Mt Ellen and Mt. Abraham Attempt

February 17-18, 2007

It was a disappointing moment on Sunday, 2/18/07, when I realized that Bob and I had lost the trail and could not reach the summit of Mt Ellen. We searched for about an hour, wandering around in waist-deep snow, falling into spruce traps and trying every conceivable corridor that looked like the trail. The last Long Trail maker was on a spruce tree and then those famous 2”x 6” white markers became invisible, probably buried in over 5 feet of snow. The trail to Ellen seemed to evaporate into an oblivion of whiteness. We turned back after having worked so very hard, breaking trail for 2 days in up to 49” of fresh snow that had fallen on Wednesday.

On Saturday we drove to the trailhead in Appalachian Gap, near the Madbury Glen Ski Area. It was a beautiful clear day, with little wind. As we geared up to head out on the trail we noticed that the trail was not tracked out. Little did we know at that point that we would be breaking trail in over 4 feet of snow. The trail out of Appalachian Gap climbs steeply for about the first mile, levels out somewhat as it winds its way past the upper ski trails of Madbury Glen. After this point it begins to climb along a sharp ridge, past the Theron Dean Shelter, then up and over several rock faces. The trail conditions were extremely challenging and every step was an effort. There were points along the way that I said to myself and Bob, “let’s turn back.” Every now and then Bob would scream out, “AHHHHHHH” as he struggle to break the trail ahead, many times taking one step forward and sliding back 2. Even Noah struggled to make his way along the trail. We covered 1/3 of a mile in the first hour, and it took 5 hours to go 2.1 miles to the Stark’s Nest cabin. This was the most challenging climb yet.

In addition to struggling through waist deep snow, we had the difficult task of staying on the trail, since the trail makers were either buried in the snow or covered by snow blown onto trees. Several times we lost the trail, found it and lost it again. When we lost the trail there was always the increased risk of falling into a spruce trap which both Bob and I did many times. At one point the spruce traps were so frequent that Noah disappeared into one. I was scared that Noah had wandered off and slipped over the side of the mountain in the deep snow. However, Bob located him floundering in about a six foot spruce trap. How elated I was to see Noah, as Bob lifted him out of the trap. With the struggle came rewards, such as running into a group of moose that had decided to hang out near the trail.

With darkness closing in we finally reached Stark’s Nest, a heated cabin on the Summit of Stark Mountain that is also adjacent to the end-point of the famous single chair lift of Madbury Glen. What elation, after a 6-hour struggle of breaking trail for 2.1 miles. We had a nicely furnished heated cabin all to ourselves. What a wonderful evening it was, sipping whiskey, eating pasta, sausage and imbibing in some great wine Bob had brought. It had to be one of the best evenings ever, given what we had accomplished, but also having the comfort of a heated, furnished cabin. I thought that since we had made it this far the hike to Ellen was doable. Little did I know of the challenges that lay ahead.

We got up the next morning, with the clatter of the lift running and knowing that skiers would be upon us soon, too soon. As we were finishing breakfast and getting ourselves ready for the climb to Mt. Ellen in walked the ski patrol. It was a hectic few minutes as we tried to get out gear out of the way and then answer questions by a surly ski patrol guy who was upset because someone had left the storage door open, and accusing us of breaking in. It wasn’t pleasant, but we shook it off, knowing we had a good sleep and with the hope, we had time to get to the summit of Ellen. Forget Abraham.

We made good time heading down the side of Stark and the trail was clearly visible, until we reached the end point where the trail disappeared. Having come so far through very difficult conditions and not being able to continue was a very discouraging moment, a moment I hope I don’t have to experience again. But that is what winter climbing is all about.

 

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