Winter Bikepacking in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument- Part 2/2

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Despite being the only guest in the Mount Chase Lodge last night I was served a most excellent breakfast at 7:30, the time of my choice. Sky prepared pancakes, fruit slices, and bacon from a pig that had secured full employment here, on table scrap  duty this past season.  Fresh coffee, home made muffins and a fresh fruit bowl rounded out the meal.

Smilin’ Sky’s the guy
I was more than willing to take up Sky’s offer of leftover bacon and last night’s brisket.  At two degrees outside, I was not concerned about food spoilage.

I’ve waited for this winter bike camping trip for a long time. My last bike packing trip was in 2012 on the Sunrise Trail when I joined my neighbor and biking pal Andy Hazen on a stretch from Ellsworth toward  Cobscook Bay. You can check out that most interesting bikepacking trip  here.

I have that same Surly Pugsley now. It was the perfect choice for these two pristine winter biking days.

Rollins Trails/ Ragged/Snow Bowl
It’s a fat tire bike, with 4 inch wide tires, inflated to 7 pounds of pressure, enabling the wide footprint to track easily over this packed groomed snow.

It is a 15 mile ride directly west over a roller coaster of a tarred road from Mt. Chase Lodge to the parking lot for the Monument.

Ask the staff at the Lodge about the signage that marks the left turn after the bridge over the Penobscot River just before the end of the pavement.  A short drive down a plowed gravel road leads to a small parking lot where the winter trail begins.

I parked right next to Guthook’s VW, as we were the only visitors here for these two days.

The map on the KWWNM website is detailed enough to be all you’ll need.  One caution-print your own copy in color.  Mine was in gray scale. I would have been easier  to navigate if my map was color coordinated with the  red, orange, yellow, and blue triangles marking intersections and trails.

With my parking pass visible on the dashboard, I unloaded the bike from inside my Honda Element and took off, smiling from ear to ear at the superb condition of the surface beneath my wheels.   Access to trails and these huts is free of charge, however, overnight use requires reservations.

Hard to tell if smiling !
There hasn’t been any fresh snow here for more than a week.  KWWNM’s snowmobiles tow dedicated groomers that have packed the trail!   There were two faint cross country ski grooves that I stayed out of, preferring to ride to the side of the fresh snowmobile track.

The surface was not at all icy, but composed of groomed snow that refroze into a decent grip of a track.

This screen shot of my Strava feed summarizes my mileage, speed, and moving time.   It was a relatively quick 10 mile ride into Big Spring Brook Brook Hut.

Here’s the elevation profile.

There were three parts  to this ride.

The first was four miles over relatively flat terrain on the Messer Pond-Orrin Falls Road, an old logging path eventually passing through a summer gate leading to Haskell Hut on the shore of the expansive Haskell Deadwater.

Overflowed stream beside winter trail
Haskell Lodge is only a tenth of a mile off the trail and is worth a rest stop.

It is the smaller of the two cabins that are options for your over night in The Monument.   The doors are unlocked, but day users are asked to refrain from using the propane cook burners, lights, and firewood.

These are community huts, where everyone is welcome up to the maximum number of sleeping platforms and reservations are required.

Next, I rode along the edge of the Deadwater where I made a brief stop at the spectacular view at Haskell Rock Pitch.  I heard it well before I saw it.      Impressive!

From there the trail enters thicker, older forest for almost a mile when you reach a fork.   With the spring melt down, extra caution is advised with regards to deep meltdown holes on the bridges and sections of deep animal tracks on the trail.

This is dangerous:

The riding is fast and the setting is isolated.


The last segent  starts with a right on the blue diamond trail for three more miles or so out past Little Messer Pond where the path ascends to a high point on 900 feet.

  You will know a turn is coming when you pass over a flowing stream up high and then see the signage pointing left for the 0.3 mile descent into Big Spring Brook Brook Hut.

