Sisters on Six Day Winter Adventure

In 2016, I (Ellen Wilcox) solo-hiked the IAT East Branch route in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, and ever since, I’ve wanted to explore the area in winter.  And so, on February 9th, my sister, Karen, and I packed up our sleds and headed out on a six-day winter adventure.  Our goal was to x-country ski and/or snowshoe the IAT route from the North Entrance of Katahdin Woods and Waters to Lunksoos Lean-to, then slackpack to the summits of Lunksoos and Deasey Mountains and return to Bowlin Camps.  As it turned out, Mother Nature had other plans for us.

The afternoon sun near Haskell Gate

Day 1 (North Entrance to Haskell Hut):  After parking my car at Bowlin Camps, we headed out — southbound from the North Entrance of Katahdin Woods and Waters — on x-country skis, pulling our camping gear and snowshoes behind us on sleds.  The sun was low over the mountains and the snow was covered in a veneer of ice that shone in the late-afternoon sun.  It didn’t take long for me to realize my skis weren’t going to work on the icy groomed trail so shortly after Haskell Gate, we switched to snowshoes.  After sun set, we traveled quietly, under a dark sky filled with bright stars and a beautiful half-moon. At Haskell Hut, we were greeted by a couple from Bar Harbor who had the fire blazing and hot water on the stove.  We had an enjoyable evening.

Day 2 (Haskell Hut to Bowlin Camps):Another day of sunshine and blue skies! Shortly after Haskell Hut, the groomed trail came to an end, so we switched to snowshoes for the rest of the trek. We stopped to enjoy the view at Haskell Deadwater, then at Haskell Rock Pitch we took the IAT route along the East Branch of the Penobscot River. It was a long, hard day. We zigzagged back and forth across mud-filled streams trickling down the trail, suddenly sunk in deep sinkholes in the snow, and endlessly pulled our sleds over, under, and around downed trees with the x-country skis (which were strapped to the top of our sleds) catching on every branch and tree in our path.

Grand Pitch Lean-to

At lunch time, we crawled down into Grand Pitch Lean-to which had a 4-foot wall of snow in front of it.

Suspension bridge to Bowlin Camps

Late afternoon, we finally made it to the suspension bridge which would take us to a warm cabin at Bowlin Camps on the other side of the river.However, the snow was to the top of the guardrails which meant our sleds could roll or slide off the side of the bridge and take us with them! Big Sister went first and bravely walked across with her snowshoes on, pulling her sled behind her (I couldn’t watch!).  Then I crawled across on my hands and knees, staring down at the torrential water rushing by below me – twice!  The first time, I dragged my pack and snowshoes across and the second time, I dragged my sled across with Karen’s help.  We enjoyed a relaxing evening at Bowlin Camps – the hosts were fantastic, and our cabin was perfect.  Since my car was parked there, we were able to resupply and get rid of the x-country skis.

On the trail to Big Spring Book Hut

Day 3 (Bowlin Camps to Big Spring Brook Hut):  It was a beautiful day, but there was a snowstorm in the forecast, so we reluctantly abandoned our plans to snowshoe the IAT route to Lunksoos Lean-to.  Instead, we went to Big Spring Brook Hut which was only four or five miles away.  We had to cross the suspension bridge again but this time, I “boldly” crawled across in one trip.  We broke trail via the K Comp Trail, then at the intersection to Big Spring Brook Hut, we got lucky – the trail was packed down and frozen enough to walk the rest of the way in boots and crampons.  Once again, the ice-covered snow gleamed in the sunshine and views of the mountains were magnificent.  At the hut, we lit a fire, shoveled out the latrine, and settled in.  So much for roughing it!

Day 4 (The Lookout):That morning, the sun was shining so we snowshoed up to The Lookout, a 2,000-foot peak overlooking the mountains in the eastern Katahdin foothills.

View from the Lookout

As we ascended, dark clouds rolled in and we could see the snow was moving in.  The 180-degree view from The Lookout was truly spectacular!

Big Spring Brook Hut

Day 5 (Snow day at Big Spring Brook Hut):  We woke up to snow and it snowed all day.  Karen worked on a jigsaw puzzle and I listened to an audiobook.  At one point, I snowshoed up the trail and attempted to toboggan down the hill on my sled, but the snow was too powdery.  Karen shoveled a path to the latrine while I brought wood in from the shed.  The hush of the falling snow and the solitude of the woods were absolute bliss!

