Well after a recent trip to Mount Desert Island, it was time for another journey up into Northern Maine. This one was not quite as luxurious as the previous one, but still a fun adventure at another one of the more spectacular places to visit in Maine. The plan was to spend 4 days at Baxter State Park with the primary objective being to do a winter summit of Mt Katahdin. Kathadin is the high point in Maine (5,267 feet/1,606 meters) and the end of the Appalachian Trail. We’d also try to explore whatever else we could from Roaring Brook Cabin, which was our home for 3 nights. To get to Katahdin, it is approximately 20 miles total in the winter (depending on which trail you take up to the summit ridge).
After spending the night at Hotel Terrace in Millinocket, we woke up to rapidly falling, big puffy snowflakes. This looked really nice, but once we got going it would turn the first day into a death march. We had to hike 12 miles in to Roaring Brook Cabin, as opposed to the summer when you can drive right to it and we were pulling sleds with food and gear. The snow was constant, heavy and wet which made it feel like we were doing a marathon while pulling a dead body in our sleds behind us. We got to the cabin a lot later than we anticipated and were quite spent.
The plan was to go for the summit of Katahdin on Saturday and this would have been ideal, because the forecast called for the temperatures to plummet on Sunday and Monday. The trip in the day before though eliminated the chance of that though. We didn’t have enough time do do the necessary preparation and we were still pretty exhausted. This was unfortunate, because with the arctic blast coming the next day, we knew it was our best chance.
Instead with the weather being nearly perfect, mostly sunny and not too cold, we decided to go for South Turner Mountain. It’s not a huge mountain at only 3123 feet, but because it is positioned directly across from the broad Katahdin ridge and was a steep and interesting climb, we found it to be a very worthwhile. With deep snow and the trail totally unbroken, it was also one of harder small mountains I have done in a while.
Sunday morning the Artic blast set in as scheduled. While it was still dark and -5 degrees I went to fill 9 water bottles down at the brook. This was one of those moments where you ask yourself, “I like doing this why?!”. Of course it’s actually rare that I feel like that but I think it happens to any winter hiker sometimes.
As we were setting out for the summit of Katahdin, I was pretty sure right from the start that our chances of summitting were pretty slim. At 6:45 after taking a little Vitamin I (ibuprofen), we started for Chimney Pond and it just got colder as we went. By the time we reached Chimney Pond it was -10 degrees and we could see a nasty, swirling snow plume blowing around up at the summit ridge. Even at 2900 feet, boogies and sweat were freezing on our faces. We decided it could turn dangerous a little too easily and turned around there. We probably could have made it, but if we ran into one snag we might have been looking at a dicey situation.
Even though the averse conditions prevented us from reaching our primary goal, it was still a great experience to see Baxter State Park in the winter. As usual on these winter expeditions, I learned a lot and walked away much better prepared for the next trip.