Updated: May 16, 2022
This January, with only about a week's notice, I was invited on a ski trip to Baxter State Park and Mt. Katahdin. This trip was challenging and one of many firsts for me, it also gave me the "big ski objective" bug. Here are some trip details and lessons learned.
(written in a stream of thought- apologies if you expected an eloquent novel)
Thursday, Jan 14- Night Before Prep
Get out of work early- pack everything into truck - pick up pizza- drive to Baxter State Park while eating said pizza- sleep at the at Abol Bridge Trailhead in said truck.
Friday, Jan 15th- The Haul In
Wake up and pack everything into pulk- tour 5 miles on Abol Stream trail and Tote Road (seasonal)- tour 8 miles to Roaring Brook Campground- stare at campsites and think "we could just sleep here" but keep going- suffer 3 miles of stream crossings and sled tipping- have a slight moment of desperation while crossing frozen lake- boot pack the longest 2 miles of our lives up to Chimney Pond Campground (in the dark)-find camp and thank the gods for 0-degree sleeping bags and hot Gatorade.
Saturday, Jan 16th- X'ploring
Wake up to a forecast of new snow and high winds- come to the realization that any "real" skiing is not going to be possible- go on a lil' ski tour adventure on a hiking trail and practice a lot of downhill skinning - return to camp and realize we could ski off the shelter- ski off the shelter- decide to go do more explorin'- bushwhack up the drainage to the base of Katahdin and "ski" 100 ft of rocks at the bottom of Pamolas Fury - debate whether this counts as "skiing Katahdin"- decide it definitely does not- return to camp- melt snow in a jetboil at a pathetic rate until Abby saves the day with her sketchy yet effective stove- eat dinner and try Allen's for the first time (thanks Kyle)- tuck into the 0 degrees for the night- be awoken by a teammate getting sick - feel thankful that we had a stocked med kit to handle it -get woken up in the night by a relentless pine martin named Dean trying to eat your food and your teammates puke (ew).
Sunday, Jan 17th- The way out
Wake up to more unfavorable forecasts- decide to head out before the chance of getting stuck - rig up the pulks- ski 4.5 miles down a narrow hiking trail in fresh snow pulling a 40+ lb sled - spend a lot of time uprighting each other's pulks that have tipped - have hot Gatorade at Roaring Brook while contemplating the long way to go- slog 8 miles to Tote Road where you realize the desperate state of your blisters- slog 5 silent and (dare I say) miserable miles to the trailhead- take off boots at the truck and die a little inside at the state of your feet - eat a giant burger from a local dive bar - drive home
If you can swing it, swing it
I'm a planner by nature: pulling out the map, charting out my next adventure, and finding partners is my norm- so being on the other side of the table and being offered to join an already planned (thanks Kellen!) multi-day adventure was a treat. I am SO glad I jumped on board. If you are offered up an adventure, even if it takes a little last-minute packing and "creative" rescheduling, DO IT! You will be so glad you did.
You don't have to have it all figured out
Before the trip, I was a bit concerned. I had never ski toured more than 8 miles in a day, pulled a pulk, or winter camped for a ski objective. I am so glad I didn't let this stop me and thankful for my team members (shout-out to Christian) who ensured me I was more than capable of all these things. As it turns out, they were completely correct! This trip was a great reminder to me that our limits are often much further than we think, and sometimes it takes doing it to find that out.
You don't have to "conquer" your fears
Fun fact- I am terrified of walking on frozen bodies of water. Despite growing up on a lake I managed to make it 25 years without ever finding myself standing on open ice. But at mile 10 of this trip, we came to our first ice crossing: we were tired, it was getting late, and a 3-mile detour around the lake was simply not a realistic option. So I LIED to myself. Knowing that hesitation is fear's companion, I immediately forced myself to scamper out onto the ice repeating "it's just a field". This lie got me over this lake twice, and chimney pond multiple times. It also became somewhat of a running joke among friends. Sometimes it's not about being brave and conquering anything, it's just being able to trick yourself into not giving in.
Everyone has their strengths
Longer adventures take a myriad of different skills and abilities to go successfully. Not one person will have all of these, and some aspects that come easy for others may well be your personal crux. There are going to be the people who can crank out physically demanding feats, those who keep the group organized and positive, and those who have skills you never knew were important until they are. Don't beat yourself up about where you struggle, and instead focus on what you can bring to the team. (Properly packing, rigging, and MacGyvering anti-tip mechanisms for a pulk are apparently an unknown skill of mine).
Take care of your feet
On the first few days of the trip, my feet managed to stay relatively unscathed, but after a day of exploring in damp boot liners, the ski tour out started taking a serious toll on my feet. At mile 3 I had hotspots and by mile 7 some full-sized blisters. I can't tell you how many times I've encouraged others to stop, take their boots off, and treat their blisters, but in my exhaustion, I did not yield my own advice. I SERIOUSLY regretted this- and it took me 2 weeks to be able to put boots or running shoes back on my feet. Don't be me, treat your blisters.
Nothing is "unsuccessful"
This was one of those ski trips where you put in a lot of effort and don't really get to ski. That's part of it. You need these trips to get the lay of the land, practice good decision making and learn the basics. It all just makes those moments of sending it down big, glorious lines a little sweeter. Despite the lack of actual downhill skiing, this trip seriously stoked my fire to get back out to Katahdin in the future.
It's all about team
I can't begin to express how lucky I feel about the general attitude of our group. Trudging through questionable conditions and not being able to complete the objectives we originally had our eye on could have been a serious downer. Despite all of this, this was one of the most positive and fun trips I've had in the mountains. I can honestly say there was at least one good belly laugh for each mile we traveled or hour we spent trying to melt snow. The people you surround yourself with are often what make or break an adventure- thanks, squad!