Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness is big country, a sprawling expanse ranging east to west from Brownville Junction to Greenville and south to north from Sebec Lake to the West Branch of the Penobscot River. Encompassing roughly 750,000 acres, the region is a jumble of rugged mountains, pristine lakes and ponds, free-flowing rivers and streams, and the next to last stretch of the famed Appalachian Trail.
Remote and wild but not true wilderness, the name “100-Mile Wilderness” is credited to Steve Clark, the longtime AT guidebook editor, who coined the name in the 1980’s to alert thru-hikers to the fact that no resupply points existed along this 100-mile section of trail, still largely the case today. The AT does not cross a paved road between Monson and Abol Bridge.
There are trails galore in the 100-Mile Wilderness and countless opportunities for great day hikes and overnight (and longer) backpacking trips in late spring, summer and fall. But my favorite time is winter, when I can click into cross-country skis for a journey into the AMC’s Maine Wilderness Lodges in the heart of the region. With well-marked, wonderfully groomed trails by day and outstanding backcountry accommodations and mountains of good food by night, it’s a pretty special experience amid a beautiful and inspiring landscape.
Over three days from January 17-19, my wife and I skied a wonderful circuit on AMC’s recreation and conservation land, staying at two of their Maine Wilderness Lodges en route. Here are my trail notes on this most excellent skiing trip, beginning with the first day’s ski from the trailhead into Little Lyford Pond.
AMC’S WINTER PARKING LOT TO LITTLE LYFORD POND (7 miles, 2.75 hours)
It was a long, slow drive through a steady snowstorm from home on the coast to Greenville. Stopped at the AMC office in town to check-in, then navigated the last 10 miles on good logging roads to the winter parking lot on the edge of the wilds. Did some final gear prep, then loaded our duffle bags into the shed for transport by sled into the lodge. Stepped into our skis and struck off on the KI Road, a wide track shared with snowmobiles. A hundred yards out, we swooped happily down the big hill into the dip beyond, then sweated up the other side.
A mile in, we veered off the wide logging road onto Hedgehog Gate Trail. Light snow was filtering down through the hushed forest canopy as we skied happily along on the groomed track through a glorious inch of velvety powder. Our route would take us on a winding course south and then east of Indian Mtn. into the valley of the West Branch of the Pleasant River. Maybe an hour in, a snowmobile appeared. Jared Coyne, AMC’s trail manager, was out grooming the route. We chatted for a bit, thanked him for the great trails, and pushed on over the miles of fresh corduroy. We detoured off Hedgehog Trail to avoid a steep section, taking Callie’s Trail around to rejoin a mile ahead.
In an open area, probably an old log yard, there were glimpses of the peaks of the White Cap Range through the snowy shrouds. We then ducked back into the woods for the final stretch around Indian Mtn., which rose up into the clouds to our left.
All too soon, we hit Upper Valley Road and skied north on it to the entrance to AMC’s Little Lyford Pond Lodge and Cabins. Ten minutes later we were gliding right into the dooryard of this beautiful place pretty much smack in the middle of nowhere. Coffee and tea was on inside, and there were some snacks too. We warmed up and got oriented by the lodge staff, then grabbed a sled, loaded up our gear bags and found our cabin for the night.
Wolf Star sits in a row of sweet well-preserved old log cabins on a little hillside a hundred yards from the main lodge. A fire was already burning in the woodstove when we pulled in and started unpacking. A queen bed and two bunks, table and chairs, small sink, gas lights, plenty of firewood, and a line for drying clothes. Nirvana. Out came the spare clothes and other goods, we made our beds with down sleeping bags, and then settled in to relax for a spell and have some happy hour cheer. The sauna was fired up in the bathhouse, but we passed this time around, preferring to hang tight with a good book each right in the cabin.
A half hour before supper, I set off for the bathhouse to grab a hot shower, then made for the lodge just as the dinner bell was being rung. There was another group of four skiers staying at Little Lyford this night and they joined us at one of the long tables for the family-style meal.
Oh, what a feast it was! On the menu was Italian sausage soup, bacon-wrapped filet mignon, mashed sweet potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts, with chocolate cheesecake for dessert. We enjoyed plenty of fun conversation while stuffing our faces for a good hour, then staggered off bloated with too much good food to our cabins.
We stoked the fire, then donned headlamps for a walk to Little Lyford Pond, a half-mile off. Sauntering out on the pond, Baker Mtn. before was cloaked in snowy clouds, but behind us the sky was bright with stars. Quiet all around, it was, with not a breath of wind. Snowflakes tickled my nose. We stood for a long time out there and just looked out at the big space all around us. Amazing.
This fine ski day concluded with another couple logs on the fire and a good book read while snugged up in a down bag. A pretty good start, I’d say for sure. I fell asleep listening to the fire rumbling in the stove a few feet away, and a few happy mice scurrying about in the rafters.
AMC IN THE 100-MILE WILDERNESS
AMC established a presence in Maine’s 100-Mile Wilderness in 2003. To date, the nation’s oldest conservation organization has acquired 70,000 acres in the region through an effort known as the Maine Woods Initiative. This innovative approach to conservation “combines outdoor recreation, resource protection, sustainable forestry, carbon sequestration, and community partnerships.” In addition to preserving 70,000 acres in the region, AMC operates three historic sporting camps, has built a 120-mile system of multi-use trails, practices sustainable forestry, and works closely with local communities through education and community development.