Dark Night on Snowshoes

I just spent much more time snowshoeing than I cared to.  I planned to walk for about two and a half, but ended up putting in 5 hours in Camden Hills State Park, where unusually deep snow obscured the Sky Blue Trail.

I knew the snow was deep out there.

Outside my bathroom window

Outside my bathroom window

Last week, by friend Bruce and I spent some collective trail finding out on the Park’s Frohock Trail, and now there’s at least another 15” of snow on top of the record breaking 4 feet of pack.  Here’s the view out my bathroom window right now.

I wanted to get going by 2 pm, but misadventures in the Steven’s Corner lot pushed my start time back close to an hour.  The lot was not plowed, with only a lonely Subaru wagon that had pushed it’s way in there when I arrived.  I tried to get in with my Voyager, but almost got stuck and quickly backed out back to Youngtown Road.  Then I grabbed my shovel and went at it, removing snow quickly with my shovel-the snow was light and fluffy still. I cleared out a parking spot for myself and was all set to try and get in there where then occupant of the Subaru skied over to his car, and then promptly got it stuck. He had no shovel, so over I went, in the true helpful spirit of my Maine Guide status. His tires were almost bald, and he was not experienced at rocking a car on snow.  I had to push him out, and it took us a while. Just as I was getting into my car to get it in the lot, another car came right in, using my work, and taking my shoveled out parking space.  At this point I decided to just park out on Youngtown Road, moving over as far over as  could.  It was now close to 3 PM.

I was carrying minimal day gear, a big mistake. I strapped on my trusty MSR Lightening Ascents, slipped my hands into my Leki poles and made great time on the first 1.2 miles. I was the second person to get in there. Heading onto the Cameron Mountain trail, I had a fresh snowmobile track.

Snowmobile tracks on Cameron Mountain

Snowmobile tracks on Cameron Mountain

The left turn after passing Cameron itself onto the lesser traveled Cameron Mt. Trail was a bit depressed, and untraveled recently.  Not too bad.

Starting up

Starting up

I was now 4 miles in and the sun was still shining when I started onto the 1.7 mile Sky Blue Trail, which had vestiges of prior use written on it that soon petered out to unbroken trail.  Unfortunately, I spent the next couple of hours weaving around, breaking through spruce traps, and even plunging into some hidden open water, until I stumbled out onto the Ski Lodge Trail in the dark, around 7:30 PM. My boots were soaked with ice water, and I had lost two mitten shells. I was hungry, and both legs were cramping, which also slowed my progress.

I was saved by my iPhone and eTrex GPS.  I was able to successfully move in the right direction  by following my forward progress on the Sky Blue Trail using Guthook’s Camden Hills Hiker App, that is until the cold locked down the iPhone.  The main problem that I had was that I was also trying to read blue blazes to ensure I was on the trail. There is so much snow at the higher elevations in Camden Hills that the snow is now up over the blazes, obscuring them in places.  Unfortunately, the same deep snow took me over deep, loose areas where I sometimes plunged in up to my chest, wallowing around, and using up valuable energy in trying to extract my snowshoes from entanglements way down where my arms barely reached.  I was thankful that I had poles to lean on and push against.

I made all the classic mistakes you read about tonight-walking in circles, moving around too much, and exercising fuzzy thinking.  I had a weak little micro flashlight ( with new batteries), and no headlamp. Dumb.

I made a phone call to Marcia that I’d be late. Then the phone died, and soon it was dark night.  I was able to maintain calm enough to haul out my GPS. I decided to forgo sticking close to the trail and bushwhack may way out. Thank God there was moonlight, and reflective snow, so I was able to see enough to discern white spaces between trees.   I set myself up a “GoTo” to a way point that I established at the closest point of the easterly Multipurpose Trail, and knew all was right with the world when I made it out, where I turned left and skittered my way back down the Ski Lodge trail to my car.  I was humbled, and stunned.

Tomorrow I’m assembling a permanent winter day pack.  I am enlisting the help of Auntie Mame to help me do this. I must smarten up and carry lots of gear in the event that I get off track again in subfreezing conditions, in the dark,  where there is no trail.

I have to make it home every time I go out. Now, I’ll be better prepared for the next possible disaster.

[Future Post:  What’s in my winter day pack ?

I’m taking suggestions! ]

About Tom Jamrog

I'm sixty-seven and live in the Maine woods. I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2007, the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010, Vermont's Long Trail in 2011, the Continental Divide Trail in 2013, the Camino Portugese (2016), and Newfoundland's East Coast Trail (2017) . I am outdoors every day. I offer guided backpacking trips and classes in Maine, through "Uncle Tom's Guided Adventures".
This entry was posted in GPS, hiking, Snowshoeing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Dark Night on Snowshoes

  1. Rockdawg69 says:

    Thankfully you kept your head UT. Others would have panicked with bad results. I remember forgetting to “Be Prepared” sometimes also. Lesson re-learned me thinks.

    Like

  2. tjamrog says:

    It was a wake up call, Rockdawg. I am packing up a winter day hiking kit before I hit those trails again tomorrow.

    Like

  3. Bubba says:

    Candles as discussed for warmth and light in case a snowcave is in order.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s