How I didn’t go snowshoeing in the new national monument


Intrepid snowshoers from the Bangor YMCA got a cold and close-up look at the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument on March 11. I was not among them.
All photos courtesy of Bangor YMCA

It was with real excitement that I recently made plans to join a snowshoe excursion in the newly designated Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, and with considerable regret that I ended up not going after all.

But I hear the group trip last Saturday, March 11, was a great success, apparently, despite extraordinarily frigid temperatures and a steady, biting wind.  

“Oh, it was cold,” said Donna Gilbert, 70, of Winterport. “I don’t think I”ll ever go out in extreme cold like that again.” She said she loved it all: the cozy van ride from Bangor up through the storied, wintry landscapes of Patten and Shin Pond and across to Grand Lake Matagamon, the hospitality of the staff and volunteers who organized and guided the event, the icy trek along the east branch of the Penobscot River and the cozy lunch counter where the group thawed out afterward with corn chowder and conversation.

The expedition was organized by the Bangor YMCA and Elliotsville Plantation, the corporation behind the development of the newly designated monument. And it was made possible through a special grant from the National Parks Foundation, aimed at making it easier for people to get out and enjoy the monument. This trip would include members of the Bangor Y’s Second Wind program for seniors 62 and older. The van would leave from Bangor at 8:30 Saturday morning and come back that evening.

I am a huge proponent of public lands but hadn’t yet set foot in the new 87,500-acre parcel. I was excited to go, to see it in its winter beauty. I arranged to take a day off the week before so I could pass this weekend junket off as a work assignment, and was grateful that the Bangor Daily News was willing to assign a photographer to come along as well.

I reviewed my clothing and equipment — snowshoes and poles, insulated boots, wool socks, long underwear, wicking layers, down parka, check, check, check. Then, I started checking the weather forecast for that Saturday. Cold, it said. Really, really cold. Barely breaking into the single digits, if that. Some serious wind, too.

I have to admit, I assumed the Bangor Y would cancel the trip, or maybe reschedule it for later in the season. Who would want to go out on a wilderness trek in such temperatures? But by Tuesday, the plan was still on. Trail conditions were admittedly icy, according to knowledgeable sources, but other than that, it was a go.

I’m healthy and active and have no reason to think I couldn’t manage a trip like this. Still, at those temperatures, it didn’t sound like a lot of fun. I was on the fence about going. Then, Tuesday evening, I learned of a death in my family, an important transition that demanded my attention and my presence. And so, with a confusing mixture of reluctance and relief, I canceled my snowshoeing plan.

I still thought the Y would pull the plug on the adventure. But on Monday of this week when I contacted Greg Zielinski of the Second Wind program, he said the trip had been a resounding success. Yes, a few people had dropped out because of the cold, but those who went had a fine time. Ten people, including Zielinski and his wife, some other Y staff and six hearty members of the Second Wind group made the drive up to the monument and were guided on the two-hour trek by park staff and volunteers.

“The people who went on this trip have done lots of outdoor stuff before,” Zielinski said. “They knew how to dress and what to bring.” He put me in touch with Donna Gilbert.

“It was coldest when we got out of the van at the trailhead,” she said. “We were all huddled up, but there was no one who wasn’t prepared and no one complained.” Some in the group used snowshoes, but others did just fine with spiked ice grippers on their boots. They hiked along the banks of the tumbling river, protected by the trees from the worst of the wind. They could see Mount Katahdin, its snowy summit swaddled in a blanket of cloud. They stopped for a brief rest at the Oxbow, a bend in the river where Henry David Thoreau reportedly enjoyed a cup of checkerberry tea on one of his expeditions.

“There was no one else out there,” Gilbert said. “We had it all to ourselves.”

So, now I’m sorry I missed it. Not just the excursion itself, but the warm camaraderie and spirit of adventure shared by Gilbert and the others. My purple wind-block hat is off to this intrepid group and the organizers who made the trip such a success. And I’m already thinking about planning my own adventure to Katahdin Woods and Waters, sometime after the spring equinox and before the blackflies.

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Meg Haskell

About Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at