BSB Hut latrine

Day 6 (Big Spring Brook Hut to the North Entrance):  We woke up to blue skies, sunshine, and 17 more inches of fresh, powdery snow.

Big snow

Our original plan was to snowshoe back to my car at Bowlin Camps, but the additional snow made the suspension bridge impassable, leaving us no choice but to snowshoe nine miles to Karen’s car at the North Entrance.  We were resigned to breaking trail most of the day and possibly having to camp out overnight.  We’d covered only two miles in three hours when suddenly, a snowmobile came flying over the hill in front of us!  Neither of us heard it coming and the driver didn’t see us, so we quickly dove into the deep snow to get ourselves and our sleds out of the way. Then another snowmobile came flying over the hill!  It was Mark and Susan, the trail groomers.  Thanks to these two amazing trail angels, we were able to snowshoe the rest of the way on groomed trails and didn’t have to camp out overnight.  They even shoveled Karen’s car out for us.  They also told us a group of kids from Camp Chewonki were clearing the IAT route along the river that day.  We didn’t cross paths with them, but we certainly saw the results of their hard work.  Bless them all!

North entrance to KWW

From the North Entrance, we drove to Bowlin Camps and dug my car out.We enjoyed a celebratory supper at Shin Pond Village, then Karen headed home to Augusta, and me to Nova Scotia.I so wanted my sister to see the waterfalls and pitches and had my heart set on summiting Lunksoos and Deasey Mountains in winter, but neither was meant to be.  I guess we’ll just have to come back and try again next winter.

Moroccan Trek on IAT

This didn’t use to be my idea of hiking, but I’ll take it. We were sitting on a rooftop terrace sipping Moroccan tea and looking out at a huge expanse of the High Atlas Mountains. Nearby was a big herd of sheep and lots of rocks and not much else.
From the time we’d gotten off the plane in Marrakesh, nearly everything we saw or did was something strange and wonderful and nothing like what I’d be doing back home. The mountains are beautiful and the people hospitable and the food exceptional.
My friend Jim Kern, founder of the Florida Trail, had planned the trip and then casually mentioned it to me in the same way that someone dangles catnip in front of a cat. It didn’t take me long to sign up.
Our jumping off point was the mountain town of Amizmiz, an hour’s drive from Marrakesh, the tourist center of Morocco. Once there we met our guide, Latifa Asselouf, and our mule driver, Brahim, and our mule, Whitey. We didn’t know what to expect and hadn’t realized that we would have a mule and wouldn’t be carrying much. Whitey made up for it, carrying great quantities of food, fuel, water and everything else we needed.
We started out right from our guide’s house in town. Across the street was a dirt track and we were soon winding our way up the hill. Before long we came to a shed where a donkey was powering an olive press and potters used a foot pedal to power their wheel. Later we popped in on a one-room school house and heard the children recite lessons and sing and then had lunch at the home of a Berber family. At nightfall we were high in the mountains in a small Berber village staying at the home of a family.
The I.A.T. has had a foothold in Morocco for a half dozen years with an initial route from near Marrakesh south to the ancient walled city of Taroudant. Eventually the trail could run 1,000 miles or more along the crest of the Atlas Mountains, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sahara Desert. The snowcapped mountains soar to nearly 14,000 feet and are dotted with miles of ancient paths.
There’s no concept yet of a long-distance trail or of marked footpaths in general. Local people make use of the paths for transportation, not recreation for the most part. Since they know where they are going, there’s no need to mark the main paths or the many alternates.

Right now, there are about 80 licensed guides in Morocco including 7 women. Latifa was one of the first two women and is an exceptional guide. Guides are strongly recommended. The mountain people are very conservative and have a strong culture. Unlocking the secrets of this culture is not easy and it’s also easy to run afoul of their traditions.
Not long after our trip two Scandinavian women were murdered near the main mountain town of Imlil while traveling on their own in the area. We never felt afraid while with our guide and we saw much, much more than we ever could have on our own. We were also spoiled with three hot and terrific meals each day, great scenery and the chance to meet many local people.
Recreational hiking is still relatively new in Morocco but it’s such a fascinating, inexpensive and accessible place that it’s likely to become a much more popular destination. There is a wide range of possible trips. We took a short and easy trip on old dirt paths, topping out at 6,000 feet. It’s possible to venture much higher and on more difficult trips as well. While wading through throngs in Marrakesh, Morocco does not seem remote and undiscovered. But the many mountain paths are not crowded and they yield fascinating discoveries constantly.

