MILLINOCKET – Last week, Baxter State Park rangers rescued a father and son from whiteout conditions on Mt. Katahdin. Winter hiking can be challenging, and proper preparation is a must.
Mt. Katahdin is a winter playground for adventurers looking to hike its rigorous landscape, but even the most experienced outdoorsman can’t plan for some of the mountain’s treacherous conditions.
“It’s a dangerous environment out there,” said Baxter State Park Director Eben Sypitowski. “Things can change very quickly, and I think the most important thing for everybody is to respect this environment and respect how dangerous it can be.”
That danger was evident last week, when two hikers became disoriented from a mixture of wind and snow along the Knife Edge Trail. Park rangers say they walked away with minor injuries and frostbite.
“They were very lucky,” said Sypitowski. “If they had been in another part of the park where the rangers didn’t have eyes on them, that could’ve gone a very different way.”
Once above the mountain’s tree line, hikers can experience wind gusts up to 60 mph and temperatures far into the negative degrees, according to park officials.
“It’s going to be a long, cold, hard night and you may not survive that kind of thing unless you’ve got the preparation and gear to do so,” said Sypitowski.
“Like full mountaineering boots with full crampons,” said Park Ranger Mike Winslow. “You’re going to find a lot firmer conditions where microspikes might get you up it, but people sometimes forget once you climb up you have to climb down.”
Winslow also recommends a mountaineering axe and helmet for anyone venturing onto the mountain’s trails in the winter months and says inexperienced hikers may want to steer clear of Maine’s tallest mountain.
“Start with something other than Katahdin,” said Sypitowski. “There’s 210,000 acres of park here. A lot of it is really remote.”
The park’s director also says to be honest with yourself about your hiking ability.