Where To Play Outdoors in Midcoast Maine This Week

Yes!

What's up for today?

What’s up for today?

The yearly ritual of turning back of clocks today came with the a clear turn toward Spring, which officially arrives this year at 6:45 pm March 20. The light is different now. It’s clearer, warmer as the longer days arrive, and still below freezing every single night.

It’s a banner year for cold, school storm days, and especially for snow accumulation. There is thee to four feet of snow on local trails, and even higher depths at elevation.

Bruce Bicknell storming up the Ridge Trail

Bruce Bicknell storming up the Ridge Trail

While struggling up the steepest sections of Ridge Trail in Camden Hills State Park on Saturday, my extended Leki trekking poles went all the way up to the hand grips before the connected with solid ground.

I was able to do it all this week: snowshoe hikes, bike rides on the snow and ice, and even a run on a clear tar road where I didn’t have to fear a slip or fall on the ice, which had finally melted.

High Street toward Levensellar Mountain

High Street toward Levensellar Mountain

Several places are really prime right now. For skiers and snowshoe fans, you can’t beat the conditions in Camden Hills State park.   Regular snowmobile grooming on the Multipurpose/ Ski Lodge trail has put a packed surface of deep snow down for foot ( and bike) traffic.

The sheer number of people out and about has also packed down several of the side trails.

On Saturday, Bruce and I were able to walk without snowshoes all the way up the Carriage and then Tableland Trails to the intersection of Jack Williams where we donned snowshoes to break the untraveled 1.7 miles of that route. A slight inconvenience that is not a problem in the summer is the nearly constant pushing aside of small branches from my face. it’s because there is so much snow on the trails that you are actually elevated three to four feet above into a canopy that’s normally overhead.

Here’s a Google map rendition of a sixteen mile winter mountain biking route that I took yesterday, with this graphic provided by John Anders, a local bike trail building force. AndersGoogle

To orient, the blue line intersecting Route 173 is at the Stevens Corner parking lot.  Frohock Mountain is just to the left, Bald Rock Mountain is to the right, with the largest mass of Megunticook touching Penobscot Bay below.  The  blue line is all trail. Most of the traveling that we did in the foreground is impossible in any season but winter, unless you have a canoe, or an amphibious vehicle, as it is Swamp Thing country.

Pace line over Coleman Pond

Pace line over Coleman Pond: Eric, Andre, and Buck

Maiden’s Cliff is packed down, especially the left turn route up to the Millerite Ledges.

Maiden's Cliff  overlooking Megunticook Lake

Maiden’s Cliff overlooking Megunticook Lake

The road walk up to the top of 800′ Mount Battie from the Route 1 parking lot is plowed and the pavement is almost 100% clear right now.

Cameron Mountain is really easy to get to,  and serviced by many snowmobiles each day, packing that trail solid.

Descending Cameron Mtn.

Descending Cameron Mtn.

Drive on up to Tanglewood 4- H camp and ski the Road in from the parking lot/kiosk.  it’s groomed and packed solid.  The Ducktrap River trail, starting at the suspension bridge, looks great for skiing.

 

If you decide to head out into the woods this week in Lincolnville, do remember that’s it’s still pretty wild out there. Bring a day pack that can keep you going ( food and water), keep you warm ( dry extra clothes), keep you on track ( map, compass, and GPS), and keep you alive if you run out of daylight (warm clothing, fire starting devices, bivy sack).

Check out what’s in my present winter day pack, if you need some ideas.

If you exhaust the possibilities in and around the Camden Hills, you can also head up to Acadia, which now has it’s own Guthook’s Hiking Guide app for the iPhone/iPad available within his New England Hiker app.

Screen shot

Screen shot

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! ]

Snowshoeing up Bald Rock Mountain

Snowshoeing.  It’s where it’s at right now.  At Camden Hills State Park, I enjoyed a quick loop up to one of the best lookouts around these parts-  Bald Rock Mountain, elevating itself a mere eleven hundred feet above adjacent Penobscot Bay .

