Yes, what is the age of Mount Katahdin? As Dee Caldwell points out in his study of geology of Baxter State Park, in order to explain the age of Mt. Katahdin, a complete answer must cover three points:
First, Mount Katahdin’s age can be determined by the rocks that comprise the mountain are about 400 million years old. The bedrock is granite, gray at the lower and intermediate levels and pink at the higher ones, although lichen and weathering may obscure these colors. This like all granites, solidified from magma or molten rock below the earth’s surface. The Katahdin granite and its surface expression were part of a chain of volcanoes much like Mt. St. Helens and the Cascade Range, formed as tectonic plates collided. When the volcanic activity stopped, the top of the Katahdin magma chilled to a fine glass near its top, while magma below cooled slowly to form the coarse granite the occurs everywhere but the very highest elevations. From Pamola on the east to Baxter Peak and on to the western edge of the Tableland, there is a 500-foot-thick layer of very fine, extremely tough granite that crystallized from the glassy top. This tough rock, called the Summit granite, holds up the mountain. The Katahdin granite south of the mountain all the way to Jo-Mary has lost this resistant cap, eroding so much that it now underlies the West Branch and all the lakes and ponds.
A second way of asking Mount Katahdin’s age is to ask how long it has had its present general shape. The answer is two to five million years. Before that it was undoubtedly higher, rougher, and with a sharper profile, much like the western Rockies are today. But millions of years of erosion have worn Katahdin down to the top of the Summit granite.
A third answer to the question of Mount Katahdin’s age involves the specific features of Katahdin’s landscape, such as the Knife Edge, great and small basins, and the present attitude of 5,268 feet, all of which contribute so much to its fascination. Although Mount Katahdin was covered by one or more continental glaciers (or ice sheets) during the various ice ages that have come and gone for the past million years, the distinctive features just mentioned were formed by the glacial action of comparatively small valley glaciers. Unlike the usual stream valley, which is V-shaped and narrow at its head, a glacial valley is U-shaped and widens into a bowl or basin at its head. This bowl is the cirque, and if the highland above the head-wall of a cirque is narrow enough, glacial action will eventually produce another striking geologic feature, an arete. This is the narrow strip of rock that results when the glacier eats away at the head-wall of its valley, until all that is left between it and the next valley is a ridge. The Knife Edge and Hamlin Ridge were both formed in this way. Since the last period of glaciation reached its peak only about 12,000 years ago, and since valley glaciers often remain active after continental glaciers have melted away, the answer to this third part of the question of age seems to be that Mount Katahdin isn’t very old at all—as geologic ages go, at least.¹
Mount Katahdin, the greatest mountain, lies within Baxter State Park. The Park was the result of Percival P. Baxter’s vision. Over 200,000 acres of mountains, lakes, streams and forest were given in trust to the people of Maine. He wanted to guarantee access to Maine’s wilderness and resources while preserving its’ unspoiled natural state. Baxter Peak (5,268′), the summit of Maine and northern end of the Appalachian Trail, is the highest point in Maine.
Charles Turner accomplished the first recorded climb in August of 1804. Today, Baxter Peak is the final goal of the hikers on the Appalachian Trail of their 2,100-mile journey. It is this journey from Georgia to Maine, which makes this destination the focus of Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin.
Mount Katahdin has its share of recognition… it has been written about countless times, hikers have met their untimely end attempting to ascent its ruthless terrain, a steamboat was named after the esteemed Mountain as well as two U.S. Navy ships named USS Katahdin, even a song was composed as, “Mount Katahdin”.
The Park and Mountain region includes as an impressive variety of animals and unique plant life indigenous to its area. One needs to view and experience first-hand the wonders and beauty that exists in this region of Maine. Words cannot begin to describe the range of emotions experienced when in the midst of such natural beauty. Percival Baxter would be proud to see his dream being enjoyed, as he so wanted.
The Baxter State Park Authority website provides information on Camping and Reservations, Rules and Regulations, Hiking and Climbing Trails, Weather Conditions and Map of Baxter State Park. Should you like to learn about the Natural Setting and Scientific Forest Management Area—what is it?… you will find this information here.
Baxter State Park Authority
About Mt. Katahdin
Mt. Katahdin in Maine
Mt. Katahdin Peakware
Baxter State Park Info
Maine Appalachian Trail Club
Appalachian Trail Conservancy
Katahdin Area Chambers