Barren Mountain, Maine
Full Album of Pictures - smugmug
The 100 Mile Wilderness is a distinction given to a part of the AT as it passes from roughly Monson to Baxter State Park. Dubbed the wilderness due to its remoteness and the absence of convenient resupply points along the way for hikers. Having a desire to complete this section at some point I planned to get out and experience it in winter, get a sense of its character.
A concern of the trail in both warmer and colder months is the ability to cross the many rivers along its length. Some have convenient snow bridges or wouldn’t be an issue in dryer times (provided getting a little wet is an option) but a situation could easily develop which would prevent passage entirely.
With this in mind I reached out to a local guiding service that caters to hikers through the year, “100 Mile Wilderness Adventures and Outfitters” (http://100milewilderness.info/). Phil was a pleasure to deal with and had all the local information I needed, and I used one of his cabins as a base camp to boot. Phil advised me to take some trails to bypasses the sketchier river crossings and start with the ascent up to Barren Mountain. It turned out to be an excellent day out.
There are extensive AT Trail Guides and Guidebooks in Maine - Like this
And also a good topo map of the 100 Mile Wildo and Katahdin Area - Like this
Beyond checking out the wilderness I wanted to practice a few things and try out some new gear. I’ve been searching for a shoe/boot to use with my snowshoes instead of the Speedcross GTX currently in the rotation. The GTX are showing some wear on the weatherproofing that I think is from rubbing of microspikes/snowshoe. The Salomon XA Alpine and the boot S-Lab X Alp boot were both on my radar for being up to the task of any adventure that is at least 80% hiking in snowy conditions.
With the stiffer sole I also saw the opportunity to pick up some entry level crampons. Though, the situations in which I might feel safer in crampons than microspikes I hardly encounter. I felt crampons would offer more safety in very specific instances of hiking in the higher elevations, situations I’d probably just avoid if I was out for a run in microspikes. And I love buying outdoor gear. To that end I got the low end “Contact” crampons from Black Diamond that come with straps for attaching to a variety of footwear.
Finally, I recently purchased some snow stakes to hold down the Solomid I purchased. Acting as the shelter part of my emergency/fastpacking shelter I use excuses to practice setting it up in rando locations.
Friday morning’s trip started with the lowest temperature rating my car has ever registered for me (-5F). The snow conditions were a fairly strong crust on top of up to many feet of snow. The snowmobile lead up trail didn’t require anything but the boots. I was super eager to try the crampons so when I joined the AT I strapped them on. The crust was strong enough to hold me up and I rarely post-holed. The AT runs along a stream for a bit but as soon as it turned off the shore I was punching through more and slapped on my snowshoes.
Conditions were pretty much the same all the way to the top of Barren Mountain. The weather stayed cool and the sun tried to make an appearance but was more hidden than not. When it did shine the trees lit up with coatings of ice.
After getting a few steps up the transition to the exposed section of Barren I slid back down. The spikes on my snowshoes weren’t biting enough so I switched back to crampons and immediately post-holed down to my hip. Hah. A little higher up the crust was stronger and I gripped just fine.
Alpine XA (Salomon's Site)
Black Diamond Contact Crampon (BD's Site)
All in All, I dig the Alpine XA. I wouldn’t wear them if I thought I was going to be doing any running of substance. I don’t think they’d be comfortable for something like a Pemi or Presi. The places I’ve been up here in the North East just haven’t had the prolonged foothold requirements and rough climbing that I think is where they shine.
They don’t feel as warm as the Speedcross but they also don’t end up a sopping wet pile of cloth like the ‘cross do. The extra stiffness felt great for hiking, in the snowshoes, and for some crampon use. I wouldn’t want to do a lot of “life-trusting” cramponing in this as my foot sometimes had the tendency to turn. Proper adjustment of the crampons helped a lot with this (obvi.) Front pointing is possible only for the briefest of moment and I’d say shouldn’t be depended on unless you get real perfect conditions. Maybe I have weak legs.
They feel just nimble enough for some quick movement and maybe some day I’ll take them on the Fells Skyline to see what they are like on non-snow conditions. My biggest concern is the durability of the upper given the relatively huge price tag. Having straps and whatnot pulled tightly over it seems like bad news for the coating/fabric or whatever they used.
On the way back down I set up the Solomid and enjoyed some lunch while taking in the views. The conditions were too perfect for pitching the stakes so I don’t think I got anything out of that exercise.