For as many times as my Katahdin trips have turned out perfectly, an equal number have gone awry. One Columbus Day weekend, my friend and I had obtained a parking permit ahead of time. On Columbus Day morning, we found ourselves in a traffic jam on the access road. Unsure if our line was for permit holders and non-permit holders, we tried to find out, only to have another driver pull out a knife and threaten to slash our tires if we moved our car. Needless to say, we were late for our Roaring Brook permit and climbed Roundtop that day. We had learned our lesson. The following summer, after a successful climb, we realized that we had learned several more lessons.
Lesson 1: Do not go during Columbus Day weekend, or any other weekend. Baxter is similar to Las Vegas in the sense that it is a hub of activity amidst the Maine woods. Especially on the weekends, people can become as cranky waiting in line at the gate as they would be waiting in line for Disney World rides. Luckily, this time, my friend and I could take a Wednesday and Thursday off from work.
Lesson 2: Obtain a Day Use Parking Reservation (DUPR) in advance to secure a spot at your preferred parking lot. Prospective Katahdin hikers frequently tell me that they were turned away because the parking lots were full. This is a common occurance yet easily avoidable by reserving a space over the phone or online. A DUPR is especially important if you want to leave from Roaring Brook, the most popular lot where you can access Chimney Pond, the Knife Edge, the Saddle Trail, and a host of other trails. You still need to arrive at the gate with enough time before the 7AM cut-off, in case you end up in a line of cars like my friend and I did when we lost our parking spot.
Lesson 3: Wake up at a campsite inside the park.. During our summer visit, the Roaring Brook campground was full, so my friend and I reserved a space at Nesowadehunk. Nesowadehunk is a campground inside the park that is a haul to Roaring Brook, but it is worth staying there to be securely inside the gate.
Lesson 4: Follow the favorite trail of the a friend. Our friend Goofy also came along for the hike. He is an outdoor enthusiast, albeit with a discerning palate. Cathedral is his favorite trail up Katahdin. We tried it this trip, and pulling ourselves up boulders turned out to be as delightful and challenging as promised.
Lesson 5: Katahdin is a special occasion, so dress for it. In our case, Goofy wore a sombrero and Mexican peasant shirt. My friend wore a stylish number from Mardens. I wore the same outfit that I intended to wear on the summit last fall: a red dress from the loaner clothes at the Lakeshore House in Monson. We stole the thru-hiker tradition of looking ridiculous for a memorable summit photograph. Why let the thru-hikers have all the fun?
Lesson 6: At the top, have a photo shoot to end all photo shoots. Sure, you may have to wait your turn. When it is your turn, take your time and turn heads. We already appeared to be spectacles at the top. I took it up a notch and posed for a picture showing my 207 tattoo next to the sign.
Lesson 7: If you are hoping for a thru-hiker sighting, shake your booty up there at the crack of dawn. A North Carolina couple asked us if we had seen any northbounders finishing. Clearly they did not understand the thru-hiker mentality. When you have hiked 2000 miles, you not only want it to be over, but you also want the top to yourself. You fly up the mountain at 5am with your friends. Anyone who wants to stalk the elusive thru-hiker needs to have an early start.
Lesson 8: Hike your own hike on the Knife Edge. My friends prove to be more daring and fearless hikers than I will ever be. They hiked across the Knife Edge as if they were walking on the beach. At the prospect of 45 mph winds and the shear drop-off on either side, I spider-crawled the Knife Edge. I dragged my booty over every rock, and my thighs leaned into every cliff. The next day, my upper body felt as sore as my lower.
Lesson 11: Fight off your hunger until Dysart’s. This is the lesson that my friends and I have not yet mastered. When we came down the Helon Taylor trail and returned to the Roaring Brook parking lot, we made a beeline for the nearest pizza/beer/Whoopie pie joint. I wish I could hold off for Mary Hart’s home-cooked beans and pie, but that has yet to happen. Of course, Katahdin will be even better on the next trip.