Baxter State Park, Maine
Beginner hikers determined to climb a landmark of a mountain--such as Mount Katahdin--would do better to build up to it.
For hiking neophytes, really, there are two options: Go for it
and pay, or build up to it and enjoy every step of the way.
Loads of folks climb Katahdin, as many as 30,000 a year,
according to Baxter State Park Director Jensen Bissell. But how many are beginners who labor over that hard scramble up
to 5,267-foot Baxter Peak?
More than you would think.
"We expect that the literature found on our website and in our
handouts would cause most new hikers to pause and consider. But
experience confirms that many first timers do pick Katahdin as their
intro to hiking," Bissell said.
In at least some cases, climbing a memorable, meaningful Maine
mountain like Katahdin is not a question of fitness so much as
experience. It is better for a first-time hiker to first exercise
the muscles used in hiking before attempting a day's climb up any
Like anything, hiking is easier the more you do it.
Bissell suggests any inexperienced hiker planning to climb Mount
Katahdin first try two to three other hikes in the park, to gain the
experience needed, mentally as well as physically.
"When (a new hiker) sees the breadth of what's expected, it's
overwhelming," Bissell said. "And coming down is a whole other set
of muscles, and all the hazards have increased. That is what you
have to keep in mind."
Bissell's approach can be applied, as well, to any beginner hiker
looking to climb something more manageable, like a 1,000-foot peak.
In Maine, building up to such a goal for a sheer novice is easy. While New Hampshire's Presidential Range gets lots of attention
from backcountry, billy goat types, Maine is home to a hiking
terrain that is varied and perfect for beginner hikers. And much of the terrain is within an hour or two of Portland.
Certainly, everyone wants a clear view, in one way or another,
but those who are new to hiking need to start somewhere. State and protected lands here offer climbs that gradually get
higher. So, start flat, then head for the hills, and go after a 1,000-
footer by summer's end.
Even in built-up southern Maine, there are miles of trails in
land trusts and state parks that offer an easy, enjoyable start to
hiking for any urbanite. Sure, Sebago Lake State Park between Naples and Casco and
Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth come quickly to mind,
but there are many more options.
Within an hour of Portland, there are eight state parks, and a
number of protected lands. These lesser-known parklands are great places to start training
for your first 1,000-footer. Since many mountaineers look for, and forward to, a view, your
first summer hike should reward you with one.