A cross-country ski trip through the Maine wilderness | Top stories

A cross-country ski trip through the Maine wilderness

| Today Headlines | Today Headlines

I stood on my skis at the edge of the white expanse and admired the intricate snow carved by the wind. Looking at this blank canvas on Second Roach Pond in Maine, I could imagine that I was a pioneer leaving the first traces. But the smell of wood smoke belied the fact that creature comfort was nearby.

Behind me, a graceful half-timbered structure perched just upstream from the edge of the pond. It was Medawisla, a state-of-the-art off-grid ecolodge located in north-central Maine near the town of Greenville.

I had come to Maine with my wife and another couple to spend five days and four nights cross-country skiing in the 100 Mile Wilderness, an area that is home to the final stretch of the 2,184-mile Appalachian Trail. . Just two decades ago, this ski trip would have been inconceivable: much of this “wilderness” was owned by logging companies and marked by industrial logging.

In a remarkable turn of events, skiing and hiking have largely replaced logging in a newly protected strip of Maine. In the early 2000s, 6 million acres of forest – more than a quarter of Maine’s land – were put up for sale by logging companies. The future of the largest forest ecosystem east of the Mississippi River was threatened. In 2003, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) launched the Maine Woods Initiative, which works with local communities to promote outdoor recreation, conservation, sustainable forestry, and carbon sequestration (sales of carbon credits finance additional land purchases).

They retained 75,000 acres north and east of Greenville, developed 130 miles of recreational trails, and acquired three historic sports camps: Medawisla, Little Lyford, and Gorman Chairback. It’s part of a larger conservation effort that now covers 750,000 acres stretching from Greenville to Baxter State Park, home to Katahdin, Maine’s tallest peak.

This shift in the Maine woods from logging to recreation produced an immediate by-product: one of the best lodge-to-lodge ski routes in the United States. The route showcases both Maine’s past and future, from clearcuts visible in distant hills to the vibrant green of new growth, a reassuring sign of nature’s resilience.

“We took industrial timberlots and built the largest network of cross-country ski trails in New England,” said Steve Tatko, director of conservation and land management for Maine for AMC.

Medawisla Wilderness Lodge is the largest of the AMC Maine lodges. The original hunting lodge was built in 1953 and closed in 2012. In 2017, following a $ 6 million investment, a new ADA-compliant resort opened. It includes a solar-powered main lodge, nine cabins and two dormitories. The lodge is a showcase of Maine craftsmanship, with tables and chairs handcrafted from flamed maple, and loon figures on the deck that were carved by a local artist with a chainsaw . Outside the dining room windows you will have a breathtaking view of Second Roach Pond. Those staying in Medawisla, Wabanaki’s word for loonie, can explore a 35-mile network of groomed cross-country ski trails.

Inside Medawisla’s main building, I found other guests sitting in overstuffed chairs around a four-sided stone and glass fireplace. At a family dinner of roast chicken with tarragon, minestrone, and green beans with flaked almonds, I sat next to a woman from Maine who said she was a seasoned sailor. She casually mentioned her appearance in “The Perfect Storm”, Sebastian Junger’s best-selling book. I barely remember lifting my fork to eat as I listened spellbound to his heart-wrenching tale of surviving at sea after his sailboat sank in the 1991 Epic Northeast.

Our trip took place shortly before the start of the pandemic. This winter in the lodges, masks are recommended indoors (where all staff are masked), and breakfast and dinner can be enjoyed with the family in the main dining rooms or brought back to your cabin.

This trip is full of guilty pleasures. The first one was traveling through a wild landscape by day and staying in warm lodges each night eating delicious food prepared for us. Another would come out of our cabin on a groomed trail and have our bags transported to our next destination by snowmobile ($ 20 per bag). This meant that we could travel fast and light on cross-country skis through this awe-inspiring landscape carrying only a small backpack with food, clothing, and extra gear.

From Medawisla, we skied the wide groomed trail from lodge to lodge to a scenic high point. We stopped to take in the 360-degree panoramic view of the towering snow-capped table top of Big Spencer Mountain (3,215 feet) that crowns this landscape.

