This trip is a part of the 100 Mile Wilderness Winter Lean-to Challenge.
On February 20th, Frosty and I headed out for an overnight snowshoeing trip. We had a goal. We wanted to make it to the Carl Newhall Lean-To. We’ve set a goal to visit all the shelters in the Hundred Mile Wilderness. Some of the shelters are more of a challenge to reach than others. Frosty had plotted a course. He enjoyed the route plotting process, research and studying.
We drove to Greenville. We stopped at the Indian Hill Trading Post to pick up some Hot Hands, air activated hand warmers. We turned onto Pleasant Street which turns into E Road. We drove past the Greenville Airport. E Road turns into the KI Road (Katahdin Ironworks). We drove until we reached the winter parking lot. This is as far as you can drive on this road in the winter.
The AMC has a staging area here for their winter visitors. There were two small, open sheds with places to pick up and leave your luggage, upon arriving and departing their huts.
It was one degree when we set out. On this trip I used my new pulk for the first time. Both Frosty and I would be pulling a pulk. We strapped on our snowshoes and started our journey. We had 5.5 miles of smooth road to start. Part was on roads groomed for skiing only by the AMC and part was on snowmobile trails.
This part went fast, averaging around a half hour per mile. I had to remind myself this speed was only due to the groomed roads, but it did leave me optimistic for the next part of our journey.
The pulk pulled well. Down hill, I didn’t feel the weight at all. Uphill, I could feel the weight slowing me down. Of course, the weight (and volume) would have been way too much for me to carry on my back. On the flat sections, I could feel the weight of the pulk, but it wasn’t significant.
The weather when we started was colder than it was predicted to be. The forecast was also for the temperature to rise throughout the morning up to a high around 20 degrees. It felt warmer than that out when we were out in the sun. In the shade and when breezy, it was definitely cooler feeling, but tolerable in only my two Kuiu base layers.
Quite a few snowmobiles passed us. We would go long stretches without seeing any snowmobiles, then a group would go by. After leaving the 110 Connector Trail, the only snowmobilers we saw were the AMC ones, hauling luggage or grooming the trail. We only ran into one group of skiers near the end of our groomed section.
Our pace slowed on the old and overgrown tote road. This section was 2.3 miles long. Frosty was now breaking trail, and while the amount of sinking and exertion involved wasn’t bad it did mean more exertion per step. The major factor affecting our pace was obstacles. We now had several stretches where we had to push our bodies and pull the pulks through alders blocking the trail. But these small deciduous trees weren’t nearly as annoying as pushing through spruce and firs (ouch!). The most annoying and frustrating factor on this section was the spruce traps!
For those not familiar with the phenomena of spruce traps, wikipedia describes it as, “A tree well, also known as a spruce trap, is the space around a tree under its branches that does not get the same amount of snow as the surrounding open space.” When winter hikers inadvertently step on or near a spruce trap, the snow collapses and your foot sinks way down as snow collapses around it. Your foot can be very difficult to pull back out. This difficulty pulling your foot out was compounded in our case by being strapped to the pulks. We weren’t able to move as freely or in the way that might enable us to remove our foot more efficiently.
These spruce traps really slowed us down. The pulks also were more difficult to pull through these scrubby evergreens. We tried to avoid the spruce traps as best we could, but some of the little trees were completely covered or the amount of trees left little room to step.
We decided that if we had any chance of reaching the shelter, we would have to leave the pulks and continue on. Our revised plan was to reach the shelter and then turn around and go back to the pulks and set up camp in a clearing. We wouldn’t be able to sleep in the shelter.
The final section of the route to the lean-to was a half-mile bushwhack. This is where our forward progress was nearly halted. The thick vegetation and terrain slowed us down so much that although we were moving forward, we weren’t gaining any significant distance at all. It was like we were on a treadmill. We were putting in lots of effort, but not traveling anywhere.
At this point, we had to face the reality that had been creeping up on us for the last hour, but we had been trying to ignore. Cue up Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Going to Take It in your head and alter the lyrics slightly… “We’re not gonna make it! No! We ain’t gonna make it! We’re not going to make it an’ we’re sure!” Oh… the agony of defeat.
Our progress through the bushwhack section was too slow and we were going to lose daylight. After traveling 8 miles, and struggling through the last 2, we turned around and retraced our steps. We were only 0.5 miles from the lean-to. We got back to the pulks and harnessed up. We hiked out to a small clearing to set up camp.
We layered up for warmth and stomped down an area for the tent. We also stomped a path around the tent and pulks. After waiting a bit for our tent pad as it were to settle, Frosty set up our tent. I tried to help him on one part and lost my balance. I fell and the cleats on my snowshoe ripped a hole in the tent. Ooops! I felt so bad!
Our thermos of hot water from home was still hot. I made us up some cocoa. After Frosty got the tent set up, I worked on setting up the inside in the dwindling daylight. First, our foam Thermarest pads went down. Then I inflated our sleep pads and freed our winter sleeping bags from their compression sacks.
Frosty heated water for our supper, freeze dried beef pasta marinara. I had another cup of cocoa. While we ate, Frosty worked on boiling more water. He put some in our Nalgene bottles. The bottles then went in their insulated sleeves. We slept with these, like old fashioned hot water bottles. The other two times I went winter camping our bottles cooled off in the early morning hours, but this time they stayed warm all night.
We secured all our gear in our pulk storage bags. Before heading into the tent. The overnight temperature was pretty mild (for winter), in the mid 20s. I was cold when we first went to bed. My feet were chilly and I put on my down booties. Soon, though, between the winter bags, mild temps, and tent, we were too warm.
I slept with my boot liners to keep them from freezing, as well as my phone and camera to warm the batteries up. My camera battery had been flashing the red, “I’m about to die,” warning as we turned around on the bushwhack section. In the morning, it was back to fully charged.
In the morning, we slowly woke up and got moving. We packed up gear and ate breakfast. I loaded my fanny pack with snacks for the trip out, as I had yesterday for the trip in. In the winter, we have to pick and/or store our snacks with a bit of thought. We brought snacks that wouldn’t freeze up into inedible bricks or store them close to our bodies where warmth will keep them pliable.
During the tote road section and the bushwhack yesterday, about once every fifteen minutes or so I got caught on vegetation. I’d start to move forward and be halted because either my overmitt cords, my snowshoes, or the pulk got snagged.
We saw a variety of animal tracks: moose, rabbit, and more on the side of the trail on both the tote road and the groomed trails.
With the spruce trap section behind us, we only had to deal with pushing through the alders on our way out. We also wanted to make miles before it got too warm. The temperature was predicted to climb to 40 degrees!
We made it most of the way before the snow got sticky and clumped to our snowshoes. Again, we saw a number of snowmobiles, not as many as yesterday though. Today, we saw a lot more skiers. The end of journey was shared with skiers heading into the huts and many heading out. The first day we went 9.5 miles, and the second day we trekked 6.5 miles.
Another reality hit us during this trip, we weren’t in shape. Usually, in February, we’re in good snowshoeing shape. We hadn’t given much thought to the fact that we had taken turns being sick throughout most of January and had been out on only one short trip since recovering.
When we returned home, Frosty immediately started working on an alternative plan to reach the shelter. Research… the fun part for his brain.