Trekking through snowstorm in Maine park

Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2003

BAXTER STATE PARK, Maine (AP) -- It was 100 years ago that former governor and philanthropist Percival Baxter first visited the northern Maine wilderness around Mount Katahdin and fell in love.

He fell in love with the rugged mountains, quiet ponds and abundant wildlife. Acquiring and preserving the land would become his life's work. The 200,000-acre Baxter State Park would be his gift to the people of Maine.

AP photographer Robert F. Bukaty set out last month with seven veteran backcountry skiers for a five-day, 49-mile traverse of the park.

Carrying 45-pound backpacks, they skied from Grand Lake Matagamon, at the park's north entrance, to Abol Bridge, outside the southern boundary.

Each night the party stayed at bunkhouses heated with wood stoves. There is no electricity or plumbing, reflecting Baxter's desire that the park remain ''forever wild.''

Sunny skies and light winds made early morning, subzero temperatures tolerable for the first three days, but the weather took an abrupt turn on Day Four. Heavy snow was falling as the group set out on a seven-mile trek from Russell Pond to Roaring Brook.

Traveling along Katahdin's eastern flank, the skiers took turns at breaking the trail for a quarter-mile each shift. By late afternoon, as the storm intensified to a blizzard, trail breaking in knee-deep snow was reduced to a grueling 50 paces at a stretch.

The skiers arrived at the Roaring Brook bunkhouse just after dark.

The storm howled through the night before finally clearing at dawn. With 13 miles to go on Day Five, the group set out early for another day of breaking trail on the Roaring Brook Road. Five miles into the trek the silence of the wilderness was shattered by the sound of a snowmobile.

Ranger Jodi Tollett-Browning pulled up to the group and shut down her the machine.

''Boy am I glad to see you guys!'' she said. ''We weren't sure you were going to make it to the bunkhouse in that storm, so I came out to check on you.''

Bukaty looked at the trail her snowmobile had just broken in the fresh snow and said, ''Boy, am I glad to see you!''

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