Here’s the map of the loop. screenshot  I had originally planned to head out to Frohock Mountain, but that trail had not been broken out, and I wasn’t sure I had the time to head out there and back before dark. There is a lot of snow here. Several places in Maine broke the all time record for 10 day snowfall totals- approaching 6 feet. There is three to four feet of snow out here and it is still powdery.

Frohock is the hill just northeast of this loop.  I would like to get out to Frohock, but want someone go with me so that we can take turns breaking trail.  I just got this crazy idea to snowshoe all 27.5 miles of trails here.

I hiked right up the Multiuse Trail, then took a left a half mile out to veer toward Frohock. I made it all the way to up the summit of Bald Rock Mountain where no one had yet broken a trail from the lower lean-to up to the summit. Here’s the second (upper) lean-to, a place where folks like me can stay the night for a quick local adventure.

After I hit the shelter, I slogged up the steep granite ledge to the top, which was buried in snow today. I was alone, but had dozens of islands to communicate with from the top.

This hike is so good. After you take in the view, it’s really all of two complete miles of downhill to the Steven’s Corner parking lot.

Descending Bald Rock

Descending Bald Rock

I like completing this hike in the late afternoon, when the sun is starting to set.
Frohock from Multi-use Trail

Frohock from Multi-use Trail

I plan to journey out to Frohock this coming Saturday morning at 8:30. If any one else wants to help me break trail to Frohoc before the next blizzard comes in Saturday afternoon with a foot or more of new powder, come on by.

You gotta like slush and mud to be biking in Maine right now

It’ is not even winter yet, but it’s much more challenging to get outside and bike and hike in Maine right now.
First, we’ve already had two major snow storms that have resulted in serious downed limbs, branches, and even whole trees laying across our usual wooded trails.
One November storm was so brutal that we lost our electricity for five whole days. That’s what happens when you have gale force winds pushing against trees rooted atop soft ground that had not even shed their leaves. The weight of twenty inches of wet sticky snow accumulating on the branches makes the trees top heavy, resulting in uprooted messes toppling like pick-up-sticks across the countryside.
A week ago Andre, Buck, and I headed over to the Rockland Bog on snow shoes to clear out some of the usual riding loops that we have been favoring for the past twenty five years.
We all packed small saws that are surprisingly efficient at slicing through even larger trees that lay across the trails, but there were several behemoths that we left for the big boys on their snowmobiles to dispatch with their chain saws.
Here’s Andre using his snowshoes to stay on top of a particularly despicable half frozen mass of broken up ice partially frozen in nasty mudded-up water.

Andre atop ice

Andre atop ice

Sometimes there are no decent go-arounds, and you need to just work straight across, through the ruts and mud.

No place to tip over

No place to tip over

Thank God there are even a few bridges that we can cross. This is not a place to slip into the water, either on foot or a bike .

IMG_4053

Andre and Buck considering foot placement

Just before we got back to the cars in the lot along the Bog Road, we decided to just go around this particular nasty tangle of downed branches, and yes, normally we are in the habit of being able to ride right through this stream and along the path ahead.  Not going to happen.

Almost on the Bog Road

Almost on the Bog Road

Two days later, we three went back in, along with 5 other cultural iconoclasts. The Bubbas in the Woods have been stuck in a rut of sorts,  for a few decades now. We have these group rides on Sunday morning, and also Tuesday and Thursday nights, year after year- for decades. Incredible but true.  This past Tuesday night, it was pitch black at 5:15 PM, the temps were in the low 20’s, and much of what was soft and mucky was now frozen solid and slippery.

I had charged up my Turbocat handlebar and helmet-mounted lights for the event, my first night ride of the fall season. And yes, I realize my ancient Turbocat system is now old history, and after the ride I realized it would be way cheaper for me to upgrade to a Magicshine LED helmet light than to buy another replacement lead-acid battery that was acceptable way back when.

