With somewhere in the neighborhood of three million visitors a year, who’d believe that you can just walk in and have your pick of any campsite at Acadia National Park’s Blackwoods campground?
It might take a visit on a February weekend with a foot and a half of snow on the ground, but free oceanside camping is fine with me. Four of us made the weekend outing: the three Mainers, which included myself and the Speedy Sisters, known individually as V8 and Auntie Mame, and Birdlegs, hailing from New Hampshire. The Mainers were veteran winter walkers, and for Birdlegs, it was her first taste of “warm” winter camping. We also had the pleasure of being accompanied by veteran winter walker, Jody dog, our five pound Pomeranian.
We went in mid-day Saturday, and came out Monday morning. It doesn’t take much to camp in Acadia during the winter. About all you need to do is register with a ranger on duty at park Headquarters. After he gave us our map, a page full of rules, and a warm good-bye, we drove down Route 3 to Blackwoods Campground, an the southern end of Mount Desert Island. The 1 mile road into the campground itself is unplowed. That’s where my home-made toboggans come in.
After we wedged the Caravan into the plowed out parking area on the side of Route 3, we loaded all our gear onto three sleds and grunted our way up the snowy track to our destination. V8 was chugging the point, with Birdlegs soon hauling on her harness right behind. Camp rules forbid the cutting of any standing deadwood, so I brought my own tent poles, 7 of them, ranging from 14 to the 18 foot ridge pole. They stacked on the top of my 10 foot toboggan, along with my 9 x 12 wall tent and my stove, plus some firewood. When it was my turn to grunt up, I couldn’t even budge the sled and depended on Auntie Mame to periodically push and even align the toboggan in the track. We all needed snowshoes to keep from sinking in.
It didn’t take long to reach the camping loops. The terrain was essentially dealing with one long but gradual uphill then a fairly gentle curving slope down. We eventually located a site that was within a brief walk to a port-a potty. The wash houses were winterized and locked up, but soon Birdlegs was successful in operating an ancient frost free metal hand pump, and secured a few gallons of drinking water in our red plastic pail.
After we stomped down a suitable site and dug out a stove pit, we spent the early afternoon unpacking the sleds, putting up the tent and rain fly, and setting up our temporary home, dividing up the tent into a rear sleeping area and a front kitchen work space.
Stove? Right, complete with stovepipe and thimble. One of the most intelligent purchases I ever made was buying a lifetime, titanium box stove from Four Dog Stoves .
The price of the unit in the ten years since I purchased it has more than doubled. I rigged a stout cord up high inside the ridge that would serve as a station for any wet foot gear and clothing that we’d have to dry out. When the stove is cranking it can get over 90 degrees up there. With the stove and dry wood, we were able to heat the tent up to the point where I was down to my undershirt.
Eventually we settled in, and enjoyed the heat and ambiance of the filtered light through the white Egyptian cotton tent fabric.
I have a sweet deal here. Mame and V8 volunteered to cook breakfast and dinners, and provide the fixin’s for us to pack our own lunches. As the darkness came on, we lit two candles and stuck them in the snow near the entrance and the tent was softly, but adequately illuminated by out 2 candlepower system.
Mame started the gustatory frenzy off with carrots and celery with hummus, and smoked salted almonds. I made up a couple of the infamous Snake Bites (Yukon Jack, lime juice, and snow) for myself and V8. Soon a thick hamburger was coming my way, on a puffy roll, slathered with mayonnaise and catchup. Chocolate pudding cups did the dessert session justice.
We continued to stoke the stove with the split dry oak that we had trucked in here on the toboggans. When it was time to sleep, someone blew out the candles, damped down the stove and withdrew into the depths of their winter sleeping bags. I know it wasn’t me.