Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cross Country Skiing in Maine

Winter started out nicely in December for snow sports in the middle of Maine.  Plenty of snow fell and the temperatures stayed cool making for great conditions.  Then as the new year rolled in the weather changed.  The temperatures remained quite cold.  However, when a storm system made its presence, the are warmed up and we received ice or rain, lots of it.  The temperature would drop and freeze the remaining snow into a solid mass of ice hampering most winter activities.  January, which can normally be quite snowy in the middle of Maine, has seen only about 6 inches of snow so far while there has been more than three inches of rain.

After a weather imposed rest from most winter activity, I was eager to hit the snow.  I decided to go to the AMC's 100 Mile Wilderness cross country ski trails last Saturday.  Conditions were still questionable, however, their website claimed they were fixing the icy trails after a couple of inches of new snow fell earlier in the week.  Saturday sounded a little more favorable since Sunday was forecasted to have windchills approaching -30.

I headed to the AMC trails outside Greenville, Maine Saturday morning and decided to ski a loop around the Gorham Chairback Lodge.  The AMC's trail system is built around backcountry lodges for overnight stays.  Guests are welcome to visit the lodges however without an overnight stay.  When I ski the trails here I usually stop at the lodges to take a short break and perhaps refill my water.

My route started at the parking area on the Katahdin Iron Works Road (KI).  I followed the KI, which is a multi-use snowmobile and ski trail in this area, for a couple of miles before heading down the Deadwater  and Gorham Lodge Trails to the lodge.  Once off the KI, the trail stays on dedicated ski trails that see relatively little ski traffic while passing on old logging roads and narrower trails through the forest.  Along the Deadwater Trail there is a Yurt that can be used overnight complete with a bunk, woodstove, and gas stove.  There also appears to be more yurts planned for the future as they already have the platforms in place.  Views  of the Barren-Chairback Range and Long Pond are the highlights along the way.


View of Barren Mountain near Yurt

Long Pond in the distance (photo from last month)

Trail near Gorham Chairback Lodge (last month)

After a short break at the lodge I continued along the Long Pond Trail.  This trail rolls through the woods above Long Pond until reaching the pond's outlet.  From the outlet, nice views across the pond take in parts of the White Cap Range.  The trail from the outlet is more uphill than downhill but never steep.  It becomes the Trout Brook Trail after passing the pond outlet before reaching the KI again.  The last mile retraces the KI to the parking lot.

Looking over Long Pond toward Indian and Gulf Hagas Mountains

This route is about 15 miles long. Despite the AMC's efforts to groom, the trail conditions were still somewhat icy, making for a more tiring trip than normal when I ski here.  A couple of sections that were freshly groomed skied nicely but the ungroomed sections were very hard and particularly challenging on long climbs.  I skied this route in late December in much better conditions.  I am glad I chose to ski this loop however because it is more forgiving in icy conditions than the trails leading to the Little Lyford Pond Lodge which traverses hillier terrain. 

For a map of click this link

If interested, you can look back to my posts from last January and February. I have several other blog posts on the cross country skiing at the AMC trails.

That night two inches of powdery snow fell.  On Sunday morning I decided to cross country ski again with the better conditions.  The temperature was 4F at 10AM when I left my house and the wind was quite strong, but I couldn't turn down the fresh snow.

This time I skied a local loop that is just a couple of miles from my house.  This route follows local snowmobile trails that see little traffic.  This route covers about 15-16 miles.  Much of the route travels through the woods with a couple of sections through open fields and offers a nice mix of flat and hilly terrain.  When the conditions are right, this is one of my favorite cross country ski trips. Usually for good conditions, it has to be skied within a few days of a fresh snow or it can get quite icy.

I start my route at Sebec Lake and followed a snowmobile trail called the Dundee Trail into town in Dover Foxcroft before heading back to the lake on another snowmobile trail called the Grey Valley Trail.  While the trails are generally rolling in nature, there are a couple of steep technical descents on narrow sections of trail that are quite challenging.  Depending on conditions this loop takes between 3-4 hours to ski.
Skiing into a tight grove of trees

Long section of flat and easy skiing

With fresh snow, the trail conditions were excellent compared to my outing at the AMC trails the previous day.  The biggest challenge however was the windchill.  The high for the day reached about 7F, which isn't too bad while cross country skiing.  The problem was the gusty wind.  Much of the trail travels in the woods and offers some shelter from the wind.  However when in the open fields, the wind was treacherous and approaching windchills of -30.  Luckily the trail never stayed in the fields too long.
Skiing along an open field

Despite travelling on snowmobile trails, this route is relatively quiet. Most snowmobilers in Maine stick to the main routes.  This loop follows "local" trails.  Even though it was a Sunday after a fresh snow, I only saw three pairs of snowmobiles, and they were all courteous, each rider giving me a wave.  If skied midweek, it isn't uncommon to have it to yourself the entire loop.

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