On the third day, Bo Willoughby and Tyler Heinrich went for the summit of Mount Katahdin.
“The first two days were terrible,” Willoughby said. “Nobody could summit.”
It was late December, and after two days of brutal cold weather and wind, Willoughby and Heinrich saw their chance to climb. The longtime friends are both registered Maine Guides, and they were in Baxter State Park to gain more knowledge about Katahdin in winter, so they could someday guide trips to Maine’s highest peak (5,269 feet) in similar conditions.
“We always wanted to see what it would be like to take a group up (Katahdin) in winter,” Willoughby, 23, of Winslow, said.
Willoughby has been a Guide since 2009. Heinrich earned his license a year earlier. Both have extensive wilderness experience in all sorts of conditions. It was cold and exhausting, and Willoughby can’t wait to do it again.
Both Willoughby and Heinrich went into the adventure prepared. For a three-day trip, they packed enough food for a week. Willoughby studied wilderness leadership in Alberta, Canada, and has experience hiking the Canadian Rockies, and in Montana, Utah, and New England. Willoughby also is in the Army National Guard, with a mountain division based in Jericho, Vt. Heinrich works in Colorado as a river guide, among other outdoors-related jobs.
They knew what they were doing, and it was still a challenge.
It was a five-mile ski to the campsite. The duo didn’t bring a tent. Instead, they built a quinzee, a shelter made from snow. As temperatures dropped well below zero, inside the quinzee it was around 35 degrees, Willoughby said. Inside their sleeping bags, they were 55 degrees.
The first two days, conditions made it impossible to try to climb Katahdin. Those who made the attempt soon turned back, Willoughby said. On the second day, their stoves froze, complicating things at camp. Willoughby and Heinrich were able to make a fire, but it took four and a half hours to boil and purify five quarts of water. They split one quart to get through the night, then each drank two quarts to get up and down the mountain.
“Down is where the dehydration set in,” Willoughby said.
On the third day of the trip, the weather, while cold, was clear enough to allow Willoughby and Heinrich to try to summit Katahdin. They left their camp at the Abol campsite at 7:20 a.m. The Abol Trail is the most direct route up Katahdin, just two and a half miles up a steep rock slide. Approximately a mile from the peak, the Abol Trail runs into the Hunt Trail. The going on the Abol Trail wasn’t too difficult, Willoughby said.
“There had been a few teams up before, and they had blazed the trail,” Willoughby said. “The last mile, there was no broken trail. We were postholing, going through two or three feet of snow on each step.”
It took an hour to march the final mile of the mountain. Considering the conditions, they were making good time. Willoughby and Heinrich gave themselves a noon deadline to reach the summit. If they didn’t make it by noon, they would turn back. They reached the summit at 11:58 a.m.
With water running low, they quickly descended, reaching camp at 2:30 p.m. After packing for an hour, they skied the five miles back to their truck, reaching it at 5:30.
“We were still hustling,” Willoughby said.
Willoughby said he’s ready to do another multi-day trip to Katahdin in winter. A one day trip could leave no opportunity to climb, he said.
“If it’s not a decent day to climb, it’s not worth it,” Willoughby said. “If everybody is coming down anyway, I’m not going to climb that day. The mountain will always be there.”