Pine marten disrupts cold night of camping at Baxter

Posted March 09, 2012, at 11 a.m.
After skiing and hiking a combined 16 miles from the Abol Bridge to Chimney Pond in Baxter State Park on Feb. 11, Les Swartz (left) of Bangor and Forest Weston of Lewiston relax briefly beneath the snow- and ice-covered slopes of Mount Katahdin.
Les Swartz
After skiing and hiking a combined 16 miles from the Abol Bridge to Chimney Pond in Baxter State Park on Feb. 11, Les Swartz (left) of Bangor and Forest Weston of Lewiston relax briefly beneath the snow- and ice-covered slopes of Mount Katahdin.

Editor’s note: Les Swartz of Bangor and Forest Weston of Lewiston camped the night of Feb. 11 at a lean-to at Chimney Pond in Baxter State Park. That night a cold front crossed Maine, dropped the temperature well below freezing, and kicked up strong winds. This was winter camping at its best.

Forest Weston and I survived the expedition to Chimney Pond on Feb. 11-12.

We parked off the Golden Road at Abol Bridge, then cut across the park trail along Abol Stream two miles to the Park Tote Road. Then we skied along the Tote Road three miles to the Togue Pond Gatehouse, then eight miles up the Roaring Brook Road to the Roaring Brook Campground. Then we hiked three miles to Chimney Pond.

Sixteen miles one way: yikes! Forest is taking a larger group in a few weeks to camp for a few nights and climb the mountain (Katahdin). I can’t go due to the schedule at work, so we decided to do a recon so he would know what to expect on that other trip.

Interesting work in pulling the sled (mine weighed about 45 pounds): When you go slower than it does, you get a little push from (and in) the rear! It was very hard pulling the sled up the last three miles: uphill almost the whole way with 1,500 feet of elevation gain. I would have done better to take my snowshoes for that part.

It was a great adventure, though, and I’ll probably do it again next year. We saw a cute and beautiful pine marten that came around to check out our lean-to for food scraps; it was too quick for me to get a picture, though. The second time it showed up, we were sitting inside the lean-to. The pine marten is a quick little critter, just about the size of a really huge cat, but lower to the ground. It came around the last time after dark to check out the mug in which I had hot chocolate.

We had to walk all the way across Chimney Pond to get to open water to refill our water bottles; it seemed weird to be able to walk out there. Six below on Saturday night, but the stars were amazingly clear: We could even see the Milky Way. I woke up later in the night, and there was the moon right over the mountain.

The lean-to can supposedly fit four people, but that would be pretty cramped. Someone did a lot of work to build the snow wall in front of the lean-to; that helped block the wind so we didn’t need to hang a tarp over the front at night.

I was plenty warm in the sleeping bag, and mostly warm or sort-of warm the rest of the time. But keeping my hands warm was another matter; there always seemed to be some reason to have to take the mittens off, like to take pictures. Then it took many minutes to get my hands warm again.

Sixteen miles in on Saturday (5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and 16 miles out on Sunday (7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.): That’s the most miles I’ve ever done on skis, first time ever pulling a sled, and the only time on skis all this winter.

We did get a bit of a break: A park ranger volunteered to carry our sleds in his trailer for part of the trip. He was going up to Roaring Brook to pick up stuff, so that saved us eight miles of pulling the sleds.

I only fell twice while towing the sled; at times I was going over 20 miles per hour on some long downhill runs on the Tote Road. This is not plowed, and park snowmobiles go on it.

We were glad to see the truck again. We stopped at the Irving in Medway to get some junk food. I got two hotdogs, a bag of cheddar popcorn, a Dr. Pepper, and a pack of six Oreo’s. Mmmmm, good!

Les Swartz is the brother of Brian Swartz, The Weekly editor.

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