A Cross Country Skiing Trip Through Maine’s Wilderness

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I stood on my skis at the edge of the white expanse and admired the intricate, wind-sculpted snow. Peering more than this virgin canvas on Next Roach Pond in Maine, I could visualize that I was a pioneer leaving very first tracks. But the scent of wooden smoke belied the actuality that creature comforts were near by.

Guiding me, a swish timber-framed construction was perched just uphill from the pond’s edge. This was Medawisla, a state-of-the art, off-the-grid ecolodge in north central Maine, in close proximity to the town of Greenville.

I had come to Maine with my spouse and an additional few to shell out 5 times and 4 evenings cross-region snowboarding through the 100 Mile Wilderness, a region that is home to the last stretch of the 2,184-mile-lengthy Appalachian Path. Just two many years back, this ski excursion would have been inconceivable: A great deal of this “wilderness” was owned by timber businesses and scarred by industrial logging.

In a remarkable switch of occasions, skiing and climbing have mostly changed logging in a freshly safeguarded swath of Maine. In the early 2000s, 6 million acres of forest — much more than a quarter of Maine’s land — was set up for sale by timber firms. The long run of the largest forest ecosystem east of the Mississippi River was in jeopardy. In 2003, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) introduced the Maine Woods Initiative, which will work with area communities to endorse outside recreation, conservation, sustainable forestry and carbon sequestration (product sales of carbon credits are funding added land buys).

They conserved 75,000 acres north and east of Greenville, developed 130 miles of recreation trails and acquired three historic sporting camps: Medawisla, Tiny Lyford and Gorman Chairback. This is component of a broader conservation work that now handles 750,000 acres extending from Greenville to Baxter Condition Park, which is dwelling to Katahdin, Maine’s maximum peak.

This change in the Maine Woods from forest exploitation to recreation has yielded an quick byproduct: a person of the best lodge-to-lodge ski routes in the United States. The route showcases each the previous and long term of Maine, from clear-cuts noticeable on distant hillsides to the vibrant inexperienced of new development, a reassuring indication of nature’s resilience.

“We took industrial timber land and constructed the premier cross-nation ski path network in New England,” said Steve Tatko, the director of Maine Conservation and Land Administration for the AMC.

Medawisla Wilderness Lodge is the grandest of the AMC Maine lodges. The unique hunting lodge was crafted in 1953 and closed in 2012. In 2017, next a $6 million investment, a new ADA-compliant sophisticated opened that contains a solar-driven key lodge, nine cabins and two bunkhouses. The lodge is a showcase for Maine craftsmanship, that includes tables and chairs handmade from curly maple, and figures of loons on the deck that have been carved by a local chain noticed artist. Exterior the eating home windows are expansive views of Next Roach Pond. These keeping at Medawisla, the Wabanaki term for loon, can investigate a 35-mile network of groomed cross-country ski trails.

Within Medawisla’s most important creating I found other friends sitting down in stuffed chairs all around a four-sided stone-and-glass hearth. At a spouse and children-type evening meal of roasted tarragon hen, minestrone and string beans with slivered almonds, I sat subsequent to a lady from Maine who mentioned that she was a seasoned sailor. She casually outlined her cameo in “The Perfect Storm,” the best-selling e book by Sebastian Junger. I scarcely don’t forget lifting my fork to eat as I listened spellbound to her harrowing tale of survival at sea just after her sailboat sank through the epic 1991 nor’easter.

Our vacation took position shortly prior to the commence of the pandemic. This wintertime at the lodges, masks are encouraged indoors (wherever all team are masked), and breakfast and meal can possibly be eaten relatives fashion at the most important eating rooms or taken again to your cabin.

This journey brimmed with guilty pleasures. The initially was traveling in a wild landscape by day and keeping in heat lodges every single night eating delectable food items well prepared for us. An additional was rolling out of our cabin on to a groomed path and having our luggage transported to our future place by snowmobile ($20 for each bag). That intended we could travel fast and light-weight on cross-region skis via this grand landscape carrying only a compact working day pack with food stuff, apparel and further gear.

From Medawisla, we skied up the wide, groomed Lodge-to-Lodge Trail to a scenic higher position. We stopped to choose in the sweeping 360-diploma views of the imposing snow-included tabletop summit of Big Spencer Mountain (3,215 ft) that crowns this landscape.

