I am all about the cabins this winter. I don’t care much for winter camping in New England, but give me uninsulated walls and a woodstove, and I’m game! This weekend’s destination: GMC’s Hadsel-Mares Camp on Wheeler Pond in the Northeast Kingdom. You can drive most of the way up to this cabin so it’s more like car camping than the other cabins I’ve been to this winter and we packed a bunch of stuff accordingly.
But first, Corrie and I headed for a short hike on Haystack Mountain. We’d skipped it on last summer’s traverse so I wanted to hike it this time. We drove up Lake Willoughby on 5A to Long Pond Road and took that to the trailhead, or at least to as far as the road was plowed. We then walked on the unplowed, Class IV portion of the road to the actual trailhead and started up the North Trail.
There were some snowshoes tracks on the trail but I was still happy to have my snowshoes on since the snow became looser the farther we got. The trail ascended gradually until a short, steep part towards the top. I popped up the heel lifts on my snowshoes to make hiking up the steep part easier. Corrie didn’t have any heel lifts and was practically crawling up to keep from sliding back with every step.
We made it to the North Overlook, then the summit of Haystack Mountain at 2712′, then the East and South Overlooks. The overlooks were all partially overgrown.
We started down the South Trail to make a loop of the hike and it was much less traveled on this side. There was a steep downhill right at the top again, but then it became a more gradual descent.
We knew we’d take the South Trail down to the unplowed road and turn right/north to walk back to the car. So when we hit what looked like an unplowed road, we turned right and assumed we’d be at the car within a half hour. I don’t know how long we walked for but Corrie started saying that we’d been walking too long. I just thought we were moving slowly and was completely confident that we’d be at the car any time.
Then Corrie pointed out that it looked like the sky was a little brighter to the right of us, which would be east if we were going north (not appropriate for sunset). Still confident, I said it was so cloudy, sometimes you can’t tell with the cloud cover and light reflects weirdly. She got out her phone and checked and it looked like we were going north. But it still felt wrong to her so I got out my phone and checked, and we were way south of where we should be. I got out my compass and double checked. We had been walking south the whole time.
It made zero sense from the turn we’d taken but we turned around and started walking back, now with headlamps out since it was getting dark. We made sure to check GPS a couple of times to confirm that we were in fact now going in the correct direction. I also sent a text to our friends at the cabin since we’d be arriving way later than expected and we didn’t want them to worry.
It took us a while but we finally figured out that when we turned right from the woods onto what we thought was Long Pond Road, it was actually still the trail. The hard right didn’t show on the trail map, and maybe it’s more apparent in the summer, but there were snowmobile tracks there so we just assumed it was the road. When we kept walking south, the trail/road we were on did turn into Long Pond Road, and we missed the almost U-turn right turn onto Long Pond Road that would have taken us north.
We finally made it back to the car, with an extra 2-3 miles added to our planned 3.3 mile hike. Lesson learned: don’t be overconfident on very basic hikes. I was starving at this point so I ate a granola bar on the half hour drive to the cabin. We quickly unloaded when we got there and cooked up some dinner. Then it was board games for the rest of the night.
Hadsel-Mares is my favorite of GMC’s three cabins now. It’s big, with both bunks and a loft as sleeping options, with a big table, chairs with backs, and a large, screened in porch. I definitely plan on coming back. The stove works really well too, and I barely even had my sleeping bag draped over me up in the loft overnight. I think the low was only in the 20s, but still, that’s a good stove.
We had a lazy morning, then split up for outdoor activities. Kyle, James, and Christine wanted to hike near the cabin, and Corrie and I wanted to explore some nearby state forest ski trails. The day would be above freezing, and the next day would be even warmer, so we wanted to get out and ski before the snow warmed up.
The NorthWoods Stewardship Center grooms some ski trails off of the CCC Road in Willoughby State Forest. We had seen signs for some of the ski trails on last summer’s hike, and when I looked it up later, it showed mostly blue squares, which I thought I could probably ski. I was excited to try.
We started skiing up the CCC Road, then turned onto the easy Small Loop to warm up. The snow was sticking to our skis a little bit here and there, but it was mostly smooth gliding. The trails had been groomed recently, but they also had a fresh 2″ coat of snow that just made it so nice to ski! I did fine on the easy trail so we turned onto the blue square Middle Loop to keep going.
Despite the amazing skiing, we weren’t going very fast because there was so much cool stuff to stop and see – slug trail on trees and bear claw marks on trees and views through the trees among other things. We were nearing our turnaround time when we got back to the CCC Road so we just went up it a little way to the Barlett Moutain Loop junction to have more downhill fun on the way back.
I felt really good skiing back downhill, which the fresh powder did help by slowing me down slightly. (It may have also helped that I went downhill skiing at Stowe last week when I had the chance at a free lift ticket and rentals, so any downhill compared to that terrifying day seemed like nothing.) It’s the first day I skied that I didn’t fall even once! We hated to leave but we wanted to get back to the cabin.
We played some more board games, then James and Christine left, and Kyle lulled the rest of us to sleep with some tenor banjo lullabies. I’m not usually a great napper but I slept for an hour on a wooden bench and it felt great. We woke up just in time to start thinking about dinner. More board games for the night and we turned in early this time.
In the morning, we took our time hanging out, but still packed up and left early enough to go back to the CCC Road for more skiing. It was definitely warmer, and sunny to boot, so we knew the snow might be stickier. The trail was completely tracked out this time, so no more fresh powder to enjoy. I guess a bunch of other people came out skiing since we’d been there yesterday.
We headed up the CCC Road, skipped the easy loop this time, and started to go down the Middle Loop. It quickly became apparent that the snow was way stickier there so we turned back to stay on the north side of the mountain, which is generally cooler. We skied up the road to the Bartlett Mountain Loop and went around the outermost loop clockwise. I did fall a couple of time due to sticky snow but I’m still proud of myself for climbing and descending a mountain on my skis, even if it was only a blue square trail. Going back down the road was a good bit faster than the day before due to the trail being packed down but I was able to stay in control.
A lot of people get really obsessed with the Northeast Kingdom and now I kind of see why. I plan to come back as often as possible.