An Attempt of the Cilley Barber Route on Katahdin

Ethan and I spent 5 days in Baxter State Park, located in Northern Maine, with the hopes of climbing Katahdin via the Cilley Barber route (WI4).

Sunday 1/31/16: 

We left Cambridge at around 4pm for the 6 hour drive up to Millinocket, ME and slept in the car at the gates of Baxter State Park.



In the morning, we loaded the one sled we brought with all of our food and gear, going hour for hour for the 13 mile ski to the Roaring Brook bunkhouse. It took us 5.5 hours and we got there around 2:30pm. Even though the sled weighed about 90lbs, it really wasn’t too bad towing it with our skis on. Most of the 13 miles was flat with some rolling hills.

Waxing skis

Once we got to the bunkhouse, we met another party that planned on climbing Cilley Barber the next day. Ethan and I planned on booting it up to Chimney Pond the next day and climbing the route on Thursday because Wednesday was supposed to bring some bad weather.

Roaring Brook bunkhouse


 The last 3.5 miles to Chimney Pond is much steeper than the previous 13 miles to Roaring Brook so we decided to ditch the skis and sled and hike the rest of the way to the next bunkhouse. This is where we would set up camp for the next 3 days. We took it easy this day and Ethan led his first ice climb, Mini Pinnacle #2.

View at Chimney Pond. Cilley Barber goes up pretty much the middle the the huge cirque.

That night, the party we met at Roaring Brook finished the climb and we debriefed at Chimney Pond. The rangers said they were the first party to successfully climb it this winter. We hoped we would get our shot on Thursday.


As forecasted, Wednesday was windy and snowy. We climbed the Chimney (WI2) and topped out on Pamola Peak.


We spent the rest of the day feeding the wood stove, fetching water, and reading. Oh and playing Rummy. We played a lot of that.



The big day. We woke up at 4:30am with all our gear packed and ready to go. Ethan and I had one last discussion on whether or not we should go for it. The one fear on our minds was avalanche danger. The Cilley Barber route is 2500 feet of mostly snow with a few ice sections. It had snowed 5in on Wednesday, with strong winds blowing in every direction. Whether or not it loaded the snow fields on the climb was a concern. A bigger concern was that neither one of us had any avalanche training and basically did not even know what we did not know about avalanches. It was also disconcerting that the temperature jumped up to the 40s. From the little that we did know (that snow causes avalanches and warm temperatures makes things unstable), we ultimately came to the agreement that we should not attempt the route. This was definitely frustrating, but in the end, this is the name of the game. The route will always be there and we’ll get another chance.

Instead, we hiked Katahdin via the Saddle trail and summited sometime early morning.

Amazing view on Katahdin
Looks like the route received some snow. We probably made the right choice.

Having a ton more time now, we decided to move camp back to Roaring Brook to gain a head start for tomorrow’s return to the car.


It took us 5.5 hours to get in and around 3.5 hours to get out! That was pretty fun. The return trip was mostly slightly downhill, and the sled was a bit lighter due to all the food we consumed.


  • I really like wood stoves. I wonder if I can get a tiny one for my van.
  • It’s hard to gauge how much food to bring for an extended trip. I ran out, luckily Ethan had my back (stomach).
  • I had some trouble accepting the fact that we brought in so much gear that we did not end up using. It was hard not to see the sunk cost, easy to get tunnel vision, and I’m glad Ethan was the voice of reason in not wanting to climb our original objective.
  • Spending 5 days in the wilderness with no cell service, electricity, plumbing, etc was fun and refreshing. The days consisted of gathering water, chopping firewood, rationing food, and drinking hot chocolate.

Here’s a video!


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