The winter hiking handbook issued by the Baxter State Park Authority sums it up quite nicely:
“Simply put, winter travel will take longer than summer travel. A basic rule of thumb is to expect to travel approximately two miles per hour in a small group, plus:
½ hour per thousand feet of elevation gain,
½ hour per mile for carrying a heavy pack or towing a sled, and
½ hour per mile for trail-breaking in deep snow.”
My experience has been that if you add poor weather conditions to this calculation—the ability to make forward progress can be brought to an almost complete standstill.
But the calculation lacks a critical footnote. Every hard-earned mile on a winter trip to the iconic park has its own rewards. The park is never more of a wilderness than during the winter months.
Last March my family skied five miles along the perimeter road through Matagamon Gate to Trout Brook Farm Campground.
Our destination was the winter bunkhouse where we camped for two nights and explored the surrounding area. The perimeter road is not groomed but snowmobile traffic is allowed – so the deep snow was partially packed for our skis. The rolling terrain made for fairly easy travel. And a snowstorm on the way out made for memorable photos but was not a huge problem at this lower elevation.
This type of trip is feasible even for beginner winter campers. Instead of weighing ourselves down with heavy packs – we took turns towing a single large sled that carried most of our gear. This made the ski trip to and from the bunkhouse a part of the fun instead of a chore.
Inside the park we took time to follow moose tracks through the woods and explored along the banks of Trout Brook.
At night the Milky Way painted the dark winter sky with a broad swath of starlight visible from the fields at Trout Brook Farm. Inside the tiny four-person bunkhouse we cooked huge meals, ate enormously and baked ourselves with the heat blasting from the tiny wood stove.
The deep presence of silence was our companion on every foray outside the bunkhouse. It’s a quality that’s not easy to find in the modern world — even at Baxter in the warmer months.
I kept asking my teenagers to stop for a moment and listen to my favorite sound.