Foot and Paddle: Flagstaff Lake and Flagstaff Hut by Snowshoe

first_imgDoug DunlapIn a land of striking high peak profiles, the Bigelow Range, rises in particularly dramatic fashion. Six named peaks top an 18-mile, east-west running ridge. Two of them, only 0.7 mile apart, the twinned Avery and West Peak, are among Maine’s 14 peaks over 4,000 feet elevation. Two more summits, North and South Horn, rise as another set of twins, each of them close to 3,800 feet. Rock-topped Cranberry Peak stands at the far west end; elongated Little Bigelow Mountain runs to the eastern end.One of my favorite vantage points for a fine view of the BIgeow’s is the east shore of Flagstaff Lake, the 23-mile zig-zag body of water lying north of the Bigelow Range. Much of the shoreline is in the Bigelow Preserve, undeveloped, magnificent in wild beauty, and persistently quiet – save for the sound of the wind and an occasional raven’s call. I am out on the lake by canoe or kayak from ice-out to fall. In winter I head for the shoreline by cross-country skis or snowshoes.So it is that on one mid-week, mixed-weather, winter day, a hiking companion and I head out on snowshoes to explore the far eastern shoreline of Flagstaff Lake – and make a mid-day stop at Flagstaff Hut of Maine Huts and Trails. The forecast is for snow squalls with shafts of sunlight breaking in from time to time, winds alternately whipping up and subsiding to utter calm – a mix!Sun breaking through on Flagstaff LakeOur starting point is the Maine Huts Trailhead on the Long Falls Dam Road, 22 miles north of the village of North New Portland. A parking area stands 0.1 mile west of the road, with the entrance marked by a prominent sign. A trailhead kiosk displays a map of the Bigelow Preserve and Flagstaff Lake, and the Maine Huts trail system. There are a good many ski and snowshoe tracks. This a popular spot, though I have never found it to be crowded.Our trek begins with a short 0.2 hike in the direction of the lake, where we have three options: (1) The groomed Maine Huts ski trail 1.8 miles north to the hut; (2) the Shore Trail, a 1.8 mile snowshoe route to the hut; or (3) the lakeshore itself, where the sand and cobble beach lies underneath a thick covering of lake ice and snow. The best views – with the most exposure to weather– are from the beach route. That is our choice, for a meandering outing of about 2.5 miles to reach the hut; 5.0 miles round-trip.I know that if the squalls bear in on us in particularly rough fashion, we can step into the woods to pick up the Shore Trail – which is just enough back from the lake and among the firs, spruce, and cedar, that we would gain relief from the wind.We emerge from woods to start the main stretch of our hike on the lakeshore – and Wow! The Bigelow Range rises dramatically above the south shore, Ragged gray cloudcover tops Avery and West Peak sign that the winds are a-blowing strong up there. North and South Horn stand at a cant farther west on the ridge, their pointed peaks free of clouds. Between Avery Peak and Little Bigelow Mountain, the exposed ledge of Old Man’s Head, hangs above rugged Safford Notch. To the north of the lake, distinctively named Picked Chicken Hill (Have a look and you will see why), Flagstaff and Blanchard Mountains run along the horizon.Pressure ridge, Flagstaff LakeThe lake level is low at this time of year. Water has been drawn down at Long Falls Dam to send flow down the Dead Rover to Wyman Lake and dam on the Kennebec River, to make electricity. That is to our advantage, for the lowered water level leaves broad snow-covered beach for our hike. It gives us more than that, though, for about us we see the remains of a time when there was no lake here, the pre-1950 era before Long Falls Dam went into operation. The dam flooded the Dead River Valley and the three communities of Flagstaff, Dead River, and Bigelow. In summer paddlers may see foundations of buildings long-since removed, and the impressions left by old roads that drop from lakeside hills into the lake bed.I see neither of those at this east end, but I do find the stumps of pine, rock maple, and much else, which were harvested prior to formation of the lake.Rock outcrops, which decades ago were largely hidden in the midst of the forest, and surely were moss and undergrowth-covered, stand exposed, the soil which once bordered them or covered them, washed away by time. One great stump, surely that of an Eastern White Pine, rises on the now-exposed shore. I measure it with my hiking pole. It is four