Snowy adventure in backcountry lodge in Maine

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 7, 2013 at 10:14 am •  Published: January 7, 2013

GREENVILLE, Maine (AP) — If you love the idea of cross-country skiing or snowshoeing through a snowy forest, stoking a wood stove at midnight, and eating great meals in good company around long wooden tables, then consider a winter adventure in northern Maine.

The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) operates backcountry lodges in the Moosehead Lake region of Maine near Greenville. In winter, visitors reach the lodges by skiing in, and snowshoeing is also popular on nearby trails. The trip is ideal for those who are moderately athletic, game to test their cross-country or snowshoeing skills, and not averse to extreme winter weather. If you're sociable by nature, you'll find your fill of community and conversation at the communal dinner tables. If you tend toward the solitary, that too is easily found in the private cabins and big wilderness of Maine.

My traveling companion Donna Lawlor and I set off for the lodges from Portland, Maine's biggest city, in the midst of a nor'easter. The 150-mile (241-kilometer) car trip took five hours due to the storm. We arrived in whiteout conditions at the AMC's winter parking lot, where our luggage was picked up by friendly AMC staff on snowmobiles. Guests can have one item per person transported to the lodges this way, so you only need to carry a map and a backpack of basic emergency gear on the trail.

It was 22 degrees Fahrenheit (minus five Celsius) with heavily falling snow as we headed to our first destination, Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins, by cross-country ski. The trail was snowed over as fast as workers could groom it. We struggled a bit in the strong winds and blowing snow but slogged on. The six-mile (10-kilometer) trek to the lodge took three hours.

The Little Lyford camps were built in 1874 to house lumbermen who worked the forests around the West Branch of the Pleasant River. "The camps inherited their layout from the logging days — individual cabins cluster around a dining lodge that serves meals, with a pond or river nearby," wrote Sarah Jane Shangraw in the 2005 issue of AMC's Appalachia journal. And indeed, as we skied down a hill into camp, you could almost imagine the scene 100 years earlier, with the rough log buildings and smoke curling out of the chimneys — until we spied two large solar panels on a south-facing hill.

The Lyford crew, led by manager Chuck James, was amiable and welcoming. After we were shown where the weather reports are posted and the location of the showers, sauna and composting toilets, we were taken to our little cabin on a hill. It was outfitted with bunks, a wood stove, a dresser and a gas lamp for light (no electricity). Perfect, I thought to myself, as I brought in more wood to stoke the fire.

All meals are included in the lodging rate (which starts at $101 a person for cabins), and the hearty dinner of warm soup, steak tips, rice and vegetables was served promptly at 6 p.m. (Vegetarian and other special diets can be accommodated.) Lyford can house 50 people in its nine cabins and bunkhouse but rarely has that many guests. At our first meal, 16 people sat at two long tables.

Our dinner companions ranged in age from 12 to 60-something, a mix of couples, families and friends. We talked about our next day plans, comparing maps and routes. Catherine and Curt Menyhart of South Portland were doing a 15-mile (24-kilometer) loop between lodges. Others were trekking to Gulf Hagas, a gorge also known as the "Grand Canyon of Maine." We chose an ungroomed trail around two ponds. The trail's 18 inches (46 centimeters) of newly fallen snow made a soft landing for the repeated falls I took while getting used to skiing again after a 25-year hiatus.

We also skied some of the groomed AMC trails, which are clearly marked and are rated easy, intermediate or difficult. Curt Menyhart puzzled awhile over the "C2C" marking on the trails he and Catherine took between two lodges until he figured out it meant "Camp to Camp." Some trails also double as routes for snowmobiling, a popular sport in Maine.