WINTER MOUNTAINEERING IN THE TRAVELER PEAKS OF BAXTER STATE PARK

This was my 19th winter expedition into Baxter State Park and one of the most enjoyable. Excellent weather, outstanding companions and new, less rigid park regulations made for a near perfect trip. Beginning our trek just west of East Branch of the Penobscot River in the northeastern corner of the park, our group skied 9 miles on the Perimeter Road to South Branch Campground Road where we picked up our heavily-laden sleds for the two mile slog to the bunkhouse at South Branch Pond. For the first time ever (for me), we availed ourselves of the option of having our sleds towed to the junction by snowmobiles. The bunkhouse sleeps eight and we were seven in total. Several members of our group slept outside each night so we had plenty of space to spread out and get comfortable. For our first full day at South Branch, we decided to hike what I consider to be one of the two or three premiere loop hikes in New England, Traveler Loop. About 11 miles in distance, it traverses North Traveler, Traveler and Peak of the Ridge Mountains, all in excess of 3,000 feet in elevation in one of the most remote wilderness settings in Maine. North Traveler Mountain is featured in our guidebook, Mountains for Mortals – New England. Breaking trail with snowshoes in moderate snow depth, we ascended North Traveler with glorious views of the Katahdin Massif to our south. After substantial trail searching, we reached the summit shortly before noon. The open ridge to Traveler afforded spectacular 360-degree views. However, drifted snow caused us to lose the trail in the wooded col several times. Infrequently visited in the winter, climbing to the top of icy, barren Traveler Mountain was a great treat for our entire group. From the summit, we had a clear view of exposed Peak of the Ridge. We took a compass bearing as we had another densely forested saddle to navigate and only about 3 hours of daylight remained. This was a wise decision as we lost the trail almost immediately and used our compass bearing to reach above-tree line on Peak of the Ridge. After a short break on the summit savoring wonderful mountain vistas for the last time, we again used a compass bearing to descend to South Branch Pond. Daylight disappeared as we crossed the ice on the pond to our cabin. On day three, we all skied in various directions including south on the Pogy Winter Trail. The following day, most of our group completed the South Branch Mountain Loop, which traverses South Branch and Black Cat Peaks and returns on the pond. We grilled sirloin steaks for our evening meal! Most skied on our final full day in the park, but close friend, Brent Elwell, and I climbed to the summit of Peak of the Ridge for more wonderful views. We had good conditions for our ski out with a snowmobile pulling our sleds the final 9 miles. For more information on our guidebook, visit our website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com.

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One Response to “WINTER MOUNTAINEERING IN THE TRAVELER PEAKS OF BAXTER STATE PARK”

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