Leader: Per Frost
Participants: Ben Litchfield
A few additional participants had to pull out of this trip due to work and/or family reasons. Hence, Tuesday morning, February 9, Ben and I – just the two of us – headed north in winter-conditions as the roads were being cleaned up after an overnight snowfall.
At the winter-parking area at Abol Bridge we got our sleds ready and started our 4.7 miles trek to Abol Campground arriving late afternoon as planned. We quickly got our camp established and started preparing our dinner.
Wednesday was going to be our attempt on Mt. Katahdin via Abol Slide and a little after 7AM we headed up the trail with temps around 10F and breaking trail in 6″ of fresh powder snow. Calm wind and sunny – it looked like we might have a perfect day. The snow quickly got more significant and before reaching the slide we were breaking trail in close to 2 ft. of snow. The slide itself looked “boney” from below but it was really not the case although plenty of rocks were visible. In several places we were fighting through waist-deep drifts. Progress was slow.
Clouds had formed around the Tableland and it was obvious that there were some winds up there. Halfway up the slide we were in the clouds but visibility was still okay.
As we approached the Tableland the snow coverage lessened and we hit some ice. However, we continued in snowshoes believing it probably would be the better choice on the Tableland but it was pretty clear that crampons would be the choice for the descent.
At the Tableland we cashed our rope and continued the final mile to Baxter Peak in poor visibility and with winds in the 20-25MPH region – mostly behind us. We could just make out the next cairn although we placed a handful of wands in areas where we could not easily pick out the next cairn. After more than 6 hours of climbing we reached the 5,268 ft. summit.
We had started out with aspirations of also doing Hamlin Peak but due to trail and weather conditions we had to abandon those plans. We spent less than 3 minutes at the summit and headed down again – now almost directly into the wind. Occasionally we could find our treks in some of the drifts but for the most part they were already blown over again. We navigated carefully from cairn to cairn – and using our wands as well. Not a place or time to make any mistakes.
We had to stop a couple of times as we got hit by much stronger winds. Our faces took a bit of a beating and we probably should have put on face-masks but we managed without. However, we did change to crampons for the descent of the slide. We down-climbed one tricky section – using our axe and one trekking-pole – but the rope got a free-ride all day.
We arrived back at our camp about half an hour before dusk – after a 10 hour trek.
Our original itinerary also included a possible attempt on North Brother. This would have meant moving camp a further 7.5 miles into the park and an 8 miles round-trip to North Brother – most likely with more significant trail-breaking effort. Considering how hard we had worked for Baxter Peak it seemed a tough plan. And for the day of our North Brother summit attempt the windchill forecast at the summit was a bone-chilling -45F. We decided it was too risky and opted instead to break camp and hike out the morning after our climb up and down Abol Slide. A shorter trip than we had planned but Baxter Park is a hard place in the winter and plans often have to be adjusted based on the conditions.
Our only mishap on this trip happened on our hike out of the park as my XC-skiing abilities (poor!) plus ability to handle the 80lbs sled descending a hill failed. I was okay after the fall but the sled-poles broke in 3 places and we used a good half-hour to make some improvised field repairs.