The Maine Things to Know About Katahdin and the 100 Mile Wilderness
Baxter State Park is a beautiful oasis, there’s more than just Katahdin.
If you have the time either before or after hiking the 100 mile wilderness and Katahdin, check out some of the other areas of the park. Katahdin Stream or The Birches (the long distance hikers campground) are where most people stop, but there is so much more to see. We spent 2 nights up at South Branch Pond and had a couple of excellent hikes to waterfalls and some great canoeing. We saw a young bull moose, 2 beavers and an Otter while up there. On a day trip to Roaring Brook, we hiked the nature trail loop and the Sandy Stream Pond loop (roughly 6 miles in total) and saw 5 more moose. They were all cows, but were able to watch several of them for around an hour.
Mount Katahdin is not technically part of the 100 mile wilderness.
But for the level of access to amenities, it’s close enough. You’re as far or further from any kind of store while in Baxter as you are for about 20-50% of the 100 mile wilderness. It’s its own little wilderness oasis, and the rangers work hard to keep it that way.
Katahdin is not for the faint of heart.
It’s roughly 4,200 feet of elevation gain in 5.2 miles via the Hunt Trail (the AT) or 4.2 miles via Abol Trail. Roughly 50% of that elevation gain is over steep rock scrambles. It can be done, just take it one step at a time. If a 80+ year old man and a 6 yeast old kid can do it, you can do it. Your only restriction is yourself, and time. Do some preparation ahead of time, and you might be hurting, but you’ll likely make it.
The weather on Katahdin changes frequently and without notice.
In the 7 days we spent in Baxter State Park, it was sunny and warm on the peak for 3 days, hail stormed one day, rained another, was foggy another, and had high gusting winds on the final day. We adjusted our plans accordingly and definitely reaped the benefits! It’s definitely worth waiting a day if it means summiting in nice weather. Give yourself some leeway on possible summit days – you’ll be thankful later.
Be prepared for bugs!
Bring a bug head net! You will regret this if you don’t. We summited mid black fly season, and even on the mountain peaks there are bugs. When the wind dies, they come out in force and they’ll leave a bloody welt if you let them get a bite. This applies to the whole 100 mile wilderness; long pants and a lightweight long sleeve will save you. They cant bite through fabric and the only effective repellent is the wind. Mosquitoes are different; they’ll bite right through fabrics, but can be repelled to “some” effect using bug spray. Sawyer Premuim Picardin is the go-to for gear longevity and “safety” since it’s all natural and won’t deteriorate your gear. DEET is the other effective option, although less healthy and can deteriorate your gear, it’s very effective against the little buggers. OFF Deep Woods is the best stuff in the business.
The word “Trail” is very loosely defined.
It can mean anything from an 8 foot wide, clear, level walking path; to a 10 inch wide bit of semi-trodden leaves on a 45 degree angle on the side of a hill. Or, it could be a 1-2 foot wide path so strewn with rocks and roots that you don’t have a level step for what seems like a mile. If you’re somewhat lost and looking for the trial, it’s probably that bit “just over there” that’s some combination of rocks, roots, mud, and steep incline. Generally speaking, if somewhere looks like the most rugged section of woods in the area, that’s probably where the trail is headed.
Plan an appropriate amount of food.
Know at least generally how many days it’s going to take, and then pack maybe 1 extra day of food just in case. We ran into multiple people on both ends of the food spectrum. Some had WAY too much food, and others ended up having to get food from fellow hikers because they ran out. They say it takes about 10 days to hike the wilderness, and that’s an appropriate amount of food to take. Nate and I did it in 7 1/2 days, while others took the full 10, and yet others did it in 5 or less (we met a guy who did it in 4, and another trying for 3). Just have a general idea of your ability, plan accordingly, and you’ll be fine.
Food drops are a thing.
Some people have either a relative, or a company, or service drop food for them halfway through the wilderness. That way, they only have to carry half the food weight at one time. This is a great option if your pack is a little too heavy for comfortable hiking with 10 days of food. I hear the AT Hiker Lodge in Millinocket offers this as a free service if you stay with them for a night or two (it’s just what I’ve heard, we didn’t stay there, so I’m not 100% on the details). I’m sure there are other places that do the same, just ask.
