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.