Written by Ryan Wilford
March 7th, 2019– Finally!! We have been waiting for this day to come since October, when we first decided to make the trip. Yesterday morning I brought our children to Southern Maine to be with my sister and mother while we were gone. This would be the first time, and longest period of time, that we have ever been separated from each other. We were excited about this opportunity, but it was bittersweet as we would miss them very much.
As I raced back north up I-95 back to Readfield, a million things were running through my mind. I assume this happens to most people before embarking on such a trip. Did we pack everything we need? Did we pack too much? Will all my gear hold up? If something breaks, will I have a means of fixing it? Will my new ski/binding set up be comfortable for the trip? I barely had a chance to test things out prior to leaving. The anxiety I felt began to mount, but I knew that it was all a normal part of organizing a trip such as this.
When I arrived back to our house, my friends Adam Schoff and Reggie Donaldson were there going through their gear in our living room. Adam is a seasoned long distance hiker, having completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail in recent years. He was looking to add more winter mountaineering experience to his resume. Reggie had limited experience in backpacking, but had done plenty of high mileage day hikes and got a taste of his first winter climb in the White Mountains with me last winter. Both of them were well qualified and prepared for this trip.
By 2pm, we had all piled into my Tacoma and set out toward Millinocket where we planned to stay in a motel for the evening. When we got into town, we began our “gear shake down”. This means we went through all of our things to make sure we weren’t missing anything or carrying multiples of anything that wouldn’t be needed.
We then began weighing out and dividing up the food that had been given to us by GrandyOats out of Hiram, Maine. They generously supported this trip with 10 lbs of their Anti-oxidant trail mix, 10 lbs of Maple Roasted Cashews, and approximately 15 lbs of assorted granola (Original blend, Coconola, and Super Hemp Blend Coconola.) As other team members started to arrive and collect their food, they laughed in excitement as we handed them their portions of granola, nuts and trail mix.
Most of the team was able to meet us for dinner, and we discussed our itinerary for the next morning. I called for us to meet at the trail head at Abol Bridge for 5 am. Josie and I couldn’t sleep at all that night in anticipation for the next day.
March 8th- We started out at 6 am in -15 Fahrenheit ambient temperatures. People were getting packed and organized with their gear, but we’d all have to jump back in our running vehicles to warm up periodically because our hands would get so cold. We were also dressed for moving, not standing around.
We were just about ready to go, I just had to open up the Thule box on the truck rack to fetch out mine and Josie’s skis. As I stuck the key in the lock, it wouldn’t turn.. It was frozen solid. I had run into this issue before. Usually, taking a lighter to the key, warming it up, an reinserting into the lock worked in the past. I did so, and gave it a gentle-ish turn. SNAP!! With hardly any strength at all, the key snapped in half inside the lock. My heart sank as I tried not to look panicked…
“We started out at 6 am in -15 Fahrenheit ambient temperatures.”
As the others figured out what had happened, they looked at us with an expression of disbelief. This couldn’t be happening. I quickly took a couple keys that others had on them for their own car boxes and tried to see if they’d work in mine, on the opposite side. No luck whatsoever. I was fully prepared to break into the box, even if that meant destroying it. In a last ditch effort, I took out my Leatherman multi-tool and was able to remove the section of the key that had broken inside the lock with the pliers. I then took the same tool and stuck the flat head screwdriver into the lock and gave it a turn. With great ease, it turned over right away and the box popped open! Crisis averted!!!
Once we got on the trail, we warmed up quickly and conditions were quite fast on the way in. The trail was hard packed from the rangers that snowmobile in and out of the park. We were making excellent time in the first half of the trip. By the time we passed Rum Pond trail head, we started to slow up a bit as we began steeper, sustained uphill climbing.
I was hauling a sled with all my gear, carrying about 70 pounds. Some of the things I carried were for both Josie and I, so I likely had the heaviest sled in the group.
By the time Josie and I reached Avalanche Brook, we were already feeling very tired. We still had about 2 miles to go to get to Roaring Brook trail head. All the other team members were ahead of us at this point. We kept plugging away at a slow and steady pace.
As we approached Roaring Brook trail head, we were exhausted. We had another 3 miles and 1400’ of elevation gain to get to Chimney Pond.
We had some more water and snacked a little. The problem with traveling in such cold weather is that you tend to not get as thirsty because you aren’t sweating much. But you still need to hydrate as you would in any type of exercise. You sort of need to remind yourself to drink sometimes. It’s also not pleasant to drink fluids that are on the verge of freezing. That’s when a thermos with hot liquids would come in handy. But none of us had that, thermoses tend to be very heavy for the amount of liquid you’re able to carry in them. So even though this crossed my mind, I opted not to bring one.
It took us about 3 hours to complete those last 3 miles to Chimney Pond. It was very slow going. I could tell Josie was struggling, as was I. When we crossed Pamola Pond, the wind was whipping fiercely. It was glare ice on the pond in most spots as we crossed. This was due to the consistent high winds scouring the snow off the pond. From there, it was one last push to the cabin at Chimney Pond.
“You sort of need to remind yourself to drink sometimes. It’s also not pleasant to drink fluids that are on the verge of freezing”
We arrived at approximately 4pm, after ten hours and 15 miles of traveling by way of ski/snowshoes/climbing skins. The average time for someone to get there takes between 8-12 hours. All in all, we did well.
Though, I didn’t remember being so exhausted for a very long time. I felt as though I was going to throw up. Luckily I didn’t, as I began hydrating and eating some food. We settled in nicely. Must have been around 75 degrees in the cabin! We all agreed that we pushed our limits that day, even the most fit people in the group. Most people take a night at Roaring Brook Campground before making the final push to Chimney Pond. As tempting as it would have been to do that, we were all happy to be at our destination.
It was something to behold, being up there, surrounded by these majestic mountains. It feels almost surreal. Like nothing you’d find in the eastern United States. It felt more like something you’d see out west, or in the Alps. We were all so excited to be together, we’ve been planning this trip for so long!
*Please stay tuned for our next blogs of day two, three, and four!*