At 1 mile above sea level – with the help of a well-placed stack of rocks – the top of Mount Katahdin is the highest point in Maine. Next to the highest peaks nationwide, that may seem like a stroll in the park. But no one who attempts to climb it over the next few months should take it lightly.

Three hikers found out last weekend just how quickly a Katahdin hike can take a turn for the worse. On Saturday, forest rangers dropped overnight provisions for a pair of hikers stuck “off trail” near the difficult Knife Edge, after rescuers were unable to reach or extract the hikers. The pair made it safely off the mountain the next day.

Also on Saturday, a 61-year-old man from Utah was hurt in a fall on Cathedral Trail. A park ranger and rescue volunteers reached him Sunday, but the party was forced to stay another night on the mountain when his injuries prevented a quick hike out. On Monday, a Forest Service helicopter flew the man to get treatment.

Eben Sypitkowski, director of Baxter State Park, said that besides the use of helicopters twice in one weekend, the pair of rescues was not unusual for late June, when visitors to the park and mountain are many. While it’s not exactly like climbing K2, Katahdin is not an easy hike, either.

Regardless of your route, Katahdin is a long day hike, and its trails are often arduous and steep. The weather can vary wildly from day to day and place to place, and wind, rain and even snow can come on unannounced.

And except for an emergency helicopter ride, there’s no way off the mountain except going down the way you went up. If you slip and snap an ankle halfway through your hike, or find yourself in freezing temperatures in nothing but a T-shirt and jeans, there’s no back door that gets you immediately back to base camp, no “game over” button that sends you back to your car.

Quite a ways from even the nearest town of Millinocket, Mount Katahdin is wild. At a time when so many experiences are sanitized and prepackaged, that’s part of its allure. There aren’t kiosks and gift shops along the way – it’s just you, your trail maps, and the whims of nature.

That can make for a truly wonderful experience. But it can be trouble, even for experienced hikers. If something goes wrong, park and forest rangers are skilled in mountain rescue, but you’ll have to hold out until they get to you.

The website baxterstatepark.org has a handy checklist for making sure you have everything you need in that worst-case scenario – there’s even a short podcast on how to prepare.

Mount Katahdin is there for people to enjoy and experience. But first, it should be respected.


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