Big Spring Brook Hut
It took me two hours to cover the 10 mile distance, which included stops for photos, and my snack break at Haskell Hut.   Guthook skied in earlier, pulling a plastic sled that was loaded with 5 days worth of food and gear.  It took him 5 hours.   Fat bikes shine under these travel  conditions.

Big Spring Brook Brook Hut is appointed with basic pots and pans, and is heated with a wood stove with drying racks above for hanging wet clothing.

Water in drawn from the stream in front, with an outhouse out back. There is a large sleeping loft as well and half dozen wooden sleeping platforms on the first floor. The capacity of his hut is listed as sixteen.

Guthook and I combined forces to come up with a superb one pot supper.  I added  Mt. Chase Lodge’s bacon and brisket to his tortellini, cheese, and tomato sauce.

This trip was brief but rewarding. I spent one night sharing the Lodge with Guthook, who was bushwhacking round the area on several long day hikes.

The snow was solid enough that you could walk anywhere, and with no leaves on the trees your line of sight is immeasurably better in the winter than in the summer when the green word covers all.    It was a most satisfying and unique experience for us to warm ourselves by the glowing embers of the stove as we pondered the vast wilderness surrounding us.

I joked with Guthook that we finally made  time to do nothing.

We were the only people spending our time within this  87,000 acre  National Monument. God bless America!

And I thank you, Roxanne and Lucas, for allowing me to have this unique place to explore for the rest of my life !

MONUMENT RESERVATION INFORMATION:

Mark and Susan Adams
Elliotsville Plantation INC.
Recreation Managers
881 Shin Pond Road
PO Box 662 Patten Me. 04765
Susan,  207-852-1291
Mark,  207-670-8418
Lunksoos@gmail.com
katahdinwoods.org
Facebook: Katahdin Woods & Waters
Maps and info to KWWNM  at www.nps.gov/kaww

The staff at Mt. Chase Lodge are knowledgeable about current trail conditions and travel within The Monument.  They are ready to serve as a launch point for your own adventure.  Information and Reservations: (207) 528-2183

A Microadventure in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument- Part 1

Prequel:    “Bear and Sparkles say come on up! The fat biking is great :-)”

I missed this sign for the  Mt. Chase Lodge when I passed through here a few minutes ago.

  I’m headed 14 miles further down a roller coaster of a frost-heaved road to explore the northern end of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument for a couple days.   Bear and Sparkles are the trail names for two of my hiker pals.

Bear and Sparkles

I walked with both of them for the last cold wet days as the thee of us completed our thru-hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail  in 2010. The couple are the two full time winter staff at Mt. Chase Lodge.    Bear and I are also Maine-based Triple Crown Hikers, who also shared the Appalachian and Continental Divide Trails in 2007 and 2013.

Sparkles is a Registered Maine Guide.

My Honda Element is the only vehicle that is not a 4WD pickup truck in the parking lot outside the tiny convenience store here beside Shin Pond . I plunked down two packs of chemical hand warmers and a bottle of Gatorade on the counter.

“Ya think yer gonna get yer hands frozen, dear?” asked the perky woman behind the counter. She reminded me of my mom, who turns 91 this summer.
“I’m buying these so my hands don’t get cold. Didn’t it drop to zero here last night?” I replied.
Welcome to Shin Pond, a tiny rural settlement in bona fide rural Maine that has registered several of the coldest winter readings on record.  Three locals were gathered around a table behind me.

I asked the clerk for directions to the Lodge, when one of the fellows chimed right in, ” Go up across the bridge, head up the hill and take your second right”.

I  made it up here after I received a spur of the moment invitation from my hiker pal Guthook to visit him on his own 5 day adventure in the winter Maine woods.

