Standing tall and proud in Baxter State Park is Mount Katahdin, Maine’s highest mountain. The epicenter of the famed wilderness reserve, it’s also right on the Appalachian Trail – making it a popular hike for day and thru-hikers.
Despite its popularity, its peak sits at an elevation of 5,300 feet. The trails leading up to are also rocky and strenuous – making Katahdin a particularly challenging hike. So, if you’re planning to hike up Mount Katahdin, it’s important to follow the Boy Scout motto – be prepared.
By bringing the essential equipment and gear listed in this article with you, you can make sure that your hike is safe and enjoyable.
Before beginning your hike, you’ll need to register in the logbook at the Baxter State Park entrance; this is to help park officials keep track of visitors. It also helps them send in a rescue team if you don’t sign out in a timely fashion.
If you plan to leave your car at one of the parking lots, you’ll also need to register for a parking permit in advance. I highly recommend doing this, as these lots can fill up very quickly.
A Hiking Backpack
Once you have the proper documentation, you can turn your attention to the actual hiking gear.
Experienced hikers know that a lightweight but sturdy hiking backpack is an absolute essential when climbing a high-elevation mountain.
The weather can also be unpredictable on Mount Katahdin. Even during summer, there can be torrential rain showers, so it’s helpful to invest in a pack lined with water-resistant fabric. Some hiking bags have different sections for different types of gear, which is also useful when you’re trying to organize yourself and find things in a hurry.
Food And Water
Alright, so you’ve got a backpack – but what should you put in it?
For starters, I recommend some food and water.
Depending on the trail you take, a round-trip summit of Mount Katahdin can take 8-12 hours. That’s a pretty long time, so you need to make sure you have enough sustenance and equipment. Here are a few of the essentials:
- Food: You’ll burn a lot of energy while tackling Mount Katahdin, so carry high-energy foods for replenishment. Energy bars, protein bars, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds are all excellent snacking options. For more substantial meals, make bagel or tortilla sandwiches with deli meats, vegetables, and other condiments. This balance of protein and carbs will give you the energy you need. And if you’re ever in doubt of how much to bring, pack more food than you think you’ll need – you’ll be grateful for it if you encounter an emergency.
- Water: There are very few natural water sources on the hike up to Mount Katadhin, especially during the summer. To prevent dehydration, pack plenty of water. I recommend at least 4 quarts, though more is preferable if you can carry it. You should also carry along a mini water filter and iodine tablets, as these will help you purify river water if you run out of the bottled stuff.
A waterproof topographical map will help you find adequate water sources. It will also highlight challenging terrain and help you estimate the time the hike will take. A compass will also be useful when you’re trying to find your bearings.
Tackling The Terrain
There are several trails to summit Mount Katahdin. The most popular options are the Abol Trail and the Hunt Trial. Each trail involves some rock scrambling, so wear sturdy hiking boots and bring some tough gloves that will protect your hands and give you a good grip.
Hiking poles can also help deal with challenging terrain; they’ll enable you to maintain your balance and take some pressure off your knees during steep ascents.
Temperatures and weather can change quite dramatically during the hike. To make sure you’re protected from the elements, be sure to pack the following items:
- Extra layers: Even in the summer, the temperature at the peak can drop to 37 degrees Fahrenheit. Carry or wear a few layers that you can shed or put on depending on how the temperature changes.
- Sun protection: This includes sunscreen, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat.
- Rain protection: A rain jacket should suffice, though other waterproof gear is also helpful.
- Insect protection: Wear lightweight, long-sleeved sweatshirts and pants to protect you from insects. It’s also useful to bring a repair kit that will allow you to fix tears in your clothes and boots.
On top of the essential clothes, food, water, and navigational tools, there are a few more tools you can pack to be more thoroughly prepared:
- A flashlight (and extra batteries): The Baxter State Park rules require that each hiker brings a flashlight. Ideally, you should plan your hike so that you are back at the trailhead by nightfall – but the flashlight will give you some relief in case you aren’t.
- A lighter: Although open fires are not allowed on Mount Katahdin, you should carry a fire starter in case you are lost and need to stay warm.
- A whistle: This can be used to draw attention if you’re in trouble.
Hiking in the Winter?
The best time to hike up Mount Katahdin is from June through to September, when there’s less chance of rain and temperatures are more forgiving. But the trails up to Mount Katahdin are open in winter, and a winter hike up can be a unique experience.
Along with the gear mentioned above, here’s what you’ll need for a winter hike up the mountain:
- Snowshoes and crampons
- Extra clothing
- Extra food
- Ice axes
- Snow goggles
- Climbing ropes
Winter hiking should only be attempted by the most experienced, hardy hikers. If you’re planning on a winter hike up Mount Katahdin, it’s best to go in a group so that you have someone to rely on in case of an emergency.
There are no camping facilities available on Mount Katahdin. However, you can camp at the Katahdin trailheads, which include the Katahdin Stream, the Abol, and the Roaring Brook campsite. Camping the night before is a great way to ensure an early start for your summit attempt.
If you decide to camp, bring along the following items:
- Tents – if you plan to stay at a campsite, bring a sturdy tent and all the equipment you need to set it up.
- Sleeping bags – Unless you want to sleep on the ground, I recommend bringing a sleeping bag to curl up in.
- Gas stoves, dishes, and utensils – You’re going to need to cook and eat some food. If you have space in your pack, you might as well bring some essential cooking gear.
The park also has a strict carry in, carry out policy. Everything you bring in must be carried out – so bring along garbage bags for any garbage you accumulate.
Finally, be sure to pack a first aid kit. The Baxter State Park does have rescue teams, but they can take a while to reach hikers, especially in the case of bad weather.
Your first aid kit should include the following items:
- Antiseptic wipes
- Antibacterial ointment
- Altitude sickness medication
- Bandages (of varying sizes)
- Medical tape
- Treatment for insect stings
- Medication for pain, diarrhea, and allergies
- Hand sanitizer
- A thermometer
- Antibiotic cream
- Blister treatments
- Tweezers, safety pins, and scissors
- Oral rehydration salts
- Notebook and pencil to record vitals
By following this checklist and making sure you bring along everything you need, you’ll have a more enjoyable hike up Mount Katahdin. Here’s a quick recap in case you forgot anything:
- Carry along adequate food and water to give you the energy and hydration you need.
- Make sure you’re carrying extra layers of clothing for warmth.
- Use navigational tools like maps and a compass to guide you up the mountain.
- Bring hiking tools like poles and sturdy boots to help you climb.
- A flashlight and whistle are useful if you get lost.
- Make room for camping gear if you plan to spend the night.
- A first aid kit is also essential.