I, Katahdin, and the rest of the park, with a sheer drop from the summit. Just below the North Peak, a plaque commemorates the memory of Keppele Hall, whose ashes were “given to the winds at this place August 20, 1926, at sunset by his wife,” which would have predated Baxter State Park.
A short rolling scramble of about a quarter mile separated the north and south peaks and sweeping views of the Allagash were available from the south terminus over neighboring Moose Mountain to the west, as well as the 100 Mile Wilderness to the south. Unfortunately, each peak was patrolled by its own swarming cloud of biting flies, all undaunted by the stiff breeze, so I didn’t stick around long. I picked my way downward in the fading light, thinking of a campfire and roasting meat later at the South Branch Campground. By the time I reached my car, the memory of the effort and struggle of the climb was already forgotten, replaced by the calm of the expansive views and soothing sounds of nature.
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