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Mountain climbing in America: Our top 3 peaks

This photo, taken at Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in Bar Harbor, Maine, is one of my life’s most significant pictures, because it captures the last moments in which I was not yet an outdoor enthusiast, but luckily on the verge of becoming one. There I am in my “mobile living room,” packing snacks for my first hike with my boyfriend Shane. We had just started a post-college road trip that would last 256 days. That afternoon Shane graciously led me to the top of several small peaks in the park.  Looking down from the top of Acadia’s “Precipice,” I felt inspired to make up for lost time and decided to start conquering some more mountains in America.

Here are 3 of my favorite mountain climbs I undertook during “Mountain Climbing 101 by Shane”.  The climb on all three is accomplish-able in less than a day, or even in an afternoon if you’re quick. I’ve chosen these three mountain climbs because they are easily accessible by car and even have parking. In other words, these are “get up and go” mountains. You wake up in the morning, get in the car, and you’ll be hiking and climbing in no time.

Mount Katahdin

Enjoying the viewAfter we were satiisfied with our exploration of Acadia National Park, we drove to Belfast, Maine, to visit some friends. There, as I carried on for several days about my newfound fascination with mountain climbing, our local Maine friends agreed that there were indeed some nice hikes in Acadia, but insisted that if I wanted to see a “real mountain,” we should drive a few hours north to Mt. Katahdin. An outdoor newbie, I of course had never heard of the name of this mountain, although it is beloved amongst American mountain enthusiasts. It is in the middle of Maine in Baxter State Park and is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Shane, our friend Lucretia, and I started at 7 am, took the trail to Chimney Pond, then switched to the Cathedral trail and made it to the 5,268-foot summit by lunchtime. Taking a break at the summit of my first real mountain, I realized I had just become a member of the mountaineering community.

Katahdin's summitWhile talking to the twenty or so other people having lunch at the top, Shane and I were the only people to be summiting the mountain for the first time. All the others, our friend from Maine included, explained to us that climbing Katahdin is a family tradition for many up in Maine. Our descent actually took longer than our ascent (it was dark by the time we got back to the car), because we opted to take the rigorous “Knife’s Edge” trail on the way down. There are other quicker options down, but we wanted to experience the thrill of teetering on the world’s edge.

If I thought I was hooked on mountains in Acadia National Park, I was really hooked now– I found out that hiking up mountains can be a social sport, offers the best views I have ever seen in my life to date, and is a test of one’s mental and physical abilities to keep striving towards the top. For more information about Mount Katahdin, including a topographical map showing various trails check out this website.

Mount Washington

Hiking along a misty valley on Mt. WashingtonAs we headed west into New Hampshire, we were amongst the “Presidentials,” that is, those highest peaks of the White Mountains with names like Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. We wanted to tackle Washington, as it is the highest point in New Hampshire, and if you ever have the opportunity to climb this peak, don’t be tempted to take the train up, as it is more rewarding to hoof your way up there and be rewarded firsthand with views of the mountain’s misty valleys; however, you might want to treat yourself to lunch at the restaurant on top of the mountain. I actually bought myself a coke from the gift shop at the mountain’s summit. It is a luxury I have not experienced on any other mountain hike, but the famous summit of Mount Washington is always potentially bustling, and it was nice to have real bathrooms at the top as well.

The weather was capricious (we were there the first week in September), so make sure you bring different kinds of layers. This makes sense after we thought about it, because the fastest wind ever recorded at the Earth’s surface was noted here (231 mph). For more information visit the Mount Washington Observatory’s website. Though the 6,288-foot summit is not numerically intimidating, there are various tales of people having gone missing there in the winter snows. In other words, hike it on a nice day.

Mount Thielsen

View of Mt. Thielsen from the trailAlthough we climbed other US mountains along the way, I’d like to showcase our experience on Mt. Thielsen on the west coast of the country. Known to Oregonians as the “Lightning Rod of the Cascades,” Mt. Thielsen pokes into the clouds at 9,184 feet. It is my most rewarding hike to date, not only thanks to the impressive view of Diamond Lake from the top, but also because it was the most technically demanding of my mountain climbing experiences. I would not recommend Mt. Thielsen to those with a fear of heights, because the hour-long approach to the summit takes place on completely exposed rock. This site talks about this as well.

This exposure can be frightening for some people and exciting for others. For me, I’d say my experience fell exactly in between! Of all the hikes I have done, this mountain required the greatest amount of determination and courage on my part to get myself through some of the various areas on the approach to the top that looked sort of “iffy” to me.

While Mt. Katahdin in Maine contains a portion of bouldering on the Cathedral trail that can be bypassed if one chooses another trail, I must emphasize that Mt. Thielsen requires real bouldering skills towards the top, and so it is not a mere hike. Well, for Shane it was a mere hike. He happily munched on pretzels for twenty minutes, taking in the view of the lake from the summit, while I scrambled over the last few ledges. We made the round trip in approximately three hours. We moved along at a quick pace, so you could plan on spending more time than that. You might be absolutely exhausted after climbing Mt. Thielsen, and you are in the right area to be looking for relaxation. You can drive less than ten minutes to Diamond Lake to have dinner and enjoy the view, you can take pictures at the numerous waterfalls along route 138, or you can drive about twenty minutes and go for a swim at Crater Lake National Park.

The best exercise is outdoors

View of Diamond Lake from Mt. ThielsenThanks to having Shane as an inspiring mountain climber role model and these several character- and fitness-building experiences up on the peaks, I have decided to include this activity in the rest of my life’s outdoor plans. I have recommended mountain and trail hiking to friends who are bored with current exercise regimens and want to begin experiencing the outdoors. I also like to encourage others by highlighting that you do not need to be a professional athlete to get started. Climbing a mountain is something that can be done at your own pace and you don’t need to reach the summit in just one day.The important thing is to make the decision to start.

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