Friday, October 25, 2019

Preparing for a Katahdin hiking and camping adventure

By Craig Bailey

This is the second article in a three-part series covering Mount Katahdin and the adventure experience one group recently had.

A Katahdin hiking / camping adventure involves a great deal of advance preparation to ensure a safe and enjoyable excursion. The recommended starting point is the Baxter State Park website ( which offers a wealth of information in this regard.

The preparation outlined here results from a group I led as we hiked Katahdin, spending two nights in the Chimney Pond bunkhouse.

The first step (after the group has agreed to the challenge) is to make reservations with Baxter State Park, which can be done 120 days in advance. Since the Chimney Pond bunkhouse is in high demand one must be proactive to lock-in the desired date(s).

Once reservations are made each hiker must ensure they are ready, from a physical standpoint, taking steps to minimize or eliminate common pains that may be experienced, which could hamper the journey.

To avoid foot pain, one should acquire a pair of lightweight, waterproof hiking boots offering excellent ankle support. That said, don’t try to break in a new pair of boots on a hike like this. Instead, wear them for many weeks in advance on practice hikes. Add to this a pair of thick wool socks for additional cushion. Finally, just prior to the trip it is important to cut one’s toenails to avoid chafing that could otherwise occur.

Another common pain to avoid is in the knees, which occurs primarily on the descent when the knees take the most abuse. Following are several recommendations, from professionals, proven effective with the test of time.

For those previously experiencing knee pain, doctors recommend Glucosomine Chondroiton (but, of course, check with your doctor). In addition, personal trainers recommend two exercises: glute bridges and quad stretches, for which information can be found online.

In addition to obtaining high-end hiking boots, a pair of trekking poles and knee braces provides a great deal of relief. And, finally, if knee pain is experienced on the trail, it is helpful to have on hand an anti-inflammatory like Advil or Aleve.

The final common pain to avoid is in the back and/or shoulders. This can result from a heavily loaded backpack (think 30-45 pounds) which will be lugged up and back down the 3.3-mile trail. To address this hiker should obtain a backpack with the proper support, where most of the weight is carried on the hips: not on the back or shoulders. Here, it is suggested the hiker visits an outfitter such as LL Bean to get specific recommendations on fit and function.

The final step is to do practice hikes, to try out new gear and confirm no foot, knee, shoulder or back pain is experienced.

In parallel with getting ready physically, one must determine the necessary equipment and provisions. The first consideration is Baxter State Park is a carry in / carry out park. As such, anything not consumed must be lugged back down the mountain.

Secondly, consider the bunkhouse has no electricity or running water. There are 10 wooden bunks (no mattresses), a wood stove, food preparation area, a picnic table and gas lanterns, with outhouses nearby.

Given the itinerary (three days and two nights) each person needs to “pack in” two dinners, one lunch, two breakfasts and lots of nutritional snacks. To minimize the weight and bulk, bring nothing requiring refrigeration, or in bulky containers, and acquire freeze dried food for most meals. To maintain energy levels, foods should consist of high amounts of carbs, fats and proteins. This is NOT the time to go on a diet.

Fortunately, there is a plentiful supply of water along the trail and Chimney Pond serves as a water source, all of which must be treated prior to consuming. As a result, each person should bring their own water bottle and treatment method.

Per Baxter State Park’s guidelines, those climbing to the summit of Katahdin must have a headlamp, space blanket, food and water in their day pack.

While there are other items to consider (change of clothes, personal hygiene, sleeping bag and pad, knife, firestarter, trail stove, etc.) the above areas require the most advance preparation.

Upon finalizing the list of equipment and provisions each hiker should pack their backpack well in advance. Then, reduce and repack again, until each feels comfortable, they have what is absolutely required - and nothing more.

Final considerations, prior to embarking, include reviewing the trails planned to be hiked, confirming the status of each on the Baxter State Park webpage. And, it is important to arrive at the trailhead with plenty of time to get started before the cutoff time. For example, in late September Park Rangers require hikers to begin their climb into Chimney Pond by 2pm. In addition, each member of the group must realize there is no rush up or down the mountain, acknowledging most injuries occur during the descent.

In closing, the best advice to prepare for such an excursion is to make a list of necessities, then repeatedly walk through the days on the trail and at camp thinking of all the things that are (absolutely) required for a pleasant journey.

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