Ghosts of the Winter
By Andrew Vietze
Created Jun 6 2008 - 7:15am
When we return each spring like so many migrant birds, we find a lot of ghosts in the campground. The spirits of the previous years, the remnants of winter that will disappear soon - Chimney Pond still has snow measurable in feet; at Daicey Pond we have all that's left behind by our winter campers. Usually this is ground-in dirt on the floors of our cold-weather cabins, buckets filled with ash, maybe a broken ski pole or duct tape on the wall, proof that, though it's dead quiet now, people were here not long ago.
At Daicey we also have the commentary and illustrations left behind in the journals in each cabin. When I'm in the middle of the opening-up process I like to take a minute and read the entries written by those hunkered down in winter storms. I guess it's akin to historians reading ancient texts to see how people lived and what they were thinking about in the past. These journal entries can be amusing, sometimes maddening, and occasionally even haunting.
This spring I discovered an amazing adventure tale. One day in March, the dwellers of Cabin 4 got up early and snowshoed from Daicey Pond to Katahdin Stream and from there climbed the Hunt Trail to the summit of Katahdin. This would be enough for most people - in fact, even in summer the vast majority of my campers will drive to the trailhead at Katahdin Stream rather than hike the extra 2.5 miles between the campgrounds. This foursome, however, had ambitions. So they continued on and scaled Hamlin Peak, an 4,756-foot ridge that is often considered part of Katahdin but sits off to the southeast and is a climb in and of itself. A trip up and down Hamlin adds several extra miles to a hike up the mountain, and we don't usually recommend it even during the long days of summer.
These folks were experienced climbers, and they did a fine job of it, making steady progress and getting up Katahdin and up Hamlin by mid afternoon. On the descent, though, someone broke a leg at about 4 p.m. and at 4,400 or so feet. The party from Massachusetts handled this admirably, too. They put in a 911 distress call, and while rangers rallied in town, the campers began a self-rescue, dropping down 2,600 feet before they were met by help on the Chimney Pond Trail at 10 p.m. From there they were whisked out by snow sled. I spoke to a few of the rangers involved who were impressed by the grit they showed.
Last year I read similar story - though this one was a bit spookier. I was amazed to find scrawled into the book the tale of one intrepid winter explorer who came in to the park by himself. Not only is this unwise, it's also illegal because of things like broken legs. Baxter Park is exponentially more remote and wild in the winter, and obviously the hazards are many, which is why we ask that people come in groups of at least four, and that they have some familiarity with the woods at this time of year.
I stood there in the cabin transfixed, reading the journal as if it were an outdoor thriller. This fellow rather quickly discovered the reasons behind our rule. "Turned out to be a bad idea," he wrote. "Surprise snowstorm + broken leg = trapped. I'll wait for the rangers to find me. I have enough food for a while."
The creepy part is that my year-round colleagues never did find the guy. When I asked, they were all as astonished as I was. Here he is writing that he's awaiting rescue and none of the people that would have rescued him were even aware that he'd been there. I pictured in my mind a Christopher McCandless-type character from Into the Wild, slowly dying from starvation.
There are two likely scenarios. This never happened - someone made the story up for the entertainment of the future campers of Cabin 4. (This is my bet.) Or the gentleman did like the party from Massachusetts this year, splinting his leg with sticks or ski poles, packaging himself up, and making his way painfully out of the park, hauling his broken leg the six or seven miles down the Foss and Knowlton Trail to Abol Bridge.
And vanishing, like a ghost.