After a brief snack, we started a long downwind descent. I skied behind my friend John, an airline pilot, who stretched out his arms like he was flying, making tight turns as we glided down the valley. A small sign directed us to a narrow path that meandered through the woods until it sharply emerged onto the crisp white expanse of First West Branch Pond and our next lodge. We were greeted by a smiling Eric Stirling, the fifth generation in his family to run West Branch Pond Camps, which was built as a sports camp in 1881 and has been owned and run by his family since 1914.

This was the only private camp on the lodge trip, and it offered a welcome touch of local culture and traditions. We stayed in rustic century old log cabins next to the frozen pond. A group of Massachusetts high school students scampered across the pond and sledged around camp, yelping in delight. Their math teacher told me that this winter trip, a 17-year tradition, was a much-appreciated respite from the rigors and stress of high school.

I joined Mr. Stirling, a bearded and sympathetic man, as he prepared our dinner on a wood stove in the dining cabin. Stuffed trophy heads adorned the walls. He pointed outside Whitecap Mountain (3,654 feet), which overlooks the camp, and noted that the Appalachian Trail crosses its summit. He expressed how I felt as I relaxed after the day of skiing. “My hope,” he told me, “is that the skiers will get away from this a feeling of something that has remained unchanged through the generations. “

Around midnight, I bundled up in a puffy puffer jacket and ventured out onto the pond to experience something that has never changed here: darkness. In May 2021, the Maine Woods area was named the first International Dark Sky Park in New England by the International Dark-Sky Association, which fights light pollution and recognizes places where night views are protected. I scanned a blue and black expanse dotted with what appeared to be a million stars.

Sunrise was accompanied by a strong 20 degree breeze. We continued our journey for 6.5 miles along the winding, snow-covered Pleasant River to Little Lyford Lodge, which was originally built in 1874. Our path crossed a myriad of animal tracks. , especially moose, mink and otters.

“Moose are 3 to 1 here,” said Courtney Turcotte, who oversees all of the Maine Woods Initiative lodges. We enjoyed dinner at Little Lyford Lodge under a two story stone fireplace adorned with old trapper’s snowshoes.

Our final destination was the Gorman Chairback Lodge. We make our way through tall conifers that quiver under a thick blanket of snow. A brief gust blanketed the runway. Our home for the night was a hand-hewn octagonal log cabin on the shore of Long Pond. Tradition has it that the cabin was built by a one-armed civil war veteran and his son. The dark wooded interior was lined with old books, a romantic retreat in the woods.

On our last morning, I was once again perched on the edge of a frozen expanse. A warm, bright sun made the snow sparkle over Long Pond. Without hesitation, I pushed forward and slid forward into the woods of Maine.

Greenville, Maine is the starting point for trips to AMC Maine Lodges. Accommodation and shuttle reservations can be made with the Club des Appalaches (603-466-2727). The nearest airports are at Bangor (90 minutes) and Portland (3 hours).

Skiers and snowshoers can experience Maine’s wild lodges in a variety of ways. The trails are well marked, so guides are not necessary, although AMC does run several guided group trips (they fill up quickly). Medawisla and West Branch Pond private camps are accessible by car (all wheel drive recommended). Each has miles of ski slopes that you can explore on your way back to the same location. This is the best option for beginner skiers. Another option is to ski from lodge to lodge between Little Lyford and Gorman Chairback. Both lodges are only accessible by skis or snowshoes and share the same winter parking, so no shuttle is necessary. Each of these lodges also has its own network of trails. All lodges have wood-fired saunas.

The ultimate adventure is a ski trip from lodge to lodge to the four lodges surrounded by nature. This 32 mile ski requires at least four nights. You ski on groomed trails between the lodges and you must take a car shuttle ($ 60, provided when booking your accommodation) so that your vehicle is waiting for you at your final destination. Lodges range from $ 140 to $ 425 per couple per night, including all meals, depending on the type of accommodation. Dogs are also welcome in some cabins; if you ski with them, the keepers at the refuge recommend dog slippers to protect their feet on icy slopes.

Skiing follows groomed ski trails, which is why light and waxed or no waxed cross-country skis are best. If the conditions are freezing, some skiers may prefer a light ski with metal edges. Bring a comfortable day pack for food, snacks, extra clothing, and first aid and repair supplies. You can buy or rent skis and other equipment at Northwoods Outfitters in Greenville; book rentals in advance for busy weekends. Snowshoes are available free of charge in the lodges.

Latest News Headlines Usa News A cross-country ski trip through the Maine wilderness

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button