Skiing was the primary focus for the majority of our group on the fifth day of our six-day Baxter State Park winter expedition, as several of us had completed three arduous mountain hikes.
We had been residing in the bunkhouse at South Branch Pond in the northeastern sector of the park, and the sturdy facility seemed like a second home. Chores such as collecting and purifying drinking water, bringing in firewood from the woodshed, preparing meals using single-burner stoves, washing dishes on the open porch and using an outhouse located about 40 yards away had become routine.
Ken Gordon had explored part of the winter Pogy Notch Trail on skis the previous day and returned with a glowing report. That would be the agenda for some in the group. My son, Adam, and Brent Elwell were intent on investigating potential ice climbing cliffs they had observed during our ascent of North Traveler Mountain three days earlier.
I had an additional motivation for skiing. Descending on snowshoes during the three mountain hikes had resulted in a nasty blister on my left foot. My hope was a different activity and a change in boots would alleviate the discomfort and minimize further damage. Of course, skiing in that extraordinary winter environment was not a sacrifice.
A journey on skis to distant Pogy Pond and back was the goal for the four of us. The 12-mile round-trip excursion entailed traversing south across Lower and Upper South Branch ponds followed by a 4-mile trek on the Pogy Notch Trail.
Skiing on Lower South Branch Pond was a delight. Bordered by the lofty peaks of South Branch and Black Cat Mountains on the west and North Traveler Mountain and Peak of the Ridges on the east, the remarkably scenic pond has the character of an inland fjord. Soft-crusted snow facilitated an efficient kick and glide. At the terminus, we followed the canoe portage trail around open water in the stream between Lower and Upper South Branch Ponds.
Our cruise across Upper South Branch Pond was equally pleasurable. A partial view of the Katahdin massif could be seen above the trees in the south. The winter Pogy Notch Trail began at the southern end.
Skiing the gentle hills of Pogy Notch Trail was an exhilarating experience. However, even relatively minor gradients aggravated my blister, so I decided to return after traveling part way. My companions continued to Pogy Pond and reported the skiing was exceptional throughout, and the pond a captivating place to visit in winter.
Adam and Brent also had stimulating endeavors. They discovered a succession of ice cliffs on the lower slope of North Traveler Mountain that appeared to be ideal for future ice climbing. Their day didn’t end there. Brent returned to the cabin and skied part of the Pogy Notch Trail, while Adam bushwhacked to the top of North Traveler Ridge and climbed to the summit.
Warm rainy weather complicated our departure from the park on the final day. The approximately 2-mile sled pull out the South Branch Pond Road went well despite wet sloppy snow. Much lighter sleds than those hauled in on the first day made a big difference. Conditions were still damp and cloudy when we arrived at the junction with the park Perimeter Road where the Matagamon Campground shuttle was scheduled to pick up our sleds and gear with snowmobiles.
The 10-mile ski out on soft, wet snow was unappealing for most. Everyone except Ken and Bruce Weik elected to forgo the long trek and ride out on a passenger sled attached to one of the snowmobiles. I skied part way while waiting for the shuttle crew to arrive and load, and my tender foot was ready for relief when they returned. The fine folks with Matagamon Campground are a pleasure to deal with. They have a “can do” approach.
Future adventures were part of the conversation on the ride out. The possibility of returning to South Branch Pond next winter was a primary topic of conversation. Baxter State Park is a winter sports paradise!
My book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine,” narrates three winter expeditions in Baxter State park. Included are climbs of Katahdin, North and South Brother, Fort and Coe Mountains and a traverse of the entire Traveler Loop.