Summit of Mt. Katahdin (5,268′), Baxter State Park, Maine. Restrictions for winter backcountry travel have changed as of December 1, making it easier for climbers to make plans and travel safely. [Photo] Jeff Woodward collection
Maine’s Baxter State Park has scaled back rules governing winter climbing and backcountry travel. The changes, announced in November and effective December 1, have done away with minimum group size, changed formerly required equipment to recommended equipment, and lessened the wait time for permits.
Baxter covers more than 200,000 acres and is home to Maine’s highest point, Mt. Katahdin (5,268′). The park is heavily trafficked by hikers and climbers in the summer, but its former regulations for winter travel were notoriously involved. Prior to December 2009, the park required all winter users to obtain a permit two weeks in advance, mandated a minimum group size of four, required an overnight stay at the Roaring Brook Campground regardless of the speed of the party, and required that all users carry equipment including an ax, saw, wind-chill chart and food for two additional days.
Silas Rossi approaches an icy crux on Mt. Katahdin. [Photo] Henry Barber
Jon Tierney, IFMGA-certified guide and owner of Acadia Mountain Guides, said the new rule changes would significantly impact Northeast climbing and climbers. “I don’t know of any other place in North America or Europe that had such requirements,” he said.
The length of technical routes, harsh weather and long approaches found in Baxter State Park are comparable to those in Grand Teton and Rocky Mountain National Parks–more serious than elsewhere in the East. Winter forays in the park, especially on Katahdin, are serious undertakings.
But Tierney believes the rule changes will increase the safety of climbers in Baxter. “A lot of the old rules came from a feeling that the park couldn’t always take care of people, so people needed to take care of themselves,” he said. “The group size of four was viewed as better for rescues, if something went wrong. However, it resulted in unbalanced teams. Often one or two inexperienced, or non climbers would be invited along just to meet the minimum. Now climbers can travel in more comfortable teams. The waiting time for permits is also a big improvement. Before [when it took two weeks to get a permit] people would go in regardless of weather, because they had a permit for that weekend.”
A change in Park administrators is a likely cause for the sudden regulation changes. Chief Park Ranger Ben Woodward told Alpinist that the rules were intended to make the park more user-friendly. “When I was hired as Chief Ranger in 2009, I spent the winter observing park users,” he said. “And at our annual review of the park rules and regulations, we looked at what we could enforce, should enforce, and what other parks in the area and around the nation do.”
The new Winter Solo Camping and Climbing permit should please many climbers and other backcountry travelers. However, climbers should note that the regulations also explicitly restrict free soloing on technical terrain during the winter.
“The climbing of technical routes ropeless is not allowed,” Woodward said. “However, a single climber may climb with a rope and means of protection. It may not be the norm in the climbing community, but it is what the Park will allow.” Chief Ranger Woodard encourages anyone with questions contact the Park at 207-723-9616, or online at baxterstateparkauthority.com.
To read more about the new regulations and to see a complete list of winter visitor policies and procedures for Baxter State Park, visit baxterstateparkauthority.com.
Climbers scale Katahdin in winter. [Photo] Jeff Woodward collection