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The Trip (continued)

Day 4: No Hiking

Friday dawned warmer (in the low teens) but windier, with little visibility. We scrapped our plans for Baxter Peak and instead enjoyed exploring the area around the pond and at the base of the ice falls draped down the side of the mountain. Most of the lean-tos were in snow to their roof lines, though the snow depth right next to the structure was nil. If one got down to the lean-to, one was effectively in a snow cave out of the wind. But I still preferred the bunkhouse …

Some of the group skied the North Basin and Blueberry Knoll, having brought their skis all the way. Snow conditions were quite good, but the wind never let up. We played a lot of canasta and cribbage and drank a lot of soup and hot chocolate. On Friday night, over our spaghetti dinner, we decided to get up very early the next day and head down to Roaring Brook in the dark. The weather forecast was for warmer and wet weather and we were hoping we could get back to the trucks before it started to rain. We had to do the entire 15-16 miles in one day and most people would ski out from Roaring Brook. I had decided that I wanted to walk out, that I would find skiing just too difficult. I am not a strong skier and find that I fall a lot and get exhausted trying to get up. I could only imagine that managing a sled while on skis would simply drive me crazy.

Day 5: Back to Civilization!

At 4 am on Saturday, everyone was up and packing. By 5:30 we were on our way in mild temperatures, but no precipitation. Headlamps flashed like giant winter fireflies ahead of and behind me and they were all that one could see in the starless, moonless darkness. We waited to regroup at the winter route across the frozen Basin Pond, not wanting to allow anyone to attempt the crossing alone. By the time we were across Basin Pond, the sky had lightened considerably and headlamps were stashed away.

I arrived at Roaring Brook about 6:45, loaded my skis and the leftover beans (now frozen solid and untouched by critters—though the plastic bag had been shredded) onto my sled. I used the outhouse and started on my way shortly after 7 am. Steve, on skis, overtook me shortly and said he would come back to get me after he dropped his gear at the truck. That meant it would be many hours before I saw him or any of the faster skiers, who had left Roaring Brook well before me. I was well past Avalanche Field before the remaining four skiers passed me. From that point on, I was completely alone. This time I recognized landmarks—Avalanche Field, Windey pass (about halfway between Roaring Brook and Togue Pond), Rum Brook picnic area (a bit over a mile from Togue Pond.). The trip did not seem so endless now. It became more pleasant when I stopped looking down at the snow-covered road and looked instead at the beauty around me—the woods, the birds, the ponds, the clouds (some very dark and threatening!). I saw a couple of snowmobilers when I neared Togue Pond. I reached Togue Pond gatehouse at 10:30, only a half hour behind the last skiers, I was later to learn. Not bad. I used the outhouse, took a drink and had some food. Then off I went, figuring it would be at least an hour until I had to watch for the turn-off to Abol Bridge. Steve had expected to be back to meet me before then. Which he was, but just.

I was feeling okay, not depleted as I had been on the trip in and suggested he head back and be sure the others did not wait for me, that we would meet them for lunch. Steve said I should not have any trouble following the trail from that point on. I did make one wrong turn, however, and ended up exploring the Abol Beach picnic area which I soon realized was not on my route. I only lost a few minutes on this detour.

I reached the end of the line and a warm truck at 12:45 pm, changed my clothes quickly and we met the others for a big hot lunch and cold beer. I learned I had been less than an hour behind the last skier over the 16 mile trip and had no blisters or other foot problems to speak of. Some of the skiers were not so fortunate and I feel I made the right decision to walk. I may want to work on my skiing skills before I go into Baxter State Park in winter again, because skiing is quicker if you know what you're doing and your boots are comfortable. (Did I say "go into the Park again"?—don't quote me on this!)

My overall feelings about my adventure are very positive. The sight of the snow-covered Katahdin as I approached Chimney Pond was breathtaking, almost moving me to tears. To be in such a remote place where so few people go in winter is an experience never to be forgotten. I hope I can do it again and I hope I can climb Baxter and North Brother to complete my winter "Fours," but am glad to have done it at least once, glad my body and mind rose to the demands of the trip, and glad to be able to share the adventure with friends and relatives who may never get there.

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