The Baxter State Park Authority recently approved a $100,000 project to relocate the Abol Trail, a popular hiking route up Mount Katahdin that closed earlier this year due to a rock slide that resulted in hazardous conditions for hikers.
Late in the winter, debris began moving on Abol Slide, forming an unstable debris field.
“Boulders were continually falling and sliding all summer long,” said Baxter State Park Chief Ranger Ben Woodard.
“Hundreds of rocks now — that are the size of your car — they’re gonna move,” said Baxter State Park Director Jensen Bissell in a story published in the BDN in June about the trail closure.
Bissell and Woodard were both a part of the group that recently bushwhacked through the forest to flag the new trail.
“We think it’s going to be a great improvement,” Woodard said. “It’s less gradient and has more modern features. It follows the topography a little more in areas where there will be less erosion.”
The new trail will be slightly longer and will ascend the mountain west of Abol Slide, according to the park website, where a map of the route is available.
“The new trail will provide safer travel for hikers, an easier ascent to the Tableland of Katahdin and great views,” the website states.
Baxter State Park Authority is aiming to have two crews working full-time on the trail’s construction throughout the summer of 2015, Woodard said. The park has already worked with the Maine Conservation Corps to estimate how long the relocation will take given the dense forest, and they predict that the new Abol Trail may be open as early as the fall of 2015.
The current Abol Trail, which remains closed, travels straight up Abol Slide, making it the steepest and shortest (2.8 miles) trail to the top of Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain. The trail will certainly be missed by hikers who enjoy hand-over-foot hiking and scrambling over big boulders.
Abol Slide, essentially an avenue of granite boulders and scree, has marked the slopes of Katahdin for at least 100 years, Woodard said, and in that time, a major shift in debris has happened at least twice.
“It’s happened enough times where we know this is going to happen again in the future, and we really need to be proactive,” Woodard said.
The trail was closed for several years in the 1930s and 40s due to activity on the slide. Then, in the 1970s, the park was forced to close the trail again.
“At that time, the trail crew supervisor recommended we think about moving the trail off of the slide and relocate it,” Woodard said. “He and a park ranger hiked and flagged out a trail very close to the route we’re working on now. But by the next year, the slide seemed to have stabilized, and they didn’t move ahead with the project.”
Woodard said that Abol Trail isn’t the first trail the park has had to relocate due to unsafe conditions and erosion. Many of the alpine hiking trails in Baxter travel along fall lines that erode quickly. The park recently relocated a trail that traveled up a rockslide on Mount OJI, and they have plans to relocate more alpine trails in the future.
For information about climbing Katahdin or visiting Baxter State Park, there’s a wealth of information available on the Baxter State Park Authority website at www.baxterstateparkauthority.com.
Here’s a “1-minute hike” video of a Katahdin hike that includes Abol Trail: