Wool and its synthetic substitutes, such as pile, are the preferred materials for inner clothing. "Cotton kills" is the simple motto of most winter mountaineers. While wool wicks moisture away from the body, cotton absorbs it and, thus, feels cold and clammy; wind and wet cotton can quickly lead to hypothermia. Easily removed layers of clothing make it possible to maintain steady body heat in varying degrees of effort and temperatures. Windproof outer clothing, such as a hooded mountain parka and windpants, should be a basic part of everyone's equipment.
Since much of one's heat loss is through the head, warm wool caps or balaclavas are recommended. This headgear should be wearable under a climbing helmet. Face protection against high winds is a necessity above timberline (masks and balaclava are best) and frequently welcome anywhere in the Park. A second pair of sunglasses capable of dealing with bright snow conditions is good insurance.
Wool mittens are warmer than gloves, and windproof shells over these assure added warmth. A spare pair of mittens should be carried in one's day pack. Proper footgear can be of life-and-death importance. Some prefer double boots; some like single boots with insulated gaiters or overboots; while others swear by rubber-soled pacs with felt inner liners. The latter are among the warmest of footgear and well liked by snowshoers and as camp footwear by cross-country skiers. Rubber-soled pacs with felt liners and U.S. surplus moonboots or "mickey-mouse" boots are not rigid enough to be safely fitted with crampons.
ACCEPTABLE BOOTS FOR WINTER TECHNICAL CLIMBING:
1. Rigid soled double climbing boots made of leather or plastic.
2. Pac boots with felt liner and rigid vibram soles.
"Supergaiters" are not an accepted substitute for boots listed above. All boots should be adequately waterproofed and further protected by snowproof gaiters reaching to just below the knee. Remembering that heat comes from the body and not from the footgear, one should allow for plenty of insulation around the foot (at least two pairs of heavy wool socks in mountain boots and cross-country ski boots) and a slightly loose fit so as not to interfere with blood circulation. Spare socks are a must.
Many like to carry a down jacket or parka for use around camp, for emergency bivouacs and to wear in extreme cold. However, since rain is a possibility in Maine at any time of the year, and because wet down offers little in the way of protection, one is better off relying on wool or synthetic pile for all-around use since the latter materials are little affected by water and will help keep one warm even when wet. Supplement these basic suggestions as needed, with a light woolen shirt or sweater, trousers, etc., remembering that the weight and bulk of clothing quickly fill the pack and leave little room for food and essential gear.
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PERSONAL GEAR AND EQUIPMENT
Most of the designated campsites and campgrounds in the Park are a considerable distance from the winter roadhead, with the exception of those in certain parts of the west and northern sections which may be approached by snowmobiles. The more isolated sites require several hours of foot travel under good conditions and more when the weather deteriorates. Because of possible deep snows, all visitors are required to have skis or snowshoes. And since there is always the chance of delay due to injury or weather, it is strongly suggested that all parties, both above and below timberline, carry lightweight two-person bivouac sacks for each two persons in the group.
If a party has more gear than can be carried in a single move by its members, it probably has two much. In paring down one's load, a good rule to follow is to carry nothing which will not be used -- except, of course, first aid kits and repair materials.
Bunkhouses are provided with woodstoves for heating, but no provision is made for cooking or lighting. Firewood is available at most campgrounds; (check to verify before your trip, in the event that we were unable to haul wood to a particular site in any given year) campers will need to bring a saw or ax (per group) to work up firewood. Backpacking stoves with fuel in leakproof containers, plus cooking pots and pans, are the usual choice. The use of portable gas stoves for cooking purposes is only permitted during the winter camping season in bunkhouses and cabins. The use of candles is prohibited in cabins and bunkhouses unless the candles are totally enclosed in candle lanterns. Flashlights, candle lanterns, and headlamps can be used for light, but some veterans of long winter evenings in the bunkhouse opt for one gasoline lantern, figuring the luxury of the brighter light is worth the extra weight and fuel.
A party of climbers is usually happy to have a file, tools for adjusting crampons, a few spare parts, and an extra pair of crampons and a spare ice ax. Alpine skiers will also want to have spare parts on hand. A light-weight day pack for each pair of climbers or skiers may be worth the slight extra weight.
The bunkhouses do not have mattresses so sleeping pads will be needed. A water-resistant sleeping bag cover will also prove useful, both for added warmth and in the event that the bag has to be used outside. Campers staying in cabins at Daicey and Kidney Pond should be every bit as prepared for cold conditions as any other winter campers; these cabins are old and though in good repair, they do not heat up thoroughly or retain heat in cold weather despite the use of woodstoves. Therefore, warm footwear and clothing for in-camp use is a necessity.
Mandatory accessories include a topographic map of the Park, a personal compass (NOTE: Because of ore deposits present, a compass is not always reliable on Mt. Katahdin), suggested accessories include: pocket knife, a chemical heat pack, a pocket hand warmer, and a small roll of electrician's tape.
Some skiers and climbers have found that they can ease the load on the long trip in and out by hauling their packs on small plastic children's toboggans or woods sleds on the road sections. However, bear in mind that crust or ice conditions may make such tows a nuisance.
While the above notes should prove useful in your planning, they are not meant to cover all aspects of your preparation. Each leader is responsible for seeing that his party is properly equipped, sufficiently skilled and made fully aware of the Park rules. Ultimately, each individual is responsible for his or her actions and well being.
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A NOTE ON SEARCH AND RESCUE
One enters a wilderness environment such as Baxter State Park at one's own risk. While fortunately uncommon in occurrence, the possibility of injury or death is always there, and one of a leader's responsibilities is to minimize hazards by good planning and common sense. For instance, parties leaving on day trips should do so at an early enough hour to be back well before dark. Any trip, be it technical climbing, hiking or skiing, should have a "turn-back time" that is honored religiously by all members of the party. Late arrivals may trigger the start of search and rescue operations which are costly in time, effort and danger to those participating.
A rescue effort on the mountains or in more isolated sections of the Park will be hours in coming, at best, and may be delayed far longer by bad weather, nightfall or accidents among the rescuers (they are not immune from trouble despite their training). Thus, a party should be prepared for self-rescue, if possible, and be equipped for an extended stay in the open in any event. This is the reason for requiring a minimum of four persons for all activities and for recommending that each pair of mountain day trippers have a sleeping bag, two-person bivouac sack, extra clothing, and food and water.
Good prior planning and everyday common sense will greatly reduce the inherent dangers one accepts when visiting this remote Park in winter. With these two important considerations guiding your approach, chances are excellent that you will visit Baxter Park in winter safely year after year to enjoy its pleasures and challenges.
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