adventures

Northern Maine Winter Epic

By Tom Richardson; Photography by Kevin Erdvig
Fat-tire biking across Millinocket Lake at the New England Outdoor Center.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’m glad to be writing this blog from a comfy chair, because my legs have yet to fully recover after our incredible (and incredibly grueling) snowshoe adventure in Maine’s Baxter State Park.

 

Tallie Martin leads the way at Penobscot River Trails.
One of the warming huts at PRT.

The Baxter experience was the culmination of a four-day filming session in north-central Maine that began with a visit to Penobscot River Trails in the town of Grindstone. PRT is a remarkable network of groomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails that wind through the woods and along the bank of the East Branch of the Penobscot River. On hand to tell us all about it was guide Tallie Martin, who met me at the Visitor’s Center, where PRT rents top-quality ski gear and snowshoes—all of it free of charge—to skiers ages three and up.

Fat-tire biking on one of the groomed trails at New England Outdoor Center.

The PRT trails range from narrow single-track to wide lanes for skate skiing. A variety of terrain leads through deep woods, up hills, over bridges and along the river’s edge. Numerous loop trails allow visitors to plan adventures ranging from an hour to a half day or more, depending on your pace. Two warming huts provide a place to rest and refuel—although I use the word “hut” loosely. The huts are remarkably well-built log structures heated by wood stoves and furnished with handsome wood furniture, as well as leather chairs and sofas. It’s the type of place I’d rent for a week’s vacation!

 

Snowmobiles crowd the parking lot in front of the River Drivers Restaurant at New England Outdoor Center.

After wrapping things up at PRT, cameraman Kevin Erdvig and I headed to Twin Pines Cabins at the New England Outdoor Center in nearby Millinocket. NEOC specializes outdoor experiences, and offers miles of groomed trails for fat-tire biking, crosscountry skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. It’s also home to the acclaimed River Drivers Restaurant—without a doubt one of the best restaurants in north-central Maine. Before dinner, I checked out some of the fat-bike trails on my REI Co-op DRT 4.1 before heading across frozen Millinocket Lake as the setting sun illuminated the slopes of Mount Katahdin to the west.

 

Pockwockamus Rock (aka, "Pock Rock").

The next morning we met with snowmobile guide Ken Gross at NEOC’s winter sports rental center. Ken got our crew outfitted with snowmobile gear and ran us through the operation of our Ski Doo sleds before leading us on a half-day, 30-mile ride that took us past “Pock Rock” (a large glacial erratic boulder bearing a landscape mural), over the Abol Bridge, along the West Branch of the Penobscot River, and past the Ice Caves in the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area.

 

 

Drone's eye view Katahdin and the West Branch of the Penobscot.

The more I snowmobile in New England, the more I’m impressed by the amount of work that’s required to maintain and link all of the trails, which wind throughout northern New England and into Canada. Most of this work is done by volunteers with local snowmobile clubs, who donate their time and often money to make sure the trails are accessible to all riders. It’s a remarkable system.

Crossing Daicey Pond.

Snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, fat biking … it was all getting me in shape (or so I thought) for the last leg of our four-day epic Northern Maine adventure. After checking out of our comfy digs at NEOC, Kevin and I drove 15 miles west on the Golden Road and parked at the big, snow-covered lot just before Abol Bridge. Here we met with Mike and Hannah Elliot, our guides for what was a much-anticipated snowshoe trek into Daicey Pond Cabins in Baxter State Park.

What I failed to anticipate was just how strenuous the hike would be! Although the distance to Daicey Pond is only around six miles, it seems about 10 times as long when wearing a heavy backpack and hauling a sled filled with 80 pounds of supplies, much of it uphill.

 

The Mountain View cabin at Daicey Pond.

After trudging though the snow-frosted woods and across two ponds, there was no sweeter sight than emerging on the edge of Daicey Pond and spying the cabins on the opposite shore. I fairly staggered into camp, removed my now-reviled snowshoes, and helped Kevin stoke a fire in the wood stove of our log cabin, which faced the cloud-shrouded slopes of Katahdin.

 

Checking out the view of Katahdin on the hike out of Baxter State Park.

Firewood is provided free of charge at Daicey Pond during winter, but there are few accoutrements other than a propane lamp. Visitors must pack in sleeping bags, dining ware, headlamps, sanitary wipes and just about everything else. Water can be obtained in the small stream flowing out of Daicey Pond or in the pond itself (as long as you bring a hatchet to hack a hole), but must be boiled or filtered. Park rangers will occasionally stop by on snowmobile, but their assistance should not be counted on. And you can forget about cell phone service or WiFi. In other words, you need to be self-sufficient.

Of course, this is why people come here, and the quiet of the winter woods is something few people get to experience.

On our first night at Daicey Pond, Mike and Hannah treated us to a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, prepared according to Mike’s grandmother’s recipe. Adding to the feast was Mike’s homebrewed double IPA, which was well worth the several pounds of weight it added to the sleds.

Shackleton should have been so lucky!

The winter woods of Baxter State Park

I would have loved to spend a few days at Daicey Pond, simply relaxing and checking out the many side trails leading to, among other things, a set of frozen waterfalls, but work and family matters beckoned, and so Kevin and I reluctantly packed up and retraced our steps of the previous day. At least I didn’t have to haul a sled this time around!

If you are interested in staying at Daicey Pond or other Baxter locations during winter, be sure to visit the park’s reservation page on its website. And be sure to follow the instructions on how to safely prepare for your adventure.