feet across at the cut! Henry David Thoreau wrote of stumps in the Maine woods broad enough to stand a pair of oxen. This stump before me, vestige of an earlier time, does not meet that size, but it is still impressive, indeed.Onward! I crunch across crusty snow, overlaying the ice, shoreline woods to my right, the vast white expanse of the lake to the west. The sky is a swirl of gray, the day like a black and white photograph. We hike on, among occasional stumps, around outcrops of a darker gray and jet-black, find that our route intersects with those of deer, and of coyote. Their prints emerge from the woods, extend out into the lake, fade from view. A story – or stories, – there.The wind picks up. Snowflakes whip by, on horizontal. A bank of low, dark clouds drives in our direction. A low roar displaces the silence of the day. Snow squall! I adjust my neck warmer and balaclava, to protect my face; and snug the hood of my hiking parka and wind shell. Bang! I am buffeted, but press on. I am warm, and visibility is more than adequate – guided by the shoreline which is well within sight. Besides, I like a bit of wild and woolly weather. It is the real deal! This is the Maine winter on its own terms, with its own beauty, even on a gray and wind-blown day.We reach a point on the shore where I know the Shore Trail makes an angle towards the hut. We studied a map of the lake closely before we set out on foot, and carry it with us. I head for the woods, pick up the trail. Here I am impressed with the trailside growth, particularly great eastern white cedar up to 20 inches across. Good place to be a cedar. I imagine, with ample moisture, a fair amount of sunlight, just in from the shore and therefore not likely to be harvested.Although we have the gear and clothing to have our lunch just about anywhere – including a closed cell mat for sitting on the snow, – we take advantage of the nearby location of Flagstaff Hut. For the day traveler, the hut offers a place to be out of the weather, sit in the great room, warm up, replenish drinking water.We meet the caretaker, Kati, a graduate of the University of Maine at Presque Isle, who is in for a week, along with other Maine Huts and Trails personnel who come by to groom the ski trail, and take care of maintenance. The hut is open for overnight guests who may use the kitchen to make their own meals. Heat and hot water comes from a wood boiler. There is no set fee for day use, but we add our contribution to a donation jar – grateful for the trails, maps, and the facility itself. (For overnight stays, including reservations and rates, contact mainehuts.org). I packed in homemade whole wheat macaroni and cheese, Maine-baked bagels, and hot peppermint tea. My appetite stoked, I tuck in to lunch. Over our food we swap stories of the Maine woods, the Adirondacks, Alaska; talk of winter birds, including the resident snowy owl who often perches outside the front door, and ruffed grouse, whose tracks I had spotted in the near woods.Sun breaking through on Flagstaff Lake.Back on trail, back into the land of gray, black, and white, we head north to the point of the peninsula beyond the hut. There, a white birch-lined promontory juts toward the lake. Clouds lift enough to show Picked Chicken Hill to the north. We skirt the shoreline in our return hike, moving in and out of rock formations, exploring the nearby tree-lined coves, as we head south.I round the peninsula to behold the great gray-white expanse of the lake extending to the west, disappearing into the gray of the day. Nearer, pressure ridges have formed, thrusting great slabs of ice upward. Their broken edges snake out of sight onto the lake, like the marking of the collision of ancient continental plates. The wind continues its rise and fall, and snow and ice pellets pepper me, but now my back is to the wind, and I am warmly dressed. I simply enjoy the show! On we go, looking outward for views, and downward for more tracks – to discover coyote prints in the snow, yet again.The gift of the day! Once menacing clouds separate high above the Bigelow Range in a peculiar S-slice. Sunlight streaks through this angular gap, plays on the nearby clouds, drops a thin shaft of new light onto the lake. Quite the sight! Such is the joy of heading out on a day of less-than perfect weather. This Flagstaff Lake day bears its own beauty, its own perfection, discoveries not be to made on the clearest of days.We work our way along so-called Mile Beach, move southward with Little Bigelow in the distance. Once