for New England Six-Pack aspirants — some advice about Katahdin
Hey everyone! Not sure how many of you are doing the New England Six-Pack but I know some people from the West Coast do it as a vacation challenge so they have limited time and not a ton of familiarity with the region, and as a New Englander who is doing both the SoCal and New England Six Packs this year I wanted to offer some advice if you plan on making Katahdin one of your New England hikes. West Coast folks seem to think we don’t have “real” mountains out here. Ahem. We do. Don’t let the elevation fool you.
Some background: I summited Katahdin last summer. Finally. It was my *fourth* attempt to get to the summit. The first time I tried, I wasn’t sufficiently acclimated to how steep the mountain really is and got a case of vertigo; the second time, park rangers turned us back half a mile from the summit due to thunderstorms; the third time, the weather was so bad I didn’t even make it to the trailhead. Basically, while a lot of people hype up Mt. Washington for being super difficult (“world’s worst weather,” etc. etc. etc.), you don’t hear the same warnings for Katahdin, BUT YOU SHOULD. Especially since it’s so far out of the way and hikers have often made such detailed plans to get there in the first place that they are less likely to be willing to turn back if conditions get bad.
Let’s put it this way: If you get to the summit of Mt. Washington and are concerned you can’t get down safely due to exhaustion, you can try to book a ticket on a train back down or hitch a ride with a random car full of people who have literally driven to the summit and just bought a bumper sticker at the gift shop that says “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington.” Or if you get turned back due to the “world’s worst weather” you can hike back down, stay at a hotel relatively close to the trailhead, and try again the next day. Katahdin is in one of the most strictly governed state parks in the country, with very little access to emergency resources and not a whole lot in terms of amenities in surrounding towns. The day I reached the summit, two people had to be airlifted off the mountain because they’d injured themselves on the Knife Edge trail.
So, my basic advice:
- I recommend having a backup plan and a double backup plan if you want Katahdin to be one of your Six-Pack hikes. The weather can turn bad pretty fast up there, and staying in Millinocket for a few days to wait for conditions to improve might not be possible.
- If you can get a reservation at the Chimney Pond campground, I highly recommend this because it can cut 3 miles (6 if you have it booked for two nights) off the summit day hike. Park at Roaring Brook, carry camping equipment in, set up camp, take a lighter pack to the summit. The rangers are super chill and will let you leave your tent and sleeping bag packed up and ready to pick back up on your way down, unless you want to camp there for another night on the return.
- Don’t hike the Cathedral trail (shortest route to the summit, departs from Chimney Pond) solo unless you’re basically Spiderman. It is VERY steep and involved rock scrambling that at one point I could not handle on my own. I needed to wait for a group of hikers to approach and help me with a boost over a rock, which I’ve never encountered anywhere else given that I’m tall and pretty flexible. And make sure your pants are stretchy! This is another mistake I made!
- Pack a water purification device. You will get super thirsty and run out of water, and again, there’s no gift shop at the summit.
Katahdin is one of the most beautiful and challenging mountains I’ve ever climbed and I am stoked that some of you may be summiting it for the Six Pack! But especially as temperatures get cooler and New England’s windy fall weather sets in, I just wanted to throw out some pointers because I wish I’d known some of them before I tried to hike it… and tried again… and FINALLY made it.
Anyway, I’m off to knock out my third New England peak tomorrow or Monday (Old Speck)… good vibes to everyone who’s doing some Six Packing over Labor Day weekend! Enjoy the holiday!
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