Winter along the Maine coast this year has been miserable and not just for those who loathe the season. Outdoor enthusiasts looking to cross country ski or snowshoe have been frustrated by a repeating weather pattern of snow that changes to rain that, in turn, is followed by a deep freeze. The freeze turns the wet snow on trails to ice or a hard crust that have left trail groomers stymied at times.

Such was the case on a recent weekend when my wife, Jayme, and I headed to Acadia National Park, hoping to cross country ski on the park’s picturesque carriage roads. As we drove north through a heavy rain, we realized that our chance of skiing in Acadia might be slim. Even after we arrived late in the day, it continued to rain through the night. Saturday dawned sunny with temperatures in the mid-30s, and our hopes rose. We headed to the Eagle Lake parking area to check on trail conditions and to see if volunteers with Friends of Acadia had been able to groom the Carriage Road trails. We found what we feared – hard ice that would make skiing miserable, if not downright dangerous.

Jayme Rec hikes down from the fire tower on Beech Mountain. After a day of heavy rain, the above-freezing temperatures made the snow on the trail slushy and slippery on the steeper sections, requiring traction aid devices.

Disappointed but unwilling to waste a weekend in Acadia, we broke out the map and looked for hikes that we had not yet done. We retooled our daypacks, adding microspikes and hiking poles, and headed out to lesser-known destinations. We found solitude that is nearly impossible to find in the park in the summer months, beautiful vistas from smaller peaks and lovely trails along brooks and ponds.

The trails were not without challenges, though. No hikers had been on the trail up to the summit of Flying Mountain and trail blazes on rocks were covered by snow, circumstances that required us to pay close attention to finding the route. On our second hike that day, the trail to the summit of Beech Mountain, the sun had turned snow on the trail to slush, making steeper sections slippery. The views of Somes Sound from Flying Mountain and of the Gulf of Maine from the lookout tower on Beech Mountain were well worth the efforts, though.

Jayme Rec hikes along a section of the Hadlock Brook Trail in Acadia National Park on Feb. 17. Parts of the trail were completely covered in ice and required traction aid footwear like the Yaxtrax pictured here. This winter’s pattern of snow, then rain, then freezing temperatures along the coast requires winter outdoor enthusiasts to be prepared for whichever of those conditions they might find and to have the appropriate gear on trips. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

The following day we opted to climb Norumbega Mountain, located on the east side of Somes Sound, via the Goat Trail, which is the steepest ascent up the peak. Temperatures had dropped to well below freezing overnight, turning snow on the trail to a hard crust and leaving some sections covered in sheer ice. We started the hike wearing our traction-aid devices, but quickly switched over to microspikes, which have pointed teeth similar to crampons. The trail would have been treacherous if not for the microspikes, which made us sure-footed even over the icy sections. To return to our car, we descended to Lower Hadlock Pond, and looped back on trails along Hadlock Pond and Hadlock Brook. We discovered the sublime beauty of a cascading waterfall and quietude on the Hadlock Brook trail, which follows the slow-moving brook as it flows between Upper and Lower Hadlock ponds.

Thinking back on our weekend as we approached the car, we realized that despite the curveball the weather threw, appropriate gear plus the willingness to change plans brought us to new wonders in one of Maine’s most wondrous places.

– Gregory Rec