we reach an agreed time to head back to the trailhead, I consult our map, we step away from the lake, and with a bit of reluctance to leave the wildness of the day, begin the journey home.Tips: I never cross a body of water in winter without careful inspection of the ice, and without speaking to authorities familiar with ice formation on that water. Under the ice, spring holes, stream inlets or outlets, currents, can weaken what appears to be solid ice.Carry wind protection: neck and face warmers, balaclava, wool or fleece cap that covers the ears, ski-goggles – such that no skin is exposed. Mittens, with over-mitts or with liners, provide more warmth than gloves. Wool or wicking synthetic base layer, wool or fleece warmth layer, and a breathable rain/wind shell are a recommended layering “sandwich” for cold weather. Even a warm winter day can turn sharply cold in the face of strong winds.Carry a map that details both trails and the surrounding terrain. Show everyone in the party the route to be taken. Winter is the best season to identify animal tracks. Carry a chart or book of tracks and discover the creatures with whom we share our Maine woods!We have this striking landscape in our Western Maine backyard! Enjoy it in winter!Doug Dunlap is a Registered Maine Guide [email protected] and photos – Copyright 2020Douglas Allan Dunlap513 Holley RoadFarmington ME 04938last_img read more

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Faculty host public Ferguson discussion

first_imgJason Ruiz, assistant professor of American Studies, and Dianne Pinderhughes, professor of political science and Africana Studies, hosted an open forum Monday on the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., to discuss the implications these events have on racial and societal issues.Ruiz said the forum’s timeliness supplemented discussions people should have in and out of the classroom.“I’m teaching this class, Mixed Race America, and I thought starting with Ferguson was an obvious place to start a critical exploration of race relations, and especially race relations,” Ruiz said. “I always start the class talking about ‘What is Race?’ and right now when we ask ourselves, ‘What is race?’ Ferguson is looming large in terms of the state of American race relations.”Ruiz said perceptions of race are often skewed because of media biases — something students in the social media age are especially susceptible to.“The one thing I hope we can do is demand better, more fair media portrayals,” Ruiz said. “That’s something I took away that we all had in common. My task as an educator is to create more savvy media consumers.”Ruiz said the open forum style of discussion was meant to facilitate more frank discussions on the topic of race on campus.“I think students have a lot to say, but they sometimes don’t feel empowered or like they have a critical space with faculty members to really tell us how they feel,” Ruiz said. “This is a campus that has a lot of students, faculty and staff people that are interested in issues like this and keeping the conversation going. Personally, I hope [the forum] will be the start of many conversations.”Pinderhughes said that the very fact the forum was open and without a formal presentation gave the faculty in attendance an opportunity to see what the students were thinking about the situation.“We were very pleased with the turnout and we had a very nice range of questions,” Pinderhughes said. “Seeing that not all the students were in agreement opened up a lot of different options for people to engage in action.”Senior Deandra Cadet said her peers posed educated inquiries and honed in on the issue’s relevance to the University.“A lot of people were talking about what was the next step for us that we can take to educate ourselves on these issues and also be advocates against the sort of actions that might be police brutality,” Cadet said. “I think it’s more just about what actions we can take as students.”Cadet said the public exchange of opinions and facts on Ferguson allowed students to explore how race affects them personally and facilitate the discussion of topics of equality in their own social circles.“I think having actual concrete conversations with different people about things that are important to your life can really bridge the gap, because you can know someone of a different race and not really know them or what’s important to them,” Cadet said.Tags: Ferguson, Race relationslast_img read more

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