Wednesday, March 23

Part II: Busting Out the Southbound Trail …

OK, I dropped the ball on this one. Should have finished last week but between training, work and traveling to New Bedford for a race, I just plain ran out of time…. Sorry about that.

Day 4

Start/end/time 7:50 – 2:35 6:45
Distance/ascent/pace 8.1 +647/-495 1.2 mph

Day 4 was the shortest mileage wise but took us the longest to complete. The trail was unbroken and had 8” to 10” of new snow from the storm the day before.  Air temp near 0 degrees. We got going fairly early anticipating a long day.

The first section was relatively flat but the drifts and hommocks were a pain.  Too steep for wax, and the trail too narrow to herring bone. At Wassataquoik Stream the sky showed signs of clearing.  We crossed at the normal summer crossing it looked solid. Jim was our probe and seemed to have no issues… I started to follow and about half way across, Jim says “Wait, I need to get a picture” and so I start to shuffle backwards for a pose. Suddenly, I realize my tracks are wet. I wasn’t worried about breaking thru, but icing my skis. As quick as I could I make for dry snow and higher ground – too late. Ice had already built up on my skis. Had to take them off and scrape the crust.

The middle section may be the toughest of the day. Not too much elevation gained but lots of water crossings with alders, and boulders, gullies, hommocks and steeps banks…. I stopped to wax - putting blue from tip to tail in an attempt to get some traction.  At no point can you get any gliding in, nor linked strides.  The only time I was sliding was backwards.  We begin to think about our shadow party and how sucky it will be for them and their sleds full of gear… The gullies and drifts were steep, the snow deep.  Even though Bart broke trail most of the way, I floundered a lot, falling repeatedly.  It was tiring to say the least.  Sometimes the only

reason I was able to make progress was due to brut force poling.

Eventually we get to the final section – traveling cross slope thru mostly open hardwoods, in and out of 20’ deep gullies every 200 to 300 yards. There were literally dozens of streams draining down from Turner Mt to our East. Each leaving another gully to clamber through.  I took my skis off 3 times to navigate the gullies - they were that tough - skins and BC skis would have helped a lot.

The high point of the day was at Whidden Pond – spectacular views of Hamlin, Baxter, and Pamola Peaks.  Sandy Stream Pond was awesome too.  From there on was no big deal, although there were a few sections where spruce and fir were laiden with snow that would dump its load in you face and neck as you try to pass by…brrrrr.

The cabin was empty on arrival and the ranger said no others would be coming in. Nice! Plenty of space for all our gear to dry. Outside a Pine Martin was scavenging something near the porch. Was fun to watch him….

Part III Heading for home….

Day 5

Start/end/time 7:15 – 11:05 3:50
Distance/ascent/pace 12.9 +455/-1337 3.4 mph

All were up early and eager to go. Conditions were excellent and looked like a good day. A sign in the cabin explained it was a 10 hour day to get to Abol Bridge from Roaring Brook. Took us less than 4 hours. Because of the groomed road, good snow, and my skinny skiis. Jim and Bart pulled the rear all day. Breaking trail or going uphill they would leave me in the dust, but on a trail like this, they didn’t have a chance against my long skinny skis.

Out standing trip. I would do it again. The big thing is – as always – conditions. The following weekend there was rain, several inches then snow, like 18”!! Had we gone that weekend it would have been unbelievably miserable. We were lucky.

Monday, March 14

Part II: The Trail South…

Day 3Start/end/time    8:15 – 12:10   3:55
Distance/ascent/pace 9.4      +789/-440   2.4 mph

Yesterday the Rangers told us the forecast was for 6” to 8” of new snow on a southerly wind.  We figured the earlier we got going the better off we would be.  We knew the trail would be generally good as the Rangers routinely run their sled and big tote down as far as Russell Pond to keep it open.

I woke at 6 AM sore and stiff from 2 days of hard skiing.  Breakfast was oatmeal and tea, fast and easy.  Air temp at 14* with new snow falling already.  Waxed up and extended kick zone with Green then added Blue underfoot for stickiness on the steeper pitches.  Outside the moose was still about, but had finished the first R. Pine and had move to start the second.  We had to take some obligatory moose photos before starting out.  We were heading out across the lake at 8AM.

Wind driven snow was in our face as we crossed to the south end.  Not bad at first, light snow and maybe 20+ mph headwind.  By the time we entered Upper South Branch Pond the snow was coming harder and the wind increased to up over 30 mph.  Strong enough to stop my dead in my tracks several times but still tolerable.   By Pogey Pond the snow was going sideways and the wind was gusting to 40 mph.  We had whiteout conditions the entire crossing with visibility less than 100 yards. 

