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A Cross Country Skiing Trip Through Maine’s Wilderness

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I stood on my skis on the fringe of the white expanse and admired the intricate, wind-sculpted snow. Peering over this virgin canvas on Second Roach Pond in Maine, I might think about that I used to be a pioneer leaving first tracks. But the scent of wooden smoke belied the truth that creature comforts had been shut by.

Behind me, a sleek timber-framed construction was perched simply uphill from the pond’s edge. This was Medawisla, a state-of-the artwork, off-the-grid ecolodge in north central Maine, close to the city of Greenville.

I had come to Maine with my spouse and one other couple to spend 5 days and 4 nights cross-country snowboarding via the 100 Mile Wilderness, a area that’s dwelling to the ultimate stretch of the two,184-mile-long Appalachian Trail. Just twenty years in the past, this ski journey would have been inconceivable: Much of this “wilderness” was owned by timber corporations and scarred by industrial logging.

In a outstanding flip of occasions, snowboarding and mountaineering have largely changed logging in a newly protected swath of Maine. In the early 2000s, 6 million acres of forest — greater than 1 / 4 of Maine’s land — was put up on the market by timber corporations. The way forward for the biggest forest ecosystem east of the Mississippi River was in jeopardy. In 2003, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) launched the Maine Woods Initiative, which works with native communities to advertise out of doors recreation, conservation, sustainable forestry and carbon sequestration (gross sales of carbon credit are funding extra land purchases).

They conserved 75,000 acres north and east of Greenville, developed 130 miles of recreation trails and purchased three historic sporting camps: Medawisla, Little Lyford and Gorman Chairback. This is a part of a broader conservation effort that now covers 750,000 acres extending from Greenville to Baxter State Park, which is dwelling to Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak.

This shift within the Maine Woods from forest exploitation to recreation has yielded a direct byproduct: the most effective lodge-to-lodge ski routes within the United States. The route showcases each the previous and way forward for Maine, from clear-cuts seen on distant hillsides to the intense inexperienced of latest development, a reassuring signal of nature’s resilience.

“We took industrial timber land and built the largest cross-country ski trail network in New England,” stated Steve Tatko, the director of Maine Conservation and Land Management for the AMC.

Medawisla Wilderness Lodge is the grandest of the AMC Maine lodges. The unique searching lodge was inbuilt 1953 and closed in 2012. In 2017, following a $6 million funding, a brand new ADA-compliant advanced opened that features a solar-powered essential lodge, 9 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 had been carved by a neighborhood chain noticed artist. Outside the eating room home windows are expansive views of Second Roach Pond. Those staying at Medawisla, the Wabanaki phrase for loon, can discover a 35-mile community of groomed cross-country ski trails.

Inside Medawisla’s essential constructing I discovered different friends sitting in stuffed chairs round a four-sided stone-and-glass hearth. At a family-style dinner of roasted tarragon hen, minestrone and string beans with slivered almonds, I sat subsequent to a lady from Maine who stated that she was a seasoned sailor. She casually talked about her cameo in “The Perfect Storm,” the best-selling ebook by Sebastian Junger. I barely keep in mind lifting my fork to eat as I listened spellbound to her harrowing story of survival at sea after her sailboat sank throughout the epic 1991 nor’easter.

Our journey befell shortly earlier than the beginning of the pandemic. This winter on the lodges, masks are beneficial indoors (the place all employees are masked), and breakfast and dinner can both be eaten household fashion on the essential eating rooms or taken again to your cabin.

This journey brimmed with responsible pleasures. The first was touring in a wild panorama by day and staying in heat lodges every night time consuming scrumptious meals ready for us. Another was rolling out of our cabin onto a groomed path and having our luggage transported to our subsequent vacation spot by snowmobile ($20 per bag). That meant we might journey quick and lightweight on cross-country skis via this grand panorama carrying solely a small day pack with meals, garments and additional gear.

From Medawisla, we skied up the broad, groomed Lodge-to-Lodge Trail to a scenic excessive level. We stopped to absorb the sweeping 360-degree views of the imposing snow-covered tabletop summit of Big Spencer Mountain (3,215 ft) that crowns this panorama.

After a short snack we started an extended, wind-in-the-face descent. I skied behind my buddy John, an airline pilot, who prolonged his arms as if flying, banking round broad turns as we glided to the valley flooring. A small signal directed us to a slender path that snaked via the woods till it abruptly emerged onto the intense white expanse of First West Branch Pond and our subsequent lodge. We had been greeted by a smiling Eric Stirling, the fifth technology of his household to run West Branch Pond Camps, which was constructed as a sporting camp in 1881 and owned and managed by his household since 1914.

