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Going Beyond the New Hampshire Fours in Winter

On the way down from Mt Liberty, my first winter Four done in January 1998, the leader asked me whether I was planning to do the remaining 47 peaks. At the time it seemed a dicey proposition, I was not at all sure that I could do the major peaks that rise high above treeline (Presidentials and Franconias), or those peaks (Owl's Head and the Bonds) that involve a choice of either a very long day or a backpack. By the end of the winter of 2000-2001 it was clear that I would soon finish the New Hampshire Fours. In addition I had done the five Vermont peaks plus Old Speck (which I consider an "honorary New Hampshire" peak). I was, however, very dubious about my ability to do the other peaks in Maine. Even the peaks in the Rangeley and Stratton areas seemed dauntingly remote in winter, while going to Baxter State Park was clearly a major adventure.

In October 2001 I learned that a friend was planning to lead a three day trip to the Rangeley and Stratton areas, staying in a motel and attempting the Bigelows, the Crockers and Saddleback and its Horn. I immediately (and without much thought!) told him that I would join him.

It is strange how one thing leads to another! In early November I found a message on my answering machine inviting me to join a group of very experienced winter hikers on a trip to Baxter State park, the plan being to bag the Brothers, Coe and Fort. I knew that two of that group went to Baxter every winter, and that I could not ask for a more experienced group of mentors. So first I called back to say that I was coming on the trip, and then I started worrying!

My main worry was that I had never spent more than one night camping in winter. My "official" concern was keeping the sleeping bag dry. I had read a lot about condensation wetting the bag, and down losing its loft when wet. My many experienced friends reassured me, almost all had spent multiple nights out with down bags. My real concern was a vague fear of being out, in the cold, at the end of nowhere, for almost a week. At one time I almost bailed out, but my desire for adventure overcame my fears.

A second problem was skiing. I believed that it was essential to ski in, and I am at best a very mediocre skier. The idea of going downhill with a 70 pound sled chasing me was unsettling. Many friends told me that walking in would not be a problem, and that most parties had some skiers and some walkers.

I spent Presidents' Day weekend in Stratton, doing the Crockers on Saturday and the Bigelows on Sunday. While I was too tired to do Saddleback and its Horn on Monday, I had discovered that these peaks were no different from our familiar New Hampshire ones Smile!. With five out of fourteen Maine peaks done the New England Fours suddenly seemed feasible!



You can view a map showing an overview of the area in a separate window. It shows the roads and the mountains, but the roads are not labelled and trails are not shown. The DeLorme map of Baxter State Park shows both the access roads and the trails, while the AMC map only shows the trails.

The plan was to camp at the Slide Dam picnic area, which is where the Marston Trail starts. We would drive along Telos Road to the north end of Harrington Lake, then continue for a short distance to the east, to a fork. An unplowed road (Williams Pond Road) leads east from there to the park boundary, at Nesowadnehunk Field Campground. From there we would go south along the perimeter road to the Slide Dam picnic area, it is not marked on the online map but is opposite the center of Doubletop Mountain.

We would travel to Millinocket on Sunday March 3rd, and spend the night there. On Monday we would drive to the fork, and hike or ski in to the campground, about nine miles. We had reservations until Sunday, to allow for the weather, and to give us an opportunity to take one or more rest days to explore some of the lakes and ponds in the park should we so desire. We also agreed that we could leave sooner if we wanted to after bagging the peaks.

It is possible to do all four peaks in one very long day in summer, but in winter that did not seem an option. We therefore decided that we would do North Brother (the one Four in the area) and Fort on the first day, and South Brother and Coe on the second day. Fort, South Brother and Coe are on the New England Hundred Highest list, and Fort is a bushwhack from North Brother.

Gear and Food

Basically a week long camping trip requires the same gear as an overnight, with more food and fuel. The extra weight makes a sled almost essential, and that was the only item I did not have. Since many of my friends have sleds I knew that this was not going to be a problem, and several of them offered to loan me theirs.

The sled did allow me two luxuries that I do not normally carry on backpacks. Normally I take two sleeping pads, one Z-rest and one Thermarest. This time I took a second Z-rest for more insulation. I also took a Thermarest chair kit, into which the pad can be inserted to make a camp chair. Camp clothing consisted of a down jacket and heavy fleece pants (which I always carry on day hikes as emergency gear) plus down booties.

I brought a stove plus two pots, one just for boiling water (since we would camp near a stream we knew that we would not need to melt snow), the other (smaller one) to cook and eat in. One bowl for my morning oatmeal, a mug and a spoon completed my cooking and eating gear.

Planning for the food was easy, I brought what I usually bring on an overnight trip, multiplied by seven.

My basic camping breakfast is two packages of instant oatmeal with some raisins, and coffee. For coffee I use Coffee Singles, much like tea bags, both Folger and Maxwell House make them. Instead of sugar and milk I add one packet of instant cocoa, it improves the taste of the coffee. For lunch I eat gorp, so I brought a large amount of dried fruits (pineapple, apricots, dates and raisins) plus peanuts. The peanuts were to be used both as part of the gorp and as camp snacks if I was hungry. I also brought some crackers as snacks.

For the evening I brought lots of instant soup, both to make hot drinks after returning to camp, and to flavor the food. I also brought fine noodles to add to my hot soup if I felt very hungry. The basis of my main dish was couscous, which I cooked using instant soup rather than water. All this is dry and weighs very little, so I allowed myself to bring some pre-cooked chicken and vegetables to add to the couscous. I froze them at home, they stayed frozen in the camp until I added them to the boiling water to make the couscous.

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