I also hope not to fall, so just in case, I wore my Fox padded shorts underneath my tights to prevent a broken hip or tailbone ( Right,  Lincoln Jamrog ?).  A recent Men’s health magazine article  about winter fat-tire biking, The Winter Sport That Burns 1,500 Calories an Hour, helped explain why I was a hurting unit just a half-hour into Tuesday night’s ride.

It was ridiculously tough going for me- churning through snow, mud, half-frozen water, and trying to see the path through partially fogged up /frozen safety glasses.  Here’s a map of the 7.5 miles that I somehow managed to finish on Tuesday night:

Bog Ride.  Green dot on Bog Road.

Bog Ride. Green dot on Bog Road.

Here’s a pic of the Hawk, taking a quick break in the middle of a particularly wet piece of the Bog ride.  The darkness at the bottom is black pools of water , interspersed between elevated hummocks of land and mounds of solid ground with trees somehow surviving in there.

The Hawk usually churns right through everything

The Hawk usually churns right through everything- not tonight, though.

It’s what we do, and I’m actually looking forward to my next ride in the dark with these guys.

I’m hoping that my new Magic Shine headlamp works it’s magic on my performance out there!

Two great presentations from the Snow Walker’s Rendezvous (Nov. 2014)

Two superb presentations took place in November at this year’s Snow Walker’s Rendezvous in Fairlee, VT.

If you would like an overview of the whole Nov. program, I recommend tuning into Alex Gusev’s six minute YouTube video. Alex is handy with the camera, and weaves several presentations into a compact package.

Now, on to the two highlights of the weekend:

The first was Scott Ellis’ multimedia presentation entitled “Finding Simplicity in Winter Camping”.  I appreciated Scott’s low-key approach to having adventures outdoors.  Scott’s got tons of experience, and puts together informative videos about taking minimal gear and having fun in all conditions.  For his presentation he loaded up some clips from his videos.  Here is the full length version of him taking a piece of plastic sheeting, building a makeshift teepee, and putting some heat and comfort in his shelter by setting up a wood stove stove in there.

The second top-shelf presentation was by Paul Sveum , ” 21 day Snowshoe Trip in the Boundary Waters”.  His talk  highlights a twenty one day winter trip that takes place in march of 2014 in Minnesota, from the end of the Gunflint Trail (Saganaga Lake) 75 miles into downtown Ely. It was a particularly cold trip, with night time temps getting to 55 below zero.  Paul is an instructor at the Jack Mountain Bushcraft School way up north in Marsadis, Maine. The video captures an adventure of a lifetime, with a cast of characters that you rarely get to watch in action.  

It’s these types of programs that keep me coming back to Vermont every November to catch the latest installments from the Masters of Winter Wilderness Travel. It’s all set to repeat in Nov. 13-15, 2015. The event cuts off reservations at 100 folks, and if you have never been there- consider going. Stay tuned to this bog, where I’ll post the registration link sometime next fall.

Snow Walker’s Rendezvous – welcome to winter 2014

Last weekend, I attended the Snow Walker’s Rendezvous in Vermont .

Home made tent and stove

Learn by Doing

I experienced the weekend through a new lens-through the eye of a newly Registered Maine Guide.  Other Maine Guides were in attendance, including Master Maine Guide Tim Smith, and another new friend I made at the weekend, Portland-based Lou Falank.

I really enjoyed hanging out with Tim on Saturday night.

Tim Smith

Tim Smith has been finding his way into the conter of the bushcraft/backwoods survival skills spotlight for some time now. He developed and continues to run his Jack Mountain Bushcraft School,  the highly respected Maine-based ” University of Outdoor Skills” .  Tim’s long-term immersion programs are the longest and most comprehensive bushcraft, survival and guide training courses in North America.