Despite my last minute decision to drive north, I had my reservation completed and parking pass in hand within 30 minutes of logging onto the KWWNM website, and never left the house to do so.  The whole exchange was assisted by an actual person, who was e-mailing me back and forth.  I made a reservation for Big Spring Brook Hut, which is a recently built log cabin, that is unstaffed and set up with propane fuel for cooking and lights, pots and pans, coffee percolator, water jug, airtight wood stove, and stove wood.
Although the Monument promotes travel only via skis, snowshoes, bicycles, and on foot the major winter trails are groomed at least weekly by snowmobiles.
The cost to enter the Monument and stay in the tent sites, shelters, and huts right now is zero, but that will change after the Monument goes through it’s period of public input as it crafts the rules and procedures that will ensure that this most unique gift is used to it’s  potential.
On August 24, 2016, President Obama signed an executive order designating 87,000 acres to the east of Baxter States Park as the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. The previous day Roxanne Quimby, of Bert’s Bees fame,  transferred that land to the U.S. Department of the Interior.  The Monument came complete with a  $20,000,000 cash gift as well as  a pledge to raise an additional $20,000,000 in matching public funds.    Despite the lingering opposition to the Monument’s very existence, I believe that there is more than enough open space in this vastness of forest to provide for the needs of those of us who seek opportunities to backpack and immerse our spirits in the healing forces of trees and leaves.   There are more than three and a half million acres of timber growing in The North Maine Woods. The Monument’s footprint is exactly 0.024% of that vastness. Fact check this yourself by standing on Katahdin’s summit to  view a undulating sea of green that stretches out to the horizon along every single one of those 360 degrees of sight line.  Haven’t we all just worked this out?

The Monument is staffed by Recreation Managers who work out of Lunksoos Camps, a most historic establishment in it’s own right.  When the 12 year old Donn Fendler stumbled out of the Maine wilderness in 1939,  he came out on near Lunksoos.   His shriveled and pin cushioned body was administered to and the nation’s newspapers and radio stations came to Maine to report the events recalled in Donn’s classic book Lost In The Maine Woods.

Tomorrow I head into the Monument, but tonight I’m staying here at Mt. Chase Lodge, on upper Shin Pond,  all by my lonesome.     I love looking at the historic photos of the trophy deer and bear that were harvested in this area.

From their brochure:

“Mt Chase Lodge was established in 1960 as a recreational sporting lodge catering to sportsmen, hikers, family vacationers, snowmobilers and other outdoor oriented folks who appreciate the adventure and tranquility of the north Maine woods.   Situated on the shore of Upper Shin Pond, in a quiet wooded setting, our comfortable lodge and private cabins offer excellent accommodations. Full bathrooms, automatic heat and electricity, and cooking equipment for those who prefer, are offered year round.”

The Lodge itself rents 8 rooms, and four cabins.  My  three course dinner was top notch and prepared by Bear himself.    Breakfast came with the price of the room, which was a most reasonable $79 plus tax.

I plan to wait a while for it to get warmer before I bicycle into  the Monument tomorrow morning.   It is supposed to drop to around zero degrees tonight.  Time to turn out the light!

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MONUMENT RESERVATION INFORMATION:

Mark and Susan Adams
Elliotsville Plantation INC.
Recreation Managers
881 Shin Pond Road
PO Box 662 Patten Me. 04765
Susan,  207-852-1291
Mark,  207-670-8418
Lunksoos@gmail.com
katahdinwoods.org
Facebook: Katahdin Woods & Waters
Maps and info to KWWNM  at www.nps.gov/kaww

First Time Inside Maine’s National Monument

This past Columbus Day weekend, I finally set foot on the spanking new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.   It was easy.

To the Monument!
To the Monument!

I followed a marked, signed 1.8 mile trail from Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps on the (Map Adventures) Katahdin/Baxter State Park map.   I was spending the four day weekend at Windy Pitch cabin at the most excellent Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps (KLWC), which is presently into year 7 of their 20 year lease from Baxter State Park.

Windy Pitch cabin
Windy Pitch cabin

The collection of log cabins goes way back to 1885.

The Monument encompasses 87,500-acres of mountains, rivers, and forests abutting the eastern edge of Baxter State Park, land donated by Roxanne Quimby, whose company, Bert’s Bees, sold to Clorox for $925,000,000 in 2007. Through President Obama’s executive action, the unit was added to the National Park Service in September as a national monument, bypassing the need for Congress to authorize it a national park.

