In today’s post, I chat with Linda Drabova, one of the most intrepid hikers in my Facebook group who constantly amazes us with her adventures in the mountains of New England. Linda has ascended many of the 4000 footers in the northeast, including her favorites Mt. Washington (6,288′) and Mt. Marcy (5,344′). She also recently completed the Presidential Traverse across the White Mountains, traveling over 20 miles and ascending a total of almost 9,000 ft. in winter. But on New Year’s Eve 2019, she outdid herself with a winter climb of Mt. Katahdin in Maine with Acadia Mountain Guides. Climbing Mt. Katahdin involves 4,000 feet of elevation gain and some steep snow climbing. It would be considered difficult even in summer.
Here’s the story in Linda’s own words.
Photos courtesy of Linda Drobova.
How did you get the idea to climb Mt. Katahdin in winter?!
I have climbed it in summer and fell in love with it. And of course next step is to climb it in winter.
How did you train for your climb?
I did fall traverses with up to 8,000 feet of elevation gain, so 4,000 feet was not that much! Although breaking trail and ice-and-rock scrambles [on Katahdin] add to the total effort.
I just continued with climbing in elements and with more load on my back. I also did repeat climbs of 2,000 ft. elevation gain in 2 miles .
I tried to exercise in a gym as well but have found out that 3,000 feet elevation gain on a step master is nothing compared to 3,000 feet elevation gain in terrain with wind and snow!
Can you walk us through your climb? What was each day like?
The climb starts with pulling sleds with gear into a camp. The shortest route to camp is about 5-6 miles. The official climb is the day after.
We stayed overnight in lean-to. We had early dinner and set up everything for an early morning start. We knew it was going to snow, and we put a tarp on the lean-to. Nonetheless, when it started to snow early at night, we felt the snow on our faces while sleeping.
We got up early. It was still snowing, and that was the forecast for most of the climb. So a wet day and lots of trail breaking was in order!
We started later than we wanted by about 45 minutes. We started with headlamps. I don’t remember how long we traveled under the tree line, but we were breaking trail. The guide was first, and all four of us rotated to help trail breaking. The second guide was at the end.
After some time, we came to a steep rock slide [the old Abol Trail] where we switched into crampons (though some people decided not to use crampons). It was mix of deep snow: up to my thighs, rocks, and ice on rocks.
Now we were in the open and felt the wind more, and snow was hitting our faces. It was hard work to get up the slide, but fun! We all loved that struggle. It was a real mountaineering task.
Once over the slide, we felt the full force of the wind, and the guides checked the time. We still had at least half a mile to summit. Since we started late, and conditions were hard, we needed more time. At that time, we had almost reached our turnaround time, and had to make the decision to go back without summiting.
Going down the slide was as hard as going up. We still had to go to camp, pack our gear, and pull the sleds back to our cars. We had to break the trail again going downhill to camp, since wind and snow covered our tracks.
We had quick, hot refreshments in camp, and set quickly out for the last 5 miles with sleds. We finished under headlamps. It was a 12-hour day — hard, but rewarding.
Of course, the day after our climb it was super sunny but very cold!
Did you take any special gear that you recommend (or don’t)?
Typical winter gear, but no harness needed. The easiest route was not that technical, but I did use crampons, snowshoes, and my mountaineering ax. The guides had rope and emergency beacons and other things.
We also needed to use sleds to bring the gear to camp. That was a fun part, like a real expedition!
What did you eat? (People always want to know.)
Oh my god, I worried, because I eat. I mean, I eat!
The guides [Acadia Mountain Guides] brought amazing stuff. We had real food: chicken with rice and sauce, desert, morning oatmeal with berries, coffee, cider, teas… exactly how I would eat. And I could have as much I wanted, even double portions!
Do you need any special skills to climb this mountain in winter? Where did you get those?
We were told that people who come from the West to do this climb really have a hard time with weather. It’s a cold and remote place, and the cold is humid. So it’s really about the weather. Can you withstand at least 40 mph winds?
You need to know which gloves to use when and know how to layer to keep dry and warm. You also have to be effective walking in snowshoes and crampons and be ready to break trail. Then you are prepared. Training in elements is the best. You just get used to it.
What’s next for you?
I would like to do a more technical route, and I am aiming for the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains. But now I just hurt my back, so it’s on hold!
Any other tips for potential climbers?
Train in elements: rain, wind, cold, heat, humidity. Figure out your gear in these conditions, what works and what doesn’t.
Anything else you want us to know?
Katahdin is awesome scramble in summer and the highest peak in Maine.
There you have it, the 411 on climbing Mt. Katahdin in winter.
Have you climbed Mt. Katahdin? Comment below to share your tips.
Originally published April 2, 2019.