What’s bushcraft?  The JMB website explains: ‘Bushcraft is the active component of our interaction with the natural world. Both art and science, bushcraft is doing, making, crafting, traveling, building and living in the natural world. It is an inclusive term for doing things outdoors and is composed of activities such as, but not limited to, primitive skills, modern survival, classic camping, expeditionary skills, prepping, hiking, paddling, crafting and outdoor living, as well as more specialized disciplines such as hunting, fishing and trapping. Bushcraft has no political agenda or worldview, isn’t about preparing for the end of the world, and isn’t an “ism”. It is made up of people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds who share a love for being active outdoors.’
Now Tim’s going to be on our living-room or palm-based screens in upcoming episodes of Dude, You’re Screwed on the Discovery Channel.  Tim’s episode should be entertaining us before 2015 rolls around, sometime in early December.  Stay tuned for more details.

The normally bushcraft-distant New York Times gave considerable column length to the show in their Dec. 20, 2013 review :  “Dude, You’re Screwed” centers on five men, most with advanced military training, who take turns running gauntlets designed for them by the others. Episodes open with essentially a staged rendition — the mark is kidnapped, hooded and bound at the wrists, then spirited off to who knows where. Unhooded, he’s left to fend for himself with just a handful of tools provided by the team. (As for suspension of disbelief, wouldn’t the participants know their destination when they’ve presumably gone through passport control?)
While the contestant in the game — all the men refer to it as “the game,” though there’s no prize — makes his way through various struggles, the other four men observe him remotely, and sometimes say grim things like “Moisture kills out here.”
But more often, their mood is light. Its like the home run contest before the All-Star Game, an essentially meaningless display of skills where titans watch one another show off. But the casual mood also serves to take the edge off the very real struggle of the man in the wild.
I want to see this show, but I don’t subscribe to the Discovery Channel.  If tell you when it’s on, can someone help me see it?  

I also had a great time talking with Lou Falnak.

Lou Falank -photo by Emily McCabe

Lou Falank -photo by Emily McCabe

Lou runs his Mountain Bear Programs and Guide Service.
Lou has provided programs as a director, instructor, and co-facilitator at camps & schools across Maine, New York, and Pennsylvania. He’s a Registered Maine Guide. His L.O.S.T.(Learning Outdoor Survival Techniques) Program specializes in bringing youth from a wide variety of backgrounds into the outdoors to learn skills and experience community. He’s making a difference in the lives of children in the Portland area, bringing after-school bush-crafting skills to the next generation.

Lou and I hit it off. We’ll get together in the near future, after Thanksgiving, to do something together in the outdoors.

I  was recruited to kick off the weekend at Friday night’s whole group meeting ( the event cuts off at 100 registrants) with a half hour reading from my blog. This was old school, no iPhoto or Powerpoint, just one guy trying to entertain the faithful by reading a half-hour story of an actual deep winter adventure in the Maine woods.

I  read about my one-week walk across the frozen Moosehead and Seboomook Lakes.    Here’s the link to the talk- this time there are photos and three video clips -The Great Slush Walk of 2009.

Mark Shaw exits our hotel room

Mark Shaw exits our hotel room

I plan to include at least one more entry about the weekend.

There was so much to be excited about !

Midwest Winter Camping Symposium- my take

The big event on the shore of Sturgeon Lake in Minnesota was a huge success. My travel from Maine was originally scheduled in order for me to work in the vendor area at Don Kevilus’ Four Dog Stove booth.

Don Kevilus steering the Four Dog Stove operation

Don Kevilus steering the Four Dog Stove operation

I worked the Four Dog Stove booth in 2011 at Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia, where twenty thousand hikers converged at the Appalachian Trail’s biggest weekend event. It’s fun being front and center at a major event where there are so many people who are excited about getting out in the woods and trails and walking for day, weeks, and even months at a time.

The days were all sunny, the night cold but not frigid, and the sleeping was delicious, or was that deciduous?  Lots of trees nearby, just like back at home in Maine.

We are here at the Midwest Winter camping Skills Symposium.