Despite media portrayal of this Monument as an unfair land grab by the Feds, it’s 87,000 acres represents less than 1 percent of the total forested lands of Maine.  According to the North Maine Woods website, there are 3.5 million acres that are considered North Maine Woods. That’s a whopping 0.236% of those privately held lands.
The move to make the land public was a long, protracted battle that is still being waged by a local faction that strongly resists any government encroachment on their traditional uses of the land, be it hunting, snowmobiling, or riding ATVs . There are still prominent National Park-NO! signs greeting the approaching tourist who exits I-95 in Medway to reach the Monument. Unless the citizens of Millinocket decide to upgrade unimproved gravel roads leading out of town into the area, this won’t be much of an issue for them, because both the South and Northern entrances to KLWWMN completely avoid traffic into Millinocket or even East Millinocket.

I stopped into the new storefront office of KWWNM on Maine Street, Millinocket, just a few doors down from one of my favorite eating establishments, The Appalachian Trail Cafe.  The ranger there informed me that entrance, lean-tos, campsites, and even some cabins are free right now on a first-come, first-serve basis but campfire permits are still required from the Maine Forest Service (207-435-7963).

Downeast Magazine has an excellent review on the Monument that is full of  tips, pictures, and places to go.

In my case, I was pleased to finally walk it, although it was a brief visit.  Make no mistake about it, these is not 87,000 acres of pristine forest. This lower portion of the Monument is made up of recently cut-over land and it still shows.  Critics point this out, but my review of Governor Baxter’ initial purchases of what is now Baxter State Park was largely made up of land that had been burned or denuded. Here’s an example of Baxter land pre Baxter State Park.

Logging in present Baxter lands previous to State Park
Logging in present Baxter lands previous to State Park

Pretty bleak, I’d say.  Regrowth will also happen here, but it may take 50 years or more. I have walked thousands of miles of trails in the past 10 years, and cut over and/ or burned forests show up, but then they tend to grow back to be enjoyed by future generations.  Same here.

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Ivan  heading out of Katahdin Lake

Today, my hiking partner Ivan and I decided to walk up as far as the first new lean-to and then meander our way back to KLWC. There were exactly 9 cars sitting in the parking lot leading from the gravel Loop Road.  Others were in there, on overnights, or day trips. The lean-to was a mile from where the Baxter side trail came into the Monument. The path was still a logging road, and damn straight as well.

Southern End of the IAT into Monument
Southern End of the IAT into Monument

The lean-to was built in 2012, of standard log construction with a new outhouse nearby. There was water flowing close for drinking ( purify!).

Katahdin Brook lean-to
Katahdin Brook lean-to

We sat and ate lunch and then headed back.

We decided to try and walk back one of the old logging roads that went in just below Rocky Pond, east of the outlet of Katahdin Lake.  The road looked relatively new, and was probably upgraded ten years ago for timber. A half mile in, it dead ended. I fired up my GPS and saw that if we went directly south through the woods, it would take a quarter of a mile to intersect he mid-point of the same trail we took from KL camps to get to the Monument.

Bushwhacking it is!
Bushwhacking it is!

Ivan was totally up for it and led the way, bushwhacking through fairly thin saplings and dodging several unruly blow downs.

It didn’t take very long for us to reach the KL trail back to the camps.  In fact, we came out within 50 feet of the northernmost section of that trail, a very fortuitous happening. I have done a bit of bushwhacking, where results are generally more elusive.

I plan to get further into the Monument, for canoeing and backpacking. I might even pack my fly rod.  I hope to get away for a couple nights during deer hunting season here in November, as the largest western parcel bordering Baxter is free from hunting. Four additional parcels east of the East Branch are established for traditional hunting ( minus bait and dogs on bear).

I have enjoyed walking most of the trails in Maine’s Acadia National Park, which is just 90 minutes drive along the Maine Coast from my house.  I think it is time for me to explore my share of the Maine woods.