From Pogey Pond the trail climbs rather steeply for 1.5 miles.  On two of the steepest pitches, I pulled my skis and walked.  It was just too much work to try and muscle my way up.  Jim and Bart had no problems with their waxless BC skis – I was very envious to say the least.

We made Russell Pond before noon and because the conditions had deteriorated further, Jim suggested we fill all our water jugs now and save another trip.  Very smart move.  With 12 liters in hand we struck off for the final crossing.  By this point the sustained winds were over 30 mph and most gusts were near 50.

  Half way across a particularly strong gust knocked me flat – one instant I’m struggling to make progress and the BAM!  I’m in the snow.  Looking back I see Bart had been flattened too.  Several more rogue gusts tried to do the same but I was more prepared. 

Once in the cabin we got a fire going and began drying all our gear.  As we busied ourselves with warm food, fire and dry clothes our attention kept going back to the other party (the one’s with the sleds).  We knew from the conditions it was going to be hard for them.  There was over 8” new snow by the time we arrived, meaning the later in the day they traveled, the more snow they had to deal with – not to mention the wind.  Eventually they arrived.  Took them over 7 hours to cover what we did in under 4.  Glad we didn’t bring sleds!

Tuesday, March 8

Part I, Day 2 – The Tote Road North…

Day 2
Start/end/time    7:55 – 3:45 7:05 (+:30 waiting for food drop)
Distance/ascent/pace 20.1  +1031/-1137 2.6 mph
Food & water   2L; 2 millennium & mainstay; Spanish rice (nasty!)

A cold start to a long day started with a double breakfast for me.  Oatmeal and eggs washed down with 3 cups of tea to round out a 600 calorie jumpstart.  I had pre-waxed my skis after dinner and cake with special green expecting temps around zero.   The actual air temp was -10* with a light breeze from the NW. 

I was smarter today with my hydration – bite valve tucked in my shirt and back drain the tube after each drink eliminated all icing issues.  Trail conditions were good, well for a snowmobile trail.  Typical of sled-heads, the first 2 or 3 ride straight down the trail and leave a nice ski surface…. Except the guy in the back is bored and slaloms back and forth for miles and miles… to make it worse, he has these super deep grooves in his front skis that are impossible to deal with on XC’s…. You either follow his track back and forth or look for untracked snow and break you own trail…. I did that for 2 miles just for a break.

Pace was moderate and steady.   We had a lot of miles to cover.   Breaks were short, usually less than 5 minutes.  The first part of the day was generally flat to uphill so I spent most of the time in the rear.  It is really hard to keep up with foresters who spend their days snowshoeing up and down hills and I sit behind a desk …. Eventually we got to the height of land – after a few really long uphill grinds.  Now is were my skinny skis shine!  Downhill baby! Yee Ha! 

One of the new things I tried this trip was different energy bars from Emergency Essentials.  One kind were called Millennium, a 400 calorie bar in cherry, orange and blueberry flavors.  Texture is like cross between a hard candy and graham cracker.  Taste OK, not great but certainly tolerable.  The other bar – Mainstay – those were awesome!  They had a softer texture and a nice butter cookie taste.  Mainstay come as 3 bars in s single foil package.  Each 400 calorie bar is only 2”x2”.  Takes no time at all to finish – good for fast calories on short breaks.

About midway thru the morning the grade increased.  There were several long steady climbs, one forced me to clip out and carry my skis.  At the top I took a moment to put on a long patch of blue wax – I really needed something sticky – blue did the trick.  The rest of the climbs were more manageable (read not all arms).  Eventually we got to the height of land and were treated to a couple of mile + long  screaming descents along with another 6 miles of fast and easy downhill striding.  

Within a few miles of Trout Brook Crossing, we could see the Traveler range to the ESE.  It gave a good perspective of were the bridge was and hopefully our food drop.  I felt like a horse smelling hay and just kept pressing…. Bart and Jim were close behind but I didn’t want to stop.  I was in the zone and was determined to make the crossing by 2PM @ 3 mph for 18 miles.   We did it.  Every one arrived at the bridge in just about 6 hours.  The sky was a deep azure blue, the air had warmed to the upper teens and no wind.  What an absolutely beautiful day!

Downstream view of Trout Brook

So, where was the food drop?  We looked about but no sign….. uggg!  We had to wait… and wait….and wait some more.  Eventually Andy’s sled could be heard in the distance.  Not too late ~ about 45 minutes…. Not to bad.  We divvy up the rations and head the last 2 miles to South Branch pond.

