|Baxter Winter Trip 2011
Baxter & Hamlin Peaks
Feb 28 - March 3, 2011
Wow! What an experience to hike in Baxter State Park during the winter. The trip started Sat night with Justin staying at our house for dinner - thick Rib Eyes and cold beer. Sun morning, Jeff arrived in time to enjoy the blueberry pancakes that Geri made for us. After a quick job of removing 5 inches of fresh snow from the driveway, deck, and walkway, Bob, Jeff and Justin piled into the Suburban and headed out. The trip to Millinocket took 5:30 with a few stops along the way. We arrived at the Pamola Motor Lodge, checked in, and enjoy a couple of beers while waiting for Tom, Dan, and Dave to arrive. We enjoyed dinner at the Pelletier Loggers restaurant in downtown Millinocket before turning in early.
Mon morning we met Grigory who arrived later Sun night, and headed out for breakfast at the AT Cafe with it's homemade breads. After eating more than we should have, we headed out to the Abol Bridge parking area. As we were gearing up, 2 others arrived, a guide with his guest that would be spending 3 nights with us at Chimney Pond. Off we went as the snow started to fall, 4 of us skiing and towing sleds, one skiing with a large pack, and two hiking with packs. A little over 2 hours later we had covered the 4.5 miles to the Togue Gate House where we stopped for a break and a bite too eat. The snow had started to come down heavier and had turned wet at this point. We plodded along and finally arrived at Roaring Brook, covering the remaining 8 miles in 3 hours.
First up was getting a roaring fire going in the wood stove and changing into dry clothes. With 7 sets of wet clothes hanging around the stove to dry, we stoked the stove and actually needed to open a couple of windows to keep the temperature under 80! We got settled in, unpacked and prepped dinners. Some cooked on backpacking stoves, while some made use to the wood stove to cook dinner. We had brought along a 5 gallon soft side bucket to make gathering water easier - a good decision. Between boiling the water in 2 coffee pots we had brought along, filtering it, and using a streri-pen supplying water for cooking/drinking was easy. By 8 PM we were ready to hit the hay. Most had brought along +20 degree bags and ended up sleeping on top of them rather than in them due to the wood stove.
Although we had planned to wake at 6 AM, it was closer to 7 before we actually did. We set a timeline of 2 hours to eat and pack for our 3.5 mile hike up to Chimney Pond. Adam and Arm whose group were heading out from Chimney Pond stopped by - great to see you guys! And a huge thanks to Arm for lending Dave an ice axe for our trip. By 10 we were packed up and had stowed our skis and boots under the deck. Off we went on a well packed trail to Chimney Pond, 3.5 miles and @ 1500 foot elevation gain. Under a sunny sky we were treated to glimpses of Baxter and Hamlin peaks. About 1:15 later we arrived at Basin Pond and followed the snowmobile track straight across the pond. 45 minutes later we arrived at Chimney Pond - our home for the next 3 nights.
Unpacking, lunch, exploring, and photo taking filled the afternoon. We talked to the Ranger about the weather forecast, conditions and decided that on Wed we would hike Baxter peak via the Cathedral trail. The excitement level was high as we prepared dinner and our packs for the hike. Morning came quickly and we woke to a cloudy day with a low ceiling. By 9 AM we had checked in with the Ranger and finalized our plan, including a plan to go around a avalanche prone area. It has snowed overnight wiping out any tracks on the start of the Cathedral trail. Dan decided he wasn't comfortable with the conditions and was only going to go with us for the first 30 minutes. Our group of 5 included Dave, Jeff, Justin, Tom and myself. We broke trail through @ 1 foot of snow as we made our way through along the treed trail until we came out to the start of the snow field. From here we stayed way right and worked our way up and around to the right of the first Cathedral. We had all changed from snowshoes to crampons and this point and had ice axes in had. Two of us found some ice to play on as chose to ascend via it while others stayed on haed packed snow. After cleaing the avalanche field we cut back to the left and hit the regular trail at the top of the first Cathedral. Snow had started falling lowering viz to a little over 150 feet. We continued our ascent over the rocks and ice until we hit the snow field high up on the ridge where at first we followed cairns, but eventually just went straight up once they were buried under the deep snow. Hitting the top of the Cathedral trail, the viz had dropped to 25 feet as we slowly made our way to the summit. Approaching the summit I recalled July 4th, 2005 when Geri and I had walked hand in hand to the summit to complete the NEHH list. I wished she was with me today, but hopefully next time she will be. With the weather getting worse we decided to descend the same way. At one point we had white out conditions, but found it fairly easy to stay along the ridge on our descent. We had done it! Tomorrow - Hamlin peak!
Another early dinner and bed time, followed by a 6 AM wake up. Today was very different that yesterday. We woke to temps below zero, high winds and a clear blue sky. Once again, we checked in with the Ranger and were under way a little after 9 AM. As we started up the Hamlin Ridge trail we find the trees covered with snow slowing us down. Approaching the tree line we all gear up for the winds and blowing snow that we are about to hike into. Just after this, Dan dropped a glove which very quickly was blown away. Dan's plan was to return to below the treeline to re-group, but unfortuntley he ended up turning back. Our same group of 5 from yesterday slowly made our way up a snow field, stopping near the top to change to crampons. Here the high wind (50 mph) sent Jeff's camera case sailing never to be seen again - luckily he had the camera in his pocket!
With the winds making standing difficult at times we slowly made our way up the ridge towards the summit. The views along the way were spectacular and we could clearly see the path we had taken the day before when ascending Baxter peak. Was it really that steep? Wow! Soon we topped out and had gained the large flat plateau that makes up the summit. The winds had died a bit and we were able to take our time enjoying the views and looking at the surrounding mountains. Finally we started our descent savoring the views - knowing we would be back next year!
Friday morning came too early - today we would hike/ski out to the car, 16 miles away. As luck would have it, today was the best of the 5 days. Guess the peaks wanted to leave us with a desire to return. The hike down to Roaring Brook was quick. Changing into our ski's we started out ski out. We were leaving, but having as much fun as any of the days. Last looks and photos of this magnificent place along the way, and a little over 6 hours after we started at Chimney Pond we arrived back to the cars. Back to the motel, hot showers, cold beers, dinner at Ruthies, a good nights sleep, and a 5:30 hour drive home the next day brought this adventure to an end.
What a great trip with wonderful friends. The planning for next years trip has already begun, but in the meantime, I will be back in 2 weeks to hike the Brothers!
Directions to Trailhead
From Millinocket follow Route157 to Millinocket Lake, where the plowed public road ends. Bear left
onto the adjacent private logging road, called the Golden Road, and follow it for @ 10 miles to a parking area located on the left just before Abol Bridge. Follow the road across from the parking area to right and the gravel pit. Behind the gravel pit, skiers and snowshoers will find a marked trail to Abol Beach and the Park Tote Road
Length of Hike:
5:00 hour ski to Roaring Brook - 12.5 miles
2:30 hour hike to Chimney Pond - 3.5 miles
4:00 hour hike to Baxter summit via Cathederal trail
3:00 hour hike to Hamlin summit via Hamlin Ridge trail
6:15 hour hike/ski from Chimney Pond to Abol Bridge - 16 miles
Check out our Hiking page