Thursday, February 17, 2011

In a Cabin in the Woods

Skiing to Little Lyford

Tom and I decided to get way out of town and spend a few nights in Maine's northern wilderness. The Appalachian Mountain Club's operation up in Greenville serves Tom's Carrabassett Coffee in their dining halls, so we figured we'd go see how good it tasted. We would ski for three days and stay two nights- the first at Little Lyford Lodge and Camps and the second night at Gorman Chairback Lodge and Camps.

For us the adventure began in the winter parking lot AMC also uses to load skier's gear. The club would snowmobile our gear to the camps - we were asked to pack bedding and sleeping bags for Little Lyford. The Gorman Chairback cabins include all bedding. The parking lot is about eight miles from the center of Greenville on Pleasant Street. Our first overnight would be at Little Lyford - a six-plus mile ski from the where we left our van. We had the option of taking the snowmobile trail to the camps, a shorter and more road-like passage, but decided to take the newer Hedgehog Gate Trail.

The Hedgehog Gate Trail was a lot more interesting and a bit more challenging. The trail wound through the woods and up and around ridges. It was a good two-hour ski for us old farts, but a lot of fun. They have a halfway sign for those of us who have no idea how fast and far we go on skis. It was great because we determined when we hit that sign that we were skiing around three miles per hour. It helped us to plan out the time schedule for the rest of our trip.

The snow was all powder and there was lots of it. Maine had not had it's annual January thaw, so there wasn't a stitch of ice. The other astounding thing was the quiet. There wasn't a breath of wind. Just the sound of our skis.

As we turned the final corner down and into Little Lyford Camps, every image you could ever imagine about a little log cabin in the woods became a reality. A path with four-foot high snowbanks wound through the open area to the main lodge which was the kitchen and dining lodge. Breakfast and dinner were served family style. We met the very friendly crew and were shown to our log cabin - a comfortable one room with a queen and bunk beds, chairs and a few little tables, bottled water and a wood stove that we would need to keep stoked. When I told my brother about having to keep the stove stoked, he thought that was the coolest thing he had ever heard of. There was a porch out front and a styling outhouse a short walk around back. The whole setting was simple and perfect. There was a separate combined toilet, shower and sauna house back up by the dining lodge.

Little Lyford Camps sit near the Little Lyford Ponds. If you want to learn to fish -  catch and release only - this is the place to go. You're guaranteed to catch fish and can keep two a day. The camp chef will cook them up for you. Set within 66,000 acres of Appalachian Mountain Club conservation land, Little Lyford is close to the Pleasant River, Indian Mountain, Gulf Hagas, or the Appalachian Trail.

 Arriving at Little Lyford - our cabin was named Trails End.

 Our own outhouse

 We got comfortable in our cabin named Trails End

Tom relaxing with our gear hung to dry.

The dining room at Little Lyford

 Tom on his way back from the kitchen and dining lodge at Little Lyford

Chuck our host and Ari, who drove our gear in to camp, at the Little Lyford kitchen and dining lodge

Dinner was served at 6PM sharp and great. The other guests were really fun - BYOB and tall tales. The lodge is powered by gas lights and solar panels which Chuck, our host told us, will derive power even when it is overcast. We were up pretty late that night. Heading back to our cabin with our headlamps on was one of the most quiet experiences I've had in a long time. There was no wind and it was snowing lightly. There were no stars to see that night, but I guess when the skies are clear and the moon is out, a walk out on Little Lyford Pond is magical with Baker Mountain as a backdrop.

Dinner at Little Lyford with new fun friends

We woke up to about three inches of fresh powder and falling snow. There were signs of animal on our way to the breakfast. Chuck told us there was a resident fox. In past years he had seen a female and kits.

Guests liked that good Carrabassett Coffee

We ate a hearty breakfast served at 8AM sharp - including a treat of double chocolate muffins - and packed our own lunches with food provided by the kitchen. Our second night we would spend at Gorman Chairback. The newly constructed lodge and rebuilt cabins sit on the east end of Long Pond.

On the way to Gorman through a pine stand

It was a six mile trek through the woods to Gorman Chairback. We passed the trail head for Gulf Hagas but didn't have snowshoes with us which are recommended this time of year with all of the snow and ice. On another trip we might spend two nights at Little Lyford with a day spent exploring Gulf Hagas in between. All of the AMC camps have snowshoes you can borrow.

It was a beautiful trek and took us a little over two hours, including a stop for lunch on a fallen log we found off the trail a bit. There still wasn't a breath of wind and the snow kept falling. It was so quiet I remember becoming totally aware of how much noise our skis were making. The trails went up and down and around ridges and valleys. They were all well marked, but we'd stop to check where we were on our map mostly because we needed an excuse to slow down and take it all in. We met only one other couple out there - good liberals (which means open-minded according to Websters, by the way), and spent a few minutes bemoaning the LePage administration's attempt to roll back 30 years of good environmental laws.

The Gorman Lodge was beautiful with family style dining, toilets, showers and sauna. The cabins sat right on the northeast end of the lake with lovely outhouses around back. This place must be awesome in the summer - with its sandy beach and pristine lake. We did not need any bedding but thankfully needed to keep the wood stove stoked. There's something about having to work for this whole adventure that makes it special. The people you meet are kindred spirits - they love the Maine woods and want to keep them just as special as they always have been. Being able to accomplish a trip like this is a really nice reward for staying healthy and in shape.

Gorman Lodge
Gorman Lodge dining area looks out over Long Pond
 Gary was the head of the operation and our fabulous chef.
Tom in the lounge at Gorman Lodge


Looking down to the cabins from Gorman Lodge. This first cabin was eight-sided
 Andy showed us to our cabin and how to work the stove.

Our cabin at Gorman - Nancy's Nest

Getting comfortable in our cabin at Gorman

Looking west out over Long Pond from our cabin

After a sauna and shower, we had a terrific dinner and met more fun people. I couldn't sleep that night - I was too excited about being out in the woods. I felt invigorated and alive and wanted to make sure I inhaled as much of that wilderness energy as I could. It takes you right back to all of that primal stuff. Eating and staying warm being your only concern.

The next morning after we had breakfast and packed our lunch, we began the final trek back to the van. We both decided two nights was not enough - we needed one night just to realize where we were and what we were doing. Next time we'll make it longer.
Crossing over Long Pond outlet on our way back to the van

Tom on Long Pond - that's open water to the right and Baker Mountain in the background.

The trail back to our van was an eight mile trudge up a slow grade on the west side of Long Pond and along Trout Brook. The temps had dropped to eight degrees and the wind was gusting to 40. It was too cold to stop for lunch trailside - there was a lean-to and an open spot on the lake. We needed to keep skiing and we did for two and half hours with the exception of a few stops to take pics. The next time we do this, we'll head to Gorman first - it's all down hill.
When we hit the snowmobile trail that we started on before ducking into the woods on the Hedgehog trail, we were pretty bummed. It had all ended too quickly and that's always a good sign. We'll be back.

1 comment:

  1. wow! great write up!! sounds exciting! next time we're on the east coast during the winter months, we're going to do this!