There is actually a civilized respite in the middle of the wilderness!
We heard from many hikers who stopped and stayed at Whitehouse Landing for a night, and absolutely loved it! Whitehouse Landing is roughly in the middle of the wilderness and they’ll come pick you up in a boat, ferry you to a lodge, where you then stay there for the night before being ferried back. I hear they have awesome food, great service, canoes you can use, and maybe some resupply stuff? I only heard good things about the place, but didn’t catch every detail. But if you’re looking for a break in the middle, it’s definitely worth looking into.
Have someone experienced in long distance hiking shakedown your pack.
Or do it yourself, but if so, be responsible about it and do some real research. If your base weight (eg. your pack and normal camp/hiking gear) is over 25 pounds, there’s about a 99% chance you’re carrying too much. Shoot for 20 pounds base, with a total pack weight (base weight + food/water etc) of 40 pounds or less. We know a couple that dropped their base pack weights from 35 pounds down to 15 and 20 just by having someone experienced look at it. You’re very likely just going to be suffering if it’s any heavier. We met a guy with a 70 pound pack who ended up dropping out halfway through the 100 mile wilderness due to complications that he could have avoided if his pack weighed less. It’s worth asking for help on this one.
You’re going to stink when you’re done.
There’s no way around it, so you might as well just accept it from the beginning. Sure you can go swimming and clean up a little that way, but it only helps so much. You’re out in the wilderness from 4-12 days without a shower and without washing your clothes, what did you expect? You sweat when you hike up mountains all day, it’s just what you do. Swim when you can, it does help a little (and boy, does it feel good), but just know it’s inevitable that you’ll stink and don’t worry about it. Everyone else is in the exact same boat, and guess what? They all smell the same as you, so nobody cares!
False peaks are definitely a thing.
Just know that if you think you’ve reached the peak, you probably haven’t. There’s most likely 1 or 2 false peaks per mountain you’ll climb, thinking you’re at the top, only to walk for a couple hundred yards and keep right on climbing. Even when you’re expecting the false peaks, they’ll still sometimes get you. It’s just what happens. Just move up and move on!… Although, I hear if you have the Guthook app, it tells you exactly where you are and thus you know what’s ahead yet. So you could theoretically avoid this by using the app. But that uses up your phone battery, and costs like $60, so I chose to just deal with the occasional disappointment of an unexpected climb.
There’s more than 1 way to find your way.
The most popular guide options are the paperback AWOL guide (not a map), which shows trial elevations, locations of water, shelter, campsites, and lists a good amount of details on the different trail towns. Topographical trail maps are another option. You can get them from outfitters, and they show the trial and related features well, but lack town info. And then there’s the Guthook app, which is the most complete guide of the 3 – but also the most expensive. It’s basically a combination of the other two but with more detail and a larger, more complete bank of the minor campsites and water sources. Plus it shows you exactly where you are… Or you can ditch all 3 and just hike “by the seat of your pants” using the posted signs, google (when you have service), and guesswork. Although, I really wouldn’t recommend that.
The socialization and community are awesome.
Be friendly, the people you come into contact with are all going through the same experiences as you. You all have something in common, you share the same battles, you hike the same steep climbs, and stumble on the same rocks. The backpacking community is one of the kindest, and most welcoming environments you’ll ever experience. The people alone are enough reason to hike the trail; just to meet everyone, hear their stories, and have a good laugh together. You meet people from all walks of life: anywhere from high school to grandparents – they’re all out there, and they all have the same dream. Get to know the people you see on the trail and strike up conversation with the people in camp. You’ll very likely become fast friends and you will thank yourself later.
The experience is more than worth the trouble.
All of the hardships and the struggles of the trail are more than worth the experience. I can’t stress this enough. “Poet” the owner and proprietor of Shaw’s Hiker Hostel, and hiking community legend, said something close to this. The reality is, most people go about “living” very mundane lives. The extreme highs and the lows of life on the trail really help put the rest of your life in perspective. The highs help you understand the lows, and the lows make you appreciate the highs. Once you have that taste of real living, you’ve experienced crushing hardships and joyous victories, it causes you stop and truly think about how you want to live the rest of your life… There’s a life worth living, all you have to do is find it – the trail just helps you realize that.
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