Immediately after a brief snack we began a very long, wind-in-the-experience descent. I skied driving my buddy John, an airline pilot, who prolonged his arms as if flying, banking close to wide turns as we glided to the valley floor. A smaller signal directed us to a slender path that snaked through the woods right until it abruptly emerged on to the brilliant white expanse of Initial West Department Pond and our future lodge. We have been greeted by a smiling Eric Stirling, the fifth era of his family members to operate West Department Pond Camps, which was created as a sporting camp in 1881 and owned and managed by his relatives considering that 1914.

This is the only privately owned camp on the lodge journey, and it available a welcome contact of area culture and lore. We stayed in rustic, century-outdated log cabins beside the frozen pond. A team of large university college students from Massachusetts frolicked on the pond and sledded by means of the camp, yelping in delight. Their math teacher told me that this wintertime excursion, a 17-12 months tradition, was a significantly beloved respite from the rigors and stresses of superior faculty.

I joined Mr. Stirling, a bearded, congenial man, as he cooked our meal on a wood stove in the dining cabin. Stuffed trophy heads adorned the walls. He pointed exterior to Whitecap Mountain (3,654 ft), which overlooks the camp, and noted that the Appalachian Path crosses its summit. He gave voice to what I felt as I calm from the day’s skiing. “My hope,” he explained to me, “is that skiers take away from listed here a perception of anything that is been unchanged via the generations.”

All around midnight, I bundled up in a puffy down jacket and ventured out onto the pond to expertise some thing that has hardly ever changed out below: darkness. In May well 2021, the Maine Woods location was designated the very first Global Darkish Sky Park in New England by the Worldwide Dark-Sky Association, which combats gentle air pollution and recognizes areas wherever evening time views are guarded. I peered up at a blue-and-black expanse that was studded with what seemed like a million stars.

Dawn was accompanied by a stiff 20-degree breeze. We ongoing our journey 6.5 miles together the meandering snow-covered Pleasurable River to Small Lyford Lodge, which was originally constructed in 1874. Our route crisscrossed myriad animal tracks, such as individuals of moose, mink and otter.

“Moose outnumber folks 3 to 1 here,” said Courtney Turcotte, who oversees all of the lodges for the Maine Woods Initiative. We savored meal at Minor Lyford Lodge beneath a two-tale stone hearth that was adorned with aged trapper’s snowshoes.

Our remaining destination was Gorman Chairback Lodge. We wove our way through tall conifers that shuddered beneath a major mantle of snow. A brief squall whited out the trail. Our household for the evening was a hand-hewed octagonal log cabin on the shore of Extensive Pond. Lore has it that the cabin was crafted by a one particular-armed Civil War veteran and his son. The dim woody interior was lined with outdated textbooks, a passionate retreat in the woods.

On our final early morning, I was once once more perched at the edge of a frozen expanse. A outstanding heat sunlight built the snow sparkle on Long Pond. Devoid of hesitating, I pushed ahead and glided onward into the Maine Woods.

Greenville, Maine, is the jumping off issue for journeys to the AMC Maine Lodges. Lodging and shuttle reservations can be designed with the Appalachian Mountain Club (603-466-2727). The closest airports are in Bangor (90 minutes) and Portland (3 hrs).

Skiers and snowshoers can experience Maine’s wilderness lodges in a wide variety of techniques. Trails are effectively marked so guides are not wanted, even though AMC runs various guided team outings (they fill up speedily). Medawisla and the privately owned West Department Pond Camps are available by motor vehicle (all-wheel drive recommended). Every single has miles of ski trails that you can check out although returning to the exact location. This is the greatest possibility for beginner skiers. One more possibility is to ski lodge-to-lodge between Little Lyford and Gorman Chairback. Both of those lodges are only available by skis or snowshoes and share the exact same winter parking whole lot, so no shuttle is essential. Every of these lodges also has its individual path network. All the lodges have wood-fired saunas.

The supreme experience is a lodge-to-lodge ski traverse to all four wilderness lodges. This 32-mile ski calls for at the very least 4 evenings. You ski on groomed trails between lodges and you ought to do a auto shuttle ($60, arranged when you book your lodging) so that your car is waiting around at your final location. The lodges assortment from $140 to $425 per couple for each evening, including all foods, based on style of accommodations. Canines are also welcome in some cabins if you ski with them, the hut keepers advocate puppy booties to protect their toes on icy trails.

The skiing follows groomed ski trails, so light-weight waxable or waxless cross-nation skis are finest. If conditions are icy, some skiers may possibly like a light-weight metallic-edged ski. Bring a at ease day pack for food, snacks, more clothing, and 1st-aid and repair service gear. You can buy or lease skis and other devices at Northwoods Outfitters in Greenville e-book rentals in progress for active weekends. Complimentary snowshoes are out there to use at the lodges.