Spring 2018 Trail Work Trip Report

(L-R): Dave, Trip, Kirk, Eric, Elaine, Bill and Don the first night at Bowlin Camps, enjoying a campfire before the rain started.
 
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
 
Kirk and Cheryl St. Peter met Dave Rand, Elaine and Eric Hendrickson, Don Hudson and Bill Duffy (with his trail dog Trip) at Bowlin Camps in the late afternoon, had a wonderful dinner in Bowlin’s dining room and even had blueberry cake with candles in honor of Kirk’s 61st birthday! We had No Aces cabin for the guys (which is very comfortable and now has a refrigerator), Kirk and Cheryl had their old “Coachmen” camper, and Elaine and Eric had their “Adventure Van” for the night.
 
Don and Eric with their bikes and “bobs” on the trail in the rain!
 
Thursday, June 14, 2018
 
It rained during the night and was raining when we started out after one of Kirk’s “artery clogging” breakfasts (as Bill likes to say) and after a tailgate safety meeting. Everyone had also completed all other required National Park Service (NPS) paperwork and packed a bag lunch before heading out. Thanks to Elaine for the great homemade cookies to pack!
 
Susan and Mark Adams had come for breakfast and with their bikes headed south with Eric (who had a chainsaw in his bike “bob”), Elaine, and Don, who had some posts and tools in his bob to replace some knocked over signs heading to Lunksoos lean-to. Due to the continuous rain, ceaseless bugs, and tough conditions (lots of brush in places on the trail and many blowdowns), they did not make it to the lean-to that day, but left the “bobs” on the trail and planned to head back the next day to finish the tough work clearing the trail to Lunksoos lean-to. They had cut about 20 trees with Eric’s chainsaw and cleared another 30 or so with handsaws and loppers.
 
Kirk, Cheryl, Bill and Dave hiked north past Grand Pitch lean-to on foot with Kirk carrying his chainsaw and the others lopping. The northbound crew cleared about 5 blowdowns and some brush and found Grand Pitch lean-to in good condition, but missing a logbook, which should be replaced asap. They came back via the K Comp Road to loop back to the IAT again for a 9.2 mile day.
 
We again enjoyed a wonderful meal in Bowlin’s dining room, then Mark & Susan headed back home, while the rest of us spent a restful night in the cabin or our campers and it finally stopped raining! Thanks go to Mark & Susan for their tireless help on a very cold, wet and buggy day!
 
Eric & Elaine starting from Bowlin on the 2nd day, happy to have no rain.
 
Friday, June 15, 2018
 
After breakfast, making bag lunches again and another tailgate safety meeting, Kirk, Cheryl, Dave and Bill left Bowlin and headed south to Sandbank Stream Campsite in KWWNM to work on the southern section of trail. Don, Eric and Elaine biked south from Bowlin towards Lunksoos lean-to to try to finish clearing that section of trail.
We met Richard Heath at Sandbank and took Kirk’s truck to the Wassataquoik ford. While Kirk, Bill and Richard crossed the ford and cleared the trail (cutting about 6 downed trees) to the intersection with the Ed Werler Trail (leaving Kirk’s chainsaw there), Cheryl and Dave checked the Wassataquoik lean-to and mineralized the area around the fire pit. The logbook was also missing from this lean-to! Cheryl and Dave then drove the loop road to the Barnard Mountain trailhead parking and worked at the Katahdin Brook lean-to (mineralized around the fire pit, lopped brush around the site and up the trail to the privy and photographed log book entries). There were carpenter ants in the roof support logs at the junction with the north wall of the lean-to, which we should deal with during the fall work session.
 
Eric and Elaine arrived at Sandbank 8:45 pm and had a very late supper of Kirk’s burgers, potato salad, baked beans, and cold green bean salad; we had strawberry shortcake for dessert. Don headed home from Bowlin Camps after working all day because his anniversary was the next day! Eric, Elaine and Don had made it to Lunksoos lean-to and had cleared significant brush and some blowdowns in certain sections, plus put up a few more signposts during a very long trail work day. This section could use more brushing for sure during our next work session from Bowlin (next spring?).
 