This is the one privately owned camp on the lodge journey, and it supplied a welcome contact of native tradition and lore. We stayed in rustic, century-old log cabins beside the frozen pond. A group of highschool college students from Massachusetts frolicked on the pond and sledded via the camp, yelping in delight. Their math instructor informed me that this winter journey, a 17-year custom, was a a lot beloved respite from the trials and stresses of highschool.

I joined Mr. Stirling, a bearded, congenial man, as he cooked our dinner on a wooden range within the eating cabin. Stuffed trophy heads adorned the partitions. He pointed outdoors to Whitecap Mountain (3,654 ft), which overlooks the camp, and famous that the Appalachian Trail crosses its summit. He gave voice to what I felt as I relaxed from the day’s snowboarding. “My hope,” he informed me, “is that skiers take away from here a sense of something that’s been unchanged through the generations.”

Around midnight, I bundled up in a puffy down jacket and ventured out onto the pond to expertise one thing that has by no means modified out right here: darkness. In May 2021, the Maine Woods area was designated the primary International Dark Sky Park in New England by the International Dark-Sky Association, which combats mild air pollution and acknowledges locations the place night time time views are protected. I peered up at a blue-and-black expanse that was studded with what appeared like 1,000,000 stars.

Sunrise was accompanied by a stiff 20-degree breeze. We continued our journey 6.5 miles alongside the meandering snow-covered Pleasant River to Little Lyford Lodge, which was initially inbuilt 1874. Our path crisscrossed myriad animal tracks, together with these of moose, mink and otter.

“Moose outnumber people 3 to 1 here,” stated Courtney Turcotte, who oversees the entire lodges for the Maine Woods Initiative. We loved dinner at Little Lyford Lodge beneath a two-story stone hearth that was adorned with previous trapper’s snowshoes.

Our closing vacation spot was Gorman Chairback Lodge. We wove our manner via tall conifers that shuddered beneath a heavy mantle of snow. A transient squall whited out the path. Our dwelling for the night time was a hand-hewed octagonal log cabin on the shore of Long Pond. Lore has it that the cabin was constructed by a one-armed Civil War veteran and his son. The darkish woody inside was lined with previous books, a romantic retreat within the woods.

On our final morning, I used to be as soon as once more perched on the fringe of a frozen expanse. A good heat solar made the snow sparkle on Long Pond. Without hesitating, I pushed ahead and glided onward into the Maine Woods.

Greenville, Maine, is the leaping off level for journeys to the AMC Maine Lodges. Lodging and shuttle reservations will be made with the Appalachian Mountain Club (603-466-2727). The closest airports are in Bangor (90 minutes) and Portland (3 hours).

Skiers and snowshoers can expertise Maine’s wilderness lodges in quite a lot of methods. Trails are effectively marked so guides will not be wanted, although AMC runs a number of guided group journeys (they refill rapidly). Medawisla and the privately owned West Branch Pond Camps are accessible by automotive (all-wheel drive beneficial). Each has miles of ski trails which you could discover whereas returning to the identical place. This is the best choice for newbie skiers. Another possibility is to ski lodge-to-lodge between Little Lyford and Gorman Chairback. Both lodges are solely accessible by skis or snowshoes and share the identical winter car parking zone, so no shuttle is required. Each of those lodges additionally has its personal path community. All the lodges have wood-fired saunas.

The final journey is a lodge-to-lodge ski traverse to all 4 wilderness lodges. This 32-mile ski requires no less than 4 nights. You ski on groomed trails between lodges and you will need to do a automotive shuttle ($60, organized once you ebook your lodging) in order that your automobile is ready at your closing vacation spot. The lodges vary from $140 to $425 per couple per night time, together with all meals, relying on sort of lodging. Dogs are additionally welcome in some cabins; for those who ski with them, the hut keepers advocate canine booties to guard their ft on icy trails.

The snowboarding follows groomed ski trails, so light-weight waxable or waxless cross-country skis are finest. If situations are icy, some skiers might favor a light-weight metal-edged ski. Bring a cushty day pack for meals, snacks, additional garments, and first-aid and restore gear. You can purchase or hire skis and different gear at Northwoods Outfitters in Greenville; ebook leases upfront for busy weekends. Complimentary snowshoes can be found to make use of on the lodges.