May 30, 2020
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Tougher treks require practice

Most trips outdoors don’t require any training to undertake. That’s one of the attractions to adventurous foot travel.

There’s no need to train.

Just plan what trail to take, lace up your boots, put on your snowshoes or skis and point them to where you want to go. Then, load a small pack and take off.

That’s for most trips. But I’m not planning a normal trek.

I’ve been invited to join a group that is skiing into Baxter State Park for three nights. Severe winter conditions can be expected at some point during the trip. The first day is a 12- mile ski into the campground. Part of the trek is a climb to Katahdin’s summit. The whole journey will no doubt have its epic moments.

I’ve tried climbing the mountain in winter before, twice. I didn’t like the conditions the first time, so I turned back. The next time, I bonked part way up Abol Slide because I wasn’t physically prepared for the trek into Abol Campground. I just ran out of steam and couldn’t lift my legs to climb. I didn’t train for the trek and car-ried too much stuff I didn’t need. I’m determined not to make that mistake again, so I’ve been training.

My training strategy is simple. The best way to train for the Baxter trip is to take a trip that closely simulates the upcoming trek. So, since January, most weekends I’ve been loading up my 6,000 cubic-inch pack with an increasing amount of equipment that includes what I’ll need for the upcoming trip. Then with the nearly full pack, I snowshoe or ski across a variety of terrain.

One weekend I skied into Great Pond Mountain’s Wild Lands with the pack for about 5 miles, round trip. Another weekend I climbed partway up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia, with a little more weight. That was a 5-miler, also. After both outings I felt stronger than the time before, so I figured it’s working.

Last weekend I loaded the pack with 45 pounds of gear — mountaineering boots, storm jacket, down jacket, sleeping bag, stove, fuel and a few other things — and struck out on a 6.4-mile ski into Acadia. There wasn’t much snow, but I’m sure that won’t be the case in Baxter when it comes time to ski to Roaring Brook Camp-ground.

If you’ve never skied with an almost full backpack, I’ll describe the experience. The weight of the pack is obvious as soon as you put it on. The first thing you notice is that your arm movement is restricted. But that’s not all. Once you start swinging your arms to pole ahead, your range of motion is just not as free as it would be, without the weight of a small child on your back, connected by shoulder straps.

The next effect is that the load wants to shift and throw you around with it. To correct for that, you need to adjust all the load straps and shoulder straps so the weight is drawn close to your body, on your hips. The ideal adjustment means that when you move, the pack moves with you, not like something that’s trying to take you down with it. If, when you move left, the pack tries to move you beyond left, then you still have some adjustments to make.

So, out to Witch Hole Pond I went, after leaving the Eagle Lake Road parking area outside Bar Harbor. The carriage road had some snow cover for the first mile and a quarter, which only took 15 minutes. There was barely snow enough to ski. I didn’t run into any bare spots until just past the first mile. There were more bare spots as I climbed the sunny, western side of Paradise Hill.

Most of the sunny spots were bare gravel. I unclipped the skis and carried them, until I could put them back on. At the top of Paradise Hill, around mile 3, I met a couple with their boy. They were from Massachusetts and agreed to take my picture. I joked that they could take my pack back to the truck for me if they wanted. They declined and we parted company.

That was my first stop, and I didn’t take the pack off or sit down to rest. I skied down the thinly snow-covered eastern side of the hill and ran into another bare spot, at an intersection where I could have shortened the trip by about a mile. It would have been so easy to take that shorter leg. I couldn’t look at it.

I got to the Duck Brook Bridge and took the pack off for the first time. What a relief. I checked the trip computer on my GPS. I had skied 4.2 miles in an hour and 40 minutes, not including 20 minutes stopping time. My fastest time was 6.5 mph. It must have been that nice downhill run.

I sat on the bridge, ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the sun, and thought about the Baxter trip and my next training trip.

Next weekend I’ll be coming back to Acadia for a 10.9-mile carriage road ski carrying a little more weight. With only 2.2 miles to go to get back to the truck, I’m starting to think I might just end up climbing Katahdin in three weeks. I’ll know if this weekend’s trip is having the desired effect if I feel like I could climb the mountain tomorrow.

I put on the pack and made it back to the truck in an hour and 10 minutes.

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