Before and after!
 
The rewarding view of Katahdin’s Great Basin after finally making it to Lunksoos lean-to and the second hard day of trail work! (Taken by Elaine)
 
Saturday, June 16, 2018
 
After breakfast, making bag lunches and a tailgate safety meeting, Kirk, Bill, Richard, Dave and Earl took Bill’s truck to the Wassataquoik trailhead parking and crossed the ford. Richard used Dave’s big chainsaw to clear a large blowdown just past the beaver dam (aka “Kirk’s Cutoff”) while Dave scythed the grown in areas between the ford and the beaver dam. Kirk and Bill quickly hiked to where they had left the chainsaw at the Ed Werler trail and cleared blowdowns (approximately 10 total) all the way to the Lunksoos lean-to. Bill also cleared the trail of brush in a few places that were severely grown in. After the lean-to, they continued on the IAT, then made a loop by taking what we’ve termed “Dave’s cutoff” down to cross the Wassataquoik where the Orin Falls trail intersects the IAT and continuing back to the trailhead parking (12.3 miles by Bill’s gps track, 11.6 by ours). They made it back to Sandbank at about 6 pm, very tired but also satisfied with the work they completed!
 
(L to R) Dave, Kirk, Bill, Trip (hiding in back), and Richard – the crew at the Wassataquoik ford just arriving for a day’s work from Sandbank Stream Campsite.
 
Eric, Elaine and Cheryl also went to the ford, brought a notebook to leave at the Wassataquoik lean-to, then crossed the Wassataquoik and lopped until they met Earl and the others. Eric and Elaine headed back with Richard (who all had to leave that day) while Cheryl, Dave and Earl continued up to Earl’s erratic, lopping and adding a few tags. Since both Earl and Dave were also leaving that day, all three turned around there and headed back to Sandbank.
 
Kirk, Cheryl, and Bill had lasagna, garlic bread and salad, with brownies for dessert (while Trip only had dry dog food!), then spent a quiet night at Sandbank and headed home early the next morning. Thanks to everyone for their very hard work during this early summer trail work session in KWW!
 
(L to R) Dave, Cheryl and Earl at Earl’s Erratic on the last day of trail work.
 
Notes:
 
The IAT from Wassataquoik ford all the way north of Grand Pitch is now cleared of blowdowns and some areas have been well cleared of brush. However, the trail north of the Fire Warden’s cabin to Lunksoos lean-to requires some significant additional brush clearing, which we will tackle during a fall work session (tentatively planned for October 5 – 7, 2018). Additional IAT tags are also need on the a few sections of trail, particularly between Earl’s Erratic and Ed Werler Trail junction.The logbook needs to be replaced in Grand Pitch lean-to. Carpenter ants in the Katahdin Brook lean-to should be dealt with during the fall work session. There is (still) a rusted and broken eye bolt on the NW corner of the Deasey Fire Cab that needs to be replaced. A small shovel that Bill purchased was left at Lunksoos lean-to for ease of mineralizing around the fire pit. Bill is compiling a list of IAT Mileage signs and directional posts and will submit a list of signs that need to be replaced due to damage and a list of proposed new signs to make trail navigation easier. Work in the northern trail sections that require it (Mars Hill and the border trail) will be scheduled soon for the County contingency.

‘Monumental’ – A Journey through Katahdin Woods and Waters

On August 24th in 2016, an 87,563-acre plot of land in the heart of Maine was designated the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument by former President Barack Obama. Although met with controversy on all sides, the area had yet been explored on a large scale. In September 2017, a team of four Maine-born photographers set out on a three-part journey through Katahdin Woods and Waters to investigate. The goal? To refocus attention from the debate back onto why the monument was created in the first place: to protect and encourage public access to Maine’s outdoor resources. The short film Monumental showcases the area’s sweeping beauty and undeniable value to outdoor enthusiasts.
Katahdin Woods and Waters comprises miles of serene forest, winding rivers, and exquisite mountain peaks. The vast land is adjacent to Baxter State Park and was donated by the Quimby Family Foundation in addition to funds that would jumpstart its establishment. The location boasts premier hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, camping, hunting, fishing, kayaking, wildlife viewing, and sightseeing.