Sunday, February 12, 2017

Maine Huts Ski Trip 2017

In 2016 we spent a long weekend skiing the nordic (XC) ski trails that are part of the "Maine Huts & Trails" system with a lively group of friends.  It was such great fun, we decided to return and extend our trip to a five-day and four-night trip.  This would allow us to ski the entire length of the trail system and stay at all four of the Maine Huts.

The huts are "off the grid" and they generate their own energy and use the latest in high-tech composting toilets!  We carried all of our clothes, sleeping bags, and food for the tail.  The huts supplied breakfast, lunch and dinner, and hot showers at the end of each day.

We began the trip with an overnight stay on a Wednesday evening at the Inn by the River in West Forks, ME.  The inn is located a short drive from the most north-eastern point of the trail system. On a brisk Thursday morning, six of us met for a hearty breakfast at the inn before heading for the Grand Falls trailhead.

Our first day was bright and sunny, and started with some rolling ups and downs that quickly initiated us to the challenges of skiing with a back-pack.  There was plenty of snow and the conditions improved as  the day progressed and the temperatures warmed into the low 20's.  Not long after lunch we saw a most welcome sign that read "7 Miles to Grand Falls Hut".  This evoked a loud cheer from the group which became a ritual each time we would see the mile markers, particularly during those last few miles at the end of each day.   After 14.5 miles of skiing we arrived at the Grand Fall Hut with daylight to spare and were made welcome by Rob the hut caretaker.  We enjoyed warm showers, hot drinks followed by cold drinks, and chicken pot pie for dinner.  We mostly had the hut to ourselves but quickly made friends with the few other guests. Rob was a wealth of information, a great cook, and had lots of helpful tips for the trails.  He suggested a lunch spot by the trail for the next day and encouraged us to go out of our way to see the Grand Falls.

Skiing the trails

Sunny skies along the way

Day 2 started as a misty, cloudy day.  Not long after leaving the hut we arrived at the junction with the cut-off that took us to the Grand Falls.  Rob was right, it was spectacular and we lingered to take photos and make friends with a trio who had arrived on snowmobiles.  We continued in a westward direction with an additional 10+ miles to the next hut.  Much of the trail followed a river that eventually would lead us to Flagstaff Lake.  We arrived at the Flagstaff hut at about 3:30pm with a little extra time before the sun went down.   We enjoyed some late afternoon sun that warmed the hut and cast lovely views of the lake. Two more friends joined us on that Friday evening after a short ski to the hut.

Grand Falls

Warming up in the  Flagstaff hut

Snowman at Flagstaff

Flagstaff Lake from the hut

Flagstaff Lake

On the third day we experienced more varied terrain.  Initially, we had very level with terrain with views of the lake and the river followed by gentle rolling hills later in the day leading to the next hut.   A highlight of this section was the half-way yurt which offers a warm shelter between the Flagstaff and Poplar Huts.   We arrived at the yurt just as a friendly group from Canada ("the Canadians"), who we had also been at the  Flagstaff hut, had settled in for lunch.  Having just had "elevenses" we decided to ski to a vista point nearby.  This small diversion took us through some incredible untracked powder to a high point that offered stunning views of the Bigelow Mountains.  After snapping photos we skied back down to the yurt where we enjoyed the cozy setting for lunch.  After lunch we had a lovely ski through open woods and arrived in the late afternoon at Poplar Hut.  For some of us this was the second visit to Poplar.  We shared the hut with a number of groups and had another lively evening enjoying games of Rummy, Jenga, and catching up with our new friends from Canada.

Early morning views of Flagstaff lake

Somewhere between Poplar and Flagstaff Huts

Lunch in the yurt

Anne and  Paul in the yurt

Views from a point high above the yurt


On Sunday morning we took a relaxed start to the day having only a short ski to get to the next, and last hut, Stratton Brook.  While it was the shortest distance, there was plenty of climbing.  A steep and sustained approach for the last mile brought us to Stratton Brook Hut which sits on top of a hill with breathtaking views of the Bigelow Mountains and Sugarbush.  We had a late lunch at the hut, which of the four huts offers some of the best views and a cozy space for relaxing and reading.  A few, including the "Mo' is Better" sisters, explored the area around the hut on snowshoes. Others enjoyed reading and napping.  Our final evening in the hut was shared with 3 other skiers and a hut caretaker we met while staying at Grand Falls.  We worked on a jigsaw puzzle, played cribbage, and cheered the Patriots on to victory for the last 10 minutes of the game (hint, there is spotty cellphone coverage at this hut, and at this hut only!).

Skiing  to Stratton Brook

Anne and Don having lunch by the trail

Denise at Stratton Brook Hut

 View of the  Bigelows from Stratton Brook
A little fresh snow for the ski down

On Monday morning we enjoyed a long descent as we retraced our steps from the Stratton Brook hut back down the trail for several miles.  We exited the system at the Airport Road trailhead and we were met by a driver with a large van who transported all eight of us with skis and packs back to our cars.   It took about an hour to travel back the 50+ miles by car.  It was a great experience and the Maine Huts and Trails are highly recommended!

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