When we get there, 3 Rangers are hanging out talking about a moose.  They say it’s been hanging
around camp for 3 weeks.  That’s when I see him(her) – standing right in front of the cabin!  We actually had to walk around him to get in or out of the cabin – but the poor guy never moved.  Seemed to be suffering and not willing to use any energy to do anything.  He just stood there – munching on the few branches the little red pine had left. 

We were sharing the cabin with 3 others.  Their plan was to follow us to Russell in the morning and share the cabin there too.  Big difference was they had 2 sleds plus their backpacks.  We only had backpacks.  Jim and I knew they were in for a big surprise on the trail to Roaring Brook. 

Forecast for tomorrow had been for rain and sleet but the Rangers said it changed to 6” snow with strong gusty wind… We’d be smart to get an early start.

Sunset on North Traveler from  South Branch Pond

Saturday, March 5

Part I, Day 1 – The Tote Road North…

Start/end/time       9:15 – 3:30;  6:20
Distance/ascent/pace 15.7;  +1168/-543;  2.5 mph
Food & water   2.5 L; mainstay & millennium bars; turkey tetrazzini (2,500 cal)

Starting 2 weeks before the trip I was collecting everything I could think of that I might want to bring so that I didn’t forget anything important.  Then during the last week, I went thru the piles of stuff and eliminated at least half of what I started with.  In the end, I had pared it down to a manageable 28 lbs – not including water and a few incidentals.  With 3 liters of water on ‘go’ day the pack weighed in at 36 lbs.  A very manageable weight for me.
I got to the Abol Bridge parking area by 9AM but Jim and Bart were already there.  A few smart-aleck jokes later we were on our way.  Air temp about 12*, NW wind at 15+ under a clear blue sky.  I had some trepidation about the Friday snowfall, expecting 12” to 17” in the Park that would really make Day 1 a long, tough slog.  Fortunately the new snow was more like 4” – enough to cover the crusty stuff and make skiing really nice.

Stump Pond, looking north to Doubletop
The breezy day with moderate temps made moisture management a non-issue, although my hydration tube and bite valve froze up after 2 hours.  Made me dig into my pack for the spare bottle….. Using a hydration bladder in winter was new to me.  I did have an insulated sleeve but didn’t realize the bite valve would ice up so quick.  I was able to free it twice by warming it in my mouth.  But the wind chill on the tube – thru the insulation was too much and that froze solid.  I learned that I need to blow air in to back drain the tube after each drink and keep the valve in my shirt.

Doubletop Mt
All of Day 1 was on the Tote Road following snowmobile tracks.  Not the best conditions but far from bad.  Only in a few places were there any drifts to speak of.   I was on waxable skis (Fischer SC – not a back country ski at all).  Jim and Bart had short, wide BC skis with scales.  As expected they could out pace me on the uphills but had to step aside on the down’s or they’d get run over – by me!  Special Green was the wax of the day and worked very well all day.  Sun was nice but ineffective at warming the day.  Lots of photo-ops along the way.  

Near Martson Trail
Towards the end I was feeling my feet – I was getting a hot spot but didn’t want to stop.  I was pretty sure there was no blister and found out later I was right.  Air temp was definitely dipping as we pulled in to Nesowadnahunk and Camp Cozy.   Water and firewood were quick and easy.  Not sure where Mandy got water but the spring was very clean looking to us.   We had a 4 liter Platypus gravity filtration system and an 8 liter collapsible bag of Jim’s, making dinner and breakfast water a single fill event. 

Old guy gets a cake!

At dinner I jokingly asked Jim if he brought me a Birthday Cake…. He says, “Yes”…. But I thought he was joking.  An hour or so later – after dinner,  I see him pull something from his pack…. Surprise! A mini chocolate cake!! I was stunned to say the least.  Didn’t take long for the 3 of us to devour it all – yummy! 

Looking ahead we decided we should be on the road early – tomorrow was going to be a very long day – 19+ miles in all.  Wakeup was for 6, and we needed to start by 8.  So naturally bedtime was early too, like 8PM.  No complaints here.

Day 1 profile - Abol Bridge to Cozy Cabin at Nesowadnahunk

Part 1, Day 2 coming tomorrow afternoon....

Grand Tour of Baxter State Park

Well I'm back and it was a great trip.  We skied carrying full packs a total of 28 hours, covered 66 miles, including 4100' of ascent in 5 days. 

The crew from right to left:  Jim O'Malley, Bart Plourde & me
 A full trip report is in progress and Part I should be posted this evening after my 18+ mile long run. 

Stay tuned!