After not reaching the summit, I understood that I had one year to help my younger son gain more control over his fear of heights. Having also been afraid of heights as a child, I well understood his trepidation. I also understood that in order for him to conquer his fears, he would need to hike in progressively more challenging situations so that he was capable of seeing heights as a calculated risk. Meaning that in life there are thousands of things that can potentially kill you everyday . . . car crashes, ticks, crossing the road, riding a bike but it is unhealthy to live in a constant state of fear of what “could” be. Instead by managing and rationalizing your fears you can learn to overcome them. Except fear of spiders, of course, nothing can help with that.
Progressive Hike 1: Ragged Mountain (1,300 ft.)
Maine has some truly great hikes for beginners, looking to train for bigger mountains. One of my favorites is Ragged Mountain which is accessible through the Camden Snowbowl, small community-owned ski area in Camden. The two primary trailheads are on the right side of the A-frame lodge, and at the pond end of the main parking lot, beyond the double chairlift. There is also a set of kiosks with information and maps available near the boat launch, just before entering the main parking lot. The Ragged Mountain trails have no real “height” exposure, only the summit has a steep edge where hikers should exhibit caution.
Progressive Hike 2: French Mountain (716 ft.)
A short climb leads hikers up French Mountain which provides gorgeous, expansive view over small Whittier Pond. The trailhead is off Watson Pond Road, which leaves from the west side of ME Route 27 about a mile north of the intersection of ME Routes 27 and 225 in Rome. Continue down Watson Pond road 0.7 miles from ME route 27 and look for a paved pullout for parking on the eastern (left) side of the road.
Progressive Hike 3: Mt. Phillip (755 ft.)
The Mount Phillip Trail is a loop trail. The trail, marked with blue blazes, leaves from the northeast corner of the parking lot heading east and in less than 0.1 miles splits. Bear right to follow the trail counterclockwise. The trail passes through a grove of tall mature pines then heads northwest gently climbing upward through a mixed forest of hardwoods and evergreens. It continues up to a rocky ledge on Mount Phillip’s eastern side at 0.6 miles and crosses the ledge westward to a rocky, partial summit clearing (755'). After enjoying views of Great Pond to the south and the Kennebec Highlands to the west, continue the loop trail by descending to the west, then turning in a southerly direction and dropping down into a stand of mature hemlock and back to the junction and parking lot. The trailhead and parking lot for the trail are located on the north side of Route 225, directly across from Starbird Lane, 1.5 miles east of the Rome Corner (the junction of Routes 27 and 225).
Three Mountain Overview
All three mountains each have cliffs and overlooks that could be potentially dangerous if conditions were slippery or a hiker was not attentive to their footing. These areas were mostly located on the mountain summits and overlooks. A hiker, like my son, was able to only get as close to the edge as he felt comfortable and so was able to see drops and hazards without having to be immersed in them like during our 2018 Katahdin hike. We spent a good part of the spring and early summer hiking and by August I felt my younger son was ready for his second Katahdin attempt.
A Better Plan for Katahdin Success
In 2018 my younger so had attempted the Hunt trail, which I would classify as “airy”. In several spots, a single misstep would leave a hiker severely injured or dead. Knowing that my younger son had not yet completely overcome his fear of heights, in 2019 we decided to hike the Saddle Trail to the summit. Additionally to get a super early start, we also reserved a spot at Roaring Brook. I have to admit the training and planning worked out perfect and by 10:00 AM (about 5.5 hours of hiking) the four of us, my brother, his daughter and my two sons were at the summit of Katahdin. Only at one spot on the Saddle trail, did I see that my youngest son was getting “sketched” but a quick pep talk got his head back in the game and he never had any other problems. We ended the hike back at Roaring Brook campground at about 2:30 PM a total of about 11 miles which we covered in 10 hours. I have hiked Mt. Katahdin, in every season, via every trail and touched the summit over 30 times. During all those hikes, I have on many occasions seen adults not perform as well as my 11 and 13 year old sons and my 12 year old niece. Upon settling into our campsite, my brother and I collapsed into our zero G lounge chairs and watched the kid play tag, hide and seek and swim in the stream until it was time for bed. To be that young again and have just an ounce of that vigor!