I climbed a mountain last weekend. And so did my fetus. We had a jolly good time.
Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine and the final ascent of the Appalachian Trail. It’s actually a climb I’ve had my eyes on for a few years, since my sister was in school in Lewiston, ME. I knew it was a challenging climb then and thought it would be a fun activity for a visit. We never got around to it. I blame beer.
Well, now several years later, it took Rick’s mom finishing her 10-year journey to section hike the AT to get me out there, 5.5 months pregnant, climbing massive boulders with re-bar holds in a thick fog, hoping to make it to the summit. I was nervous about it, really unsure exactly what was in store and whether my changing body would be up for the challenge. In the last couple weeks I have “popped” as they say, and I have a belly now to match the early growth I felt (and saw) in my boobs, butt, and thighs. I am becoming a curvy woman! I wasn’t sure my new curves, looser joints, and unpredictable balance would be up for the challenge, but they were and I’m glad we got out there to join her in crossing this major accomplishment off her bucket list!
I must say that climbing Katahdin isn’t easy. Rick and I were both sore the next day. It’s a day hike, but it pretty much goes straight up for 5 miles and then straight back down. The trail is very rocky, and probably at least 40%-50% of the time we were “hiking” we were actually climbing hand over foot to make our way up and around VERY large boulders. It’s actually the kind of hiking I love most. The challenge of having to piece together a route helps to distract me from the hiking – which was especially valuable now because I am getting to the stage of pregnancy where my feet and back get sore and my legs swell. (Yes, pregnancy is lovely isn’t it?) They say to plan for 10 hours to hike Katahdin, and we were right on the mark – of course our party consisted of a 63 year old woman, a pregnant woman, and a guy wearing flip flops so we certainly weren’t about to set any speed records. It was a long day of hiking and by the time we made it back to the bottom, my legs looked like sausages from swelling. After settling into a bit more of a sedentary existence post-half marathon, a 10 hour day of hiking was a BIG day for me.
All in all, the hike was a really good one. Rick had suggested I think of it like I would a 14er here in Colorado (because I was getting nervous about the difficulty and starting to wonder about bail-out plans if something went awry for me), but it felt a bit harder than the 14ers I’ve done. There were some very technical sections that rival some of the harder 14ers in Colorado, and certainly were more technical than any climbs I’ve done here – though comparable to some I’ve done in Utah. I googled (many times over) “hike Katahdin pregnant” to see if I could find any accounts of it being done to get a feel for whether I was being stupid. So, I am writing this blog with the hope that I can provide some insight for other pregnant ladies who might be considering giving it a shot.
There are some major points worth mentioning about hiking Katahdin pregnant. First off, let me get my caveats out of the way. I am starting from a healthy baseline of being active, and hiking, running, and doing other forms of exercise regularly. I have had no complications or reasons for concern in my pregnancy. Secondly, I am just over the halfway point of my pregnancy and am not HUGE yet, though I definitely have a belly to work around. Third, as with any break from normal activity, it’s probably a good idea to run your plans by your doctor. I did and she said that I should go for it – there would be no better time than now!
So with that said, my major thoughts on hiking Katahdin while pregnant are related to the weather conditions, equipment, and flexibility.
1) Check the weather – Avoid wet conditions
Katahdin is all rocks, many of which are covered in lichen and can be slippery. A fall on rocks anywhere is bad when you’re pregnant. A fall on Katahdin with very limited rescue access could be a disaster. It is VERY important to check the weather forecast before you go – so check the weather with rangers and on your own on your phone before you go. Conditions can change quickly, but you can prepare yourself for most things if you do a little research ahead of time. A bit of moisture adds an element of challenge – fog and drizzle are often unavoidable on a stand-alone peak so be prepared for it. But, as a pregnant woman I would not hike Katahdin in rain. Avoid it if possible, and if you get caught in the rain due to changing weather, take things as slowly as possible up there. Peak-bagging is not worth the risk of hurting yourself or baby.
2) Trust Your Equipment – Wear good shoes!
Make sure you have a pair of boots or shoes that you know will provide you with good traction and ankle support for this hike. For me, a major help was wearing my heavy-duty hiking boots. I thought about wearing some trail running shoes, but now that my body weight is distributed in ways I’m not accustomed to, I often feel a bit unstable when I am out hiking. My hiking books have a Vibram sole that rarely slips and helps me feel confident in my footing, even in slightly wet conditions like I experienced. Plus, ankle support is a must on uneven surfaces with loosening joints.
3) Be prepared for some climbing – Ditch the pack if you can
If you think Katahdin is a “hike” you better think again. In many places it’s a scramble over Volkswagon (or larger)-sized boulders. In some places the trail is helped by the inclusion of small pieces of re-bar, just where a hand or foothold is lacking. So, it’s not a walk in the park and there are plenty of places where you will have to climb and still find ways accommodate your belly. One thing I did (or was forced into, but appreciated later) was ditch my pack. I love wearing a backpack, and feel very comfortable with it, but my husband told me that there was no way he was going to let me wear one. I thought about fighting him on it, but decided if he wanted to carry the 4 Nalgenes I packed to avoid dehydration, I wouldn’t argue with him. I don’t regret that. You’re carrying enough extra cargo. If you can skip the pack, do it.
4) Trekking Poles – Your new best friend
I never hike with trekking poles. But, as I began to plan for this hike I talked to some friends who had through-hiked the AT and got their impressions of Katahdin and what I could do to accommodate my condition. Trekking poles was one suggestion that I do not regret listening to! They saved me many awkward bends to balance myself, because they allowed me to stabilize myself while remaining relatively upright.
One thing, however, is that when you get to the (long) section of climbing over boulders the poles can be a bit annoying to carry along with you. You will have to do a lot of squatting and bending and throwing a leg or a hip up to get some leverage as you climb over boulders. This is when you can be glad for a little extra flexibility (Thanks, Relaxin!), and enjoy it. But, be aware, the trekking poles can become an annoyance at best, and a liability at worst, depending on how you use them in this section of the climb. In the balance, my feeling is that they did me a lot of good and I’d recommend bringing some along, but just be careful with them.
5) Be realistic – Have a bailout plan
Some real limits exist during pregnancy. Your joints aren’t as stable, and you may suffer from more fatigue than normal! That’s OK! If you don’t feel comfortable and confident in yourself as you hike Katahdin, remember that you can always stop. There are other days and opportunities to climb. Consider having a few check in points with your hiking crew along the way to assess how you and others feel, and truly be honest about whether you have it in you to do a long, strenuous, and technical hike. There’s no shame in saying that today isn’t your day. You might be preventing a much more serious situation!
6) Hike with others
Always a good idea – an even better idea at this point in your life! If there is any kind of emergency, you will want to be with people who can help. Hike with a group!
And with that, I think I have exhausted my tips on hiking Katahdin (or any challenging climb) while pregnant. The major plusses are a huge feeling of accomplishment, and the knowledge that some day you’ll be telling your kid that he or she already did X, Y, or Z in utero! In our case, Baby Frankie got to accompany Grandma L while she finished hiking the AT. Not bad for a baby! :)