Happy Feat

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 mountain.

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.

Easy Start

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.

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