Isaac whined in frustration as he crashed again. The hill was too icy and steep for his plastic-edged little kid skis. We had just set out for 5 days of skiing and were attempting the first drop on the Katahdin Ironworks road. The road was groomed, but icy and fast. My father and I watched from the bottom of the hill as Isaac dejectedly fell every few feet. We had 7 miles to go to reach the AMC Gorman-Chairback lodge. And we needed to arrive by 6pm for dinner. Progress so far didn’t bode well for getting there on time.
This was our big winter cross country ski trip. My parents joined us to ski 5 days in the AMC Maine “100 mile wilderness” property. There is a whole system of trails. You can even ski lodge-to-lodge. We were conservative and planned only one lodge, Gorman-Chairback. First, though, we needed to get there. The Katahdin Ironworks logging road is plowed part way from Greenville. From the parking area, you have to ski in 7 miles. The good news is the AMC transports your luggage for you.
We drove up to Greenville the night before to get a head start. Winter had finally arrived that week with two feet of fresh snow in southern New Hampshire and over 50 inches on the ground in Maine. But during our drive north, it rained. We were a gloomy bunch in the car pondering global warming and whether we would have to give up skiing. Luckily it didn’t look so dire in the morning. The KI road bed driving to the parking lot was smooth with white snow, and snow banks towered on either side. At the parking lot, we found a bunch of cars, but no other people. We left our luggage in the shed labeled “Gorman-Lodge, Arrivals” and skied off down that first steep hill.
After everyone reached the bottom, we climbed up the next hill together. At the top, Isaac looked back and said “That’s a long way. Is it a mile?” Our goal was a mile between snack stops. Tyson checked his GPS. We were half way to the first stop. To get to the lodge by 6pm, Isaac had to keep moving. But we also did not want to make him miserable and ruin the rest of the trip. Tyson carried a rope and carabiners to tow Isaac, and his kite just in case. My parents and I had snacks for enticement.
The KI road rolled downhill. Enough downhill that Isaac made good speed, but no more steep drops. At 1.3 miles, the snowmobiles took over the road, and we turned off onto the groomed Trout Brook Trail. The trail was a little narrower than the KI road, but still groomed. It didn’t feel like a backcountry trail to me. Isaac grew more confident as we went. On one winding hill, I turned around to see him grinning “wee!” all the way down.
At 10AM, a little after our second snack stop, 20 well equipped skiers passed heading out. They were finishing their weekend at the lodges. One skier commented on my NH AMC volunteer patch. He introduced himself as Roger Scholl, a NH hiking leader. “Ah”, I thought, “that explains why the group looks so prepared.” I wasn’t sure whether to be disheartened that strong skiers had skied almost all the way out while we were plodding along. Or to feel hopeful that the route remaining wasn’t long since they had covered it by 10AM.
Next, after Trout Pond Trail, we had a choice of trails. The Gorman conditions page said the Long Pond ice was safe, and the ski route across it groomed. That would save us a half mile and considerable distance on a snowmobile road. So far Isaac was doing well. He had made it to each mile snack stop without complaint. And we were averaging a bit above one mile an hour. Looking good for arriving before dinner.
At Long Pond, I spotted a trailer full of canoes and row boats parked for the winter. The trail was wide enough to be a road, and it sloped down to the water as a boat ramp. Little reminders like these make the “100 mile wilderness” not nearly as much wilderness as the name implies. It is crisscrossed with roads and logging tracks.
Isaac earned another snack at the edge of the lake, then we set out. The trail across the lake was groomed, though it hardly needed it. The brilliant sunlight on the lake was softening the snow. AMC caretakers had planted pine saplings in the snow to mark the trail. They looked hilarious, a tidy row of trees, floating above the water on a sheet of ice.
Tyson turned his face to feel the breeze. “Let’s ski a little further out to find more wind.” 500 yards onto the lake, he declared there was enough wind to fly the kite. “Isaac, John, and Trudy go ahead and Emilie and I will catch up if this works,” Tyson directed. His plan was to hang onto the kite and let it pull him and then Isaac across the lake. I helped Tyson lay out the parachute kite. The wind laced the lines around my boot hooks and gaitors straps. Tyson wrapped the control lines around his pack while trying to untwist them. “Ready?” I hollered. “Yep!” The kite lept out of my hands, soaring up. Tyson inched forward. This kite was an easy packable size, not meant for wind surfing. It didn’t have enough pull. Then the kite dropped from the sky and the wind disipated. Our experiment was over. We packed up the kite and hurried to catch up with the others. They had skied most of the way to the first island.
Even if there wasn’t enough wind to fly a kite, there was enough to push us from behind. Isaac and my Mom stretched out their arms for some extra speed while Tyson and I caught up. Once we arrived, I had fun turning my pack sideways so my emergency foam pad caught the wind. One other skier passed us on the lake. “Tell them to save some dinner for us!” Tyson said. “I’ll be serving it” the skier responded as he whizzed by. I guess he was one of the lodge crew. It was nearly lunchtime at our next snack stop. We skied up onto a peninsula. There, it was sunny, but exposed to the wind, so we kept lunch short. Then we skied on. Isaac, amazingly, was still skiing on his own and not complaining.
“There’s campsite number 12”, my Mom pointed out in the woods onshore. We were getting closer. The trail detoured off the lake to avoid open water around a line of boulders. We had reached the second, larger half of the lake. All us adults were getting excited “we might make it! We might get dinner!” Isaac had different concerns “Does the lodge have hot chocolate?” Whether or not the lodge had hot chocolate, we did. We had two full thermoses in our packs. “We’ll have hot chocolate at the next snack stop” I told him.
We stopped at the last corner in the lake. From there we could see the woods at the end which hid the lodge and cabins. Everyone celebrated with the hot chocolate. Then we hurried across the remaining mile of lake. We arrived at 2pm. Plenty of time for unpacking and a nap before dinner.
AMC winter trails map.