Here is a video journal from Four Dog Stove that captures the energy and the experience of the weekend’s festivities.

Here’s a Facebook page for the Winter Camping Symposium.

And the link for the schedule–> See the wide variety of workshops  and seminars presented at this event.

I was Saturday’s Keynote Presenter

P1040551  Here’s my biography, with a pic of me walking white winter in Acadia National park: Thomas Jamrog has been backpacking, riding mountain bikes, and living in the outdoors for close to 50 years.  Tom maintains his popular blog: Living Large While Walking The Big Trail, and Tom’s Trailjournals have amassed close to one million web visits.   Tom is a member of the Iron Butt Association, a long-distance motorcycling community whose basic entry requirement is to ride 1,000 miles in one day. Tom rides mountain bikes year round in Maine. For one calendar year, Tom commuted 32 miles a day to work, on a bicycle, through the winter. Tom’s winter camping experiences have recently expanded to include winter fat-tire biking.From 2007 to 2013, Tom backpacked over 8,000 miles in the United States. On October 24, 2014 The American Long Distance Hiking Association-West awarded Tom the Triple Crown of Hiking, for having completed continuous through hikes of the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide Trails, joining a relatively small club of 200 people who have received the award to date.  
Tom has completed winter walking trips in Canada and conducts yearly trips in Maine, where he has lived with his wife, Marcia, for the past 40 years.Tom Jamrog

This was the topic for my presentation:

Winter Walking the West: Preparing and Adapting to Snow Travel in the High Sierras and Rocky Mountains–Tom Jamrog has recently completed 400 miles of walking on snow and ice over the High Sierra in California and several hundred miles above 10,000 feet in Colorado.  He will discuss his physical and mental preparation and how he adapted the skills learned from traditional “Winterwalking” in New England and Northern Canada to succeed in being awarded the Triple Crown of Hiking.

I also made some new friends.

I was camped right next door to Kevin and Beth Kinney, who are making a very respectable go at it sewing super well-designed winter outer ware from traditional textiles like cotton and fur. We’re talking Empire Canvas Works.

The big needle at Empire Canvas

The big needle at Empire Canvas

 

At the Four Dog Stove booth, we provided some table space for Ben’s Backwoods. I liked hanging with Ben Piersma and am reading through his authoritative blog right now.  His bio reads:  “Ben’s full time job is testing, researching, and selling tools and outdoor goods for life in the north woods. He uses hand tools like axes, hand-saws, and knives daily for fishing, hunting, foraging, self reliance, and primitive bushcraft. His goods can be found at Bensbackwoods.com

Did you know that that residents of other states can be licensed as Registered Maine Guides. I enjoyed talking trail and skills with Scott Oeth, from Minnesota, who had passed all the testing requirements for the Maine Guide license last year. Scott’s blog is tops, and full of interesting outdoor angles.

Scott checking out some very warm custom mittens

Scott checking out some very warm custom mittens

I was impressed with the camaraderie here.  For example, Don Kivelus invited Ben to set up a his Ben’s Backwoods goods table at Don’s Four Dog Stove booth, making for many grand choices on one long table full of shiny metal , or polished wooden stuff.  These two guys are in effect  direct competitors, supplying the bushcraft public with a number of the same items, but sometimes work together, like this. I also know that both Ben and Don live in the sticks, and at least Don has an actual farmstead, with animals running around a wide expanse of Minnesota.  Don prefers cutting and hauling his firewood with some of the five mules he tends on the back forty.  He sometimes posts pics of mules plowing up a field, not something you see everyday, even way out in rural areas where tractors rule.  Any product these two guys consider to sell is first used, abused, and sometimes refused before it goes up for sale. A true American business experience, a rare occurrence these days.

In the next few weeks, I plan to post a few Four Dog Stove Youtube videos related to this event and also highlight some of the products I am evaluating that I picked up out in Minnesota. Stay tuned.