I’ve visited Gulf Hagas a few times over the years, the last time in 2007, as I was finishing up my thru- hike of the Appalachian Trail. Back then, it was a warm day in September, and we took a whole day to detour off the AT to explore what many consider ” a wilderness setting unsurpassed in the 2,000 miles of the Appalchian”. General Lee, Bird Dawg, Richard Wizard, Queso, Life Traveler, and I showered under Screw Auger Falls at the beginning, and then soaked in a giant pool at the Head of the Gulf that day. We were the only thru-hikers that month who took the day off to check out the gorge’s 100 foot high slate walls. Everyone’s rushing lately, even hikers taking five months off to walk in woods.
In January, it’s a completely different experience. It was Bonelady’s day off from cooking meals at Little Lyford Camps and Lodge, so we were able to hike the 10.4 mile round trip together. We left at 9:30 am and were back by 2:30. Snowshoes were lashed to our day packs, but we never used them. The rains and warm temps of the last week lowered the snow cover to about a foot.
The first two miles of trail were flat and hard-packed, due to the relatively easy access to the Head of the Gulf, where most of the LLC guests stop and return after viewing the winter watercourse of the West Branch of the Pleasant River.
The view today featured ice, and the roaring cascades of unique, light brown-tinged water that is characteristic of the iron deposits within the bedrock here. The canyon itself is three miles long, with a trail that ascends and descends a few hundred feet, mostly along the top of the cliff alongside the raging waters below. This is the third winter that Bonelady has worked at Little Lyford Camps and she said she’s never seen the water this high. This week, five inches of rain and unseasonably warm temperatures have released unimaginable amounts of water from the melting snow cover.
Billings Falls was most spectacular. Massive sculpted mantles formed a horseshoe of greenish ice that reached twenty feet from the top down to open pool of frothy churn below. No summer rafting here- due to the numerous waterfalls over the 600 foot drop in elevation along the watercourse. You can here it briefly here:
I’m not sure one could get through here today without traction devices.
I wore a pair of Stabilicers and Bonelady was sporting her Kaltoonas. There were three steep, icy pitches on the walk where I was super careful not to fall. Thank God for vegetable handholds in the form of exposed roots and saplings. On the way back, the firm cover had started to melt, welcoming us to post holing through to our shins, with no cuts or bruises.
By the time I made it back to LLC, I was seriously beat. This woman can move. My right little toe was sore, but thankfully not blistered. I am not used to walking this distance in LL Bean winter, rubber-soled boots.
I am staying in an empty bedroom in staff housing for the next two nights. The building has been partly renovated this summer with a new wood stove and bathroom with flush toilet and hot water, heated by a Rinnai on-demand wall unit.
The rest of the day was laid back. I took a hot shower, meditated for half an hour, and then hung out on the couch- reading, writing, and chatting with Bonelady. After it got dark, we took a short walk onto the frozen surface to watch the full moon rise on one end of the pond, with Baker Mountain looming up on the other end. None better.
Then no rush getting over to supper of Alfredo pasta with chicken, broccoli, fresh bread sticks, and carrot cake for dessert.
The wood- fired sauna had been heating up all afternoon, so a couple of sweat sessions at 180 degrees made up the after dinner program.
I fought to stay awake unit 9 pm, when I trundled my way upstairs where I pulled back the curtains and threw open the window to let in the refreshingly cool night air. A giant skylight hovered above me, flooding the full moon’s magic into the room. Into the Silence I went.