October 28, 2012

Caution recommended for Katahdin hikers

The transition from summer to winter can be a hazardous time in the alpine zones of Katahdin.  The weather can change quickly and with ferocity from quiet calm fall air to winter conditions with snow, sleet, freezing rain and high winds.  In 1963, Katahdin hiker Irene Ivusic and Park Ranger Ralph Heath lost their lives on Katahdin in an unpredicted and severe snowstorm on October 29.

During this time of year, we recommend all hikers be prepared for winter conditions, determine and stick to a turn-around time and be prepared for self-rescue as response times for Ranger rescue may be 12 hours or more.

October 17, 2012

All Park Trails Now Open. Hikers climbing above treeline are advised to be prepared for winter conditions including snow, ice and below freezing temps. Rescue or assistance may be more that 24 hours.

During the transition time between summer and fall, hiking in the Park can be both beautiful and risky.  Hikers should be fully equipped for winter conditions as weather is very changeable and higher elevation areas in the Park can quickly change from sunny and comfortable to sleet, snow, freezing rain and high winds.  Hikers should be prepared for winter conditions and as always, hikers should set a turn around time at the trail head, and remember that the true destination for any hike is a safe return to the campsite or car in the parking lot. The Park is primarily a wilderness and hikers should be properly equipped for a wilderness environmenr and be prepared to self-rescue in the case of incidents or mishaps. 
A cell phone is a great piece of emergency equipment, but in most of the Park terrain, there is no tower coverage and cell phones will not work.  If your cell phone is turned on while in the Park, it will use its power reserves searching in vain for a tower and when you really need it, it will be drained of power and dead.  Our best recommendation is to turn your cell phone off in the wilderness of the Park and stow it safely in your pack so that it is charged and available in the case of an emergency above treeline when you really need it.  There is no guarantee that your cell phone will find a tower, even above treeline, but if it does and you need our help, a cell phone can save hours by telling us where you are and what you need.

October 15, 2012

Winter conditions close Katahdin Trails

Recent snow events, capped with a snow event on the morning of Sunday, October 14, led us to close all Katahdin Trails except Chimney Pond.
Trail closures are driven first by our primary mandate of Resource Protection and secondarily by concerns for public safety.

Below freezing night-time temperatures began to freeze the upper layers of alpine soils last week.  Heavy snow on top of this frozen soil begins to thaw the soil and leaves the soil and any associated plant life at greater risk of damage from the treading of hikers boots.  Wet trail conditions on these trails motivate hikers to step off the trail onto adjacent vegetation to avoid the wet areas.  In alpine zones, this action, when the plants and soils are most vulnerable, can lead to plant mortality and widened trails.  This is the primary concern in closing Katahdin trails.  It's also the primary concern in the decision to open Katahdin trails in the springtime.
Our second concern is the realization that many, and perhaps most, of our hiking visitors do not realize just how wintry the conditions can become above treeline on Katahdin in October.  From footwear, to clothing, to hiking technique, they are unprepared.  When conditions on Katahdin become sharply more wintry than conditions at the trailhead we begin to consider public safety issues.  As you can see from the photos, this is not suitable terrain for hiking in wool socks and sandals.
We will continue to advise hikers that that they are responsible for their own safety and survival, and we will continue to provide information  regarding likely conditions and what hikers should consider regarding appropriate footwear, clothing, emergency gear, turn-around times and good decision making. 
Warmer weather should allow us to re-open Katahdin Trails by Tuesday, October 16.  Good judgment and preparation, always a necessity in climbing Maine's highest mountain, will be even more important as winter starts making visits in October.