A Wildlands cross-country ski adventure

Posted Jan. 24, 2011, at 11:05 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:27 p.m.

Never one to let a blue-sky day go to waste by staying inside, I got out on the cross-country skis last Sunday. I picked a place I usually visit in winter, the Wildlands, in Orland, of the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust. It’s a special little conservation property of 4,300 acres.

The ski tracks are groomed by equipment for much of Valley Road, which runs for about 5 miles from the south gate on Route 1 to the north gate on Bald Mountain Road.

By the time I got to the gate around noon, the small parking area was full, with about seven cars and trucks. I pulled up along the entrance road so I wouldn’t block the gate. The snow was fresh from a storm the night before that brought a 3-inch deposit of light powder. That covered a foot or more on the ground from a big storm the week before. I snapped into the skis and set off down Valley Road.

An interesting feature of the Wildlands Section is the road. It descends from either the north or south gates to the bottom of the valley, lying between several small mountains and the larger Great Pond Mountain. The valley is glacially carved and U-shaped. It’s really different, topography-wise. But, what the shape of the valley means is that on the way in it’s easy and effortless. On the way out it’s a little more strenuous. Knowing that going in helped in adjusting my pace.

The skis glided with the shhh-shhh sound they make on soft, fresh snow. As I gradually descended along the road, I didn’t see anyone. The road led me past a couple of trails on the right, the Esker Path and the Drumlin Path. The afternoon was bright and the snow glistened. Soon Oak Hill and Flag Hill that surround the valley came into view on the right.

Down a small incline and around a corner I came to a flat section with an outstanding view of Great Pond Mountain. There’s something about snow on a mountain that makes it look bigger. The mountain’s only a little higher than 1,000 feet, but capped in snow, it looked much higher.

About a mile in, I approached a real surprise. There in the middle of a cut-over field sat a Western Plains canvas teepee. There was a bench and picnic table outside. I took off my skis and walked across the packed snow near the entrance and lifted the flap to get inside. It was about 15 feet or more across and 18 feet tall. The teepee must have been erected before the first snow, because there was bare ground underneath it. There was a small bench inside.

I went back out and sat on the bench by the table for a granola bar and water break. I wasn’t there long when a young woman skied past. We exchanged greetings, then I went behind the back of the teepee through knee-deep snow to get a picture. Although it should look out of place to find a Western teepee on the East Coast, it looked like it belonged there with the mountain as a backdrop.

After taking the picture I was back on the skis and off again. The wind was light, temperatures were in the 20s and the sun warm when it peeked from behind quickly moving clouds.

I skied along a ways when I encountered a couple more skiers and snowshoers who courteously stayed to the right of the ski tracks.

One couple I met, Ken and Holly Weinberg, were climbing a fairly steep hill that I was about to descend. They stopped and we chatted about why they came to the Wildlands. Ken said, “We live in East Blue Hill and decided to come here instead of Acadia, and we’re glad we did because the skiing is excellent.” We talked awhile longer, then they went their way and I went mine.

I passed a few more people on the way in before turning around at the bottom of the valley and heading back out. The hill that I quickly descended going in took more effort to climb to get back out. As I worked my way up, I looked for animal tracks beside and crossing the road. They were deer tracks for the most part. I’m sure there were others I didn’t see in the deep fluff.

It only took a couple hours, counting the break at the teepee, to ski the five miles I covered round trip. A couple of hours to enjoy the overwhelming quiet of the winter woods, but it made all the difference for the rest of my day.

Directions to the Wildlands

The south gate is located on Route 1 nine miles south of Ellsworth. It’s diagonally across from state Route 176 to Surry. For rules and regulations on use of the Wildlands, go to the website greatpondtrust.org.

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