Bigelow Preserve Public Reserved Land

Recently the hunt was on to find some outdoor area that had a few specific requirements. I wanted a spot that had 
  • Winter Camping (Backcountry or otherwise)
  • Terrain suitable for dragging a sled with gear
  • Reliable amounts of snow
There are a lot of places in Northern Maine that could fit this bill, as the network of snowmobile trails is extensive.

Bigelow Preserve stood out due to it’s proximity to where I usually stay in Maine, and the fact it is a point shared by the AT and the Maine Huts and Trails. There is some good information out there on the park but I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for in terms of winter accessibility, so I write here.

For some reason I always have a problem finding the trail map on their page but the H&T has a really good view of the area - Maine Huts and Trails Map

For directions to some of the parking areas you can check here - Parking Directions

I have the AT Maps/Guides for Maine but they aren't as good as the Huts and Trails map above.

This trip’s main purpose was to test out some gear that I’ll be trusting on my future longer winter excursions. Amidst all the packing I managed to forget my camera, so, cell phone pics will have to do.

Of particular interest to me, dragging my sled along the East Flagstaff road. I didn’t know where parking would be acceptable in the winter and what roads were maintained. Long Falls Dam Road was well plowed but after turning off to get onto East Flagstaff Road (via Dead River Road), it was a solid sheet of ice. It looked like some attempt had been made to clear snow but I would consider that you can’t get too far onto East Flagstaff without some studs or studly driving skills.

I parked alongside the road and was seemingly un bothered for the overnight stay. A pickup towing some snowmobiles was parked there the entire time I was within the park, so I think it common. From the side of the road it’s a short walk before getting onto the groomed road (It looked groomed, I don’t know if it actually was) where it intersects the AT.

The trail wasn’t too busy, I saw maybe 5-10 snowmobilers on the walk in. They waved which made me think it wasn’t abnormal to share the trail with other winter recreationalists. 

There are a mixing of group sites and much more private sites along the road. I opted for more seclusion with some lakefront real estate. The Bigelow range (not pictured) loomed in all its grand prominence behind me. Once the snowmobile carved trails ended and you tried to get to the campsites, snowshoes were required.

With the below 0 temperatures the night was still and glorious. I encountered no wildlife and saw little signs of life in general. The campsite did have a fire pit and picnic table, both buried under several feet of snow.

I used snowshoes to stomp down a stable platform for a tent. Given the lower temperatures I had brought the alcohol stove which promptly re-taught me the importance of using your stove on something that isn’t snow. As it heated up it melted out underneath and soon the whole cook system was engulfed in flames as it sunk like the Titanic. Oops.

Night settled in with some clouds but cleared to reveal a spectacular moonrise. The long presence of moonlight stretched along the lake. Being entirely iced, the lake gave the effect of motion captured in a photograph. With the crisp and quiet of the air, it might as well have been a photograph. Not even the wind dared to ruin the moment with its motion. Frozen waves.

Upon laying down for rest I noticed the immense dynamic energy of the lake caused great cracks and pops. You could feel the tremor from huge buckling sheets of ice in the ground. Nature flexing its muscles.

I look forward to getting out here again, including the summer for traversing the ridge. The mountains are as mighty as any around, and having a camp to come back to sounds divine. I didn't get a chance to check out the huts but I bet that trail system is great as well.

New additions to the gear habit tested on this trip

I’m really digging this pack. I previously purchased a Mountain Laurel Design Burn 38L but was finding the capacity a little tight for 100+ mile adventures, or anything in the cold, cold winter. I think the Burn will be great for <100 mile ~1-2 fastpacks, but the Southwest has some pros when it comes to longer trips.

There is a light frame in the Southwest that adds a bit of stability when carrying heavier loads. It’s a heavier pack but the strap setup feels a bit more capable and holds the weight better. The fancy fabric combined with a gear bag provide a ton of confidence in keeping things dry. Outside storage in the Southwest is super clutch as I can essentially keep everything I’d need for the day within a quick grab.

On a totally vain note, the pack looks super cool. HMG puts a lot into aesthetic design of its marketing and I think into the bag’s itself. At least it looks it. I can’t wait to beat the shit out of this thing.

Western Mountaineering Antelope 5 Degree Bag

I know, I’m going to hell for what we did to those geese. I’ve avoided real down for a long time but I think this is one piece where it really makes a difference. WM has some written about their commitment to sustainably sourced down. 

Bottom line - The bag packs super small and kept me nice and warm when things dipped to -2F overnight. I was wearing tights and a fleece, with a Therm-a-rest Z Lite Sol beneath me and was more than comfortable. The velcro on the baffle clasp does feel a little flimsy for the price of the bag. We'll see if it holds up.

My old Siglin sled was kind of a pain in the ass to set up right. It would often suck up a large quantity of snow through the “gills”. I have plans for many snow adventures so I figured it was worth looking into some other sleds.

The Arrowhead racing toboggan is great. The purpose builtness of it shows. The gear bag holds a ton of stuff. The runners on the sled make for a more even ride on light snow or hard packed conditions. I’ll probably switch to a pole system soon, as the loose rope is driving me nuts on downhills. Highly recommend if you find yourself needing one.

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