Skiers and snowshoers find adventure and hospitality deep in the central Maine woods.
By Virginia M. Wright
Photographed by Mark Fleming
We hear it first: a thunder rumbling through the snow-laden spruce trees deep in the forest east of Greenville. Then suddenly we are there, standing in awe on the edge of a deep gorge and gazing down at the West Branch of the Pleasant River rushing black between the ravine’s ice-bound walls.
We feel like adventurers. Gulf Hagas, this narrow three-mile slate canyon in the Appalachian Trail’s fabled 100 Mile Wilderness, is a hidden wonder, accessible only on foot. Only a few thousand people visit each year, and fewer still see it in the dead of winter, when the nearest logging road goes unplowed.
My traveling companions and I have come from the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins, a two-mile snowshoe alongside the river on a freshly groomed track. Along the way, our guide, AMC senior naturalist Casey Mealey, pointed out landmarks, like rusted wheels and other remnants of the narrow gauge railroad that once hauled logs out of this remote wilderness, and Nelson’s Hole, a bend in the river named for the man who broke through the ice there a few years ago. He regaled us with stories about his encounters with brown bears and grizzlies in Alaska, where he led wilderness trips for a year before Maine beckoned him home. But we were all moved to silence after we stepped onto the Rim Trail and tromped our way to the top of Billings Falls. The sky is a brilliant blue, the temperature is in the upper thirties, five inches of newly fallen snow blanket the forest, and we are soaking up a long, unobstructed view of the canyon.